A Formative Evaluation of a Task-based EFL Programme for Korean University Students


CHAPTER 3 LITERATURE REVIEW: EFL syllabus design

3.4.4.3 The Process Syllabus

The 'Process Syllabus', proposed by Breen as the second main example of the 'process' paradigm, has roots in various influential educational theories (e.g. the humanist approach to teaching and learning [Dewey 1974; Holt 1976]), which followed educational and philosophical (not psycholinguistic) rationales, and which were intended for other subject areas (Freire 1970; Stenhouse 1975), though coinciding significantly with views of applied linguists such as Widdowson (1983) and Brumfit (1984c) on the open-endedness and creativity of language (White 1988:35). Thus Clarke (1991) details four "important and substantially overlapping streams of applied linguistics and educational thinking" (1991:16), all of which place the learner at the centre of the learning process, derive at least partly from a holistic approach, and focus on the learner's affective, cognitive, and linguistic needs, his/her conscious or subconscious strategies, and his/her own perception of the objectives, aims, and other aspects of the learning situation:

  1. the largely North American experimentation with 'humanistic' methodologies in ESL (Curran 1972; Stevick 1976);
  2. the British EFL emphasis upon needs analysis as the basis for a Notional or Communicative syllabus, often with specific purposes in mind (Richterich 1972; Munby 1978);
  3. the general increase in research into issues related to learner individualisation and autonomy (e.g. Altman 1972; Disick 1975; the CRAPEL publications);
  4. the closely related investigations into the nature of learner strategies in the language learning process (e.g. Naiman, Frölich, Stern, and Todesco 1978; Candlin & Murphy 1987; Wenden & Rubin 1987) (Clarke 1991:16)

The process syllabus is defined broadly by Breen as "a context within which any syllabus of subject-matter is made workable" (Breen 1987a:169). This appears to imply that "processí▒ can be "all things to all people", but examination of the term "context" as used here shows significant differences between this and other types of syllabus, in the areas of language, teaching methodology, learner contributions, and planning for teaching and learning. In focusing on three processes ("communicating, learning, and the purposeful social activity of teaching and learning in a classroom" [Breen 1987a:166]), the processs syllabus reflects recent attention in applied linguistic theory towards a number of issues:

  1. processes of language learning (Faerch & Kasper 1983);
  2. strategies and techniques used by language learners (Cohen 1984; Cohen & Hosenfeld 1981; Naiman et al 1978; Wenden 1986);
  3. effects on interaction and learning which result from varying forms of classroom organisation and activities (Barnes 1978; Smith 1980; Bygate 1987; Doughty & Pica 1986; Gass & Varonis 1985; Long 1975; Long & Porter 1985);
  4. feasibility of on-going syllabus content negotiation between teachers and learners (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation 1973; White [ed.] 1981; Skilbeck 1984);
  5. learner reinterpretation and accommodation of new knowledge and capabilities through the sharing of ideas in group-work (Ausubel 1985; Bannister & Francella 1980; Bonarius et al [eds.] 1981).

An important characteristic of the process syllabus is that it is an infrastructure rather than a learning plan, with the syllabus designer no longer pre-selecting learning content, but providing a framework for teacher and learners to create their own on-going syllabus in the classroom (Breen 1987a:166), thus allowing for changing abilities, learning needs, and perceptions in the learners, without specifying particular c ontent, methodology, lexis, structure, or grammar (Breen, 1987a:168). The teaching-learning process therefore provides significant lesson content (Breen, 1987a:159), and it is unnecessary and unrealistic to plan content without consulting the participants (Newmark 1971; Corder 1980; Krashen & Terrell 1983), especially in view of "the everyday phenomenon of teacher and learner reinterpretation of every pre-planned syllabus" (Breen 1987a:166; Alwright 1984). Instead Candlin (1984) suggests a 'retrospective syllabus' that can only be described after the course is over, with process-syllabus designers in general aiming to provide a framework for learning which:

... deliberately engages reinterpretation; and which explicitly addresses teacher and learner capacities to select, subdivide and sequence subject matter for language learning which they (jointly) perceive as most valuable to them. ... It is this joint creation and implementation of a syllabus which the Process syllabus tries to serve. (Breen 1987a:166).

Examples of the process syllabus can be found in the works of Dam (1982; 1983), Huttunen (1986), Abercrombie (1960) and Rogers, E. (1983), and further discussion can be found in Breen & Candlin (1980), Breen (1984; 1987a;b), Candlin (1984; 1987), Candlin & Murphy (1987) and Long & Crookes (1993). Examples of non-planned syllabi focusing on the learning process can be seen in the Lancaster School of Breen and Candlin (1980), and also in Stern (1983), Richards (1985), Allen (1984), and Dubin & Olshtein (1986)

3.4.4.3.1. Justification
The Process Syllabus addresses Breen's eight syllabus design questions (section ..... "Conclusion") , not by separating syllabus and teaching methodology and establishing a divide between syllabus and classroom, but by acknowledging current views on language, language learning, and classroom dynamics, and by enrolling the learner as an integral part of that debate, since "targets for language learning are all too frequently set up externally to learners with little reference to the value of such targets in the general educational development of the learner" (Candlin, 1987). Divisions of language according to lexis and grammar are not excluded, since learners can choose to concentrate upon them if wished, especially as the result of appraisal of a particular learning experience, but they are now results of social constructs, produced interdependently in classrooms by teachers and learners (cf. Stern, 1984:8), who perform the normal procedures of syllabus design (including evaluation) together in the classroom in an on-going and adaptive way, using a bank of classroom activities which are themselves made up of sets of tasks (Breen 1987:166).  Thus Breen claims that the process syllabus addresses the comprehensive language-learning question of "Who does what with whom, on what subject-matter, with what resources, when, how, and for what learning purpose(s)?" (1984:56), and he proposes six justifications for use of the process syllabus in language learning:

  1. there are at least three syllabus types present in each classroom (that of the teacher, the learners, and the practical one which they work out each day), and the Process Syllabus facilitates a synthesis of the three by all the participants in the classroom;
  2. the Process Syllabus provides a means of relating content matter and methodology;
  3. it requires reinterpretation of itself during the learning process, and is therefore flexible, allowing for emerging changes in needs;
  4. classroom decision-making is of utmost priority;
  5. decision-making is seen as an authentic communicative activity in itself;
  6. being an extension of the TBS, justifications for the latter also apply to the Process syllabus. Thus there is an aim of developing underlying communicative competence, and an assumption that meta-communication and shared decision-making are necessary for language-learning (adapted from Breen 1987a:169).
3.4.4.3.2 Negotiation of Meaning

Student-teacher and student-student negotiation of content and direction is an integral part of the process approach, but negotiation of meaning within that process is also a vital characteristic (Long & Crookes 1993:2; Stevick 1976; 1980; though see Aston 1986 and Foster 1998 for an opposing view) which it is claimed produces better quality and more finely tuned input (Long, 1988), greater malleability in the interlanguage system, and a greater willingness to explore language and to try out hypotheses (Pica 1994). Crookes and Gass (1993a) observe that arguments in favour of negotiation of meaning as a learning tool relate to findings (Long 1980) on the modification and restructuring of NNS conversations by the participants, through such means as comprehension checks and clarification requests: "negotiation of the sort prevalent in NNS discourse provides the learner with (1) the opportunity to hear language which may be useful for later integration into her language-learner system, and (2) the possibility of expressing concepts which are beyond her capacity" (Crookes & Gass 1993a:1). Stevick (1976; 1980) adds that successful communication is dependent on attentiveness and involvement, and that negotiation of meaning therefore becomes a trigger for acquisition (Long & Crookes; 1993:2).

3.4.4.3.3 Assessment

Assessment is a "key element" (Breen, 1987a:167) of the co-operative negotiation of syllabus design, being "the mechanism though which learning can become consciously experiential" (Legutke & Thomas 1991:243). Having agreed on content, activities, goals, and methods, teacher and learners share outcomes, identifying achievements and difficulties in an ongoing formative evaluation of learning tasks, language input, topic content, the affective climate, methodology and the syllabus itself. "It is from this crucial evaluation phase that adaptations or alternatives in each of these things can be proposed and sought by teacher and learners together" (Breen 1987a:167).

3.4.4.3.4. Problems

Published criticisms of the process syllabus (Kuoraogo 1987; White 1988) point to:

  1. a lack of formal field evaluation (White 1988:101);
  2. an assumed unrealistically high level of competence in teachers and learners (White 1988:101; cf. Stenhouse 1975:96);
  3. an implied redefinition of role relationships and a redistribution of power and authority in the classroom that would be too radical and/or culturally unacceptable in some societies (White 1988);
  4. inadequate provision for relating the syllabus to the context in which it will occur (i.e. cultural barriers) (White 1988);
  5. emphasis on process and procedure rather than on outcome, possibly resulting in an aimless journey (White 1988);
  6. the need for a wide range of materials and learning resources, threatening the traditional reliance on a textbook, which often is the syllabus (White 1988);
  7. a lack of substantive evidence that negotiation produces better results, such that a more cautious approach might be more desirable (Clarke 1991; Littlejohn 1983:606).

Long & Crookes (1993) see many of the above as logistical concerns, rather than flaws in the process syllabus itself, and describe other problems:

  1. process syllabi deal in pedagogic tasks, the availability of which (the 'task bank') is not based on any prior needs identification;
  2. grading task difficulty and sequencing tasks are discussed by Candlin (1987), but no decisions are made;
  3. a focus on language form is not addressed;
  4. it is not clear to what theory or research in SLA the process syllabus is to be held accountable, as there is relatively little reference in the language-learning literature to process syllabi. (Long & Crookes 1993:35).

Continue reading this literature review: The Project Syllabus