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A modular communicative

syllabus (1):
the underlying ideas
A. M. Shaw
This article and the next describe a project in syllabus design at the
British Institute, Madrid, where gradual adoption of a ‘functional
approach’ and the use of a variety of different textbooks at elementary
level had made a new syllabus imperative. In the first article the
principles on which the framework for the experimental syllabus were
constructed are discussed, and the rationale behind the attempt to
make the syllabus both ‘notional’ and ‘structural’ is explained.
The project introduced in this article came about as an attempt to find a
practical solution to two sets of practical problems. Although these
problems arose in the context of normal teaching and experimental work
at the British Institute, Madrid, they are problems which are likely to be
shared by any forward-looking language-teaching institution.
The second point I would like to make is that this project is still in its
early stages. Thus, what I am presenting in this article is a number of ideas
(largely derived from work on my thesis) which I cannot claim have been
upheld by prolonged and systematic practical application. It might be suggested
that at this stage publication is premature. I feel that it is nonetheless
justified, firstly by the interest which the ideas have aroused, and
secondly by the hope that others besides ourselves might carry them
further, and that more might thus be achieved in a wide range of situations.
In this article, I shall first give a brief definition of my terms, and then
discuss the circumstances which gave rise to the project and its main objectives.
Various aspects of the theoretical background will then be considered,
namely the relationship between grammatical and functional
items, what I see as the most important considerations relating to grading,
and the status of syllabuses in relation to ideas about ‘free’ and ‘programmed’
language teaching. I shall finish by discussing the ‘modular
communicative’ syllabus itself-the underlying ideas, procedures for
developing it and considerations concerning its future development.
A definition By syllabus I simply mean a ‘plan for part of the curriculum’. Communicative
means that the communicative aspect, here in the form of functions, is
given due importance, but not that the necessary grammatical items are
neglected. The term modular means that items can be taken out of sequence.
(It does not of course exclude the possibility of larger thematic, situational,
or other modules as a form of organization.)
The background During the past few years our pleas for more interesting and
orientated materials for the elementary stages of English
82 ELT Journal Volume 36/2 January 1982
teaching had been met with a deluge of new courses. Some of these are
mainly ‘structure-based’, though perhaps with emphasis on communicative
aspects; others are either tentatively or almost exclusively functional,
with treatment of grammatical material ranging from adequate to almost
Our inclinations as well as our obligations have led us to try out as many
of these courses as appear to have some chance of success in our situation
(adult students, from the age of 17 upwards). Where aims differ as much as
they do in such a situation a real problem is created: after the first year,
students are expected to go on to the second-year course; if some have an
ability to perform certain language functions adequately, but little
independent command of the grammar involved, and others have achieved
some control of the basic grammar without being able to perform with
fluency a corresponding range of functions, the second-year teachers have
no common ground to base their teaching on. Nor is it at all clear how
students joining the courses from elsewhere should be tested for
Our first-year co-ordinator, Sheila Estaire (see the following article), was
very much aware of this problem, and had carried out a detailed analysis,
in grammatical and functional terms, of the content of the main textbooks
in use. In an attempt to achieve some kind of uniformity among students
using different course books, we agreed that core lists of both grammatical
items and functions should be drawn up, so that teachers could do supplementary
work on the items not adequately dealt with in their textbooks.
The other problems arose from the experimental work initiated by
Patrick Early (see Early 1978). In this experiment, classes were doing three
hours per week using their normal textbooks, and for the remaining two
hours, were doing communicative work, using either a variety of techniques
derived from Community Language Learning, or various drama
techniques, ranging in language focus from the relatively controlled to the
relatively free.
It is clear that, in the freer work, students were inevitably using language
which they had learnt in normal work based on their coursebooks. But in
addition to this, the need was continually felt for items which had not been
presented. It would have been easy to ignore this need for new items and
assume that it would take care of itself; students would remember and
gradually pick up those items they felt they needed most. With many items
this would doubtless have happened; these were either individual lexical
items, or else grammatical items of a kind so similar to those in their native
language that they could be acquired almost automatically. In the case of
such items, it is almost certainly best for the teacher not to intervene.
However, there were a number of items not yet presented in the textbooks
for which the need continually recurred in communicative work.
The simple past tense was a case in point. Here the teacher could have
decided to leave the problem to take care of itself until the textbook dealt
with the point. (This may in fact often lead to those who ‘know’ misteaching
those who do not!) I would, however, suggest two considerations.
The first is that, if teachers take this attitude, they will be failing to
capitalize on an ideal teaching situation: they have the opportunity to teach
important language to meet a continually experienced communicative
need. The second consideration is that teachers will have to continue to
waste time supplying language which the pupils could much more
economically have acquired through systematic teaching.
A modular communicative syllabus (I) 83
I shall therefore argue that a major function of the syllabus is to give
teachers sufficient information to help them decide whether or not to deal
with a given item before it would normally occur. Some of the considerations
underlying this kind of decision are discussed in the next section.
Theoretical Much of the less informed discussion of ‘functional/notional’ or
municative’ syllabuses has suggested that a syllabus has to be either ‘func-
Relationship between tional/notional/communicative’ or ‘structural/grammatical’. (See
grammatical and 1976 and Shaw 1977 for a more detailed discussion of different types of
functional items syllabus.)
I would argue that a syllabus should take account of both types of knowledge,
though either may predominate according to the needs of the student
(English for specific purposes or general English, for example), to the convictions
of the syllabus-developers, and, to some extent, to the level of proficiency
(i.e. elementary or advanced).
If the decision is made that grammatical knowledge should predominate,
there needs to be an attempt to specify communicative objectives (functions
of language in communicative situations) to which grammatical knowledge
may be related. If it is decided that communicative aims should predominate,
the syllabus-developers need to specify those areas of the
relevant grammar which will benefit from being focused on as grammar,
rather than from just being learnt incidentally.
It is clear that a functional item is not tied to any specific realization.
Most functions have a wide range of possible realizations which vary, partly
according to the situation, and partly according to the inclinations of the
speaker. Each realization will involve certain grammatical items, some of
which may seem to require specific teaching, others not.
However, in a spiral approach, one or two realizations of a function will
be introduced at each level, especially in the earlier stages. The grammatical
material to be taught in support of the functions should therefore
be quite manageable and easy to specify.
Grammatical grading I mentioned above that a major aim of the modular syllabus is to give
teacher every possible help in deciding whether to deal with an item before
it normally occurs in the sequence. This clearly raises the whole question of
grading, and I shall now discuss what I take to be the most relevant points.
Applied linguists who have tried to develop clear criteria for ‘complexity’
or ‘difficulty’ in the detailed grading of grammatical items have not
had a great deal of success. The difficulty of an item may result from the
learner’s first language, but this kind of difficulty does not have clear
implications for grading. It may also result from the ‘number of learning
tasks involved’. (See Corder 1973 for an interesting discussion of this
point.) A ‘learning task’ is not precisely definable in linguistic or psychological
terms, but it is a concept which should be useful to an experienced
Using this concept we should be able to say that learning a certain item
involves certain specifiable learning tasks. For example, we may say that
learning to construct simple conditional clauses (e.g. ‘If he gets the scholarship,
he will go to University next year’) involves knowledge of the word
‘if’, the simple present tense, the use and grammatical behaviour of the
auxiliary verb ‘will’, as well as such things as pronouns, nouns, basic
sentence structures, adverbials, and so on. The learner will be best
equipped to learn it if he has already completed all these learning tasks
A.M. Shaw
except for the word ‘if’ and the actual use and meaning of Simple Conditionals.
I will generalize my conclusions so far as follows: in order to reduce the
new learning involved in an item to the minimum number of new tasks, we
need to be able to say that the learner is best equipped to learn item x if he
already knows items a, b, and c. In other words, it may be desirable to
teach items a, b, and c before embarking on item x. As we shall see, a
syllabus can make use of this idea by stating the main items of previous
knowledge which, for practical purposes, may be regarded as either
desirable or essential before a given new item is taught.
It should be remembered that we are considering the question of
grading from the point of view of making a decision about whether a
certain item should be introduced at a certain point that is not its normal
place in the sequence. With this in mind, there are a number of ways of
looking at a new item which may help us in deciding whether to introduce
it at all, and, if so, how to deal with it. These ways may be summarized as
follows :
1 A new meaning or use of a previous item
An example of this is when the present simple tense, after being introduced
first for habitual actions or ‘likes and dislikes’, is presented with a
future meaning.
2 A grammatical modification or development of a previous item or items
This would occur when the word ‘some’, previously used only in statements,
is introduced in interrogative sentences embodying ‘requests’ or
‘offers’ (i.e. ‘Would you like/Can I have some. . . ?‘).
3 A ‘facilitative’ item, i.e. an item where learning may be facilitated by the
learner’s first language, or by his previous learning of the target language
Examples of the first for Spanish learners would be the use of the articles
(which is broadly similar in Spanish, though of course with a number of
differences), and general word order in statements. An example of the
second (facilitation from previous L2 learning), would be the patterning of
interrogatives and negatives in English: once one has been learned, the
others can be shown to follow the same pattern.
4 A formula or partial formula
There are many cases where parts of an item are not analysed from a grammatical
point of view, but the complete item is just learnt as a phrase. An
example of a formula would be ‘How do you do?‘, which is unchanging.
Partial formulae might be expressions like ‘Would you like (+
a/some . . . ) ?’ and ‘Would you mind -ing . . . ?‘, or even ‘Would you mind
if I . . . ?‘.
The first two ideas summarized above would be reflected in a syllabus
which lists ‘relevant previous knowledge’. As far as the third is concerned,
items could certainly be marked if they are very close to the learner’s
mother tongue. Facilitation by previous learning of the target language
would, however, have to be judged by the teacher, since in a modular
syllabus where there is no fixed order, the syllabus developer does not
know what the students have learnt when they come to a certain new item.
The category ‘formula’ or ‘partial formula’ will probably also have to be
applied by the teacher, although it would in some cases be possible for the
syllabus designer to indicate certain items which might lend themselves to
treatment as formulae (e.g. ‘Would you mind if I . . . ?‘).
A modular communicative syllabus (1) 85
The syllabus in relation It might perhaps be argued that a combination of ‘free’
to ‘free’ and and ‘programmed’ (e.g. based on a sequence provided by a textbook or
'programmed’ teaching syllabus) approaches is inherently illogical, because the rationales on
they are based are contradictory. I would argue that such arguments are in
danger of confusing the issue by trying to force a multi-dimensional
problem into two-dimensional terminological frameworks. Some of the
relevant categories are ‘analytic versus synthetic’ language teaching (the
terms are from Wilkins, 1976) and ‘communicative versus structural’
Johnson summarizes a ‘synthetic’ approach as follows:
In a synthetic approach, the teacher isolates and orders the forms of the
linguistic system, systematically presents them to the student one by one,
and thus incrementally builds up language competence. (1979: 195.)
He summarizes ‘analytic’ as follows :
In analytic teaching it is the student who does the analysis from data presented
to him in the form of natural ‘chunks’. (1979: 195.)
Wilkins (1976) suggested that functional-notional teaching is analytic, since
it involves the presentation of functional language in context with no
ordered exposure to the grammar of the language. Johnson questions this
and suggests that there are two possible types of ‘communicative’ language
One is characterized by the rigorous specification of communicative
needs . . ., but often coupled with a methodology which is not significantly
unlike traditional methodology. The other proposes methodological
procedures that are quite often revolutionary, but equally often
remains uncommitted on questions of syllabus design. (Johnson 1979:
He later goes on to say: ‘. . . many of the materials which have been
produced following notional syllabuses indicate that this type of specification
can lead to synthetic teaching’ (p. 196). Inherent in this discussion is the
implication that synthetic teaching is less student-centred and natural (and
therefore less good) than analytic teaching. I have no convincing data or
arguments which would enable me to dispute this. However, it is not in fact
necessary to place the two in opposition, for they are not, in my opinion,
mutually exclusive. We may argue that much synthetic teaching has failed
because there has been no analytic element. As Brumfit says:
Not to allow the learner some freedom to use the newly developed skills in
unpredictable directions will be to frustrate the very abilities which will
be necessary for the most effective response to the predicted needs.
(Brumfit 1979: 186.)
Analytic teaching is not necessarily more student-centred, in that it often
involves a choice by the teacher of the materials to which the student is
exposed. Nor has anyone to my knowledge demonstrated convincingly that
analytic language teaching actually benefits from omitting systematic input
of linguistic items.
I would therefore conclude that one can usefully combine the advantages
of both a synthetic and an analytic approach. A systematic input of
linguistic items (structural and functional) based on a syllabus (synthetic)
on the one hand, and plenty of opportunity for freer communication
(analytic) on the other, with the added opportunity for systematic presentation
of certain items, the need for which is shown in freer work to be
recurrent: this seems to be a strategy which is defensible on both practical
and theoretical grounds.
86 A.M.Shaw

A modular It was to implement the strategy I have just described, that the ‘modular
communicative communicative syllabus’ was developed. Its aims are firstly to provide
syllabus lists of items for the ‘systematic input’ part of the course, and secondly to
help the teacher to decide whether to provide systematic treatment of items
arising during freer communicative work.
Since some of these items may not be on the core lists for the first year, it
is necessary to provide, on the basis of intuition and experience, a supplementary
list of items. Because the communicative work may result in a
given new item being needed at any time, quite independently of the place
of that item in the syllabus or textbook, the syllabus needs to be modular,
i.e. not tied to any fixed sequence. (In fact items come in different
sequences in the different textbooks in use, though broadly speaking,
sequences do tend to be surprisingly similar: see Estaire 1982.)
In order to help the teacher to decide whether to teach a given item at a
given time, two main kinds of information are helpful: previous knowledge
(grammar or functions) essential or relevant to the learning of the
next item (see the section on ‘grading’), and references to textbooks and
supplementary materials for the teaching of that item. The following
guide-lines were agreed on for the development of a modular communicative
syllabus for the first year:
Step 1 List core functions and core grammatical items.
Step 2 List the realizations of functions in the main textbooks, and check
the grammar involved in these realizations.
Step 3 Check the grammatical items arising from steps 1 and 2 for
required or desirable previous knowledge.
Step 4 List other grammatical items and functions it might be desirable to
deal with (i.e. arising from communicative practice), and treat
these as above.
Step 5 Draw up a chart. The actual layout we agreed on may be seen in
the following article by Sheila Estaire.
The future development Our discussion has been confined to the present stage of the project,
of the syllabus namely the development of a syllabus for the first year. However, many of
the same considerations may be applied to other years, and it would be
logical, if it proves useful in the first year, to extend it right the way up. This
would, of course, mean that the ‘supplementary list’ referred to above
would simply include items which are already in the syllabuses for the other
years, and might therefore possibly be dispensed with. It may, however,
easily be argued that teachers neither want nor need to carry around a sixyear
syllabus, and that it is best to provide a supplementary list for each
year as suggested.
Secondly, there is a need for some element of ‘spiralling’; spiralling
involves the reintroduction of items at successive levels with an increasing
degree of sophistication. In the case of a grammatical item, new uses or
modifications may be introduced; in the case of a function, new realizations
appropriate to an increasingly wide and finely differentiated range of
situations may be included.
This brings us to the next question: how can ‘situation’ be taken into
consideration? As I implied in the last paragraph, the realization of a given
function may vary according to the situation, in response to such features
as the language event itself, the role relationship, the medium (i.e. written
or spoken), the nature of the participation (i.e. monologue or dialogue),
the ‘key’ (i.e. tone, manner or spirit), and possibly to some extent the topic
A modular communicative syllabus (1) 87
and setting (i.e. geographical location and time).
At elementary levels it may be possible to assume a ‘neutral situation’
with certain constant role relationships. But, as I suggested above, later on
the ‘situation’ will need increasingly to be taken into account, if only
initially in the form of ‘degrees of politeness or formality’. The task ahead
is to develop ways of doing this without creating a syllabus so complex that
it is impossible to use.
Finally, what should be included in ‘core lists’ for each year? As the
following article shows, there is a considerable degree of consensus
between different textbook writers at the first-year level about which grammatical
items or functions to include. However, there are certain items
which occur in only one textbook, and the implication is probably that
these should not be included in the ‘core lists’ for that year.
Conclusion I have considered the reasons for developing a modular communicative
syllabus, some of the theoretical issues it raises, and the practical steps
which have been taken as a result. We have not yet answered the question
raised in the final section.
In the next article the reader will be able to see in concrete terms samples
of the results of these ideas. They may not look very revolutionary-why
should they? But if they help us to solve the problems of co-ordinating our
teaching to a greater degree, and also help teachers to ensure that students
derive the maximum benefit from their freer communicative work, the
effort will have been worthwhile. •
Received October 1980
Brumfit, C. J. 1979. ‘ “Communicative” Language
Teaching: an Educational Perspective’ in C. Brumfit
and K. Johnson (eds.). pp. 183-91.
Brumfit, C. J. and K. Johnson (eds.). 1979. The Communicative
Approach to Language Teaching. Oxford
University Press.
Corder, S. P. 1973. Introducing Applied Linguistics.
Harmondsworth : Penguin Books.
Early, P. 1978. Working Papers in Community Language
Learning. London: British Council.
Estaire, S. 1982. ‘A modular communicative syllabus
(2): the project’. ELT Journal (this issue).
Johnson, K. 1979. ‘Communicative Approaches and
Communicative Processes’ in Brumfit and Johnson
(eds.). pp. 192-205.
Shaw, A. M. 1977. ‘Foreign-language syllabus
development: some recent approaches’. Language
Teaching and Linguistics: Abstracts 10/4. Cambridge
University Press.
Wilkins, D. A. 1976. Notional Syllabuses. Oxford
University Press.
The author
Tony Shaw worked at the British Institute, Madrid,
from 1975 to 1980. Previously he had served with the
British Council in Kano, Nigeria, and in Malaysia, and
had completed a doctorate in applied linguistics at the
University of Essex, where his thesis was on the subject
of communicative curricula. At present he is on
secondment to the Centre for Foreign Language
Teaching (CELE) at Universidad National Autonoma
de Mexico in Mexico City, where he is teaching on the
M.A. in applied linguistics programme.
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From curriculum to syllabus design: The different stages to
design a programme
Irma Dolores Núñez y Bodegas
Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas
Escuela de Lenguas-Tapachula
Designing your own programme as an in-service teacher might be really time
consuming and also difficult to teach how to do it to pre-service teachers. But in
the long run it might be rewarding when knowing that we are giving the students
what they want and need and not just what has been decided by the authorities.
In this paper the following will be considered:
� What is curriculum, course and syllabus and possible
approaches to course design?
� What is meant by articulating your beliefs?
� What is defining the context?
� What are goals, objectives and needs analysis?
� What stages are followed in designing a course?
Curriculum includes the philosophy, purposes, design and implementation of a
whole programme. A course according to Hutchinson and Waters (1996) is an
integrated series of teaching learning experiences, whose ultimate aim is to
lead the learners to a particular state of knowledge. And syllabus is the
specification and ordering of content of a course or courses.
When reflecting on our own teaching we know that most of the time, we have
used a commercial textbook as our syllabus for the different levels of English
we have taught along our in-service years. Sometimes we modify something or
add what we consider is missing in the current book used. But we do not take
into consideration that most of the books have not been designed specifically
for our different contexts. It is not the same to teach to students from a capital
city than it is to teach students in a Secondary School up in the mountains
where they do not have any kind of access to computers and less to the
The factors to consider in defining the context such as: people, physical setting,
stakeholders, teaching resources and time are crucial if we design the
programme instead of just following the textbook. Graves (2000) mentions that
defining the context and articulating your beliefs serve as the foundation for the
process to follow when designing your own programme. Assessing needs,
formulating goals and objectives, developing materials, designing an
assessment plan, organizing the course and conceptualizing content is
described as a framework of course development process. Although there is no
one way of organizing a course; the factors mentioned can help you choose
how to do it. The results have to make sense to you, to the students, and to the
authorities. (Graves op. cit)
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1. Introduction
The different definitions given to curriculum as well as possible approaches
to course design will be given first. Articulating your beliefs and defining the context
are going to be exposed, together with assessing needs, formulating goals and
objectives. Next, we shall be focussing on the different ways of organizing courses
and specification and ordering of the content i.e. the syllabus. Last, a short
explanation about materials, designing an assessment plan and how to evaluate
2. Curriculum, course, syllabus and approaches to course design
2.1 Curriculum
The definition of curriculum is complex because there are as many
definitions as there are writers in the field. It can go anywhere along the range from
a list of subjects for a course to the perception of the ultimate goal of education as
a whole. What is required when referring to the term is “the grasp of the basic
notions education involves as well as the structural organization every author
states within this definition for the term curriculum” (Moreno, 2000: 11) Evidence of
what mentioned before is the following listing of the same concept defined by
different authors:
� Curriculum can be defined, as an educational program which states:
a) “The educational purpose of the program (the ends)
b) The content teaching procedures and learning experience which will
be necessary to achieve this purpose (the means)
c) Some means for assessing whether or not the educational ends have
been achieved.”
( Richards, Platt and Platt 1993: 94)
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� “Curriculum is a very general concept which involves
consideration of the whole complex of philosophical, social and
administrative factors which contribute to the planning of an
educational program.” (Allen quoted in Nunan, 2000: 6)
� “Curriculum theory encompasses philosophy and value
systems; the main components of the curriculum: purposes,
content, methodology and evaluation; and the process whereby
curricula are developed, implemented and evaluated”. (White,
1993: 19).
2.2 Course
A course is “an integrated series of teaching-learning experiences, whose
ultimate aim is to lead the learners to a particular state of knowledge”. (Hutchinson
and Waters 1996: 65) The distinction between a curriculum and a course is
important because some of the areas of concern in curriculum development as:
societal needs analysis, testing for placement purposes or programwide evaluation
may be out of the hands of teachers who are developing courses (Richards, 2001).
2.3 Syllabuses
“Syllabus is essentially a statement of what should be taught, year by year
– through language – syllabuses often also contain points about the method of
teaching and the time to be taken” (Lee 1980:108). Another opinion is that that a
“syllabus is a more detailed and operational statement of teaching and learning
elements which translates the philosophy of the curriculum into a series of planned
steps leading towards more narrowly defined objectives at each level” Dubin &
Olshtain, (1997: 28).
Syllabuses are more localized and are based on accounts and records of
what actually happens at the classroom level. Given these definitions it is
suggested that it seems helpful to define a curriculum and a syllabus as separate
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entities. To sum up it is possible to see syllabus design as part of course design,
which in turn, forms part of the design of the curriculum as a whole.
2.4 What are the possible approaches to course design
It can be said that the field of education has undergone profound changes
during the last 30 to 40 years and it is suggested that successful language
programs depend upon the use of approaches. The following table shows what the
different approaches are, and the different ways of defining what the students need
to learn:
Classical approach Humanism: students need to read the
Grammar-translation approach Students need to learn with economy
of time and effort (1800-1900)
Direct approach Students need operant conditioning
and behavioural modification to learn
language (1890-1930)
Audio-lingual Emphasized perfect pronunciation
and repetition, lexical meaning was
not considered important (1950-1970)
Communicative approach Students must be able to express
their intentions, that is, they must
learn the meanings that are important
to them (1970-present)
(adapted from Brown, 1995: 5)
It is commented that although there has been a preference for particular
methods at different times, methods often continue in some form long after they
have fallen out of favour. This remark is true regarding the grammar translation
approach that is still alive in some parts of the world. Mary Finocchario (1983)
claims that the grammar translation approach was inherited from the teaching of
Latin, a language that was only taught for passive use. “Course designers who
carefully consider the various approaches to syllabus design may arrive at the
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conclusion that a number of different ones are needed and are best combined in
an eclectic manner in order to bring about positive result” (Dubin and Olshtain,
1997: 2)
3. Articulating your beliefs
Teachers’ beliefs
“Your view of what language is or what being proficient in a language means
affects what you teach and how you teach it” (Graves, 2000: 28). Your beliefs play
a role at each stage of course design even they may not always be present in your
thinking, but they underlie the decisions you make She provides a useful summary
of the kinds of points one could consider under each concept
a) Your view of language
For example, language is rule governed, meaning-based, a means of self
expression, a means of getting things done.
b) Your view of the social context of language
For example, sociolinguistic issues such as adapting language to fit the context,
sociocultural issues such as cultural values and customs which may be in harmony
or in conflict with those of the learners’ own culture
c) Your view of learning and learners
For example, learning is a deductive or inductive process; learning is the
acquisition of knowledge and skills. Learners have affective, cognitive and social
needs, learners receive knowledge or construct knowledge, and learners follow
directions or direct their own learning.
d) Your view of teaching
For example, teaching is knowledge transmission, management of learning. The
teacher is a decision maker, provider of learning structure, collaborator, and
(Adapted from Graves 2000: 31)
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4. Defining the Context
After articulating your beliefs you may start defining your context. Doing it
can be viewed as part of pre-course needs assessment because information about
the students and about the curriculum is clearly related to students’ learning needs.
Some of the possible factors to consider in defining the context might be:
� People: Students’ number, age, gender, purpose, education.
� Physical setting: Location of school, classroom size and furniture.
� Nature of course and institutions: Type, purpose of course, mandatory,
relation to current/previous courses, required tests or not.
� Teaching resources: Materials available, text, develop own material.
� Time: How many hours, day of week, time of day.
Defining one’s context can also be viewed as part of pre-course needs
assessment. Even the information we obtain such as time and setting will not help
us to define students´ language learning needs, it must be taken into account in
order to design a course that can focus on the needs within the given of the context
5. Aims (UK) Goals (US) and Needs Analysis
5.1 Aims
Aims are rather imprecise, general statements or ‘signposts’ reflecting the
underlying ideology of the curriculum. Richards (2001) suggests that aims have 4
main purposes:
1) to provide a reason for the program
2) to provide guidelines for teachers and learners
3) to provide a focus for learning
4) to describe important and realizable changes in learning (or in students)
It is mentioned that “stating your goals helps to bring into focus your visions and
priorities for the course” Graves (2000: 75). And she keeps on saying that they are
general statements, but they are not vague.
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5.2 Objectives
Objectives are more specific than aims. They break down aims into smaller
units of learning, and typically describe learning in terms of observable behaviour
or performance (performance objectives), i.e. they describe ‘learning outcomes’ in
terms of what a learner will be able to do.
Objectives help planning the course and enable evaluators to judge the success or
failure of a programme. Richards (2001) suggests they should be:
a) consistent with the curriculum aim;
b) precise (not vague or ambiguous) and;
c) feasible (i.e. capable of being achieved at the end of the specified time).
The main criticisms about objectives are that they ‘trivialize teaching’ in that not
everything important can be expressed in terms of objectives. There is also a
feeling that the process is too mechanical so that in the process of converting
needs into objectives the broader goals of teaching/learning may be lost. Another
criticism is that pre-specification imposes a lack of flexibility in the programme, or
that specification of objectives which are easily measurable is too difficult. It must
be noticed that many of these (and other) criticisms were advanced in the context
of general education, rather than in language teaching, and most of the criticism,
(as far as language teaching is concerned) can be dealt with.
5.3 Needs analysis
The importance of needs analysis is mentioned by Hutchinson and Waters
(1996), Jordan (1997) Robinson (1990) when saying that any approach to course
design should start with some kind of analysis of: target needs, present situation,
language, etc. With the data obtained it will be possible to formulate ‘general aims’
and more ‘specific objectives’ as intended outcomes.
These specific objectives should realize the learners’ needs, and provide the basis
for decision making in the programme. Techniques and procedures used for
collecting relevant information for syllabus design purposes are referred to as
needs analysis. This information concerns the learner, the learning purpose, the
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contexts of use as well as learner or learning preferences. Nunan (2000)
establishes a distinction between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ information (or needs).
Objective data (age, language, educational background) concern facts about the
learner. Subjective information concerns the learners’ attitudes, wishes and
A classic example of an objective approach to needs analysis is the Munby
(1978) model containing nine elements:
1. Participant;
2. Purposive domain;
3. Setting;
4. Interaction (with whom);
5. Instrumentality (spoken or written, face to face or indirect);
6. Dialect (or variety of English);
7. Target level (or proficiency required)
8. Communicative event (skills needed)
9. Communicative key (concerned with levels of formality and attitudes)
Note however, that not all learners are able to specify precisely how and
what they want or need to learn! This is an issue taken up by Brindley (1989) who
suggests that the analysis of needs must be ongoing – not something only done at
the beginning of a course. Graves (2000) mentions that there are three time frames
for gathering information: pre-course, initial and ongoing. They are complementary,
not exclusive.
According to Hutchinson & Waters (1996), information on target needs can
be collected in a variety of ways from the various participants (students and
sponsors etc.) They mention using questionnaires, interviews, observation, data
collection (target texts) and informal consultations, depending on time and
resources available. The next framework consisting of the following questions is
� Why are the learners taking the course? (Compulsory, optional)
� How will the language be used? (Medium, channel, type of text).
� What will be the content areas? (Subject and level – e.g. school university)
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� Who will the learners use the language with? (Native speaker? Expert?
� Where will the language be used? (Country, institution, factory, meeting?)
� When will the language be used? (Before, during or after the course)
(adapted from Hutchinson & Waters, 1996: 59)
Answers need to be gathered from a variety of respondents. As for learning
needs, H & W (op. cit) mention the importance of gathering information on how
target objectives are to be achieved (the means to achieve the ends). The target
situation may guide our selection of tasks but is not necessarily a reliable indicator
of exactly how the target should be achieved. We must take into account learner
motivation and preferences.
Needs analysis is a vital part of syllabus design. It helps to inform decisions
concerning the formulation of both process and product objectives, and these in
turn, assist with the specification of syllabus content and procedures. We should
remember, however, “that needs should be regularly re-checked, and objectives
modified as appropriate throughout the duration of the teaching programme.”
(Lilley, 2002: 6).
6. What stages are followed in designing a course?
Articulating your beliefs and defining the context might be considered as the
foundation for the processes to follow when organizing your syllabus. Needs
analysis and specifying the aims and objectives could go next. What follows is
what you must plan, organize and the decisions to take about what should be
taught first, second, third, and so on. Brown (1995) presents a modified view of
three syllabuses that were covered by McKay (1978), plus explanations of four
other types of syllabuses that he has come across his ESL/EFL teaching:
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Structural Grammatical and phonological structures are the organizing
principles-sequenced from easy to difficult or frequent to less
Situational Situations (such as at the bank, at the supermarket, at a
restaurant, and so forth) form the organizing principlesequenced
by the likelihood students will encounter them
(structural sequence may be in background)
Topical Topics or themes (such as health, food, clothing, and so
forth) form the organizing principle-sequenced by the
likelihood that students will encounter them (structural
sequence may be in background)
Functional Functions (such as identifying, reporting, correcting,
describing, and so forth) are the organizing principlesequenced
by some sense of chronology or usefulness of
each function (structural and situational sequence may be in
Notional Conceptual categories called notions (such as duration,
quantity, location, and so forth) are the basis of organizationsequenced
by some sense of chronology or usefulness of
each notion (structural and situational sequences may be in
Skills Skills (such as listening for gist, listening for main ideas,
listening for inferences, scanning a reading passage for
specific information, and so forth) serve as the basis for
organization sequenced by some sense of chronology or
usefulness for each skill (structural and situational
sequences may be in background)
Task Task or activity-based categories (such as drawing maps,
following directions, following instruction, and so forth) serve
as the basis for organization-sequenced by some sense of
chronology or usefulness of notions (structural and
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situational sequences may be in background
(Brown, 1995: 7)
It is mentioned that mixed syllabuses occur when authors choose to mix two
or more types of syllabuses together. And that there is nothing wrong with the
“complexity that results from mixing syllabuses.” Brown (op.cit.: 14) This might be
noticed when looking at the tables of contents of some of the language textbooks.
The Interchange third new edition by Richards, et al. (2005) claim that a functional
syllabus parallels the grammar syllabus in the course.
6.1 Selecting the Shape of the Syllabus
When selecting the shape of the syllabus, “the basic dilemma which course
planners must reconcile is that language is infinite, but a syllabus must be finite.”
Dubin and Olshtain (1997: 51) Next they present five possible types:
The Linear Format
The linear format is adopted for discrete element content, particularly grammar or
structures. Issues of sequencing and grading are of paramount importance. Once
the sequence has been determined, internal grading will be presented. Teachers
cannot change the order of units or skip some.
The Modular Format
The modular format is well suited to courses which integrate thematic or situational
contents. Academically oriented units are integrated.
The Cyclical Format
The cyclical format is an organizational principle which enables teachers and
learners to work with the same topic more than once, but each time a particular
one reappears it is at a more complex or difficult level.
The Matrix Format
The matrix format gives users maximum flexibility to select topics from a table of
contents in a random order, the matrix is well suited to situational content.
The story-line format
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The story-line format is basically a narrative. It is of a different type than the ones
mentioned and it could be used in conjunction with any of them.
6.2 Organizing the course
It is said that the way you organize your course depends on a number of
factors which include: “The course content, your goals and objectives, your past
experience, your students´needs, your beliefs and understandings, the method or
text and the context” (Graves, 2000: 127). Next she adds that organizing a course
involves five overlapping processes captured in the next flowchart and that the
processes do not have to follow a specific order:
Five Aspects of Organizing a Course
(Graves, 2000:125)
6.3 Language Testing
Based on the program’s goals and objectives the next step to follow is the
development of tests. “Tests can be used to drive a programme by shaping the
expectations of the students and their teachers”. (Brown, 1995: 22). He also says
that the method he advocates for test development requires the use of two different
types of tests: norm-referenced, the ones intended to compare the relative
performance of students to each other; and criterion-referenced texts intended to
measure the amount of course material that each student has learned.
6.4 Materials
Determining the organizing principle(s)
(e.g.., themes, genres, tasks)
Identifying the course units based
on the organizing principle(s)
Determining unit content
Organizing unit content
Sequencing the units
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As far as materials is concerned it is advisable to follow what next expressed:
“I will not prescribe a particular type of material or materials based
on a particular philosophy of teaching or theory of language…. In
other words I believe that decisions regarding approaches,
syllabuses, techniques, and exercises should always be left up to
the individuals who are on site and know the situation best. What I
will advocate is a strategy in which students’ needs, objectives,
tests, teaching and program evaluation will all be related to each
other and to the materials”. (Brown, 1995: 163)
What might be concluded is that an important aspect of materials
development is making choices and that you need to make these choices based on
what you want your students to learn according to your goals and objectives and
your syllabus focus
10. Evaluation
Scrivener (1967, quoted by Beretta, 1992) made the distinction between
‘formative’ and ‘summative’, defining formative as a matter of improving ongoing
programmes and summative as determining the effects of a programme that has
come to an end. Williams and Burden (1994) claim that there is a tendency to opt
for a ‘summative’ type of evaluation. This involves selecting either teachers or
students and then applying tests at the beginning and end of the programme, with
the aim of getting to know if a certain innovation produced any changes.
Beretta (op. cit; 276) gives a list of purposes of evaluation. Some of those
mentioned which are relevant to this paper are the following:
� To decide whether a programme has had the intended effect
� To identify what effect a programme has had
� To justify future courses of action
� To identify areas for improvement in an ongoing programme
It is possible to say that if language programme personnel – principles,
directors of studies, head teachers, and teachers undertook their own internal
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reviews, not only would “their programmes benefit from the information gained, but
the bureaucrats would be less likely to impose their own” (Mackay, 1994: 144)
One of the first things clarified is that ‘syllabus’ refers to the content or
subject matter of an individual subject, whereas ‘curriculum’ refers to the totality of
content to be taught and aims to be realized within one school or educational
system. Next, the possible approaches to course design and the ways of defining
what the students need to learn was commented. It was concluded that to bring
about positive results, different ones should be combined in an eclectic manner.
Articulating teachers’ beliefs was given. Defining the context was also discussed
because the constraints of our context can help us to focus on what is realistic and
appropriate. It was assumed that the two mentioned issues are the foundation for
the process to follow when organizing your syllabus.
What aims and objectives imply was given together with needs analysis. Different
techniques and procedures to collect information were also mentioned and it was
emphasized that needs should be regularly re-checked and objectives modified if
The different stages to follow when designing a course, including different
types of syllabuses, selecting the shape of the syllabus and organizing the course
were issues mentioned. Last, a short overview was given of language testing,
materials and evaluation.
As said before, designing your own programme and better trying to involve
more teachers when designing it, might be time consuming, but in the long run it
might be rewarding knowing that we are catering for what the students really need
and want. Then as a last remark it is advisable to have a subject in our study plans
of the Licenciatura en la Enseñanza del Inglés that prepares student teachers on
how to deal with the mentioned issue – course design.
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Beretta, A (1992) Evaluation of Language Education an overview. In Alderson.
J & J Beretta, A (eds.) Evaluating Second Language Education. Cambridge University
Brindley, G. (1989) “The role of needs analysis in adult ESL programme design” In R. K.Johnson
Brown, J. D. (1995) The Elements of Language Curriculum, USA: Heinle &
Dubin, F. & Olshtain, E. (1997) Course Design: Developing Programs and
Materials for Language Learning, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Finocchario, M. & Brumfit (1983) The Functional-Notional Approach, USA: Oxford University Press.
Graves. K. (2001) Teachers as Course Developers. USA: Cambridge University
Graves, K. (2000) Designing Language Courses. Canada: Heinle & Heinle..
Hutchinson, T. & Waters, A (1996) ESP A learning centred approach. Great Britain Cambridge
University Press.
Jordan, R.R. (1997) English for Academic Purposes. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Lee, W. R. (1980) National Syllabuses Construction for Foreign-Language
Teaching: Reconciling the Approaches ELTdocuments 108- Pgs.81-85,
England: The British Council.
Lilley, A (2002) LG529 Wk7. Essex
Mackay, R. (1994) Understanding ESL/EFL programme review for accountability and improvement.
ELT Journal Volume 48/2 April 1994 Oxford University Press.
McKay, S. (1978) Syllabuses: Structural, situational, notional. TESOL Newsletter,12(5),11.
Moreno, P. (2000) The Implications of Curriculum Design for a Graduate of the
English Language Program at Universidad Veracruzana. Unpublished
dissertation. Mexico
Munby, J. (1978) Communicative Syllabus Design. Cambridge University Press.
Nunan, D. (2000 ) Syllabus Design, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J. (2001) Curriculum Development in Language Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Richards, J. C, Hull, J., Proctor, S. & Shields, C. (2005) Interchange Third
Edition. UK: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, Platt and Platt (1993) Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied
Linguistics. London: Longman.
Robinson, P. (1990) ESP Today. Great Britain: Prentice Hall.
ISBN 978-968-9308-13-3
Universidad de Quintana Roo – Departamento de Lengua y Educación
http://www.fonael.org - fonael@fonael.org
White, R. (1993) The ELT Curriculum, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, M. & Burden, R. (1994) The role of evaluation in ELT project design ELT Journal Volume
480. January.
Irma Dolores Núñez y Bodegas (Master of Arts in English Language Teaching.
University of Essex, United Kingdom. Licenciatura en Docencia del Inglés como
Lengua Extranjera. Universidad de Guadalajara. Especialización en la Enseñanza
del Idioma Inglés. Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. She has been a full time
teacher at the Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas, Escuela de Lenguas-Tapachula
since 1986. Her research interests include: Testing, course design, evaluation and
reading comprehension. She is now teaching at the BA programme in English
Language Teaching of the UNACH-Tapachula.
Contacto: irmadnunez@yahoo.com.mx

The PLACE Method for M&E of HIV

Prevention Programs
The Priorities for Local AIDS Control Efforts (PLACE) protocol is designed to provide strategic
information to prevention programs based on the unique features of local HIV transmission

place manual cover

Although the HIV epidemic is global, new infections occur within local sexual and injecting
drug user networks that vary considerably between continents, cultures, and contexts. Prevention
strategies should be tailored to local transmission networks. The Priorities for Local AIDS
Control Efforts (PLACE) protocol is designed to provide strategic information to prevention
programs based on the unique features of local HIV transmission networks.

The specific objectives of the PLACE method are:

• To identify geographic areas most likely to contain key HIV transmission

• To assess HIV prevention program coverage among groups most likely to
acquire and transmit HIV; and
• To provide specific actionable recommendations to address critical gaps in
prevention programming.

The PLACE method was developed in 1999 and piloted tested in South Africa. Since then, the
protocol has been implemented in Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana,
Madagascar, Malawi, Zimbabwe, India, Mexico, Jamaica, Russia, St Lucia, Haiti, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The Five Steps of the method are:

Step 1) A national PLACE Steering Committee reviews the HIV epidemic and identifies Priority
Prevention Areas (PPAs) where HIV prevention needs are most acute.

Step 2) Local PLACE committees within each PPA take charge of local PLACE implementation.
Interviewers conduct short surveys of 300-500 community informants to identify all local public
venues (such as hotels, hostels, parks and bars) where people meet new sexual partners and
where IDUs socialize. The focus is on venues where people meet new sexual partners and IDUs
socialize because reaching persons with a high rate of new sexual or needle-sharing partnerships
who have a disproportionate role in local HIV epidemics is critical for prevention programs.

Step 3) Trained interviewers visit all venues identified in Step 2 and characterize each in terms
of the type of venue, the type and number of people who visit the venue (including youth, IDUs,
MSM, sexworkers, and clients), the existence of any current HIV/AIDS prevention programs at
the venue, and the feasibility of future on-site prevention efforts.

Step 4) A representative sample of 960 patrons is interviewed regarding their sociodemographic

characteristics, their sexual and injecting drug use behaviors, and their exposure to HIV
prevention programs, including HIV testing and condom promotion.

Step 5) The findings are locally analyzed and interpreted in an action plan to address prevention

Example: Samara, Russia

The Steering Committee selected Samara, Russia. 400 community informants named 320 venues
where people meet new sexual partners or injecting drug users socialize. Of these, 248 were
successfully located-- 48% were patronized by injecting drug users and 92% by people seeking
new sexual partners. Researchers found syringes on the ground at approximately forty percent of
the venues and condoms onsite only at 11%. Interviews conducted with a probability sample of
960 patrons confirmed HIV risk behaviors. Approximately 74% of the men and 68% of the
women reported a new sexual partner in the past year; more than one-third reported two or more
partners in the past four weeks; and about 10% of young people admitted occasional use of
intravenous drugs. Based on these findings, the Steering Committee recommended that
prevention efforts be broadened to include venues where youth and other individuals at risk of
acquiring and transmitting HIV socialize.

The Manual

The PLACE manual, including training materials, PowerPoint presentations, questionnaires, data
entry templates, and Epi_info programs, can be ordered from the MEASURE Evaluation
publications database.

Pharmacy education is in a state of flux as we deal with teaching more students

with a shortage of faculty members. We, as pharmacy educators, also have to deal
with our lack of formal training in the area of course and lecture design. Backward
course design is one method that can guide individual instructors as they struggle
with designing their own courses or even an individual lecture. The steps in
backward course design include: (1) identify the desired results, (2) determine the
acceptable evidence, and (3) plan learning experiences and instruction. By focusing
on the end results first, we can help students to see the importance of what they
are learning and make our activities more meaningful and based less on what we
have seen others do or how we were taught. This type of course design can also
help us teach students to become lifelong learners.

Consider these 2 classroom vignettes from a traditional classroom setting. The first
focuses on a common problem seen among our students and the second on a
problem faced by many teachers. A National Assessment of Educational Progress
mathematics assessment asked the following question: “How many buses does the
army need to transport 1,128 soldiers if each bus holds 36 soldiers?” Many of the
eighth grade students answering this question gave the answer “31 with a
remainder of 12.”1 In other words, the students were able to construct the
mathematical equation to determine the answer, but they failed to apply their
results to the context of the question, ie, a 32nd bus would be required to transport
all of the soldiers.

An example of a common problem teachers face can be seen in the following

scenario. A world history teacher realizes late in the year that he is not going to
finish presenting the information in the textbook to his class unless he covers 40
pages a day in a lecture-based format. Because of this he eliminates all of his
active-learning activities and instead covers the leftover textbook material in a fast-
forward lecture mode.1 In this example, the teacher forgoes the activities that may
help the students remember and relate the material being presented to the world
around them in favor of covering all of the facts necessary to pass the examination.

Many pharmacy educators can identify with one or both of these vignettes. Many of
us have been given answers to examination questions like that in the first example
when we asked for the number of tablets or particular doses. We have all been
faced as well with the dilemma of realizing that we have more lecture material to
cover than time in the class period or semester allows. Why is this?

It is because we are caught in the “twin sins”1 of typical instructional design. These
sins are activity-focused teaching and coverage-focused teaching where we either
teach to “cover” the material required for an examination or we give students
activities to complete without making sure they understand the concepts we want
them to learn (eg, for a problem such as “calculate the dose of warfarin needed to
bring the patient's INR to the therapeutic range,” we get answers like 5.65 mg

Educators should keep the following question in mind: “How do we make it more
likely by our design that more students really understand what they are asked to
learn?”1 To do this, we need to train teachers to be able to demonstrate knowledge
of their course content and different methods of pedagogy, knowledge of their
students, knowledge of selecting suitable instructional goals, knowledge of the
resources available to help in their teaching, the ability to design coherent
instruction, and the ability to assess student learning.2

Traditional models of curriculum, course, and lecture construction have the

following steps: (1) define the goals, purposes, and objectives of your
lecture/module; (2) define experiences or activities related to the goals; (3) organize
the experiences and activities, and (4) evaluate the goals. This method of teaching
leads to “coverage-oriented” teaching where topics are checked off as they are
covered. It also leads to conducting assessments at the end of a lesson or module
because it has to be done, not because the teacher wants to see if the students
understood the material.2

Backward course design changes the order of the steps: (1) identify the desired
results, (2) determine the acceptable evidence, and (3) plan learning experiences
and instruction. This model of design is standard-oriented instead of activity- or
coverage-oriented because the teacher starts with what he/she wants the students
to be able to do when the lesson has been completed rather than what material
needs to be covered. This design also makes assessment part of the learning
process and not just something to do at the end of a chapter or section because the
student needs a grade.1,2 The purpose of this paper is to define backward course
design, outline the steps for this process, provide an example of this process, and
explain where this type of course design can be used in pharmacy education.
• Other Sections▼


Theory and Definition

One way to think of course design is to compare it to software design. Software is

designed to increase the productivity of its users just as course design should help
to make learners more productive. Our students are our clients and the
effectiveness of our lectures, curriculums, and assessments is determined by their
ability to “learn” the material we present.1

Just as a computer software designer is given a set of standards to follow when

developing a new program, we as pharmacy educators are given a set of standards
to follow when developing our curriculum and even individual lectures. These
standards should guide our choices of what we teach, the activities we choose to
have students complete, and the assessments we conduct.1

Backward course design is developed on the premise that the teacher needs to
state with clarity what the students should learn, understand, and be able to do at
the end of the curriculum or lecture in order to know what material should be
“covered” and what activities and assessments should be completed. Backward
course design forces educators to shift the focus from content-focused design to
result-focused design. This type of course design helps educators answer the age-
old student questions of “why are we doing this assignment, what is its purpose,
and will I ever use this in real life?”1

Backward course design by definition is where the teacher teaches for students to
be able to use the understandings that are presented to them as opposed to just
giving them the understandings and then hoping they can apply them to different
situations.1 There are 3 questions that backward course design asks:

• (1) What should students walk out the door able to understand, regardless of
what activities or texts we use?
• (2) What is evidence of such ability, and
• (3) What texts, activities, and methods will best enable such a result?”1

Steps in Backward Course Design

In order to design a lecture, course, or curriculum using backward course design, it
is important to understand the 3 main steps: identifying the desired results,
determining acceptable evidence, and planning learning experiences and
The first step of the backward design process is to identify the desired results. In
order to accomplish this step, a teacher must ask him/herself the following
question: “What do I want students to be able to do or understand at the end of my
course or lecture?” One way to answer this question is to review the course goals
and objectives for which the lecture is given or examine national accreditation
standards to see what is required for the course. By completing this first step, the
teacher clarifies the goals of the lecture or course, making it easier to determine
what content is important.1

In this step, the teacher first establishes the large goals that students should obtain
by the end of the course or lecture.1 From this list of goals, the teacher then asks
the following: “What are the big ideas? What specific understandings about these
ideas are desired? What student misunderstandings are predictable? What
provocative questions will foster inquiry, understanding, and transfer of learning?
What key knowledge and skills will students acquire as a result of this
lecture/course? What should the student eventually be able to do as a result of such
knowledge and skills?”1

In order to see how the first step may be accomplished, consider a traditional
ambulatory care clinical clerkship. In order to begin step 1, the teacher must first
determine what the large goals of the rotation are. I used the goals given by both
our College of Pharmacy and the Center for Advancement of Pharmaceutical
Education (CAPE) to determine the goals for the rotation. A couple of examples of
these goals include:

• (1) Using the principles of pharmaceutical care, be able to design, implement,

monitor, evaluate, and adjust care plans that are patient specific and
evidenced based. This includes the ability to obtain and analyze a complete
medication history.
• (2) Communicate and collaborate with prescribers, patients, caregivers, and
providers to engender a team approach to efficient, cost-effective care. This
includes making the correct choice of written versus oral communication and
use of appropriate language and terminology.3

Once these goals were determined, the next step was to determine from these
goals what understandings students needed to have when they left the rotation,
what questions they should be able to answer, and what knowledge and skills they
should have obtained. From the above goals, here are some examples of the
understandings, questions, and knowledge/skills that I expect students to obtain
from my rotation:

• Understandings. Pharmaceutical care is a complex process that involves

knowledge about the pathophysiology of disease, pharmacology of drugs,
and social, ethical, and legal issues. Patient-specific information (social,
economic, medical) is needed to implement evidence-based treatment plans.
The choice of written versus oral communication can effect how a
recommendation is perceived as well as the quality of that communication.
• Questions. How do we use pharmaceutical care in the ambulatory care
setting? What is evidence-based medicine and how and why should it be used
to generate a patient's treatment plans? How should drug-related questions
be communicated to other health care providers versus patients?
• Knowledge/skills. Definition of pharmaceutical care and evidence-based
medicine, pathophysiology of disease, conducting medication histories,
designing evidence-based treatment plans.

The second step of backward design involves determining acceptable evidence to

conclude whether students have met the goals determined in step one. This section
helps a teacher think about what assessments and activities will prove the students
have met the desired goals and objectives instead of planning on assessments and
activities and hoping at the end, the student has learned what was desired. By
planning the assessment activities before a teacher plans the content of the lecture,
it makes it easier to know what content should be taught.1
Assessment evidence can be divided into 2 components: performance tasks and
other evidence.1 For performance tasks, teachers should ask themselves: “Through
what authentic performance tasks will students demonstrate the desired
understandings and by what criteria will performances of understanding be
judged?”1 Other evidence covers the more traditional activities such as quizzes,
tests, and homework. In this section, teachers should have students do self-
assessments of their learning when appropriate.1

I first determined what performance tasks, other evidence, and self-assessment

activities should be used to help me determine if the students obtained the
understandings and knowledge/skills that I determined in step 1. Some of the
performance tasks I came up with were: conducting medication histories, writing in-
depth care plans that are evidence-based, and writing SOAP notes to physicians.
Other evidence that I will use to show the students meet the stated goals are:
pathophysiology quizzes during our morning discussions and an initial/final
assessment test on a large array of internal medicine topics. Lastly, the student
self-assessments that I created are to have the students answer questions on what
they think pharmaceutical care is, what evidence-based medicine is, and where
they would find evidence-based medicine. Students will answer these questions at
both the beginning of the rotation and again at the end to see if their answers have
changed based on our discussions throughout the rotation. Once I determined what
assessments I would be using for the rotation I then developed grading rubrics and
directions for each activity to make sure that the activity truly did assess the goal I
was trying to achieve.

The third step in this process is planning the learning experiences and instruction.1
Just like in the other steps, there are several key questions that teachers need to
think about: “What enabling knowledge (facts, concepts, principles) and skills
(processes, procedures, strategies) will students need in order to perform
effectively and achieve the desired results? What activities will equip students with
the needed knowledge and skills? What will need to be taught and coached, and
how should it best be taught, in light of the performance goals? What materials and
resources are best suited to accomplish these goals?”1

The following acronym can be used when designing a lesson plan: WHERETO.1 The
W stands for “Where is the unit going and what is expected?”1 In this section the
teacher thoroughly explains to the students before each lecture or activity what is
expected of them and what goal this activity will achieve.1 The H stands for
“Holding the students’ interest.”1 Again, by explaining to the students why they are
completing this activity or listening to a particular lecture will help the students see
the relevance and be more engaged.1 The first E stands for “Explore, experience,
enable, and equip.”1 Here the teacher must go back and look at the activities and
assessments that were planned in stage 2 and the goals in stage 1 to determine
what lecture content and activities will help the students be able to do well in these
final assessments and what type of activities will help the students to better
understand the questions developed.1 The R is for “Reflect, rethink, and revise.”1
Here the teacher needs to plan time for the students to reflect on the “big ideas” for
the lecture and to be able to self-assess their own learning and activities.1 The
second E stands for “evaluate work and progress.”1 In this section the teacher
should place time in each lecture or course for the student to again self-evaluate
items that they may have not learned as well as those they would have liked to
learn or understand better.1 The T stands for “Tailor and personalize the work.”1 In
this section the teacher needs to look at the lesson plan and assessments and make
sure they include activities that cover all student learning styles, levels of prior
knowledge, and interests.1 The O stands for “Organize for optimal effectiveness.”1
The teacher needs to think about the best organization for the course/lecture to
maximize student engagement and learning.1

The last step should flow from the previous 2. Here is an example of how I used the
acronym for my rotation:

W: Go over rotation objectives and syllabus and explain to the student why they
would be doing each of the required activities during the rotation (tie the activities
to the larger goals for the rotation).

H: When the student is doing a specific activity (such as a medication history),

remind them why they are doing that activity and what they are expected to learn
from that activity. I will also explain to the student how the skills/knowledge from
the activity they are completing may be used in “real life” no matter what career
path they choose to follow.

E: I will demonstrate a proper medication history prior to asking the student to

complete one. Demonstrate how to complete a patient care plan using evidence-
based medicine before having the students complete one. We will also complete a
number of morning discussions on an array of internal medicine topics to ensure the
student gains the required drug and disease state knowledge needed to complete
the rotation tasks.

R and E: These two sections of the acronym go together and will be accomplished in
numerous ways during the rotation. The last day of the rotation I will have the
students pick one thing they learned on the rotation that they could use in their
future career. The students also complete an initial multiple-choice examination the
first day of the rotation. I give this examination back and give the student's time to
see what topics they need to work on during the rotation. The students then repeat
this examination the last day of the rotation to see if they improved and to help
them see what areas they still need to work on during future rotations.

T: The whole rotation has a mixture of activities for all learning styles (written
assessments, discussions, written and oral examinations). Students also have the
opportunity to help tailor the rotation to what they want to learn as they complete
their own goals for the rotation and they get to pick many of the morning discussion

O: The first week of the rotation is set-up for orientation and each new activity is
introduced in general in the first day orientation but then is discussed in detail when
it is time to complete that task. Many of the large ambulatory care topics that come
up on a daily basis during the rotation are discussed during the first week or so of
the rotation to make sure the students have the needed knowledge to care for
patients. The rest of the rotation is then flexible depending on what learning
activities arise during the rotation.

Studies on Backward Course Design

At first glance this process may seem overwhelming and difficult to complete, but
the results are worth the time and effort. Also, step one does not have to be
completed before going on to the next step. It is just important to think through all
of the steps before completing the course or lecture design. There is little evidence
in the literature that compares backward course design to traditional course design
and no evidence to this author's knowledge of this type of course design in the
medical literature.

Kelting-Gibson and colleagues2 conducted a study comparing backward course

design to a more traditional classroom design method in elementary school
teachers involved in a teaching training program. This study found that teachers
designing coursework using the backward course design method outperformed
teachers using the more traditional approach. Teachers using the backward course
design method showed better content knowledge, made better connections
between the content and other disciplines, and developed plans that reflected
research on pedagogical practices better than teachers using a more traditional
method of design. Backward design teachers also set clearer and more suitable
goals for their students, developed better plans that linked learning activities and
teaching resources to instructional goals, and better recognized students’ skill
levels and approaches to learning. Despite the better results seen with the
backward course design approach to course development this study did find that
both groups needed work in the areas of demonstrating the knowledge level of the
students and assessing student learning.2

Pharmacy School Uses for Backward Course Design

Backward course design could be useful for the individual pharmacy professor as
well as colleges and schools of pharmacy as a whole. The concept of backward
course design can be used not only to help pharmacy professors prepare their
individual lectures, courses, and rotation coursework but also to design whole

Pharmacy is in a great position to use this approach because the curriculums are
based on a core set of standards handed down from the American Council of
Pharmaceutical Education. These standards can be used to guide not only whole
curricular design but also individual lectures and course design.

• Other Sections▼

Backward course design is one method to guide colleges and schools of pharmacy
in formulating or revising whole curriculums, and help the individual instructor as
he/she struggles with designing his/her own course or lecture. By focusing on the
end results first, we can help students to see the importance of what they are
learning and make our activities more meaningful and less based on what we have
seen others do or how we were taught. This type of course design can help us teach
students to become lifelong learners as we focus on teaching larger concepts that
students can apply in many professional situations rather than on isolated pieces of
information that they may rarely or never encounter.