4. Ñòðàòåãè÷åñêèå íàïðàâëåíèÿ
ðåôîðìèðîâàíèÿ ñèñòåìû îáðàçîâàíèÿ.
Ph. D. Kozymyrska T.
USING COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK IN EFL TEACHING
An enlarged Europe has led to radical changes in education. The creation of the European Higher Education Area by 2010 (Bologna 1999) sets challenging tasks in terms of greater mobility for students, more effective international communication, better access to information and deeper mutual understanding. The Council of Europe has played an important part in the process of language teaching/learning as one of its major priority areas, with the development of inter-cultural awareness viewed as an essential part of the development of competence in another language or other languages. The concern of the Council of Europe deals with using education (language education in particular) to promote tolerance, democracy and introduce the principles of human rights into the practice of teaching and learning.
The idea of developing language teaching in Europe by finding ways to compare the objectives and achievement standards of learners in different national and local contexts has led to the appearance of a document, which identifies language use and the competences, i.e. the shared knowledge and skills, which enable users of a language to communicate with each other. Wherever possible, these are separately calibrated with brief descriptors defining six levels of proficiency (4). This document, titled “The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment” (CEF), has been designed to act as a frame of reference in terms of which different qualifications can be described, different language learning objectives can be identified, and the basis of different achievement standards can be set out. The approach adopted in CEF is an action-oriented one in so far as it views users and learners of language primarily as “social agents”, i.e. members of society who have tasks (not exclusively language-related) to accomplish in a given set of circumstances, in a specific environment and within a particular field of action (1).
The most important characteristic of CEF is that it is a descriptive framework, not a set of suggestions, recommendations, or guidelines. It is not dogmatic about objectives, about syllabus design, or about classroom methodology. In all these areas, and many others, it sets out the range of options, enabling a specific course or a specific examination to be described in terms that will identify similarities to, and differences from, other courses or examinations. Teachers, course designers, curriculum developers, and examination boards can engage with the CEF as a way of describing their current practice not in order to compare it in a neutral way with practice in other contexts, but in order to critique it in its own terms, and to improve it by drawing on ideas and resources set out in the Framework (2).
The language proficiency levels specified in the CEF are taken into account in the National ESP (English for Specific Purposes) Curriculum for Universities, which has been developed with the approval of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. The innovative character of the National ESP Curriculum stems in no small part from the pioneering nature of the CEF, from which it derives. The introduction of the six levels (A1-C2) into Ukrainian ESP teaching/learning practice will increase the quality of language learning and teaching and make language proficiency evaluation both transparent and recognisable within the wider European framework.
One of the basic principles of the National ESP Curriculum, derived from the Common European Framework of Reference, is plurilingualism, which is the focus of the work of the Council of Europe. A plurilingual approach recognises that an individual’s experience of language expands from the mother tongue to the languages of other peoples. The learner builds up a communicative competence to which all the knowledge and experience of languages contribute and in which languages interrelate and interact.
The content of the National ESP Curriculum, being based on international descriptors of levels of language proficiency, introduced by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (2001), is designed to help students to achieve target B2 language proficiency level as required for a Bachelor’s degree. Such a level of language proficiency will facilitate the academic and professional mobility of students, enable university graduates to function competently in a professional and academic context, and provide them with a platform for life-long learning. The content also allows for further movement towards a C1 proficiency level for a Master’s degree where a specialism is linguistically demanding.
The CEF describes language use and learning as competence-based, providing a good reminder of a range of different competences involved in language learning (pragmatic, sociolinguistic, intercultural, strategic, existential). Based on this the ESP Curriculum content is focused on professional communicative competence, regarded as language behaviour specific for academic and professional environment. The language behaviour requires the acquisition of linguistic competence (language skills and language knowledge), and the socio-linguistic and pragmatic competences needed for performing study and job-related tasks. The development of communicative competence relies on the students’ ability to learn, on subject knowledge and prior experience, and occurs within a study- and specialism-related situational context.
The ESP Curriculum encourages life-long learning and autonomy. It is obvious that learning a foreign language, especially in the European context, reaches far beyond compulsory education. The active use of procedural knowledge (‘learning to learn’) is the basis for efficient and autonomous life-long learning of languages after school. It corresponds to one of the main objectives of the Common European Framework, i.e. “to promote methods of modern language teaching which will strengthen independence of thought, judgement and action, combined with social skills and responsibility” (1). Thus, the ESP Curriculum is becoming a tool for promoting learner autonomy and critical awareness of learning styles. It focuses on the generic skills of critical thinking, problem solving, presenting ideas, etc. In this way it helps develop the students’ language, pragmatic and intercultural language competence, and thereby their capacity for independent language learning.
CEF includes a special part on assessment, describing different options which need to be taken into account in the development of assessment activities. It distinguishes clearly between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced assessment, between achievement and proficiency testing, and between formative and summative assessment. The common reference levels are key elements towards the achievement of a common vocabulary and a common set of standards for talking about language knowledge, skills and achievement.
As derived from the CEF reference levels, the ESP Curriculum also provides a guide for assessing learning outcomes at different levels, and helps identify the objects and forms of assessment. Thus, there is ensured a match between students’ needs, the declared objectives of ESP teaching/learning and the international (European) levels of proficiency. Students are then assessed according to the same criteria (i.e. performance descriptors), which are used to specify their learning objectives. Descriptors of language proficiency should meet the criteria provided by CEF (1) and the requirement of measurability. This is the rationale for devising levels and descriptors similar to those of CEF and the European Language Portfolio (2001).
The ESP Curriculum acknowledges the existence of various types and techniques of assessment (CEF). Concurrently with traditional testing ESP teachers should apply other assessment forms and techniques which, can contribute to better learning, learner autonomy and quality teaching. These may include: classroom peer and self-assessment, assessment of students’ group work, learning journals, reflective writing, etc. (3).
The ESP Curriculum provides teachers with instruments to develop meaningful descriptors, which will serve as reliable criteria for learner self-assessment. The emphasis on self-assessment is in line with the Council of Europe’s aim to promote autonomous lifelong learning. The CEF Common Scale of Reference not only suggests standartization and comparison of results in the area of assessment and certification, but emphasises a learner-centred approach, which, actually, is the basis of the framework. And self-assessment is central to this. The self-assesment grid with descriptors beginning “I can…” can be used for learners to look at their own competences in relation to the scale.
This grid is used as a way of stimulating learner motivation and involvement and is taken for one of the tools of self-assessment proposed in the curriculum, i.e. for the European Language Portfolio (ELP), which may serve as a model for portfolio developers. It is a collection of tools for recording and reflecting on the learner’s language learning and intercultural experience. It also provides grids for self-assessment of language achievements according to the CEF descriptors and the setting of personal learning goals. The pedagogic function of the ELP is to make the language learning process more transparent to students, to help them develop their capacity for reflection and self-assessment, and thus to enable them gradually to assume more responsibility for their own learning. The ELP enhances ‘learning to learn’ and promotes the development of critical thinking skills.
As the National ESP Curriculum for Universities is focused on giving students an opportunity to develop the competences and strategies needed to function effectively in the study process and in the professional situations they encounter, the achievement of the certain levels of language proficiency, as defined in CEF, will facilitate students’ individual mobility and competitiveness in the job market.
1. Council of Europe. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
2. Insights from the Common European Framework. Ed. by Keith Morrow. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
3. Moon, J. The Module and Programme Development Handbook. A Practical Guide to Linking Levels, Learning Outcomes and Assessment. London: Kogan Page Limited, 2002.
4. Trim, J. The Work of the Council of Europe in the Field of Modern Languages, 1957-2001. Graz, 2001.