Tony Gurr

Is it our ‘Curriculum Thunking’ wot is BROKEN?

In Adult Learners, Assessment, Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Universities, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness on 09/05/2013 at 2:28 pm

Where were we?

Ahh, I remember…we were discussing the importance of:

Truth (mini ver 01)

…and Hazırlık (ELL Prep Schools)!


The two conferences I noted in Part 01 of this post were, in fact, a breath of fresh air – we rarely see ELT events with themes that touch on Curriculum or Quality / Standards. Many of our conferences (and we have a LOT of them here in Turkey, we do…ask the publishers who are hassled to foot the various bills) are often little more than PR vehicles for the schools that put them on. Far too many of them operate like a show n’ tell or pot luck gathering – fronted by the same big names, the same faces and the same themes.


Truth (mini ver 02)


Maybe a conference about technology is just ‘sexier‘ than a serious discussion on the challenges we face in the areas of curriculum and assessment…maybe what the conference pundits tell us is right – “all teachers want are practical ideas to take into the classroom on Monday morning…and to be kept amused for a few hours” (I really hate it when people say this – with a passion)!

Maybe, we do not want to take a closer look at how our institutions are doing business, what type of smoke and mirrors really come into play in our curriculum thinking or why our students are so switched off by what we are doing in our classrooms.

I’m not sure either!


OK – coming back to the first of these conferences I mentioned. The idea of a conference centred on ‘a LEARNing Curriculum’ was just up my street – and the fact that the team at Beykent University (in Istanbul) went with this theme just made me feel chuffed to bits…


One of my opening slides was this one:

Uncover the curriculum

Only an idiot would disagree with this!


Luckily, there were none of them around at the Beykent Conference – at least none of them came to my session. It’s funny, isn’t it? How the people who really need to come to conferences are exactly the people who are usually absent!

The slide touched a few hearts (and minds, I hope)…I heard more than few saying how true it is…and a lot more bemoaning the fact that their institutions just did not ‘get’ this type of thunking!


However, I also noted that these statements are a wee bit motherhood’ishthey sound great…but are of little value if we do not take a closer look at ourselves:


I asked the administrators and teachers that came to my session whether they felt that the curriculum framework they had in place at their schools was ‘golden’you know, something they could be proud of!

All but a handful admitted that they did not have a ‘curriculum’  per se (shock-horror) – many used the phrase “contents page of our textbooks” to describe their course outlines, syllabi and pacing documents.

This was not a surprise…of course! We all know this (again, even at some of the so-called ‘top’ schools)…it’s just one of those things we do not talk about very much. I mean, we have far more serious worries. Take, for example, the current pressures to ‘graduate’ all those false beginners that walk through our doors every September – when the conventional ‘wisdom’ (I use this word very loosely) goes something like this:

from A1 to B2 (in 9 months)

Only an idiot would insist that our prep programmes can do this – successfully!

But, we try…boy, do we try!


Sure, everyone is banging on about the importance of the CEFR (‘irresistible force’ that it is) these days…but what happens when it hits an ‘immoveable object’?

CEFR Vs Raymond Murphy

Raymond is still winning…

…and the war on ‘LEARNing-by-gap-fill-exercise’ has definitely taken a ceasefire – across many schools!


But, what happens when we bring these two facts of hazırlık life together – when we look at the consequences of placing unrealistic demands into a curriculum-free zone? I tried to highlight this by asking conference participants if we ELT professionals are guilty of the ‘twins sins’ that more and more of our primary and secondary colleagues are being forced to commit:

Twin Sins

 Guess what they said?


In the absence of an effective curriculum framework (or clear ‘purpose’), we continue to ‘do’ the simple past on Monday…‘do’ the past continuous on Wednesday…and finish the week on Friday by ‘doing’ the present perfect (as well as every single activity in ‘the book’)!

How we ‘do’ even one of these in a week is beyond me – and, what the hell does it mean to ‘do’ a tense anyways???


And, then there’s the assessment…all the exams, tests and pop quizzes we tag onto this type of curriculum practice. Even though…in our hearts of hearts…we know:

Fattening pigs (assessment)

…we weigh, we weigh, we weigh!


It’s almost as if the only ‘strategy‘ we have to maintain our ‘quality standards‘ is the mantra…


…and, when this fails to get our students from to B (actually, A1 to B2in 9 months), the best ‘improvement‘ programme we can come up with is…


But, then…I’m jumping the gun on tomorrow’s post!



  1. If it’s broken, how can it be repaired (at an institutional level rather than an individual level??)  Part 3 would be welcome  


    • Oh Laurence…me thunks we needs Pt 03-10 😉 I’m not sure if a few ‘repairs’ will be enough – systemic overhaul, transformation, revolution 😉

      I’m working on the “quality” bit – but people keep telling me to look at the managerial issues, too 😉


  2. Thank you for helping to spread the word, Tony.

    Even the best tests by nature are only able to capture and measure a very narrow slice of what the students are learning, but if given too much weight and importance they can have a massive negative backwash effect on students’ motivation for learning.

    Here is an article on this topic that I believe you and your readers will find interesting and helpful.

    Click to access teachers%20summative%20assessment.pdf

  3. Good next step Tony! The eminent Mr Raw has made a valid point but we must be careful we don’t get into the ‘we can’t do anything ‘ argument when we deal with the university administration. We have, in fact, seen some movement on this front as some Vakıf Universities are slowly accepting that they have to have both written AND speaking components in their proficiecny exams – soemthing unheard of 15 years ago.

    However, when you jump on the dinosaur’s tail you are unsure when the brain will register and if it will register in the right way. That is why it is so important to get the departments actually talking and sharing so more people feel they have a stake in the success of Hazırlık.

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