Dogme seems to be in the blogs again lately, which is always a good thing . One of dogme’s primary focuses is emergent language from which naturally stems the idea of an emergent curriculum. What is this and how does it differ from a general curriculum model?
Well, one of the biggest differences is that an emergent curriculum is in an ongoing process of modification whereas most other curriculums are pre-planned or static with varying degrees of flexibility.
If you don’t plan it, how does it work? Well here is how I do mine.
An emergent curriculum starts and ends with the students and the classroom. Think of it like an ongoing needs analysis.
I usually separate it into interests and then 3 kinds of needs.
The most motivating lessons will be ones students feel personally connected to. If most students have pets, create a lesson around pets. This can simply be an open discussion about people’s pets with the language built as the lesson progresses or it could be a fully planned out lesson with other aims included.
This easily combines with the needs below. Maybe most students are considering universities at this point in their lives and they are constantly having problems with the infinitive of purpose. So you can get a discussion going on the reasons for choosing one university over another or choosing one field of study over another. Or maybe they could use some computing language so you can combine it with computing by having them research university websites in English and then report back on them.
Three kinds of needs:
1) Needs that arise from the classroom
Teachers are with their students several hours a week for a period of at least a month or two on average. In public schools, teachers have students for an entire year. This allows teachers to become aware of problems simply by participating in the class. For me, this is the most common way in which I plan my lessons.
In the class it becomes very clear what the students can and can’t do. One day you walk into your elementary class and ask about a new item a student has bought. You find that the student in question along with the rest of the class is struggling to talk about and ask questions in the past. Well, now you know you should focus on this in this lesson and future ones. This goes for anything. Maybe they show a lack of vocabulary knowledge about education when you have a discussion about the state of education in the country or you find from students’ emails that they can’t use transitions well. It’s quite easy to spot student weaknesses and this is the primary material that you can use to organize your curriculum around.
In a regular syllabus you might do past tense tomorrow because it’s next on the schedule when, in fact, your students aren’t ready for it or maybe even already know it. With an emergent syllabus you’d do past tense because your students haven’t seen it and need it to get across something they are trying to talk about or because you see they are still struggling with it. As another example, maybe your teenage class wants to talk about problems important to them and you noticed they have weak writing skills. In an emergent syllabus, you could do the classic lesson on writing to an agony aunt. It allows them to discuss their problems and gets some much needed writing practice in.
2) “Universal” or Generic needs:
These are the things most students will need in their lifetime. In this category I generally include things like Internet and computing skills in English, holding a conversation, color vocabulary, social justice issues, talking about oneself, being able to understand instructions, etc. While a student may not need these skills at the moment, we can assume that most of our students will need to know or be able do all these things in English at some point. Therefore these skills can be slotted in whenever a teacher isn’t quite sure where to go next.
3) Needs that arise from the students:
You may have business students that need to learn how to give presentations in English or students that need to be able to translate documents for their job or students that need English primarily for touristic purposes. Maybe it’s a class with specific needs like an exam class. All these needs are defined by the students and allow you to tailor the curriculum accordingly.
Of course we can’t appease all students’ needs at the same time. For this reason it’s a good idea to combine specific needs with general needs or student interests. For example, one student wants to learn how to give presentations, but no one else really needs this. Well, you can do lessons on giving presentations but ask students to do it as a “how to” on some aspect of using computers or the Internet. This way the one student gets their presentation practice and the others get the generally valuable language of computing practice. The same could be done with interests. Maybe all students present on a social issue important to them, or their job, or a historical event they find important.
If you follow the guidelines above, creating a syllabus as the course goes along becomes quite easy. Even better, the students are happier because the course is being tailored to them. Students can make a very clear connection between what they are studying and why whereas with pre-planned curriculums no one really knows why they’re doing what they’re doing. Emergent curriculums also speed up or slow down when needed. It skips what the students already know or do well and focuses on weaknesses while building on strengths.
No more cramming through material because it’s there while some students are lost and the rest are bored. An emergent syllabus isn’t about the number of pages or topics covered, it’s about the students.
All of this requires a lot of awareness of students and a lot of reflection on the part of the teacher. However, I think this actually becomes much easier than trying to force a pre-planned syllabus on students that they don’t necessarily need and may not be interested in.
What do you think about the value of an emergent curriculum over a pre-planned one? Do you think it’s appropriate to expect new teachers to be able to do this? If you follow an emergent curriculum, do you create yours in a similar way? What’s the same? What’s different?