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Curriculum Design and Innovation in Language Teaching


The present paper refers to the practical and theoretical implications of curriculum design and change; the proper regard is given to the historically formed traditions in language teaching, the most valuable innovations of the 20th century in both traditional MLT and more modern ELT. The ideas of Connelly (1988) on the theoretical framework of a curriculum and recurrent themes (commonplaces) met in the curriculum-related research lay the foundation of the outlook at the curriculum as a proper combination of educational theory and practice.

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Further on, the historical account of White (1988) on the issues of changes that occurred in the approaches to designing modern curricula was investigated to identify the evolutionary progress of language teaching and to identify key concerns for the modern curriculum design and implementation.

Main body

The ideas of Markee (1993) supporting the comprehensive integration of innovations described by White (1988) were used for bridging the gap between theory and practice of curriculum design. The author provides a thorough account of all stakeholders involved in the process of introducing the innovation in the curriculum, and clearly defines the nature of innovation itself.

The ideas of Hargreaves (1989) and Breen (1987) provide a practical complement to the curriculum design issues – the authors have been working extensively on the clarification of the positions of teachers and students in the curriculum design and implementation stages. The practical experience in curriculum implementation described in the study of Fox (2004) provides a logical conclusion from the theoretical observations of other authors and offers some crucial points for attention in the process of implementing an innovative curriculum design.

The issues of curriculum design and innovation have been troubling both practitioners and theoreticians in linguistics, pedagogy, and language learning spheres for several centuries. There are a number of opinions on how the curricular theory and practice can be combined in the process of designing a curriculum, what concepts should lay the foundation thereof, and what key roles are given to stakeholders of the educational process concerning the curriculum emergence and change. The initial point of research on curriculum design should be taken from the study of Connelly (1988) dedicated to the estimation of relationships that practice and theory may have within the curriculum framework.

The author identifies four major commonplaces that refer to the recurrent themes in curriculum research (subject matter, teacher, learner, and milieu) to derive the curriculum design from them as the most fundamental issues to be considered (Connelly, 1988). Further on, the author points out the dialectic approach arguing that theory and practice are inseparable and represent the two aspects of one activity, which are the ideas put into actions (Connelly, 1988).

From my own experience, I may surely say that theory and practice are indispensable parts of the curriculum design, though it is truly hard to implement this into practice. The curriculum usually refers to the administrative part, not teaching, so my experience shows it is better to entrust teachers with making curricula because of their practical work in the classroom. It makes the curriculum more fitting the real-time needs of students, and at the same time contains theoretical compliance with educational standards.

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Given the close relationships of theory and practice marked as important for understanding, generating, and implementing a curriculum, one should refer to the research of White (1988) about the divergence of modern language teaching (MLT) and English language teaching (ELT) traditions that have revealed themselves as early as the Middle Ages. It is essential due to the conclusion that historical tendencies have a pronounced effect on the modern curriculum design, and only with the proper understanding of the evolutionary path of curriculum design can one distinguish the key innovative points to be taken into account in the modern reality.

The innovative technologies deviating from the conservative British MLT tradition included the Reformative Movement’s introduction to the primacy of speech, the centrality of the connected text, and priority of the oral methodology in the classroom (White, 1988). Other innovative methods and techniques include Palmer’s system of classifying words according to their function in the sentence, West’s needs analysis, the emergence of audio-bilingualism in the USA in the post-war period, and further development of transformational-generative linguistics, communicative language teaching, LASP, etc. (White, 1988).

These new ways of teaching require an adequate reflection in the methodological materials on instruction, though the teacher participating in everyday classroom activities will always agree that the conventional grammar-translation method also has a place in the curriculum as a starting point for learners, or the alternative for hard learners.

In the classroom where speaking or analytical thinking in the foreign language is impossible, the teacher has to adjust the level of instruction in such a way so that to ensure the highest outcomes for the majority of students. I once had a weak group that could hardly respond to the speaking and analytical tasks I gave them. Upon working for a month, I realized that they would never meet even the lowest baseline of the exam, so I started to apply the grammar-translation method most of the time to ensure the minimum of knowledge retained by them. Here the situation researched by Markee (1993) is more appropriate – proper fitting of the innovative technologies of instruction into the conventional methods.

The work of Markee (1993) provides a comprehensive framework in introducing the diffusion-of-innovations perspective into curriculum design. The author identifies teachers as adopters, change agents, or suppliers of innovation (Markee, 1993). Hargreaves (1989) strongly defends the idea proposed by Markee (1993) and Connelly (1988) about the active position of the teacher in the curriculum implementation because he/she is actually the one who will bring the innovation to the classroom. The author states that the success of curriculum reforms heavily relies on the involvement of the teacher and change that he/she adopts personally:

“What the teacher thinks, what the teacher believes, what the teacher assumes – all these things have powerful implications for the change process, for the ways in which curriculum policy is translated into curriculum practice” (Hargreaves, 1989, p. 54).

The role of students in the curriculum change is also active, in the opinion of Breen (1987) – the author argues that the inclusion of learners in the decision-making process should be encouraged from the very start of defining the curriculum change. There are a number of reasons for this: mainly because of the ability of the teacher to create motivating goals and procedures that way, to promote real communication and process foci, and to promote the independence of students in training and cooperation in the educational process (Breen, 1987).

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I fully agree with the considerations of Markee, Hargreaves, and Breen on the place of teachers and students in curriculum change and design. No matter what educational standards’ changes are, and no matter what the government wants the educational establishments to reform, a true designer of the curriculum should always tie the theoretical framework imposed from above to the practical, everyday needs of students and teachers.

Here, again, the direct participation of teachers in curriculum design is the best variant for a coherent change. Teachers who see their remarks taken into consideration and adopted into the curriculum will be able to implement those changes in the classroom much easier because of their own commitment to the theory they promote. Students, in their turn, as soon as they see that their requests have been included, get additional motivation for studies according to the curriculum proposed partly by them.


We have several experimental groups, and I personally participated in the student polls; I heard how reasonable the students’ remarks were, and as I was a participant in curriculum design, I managed to include them. Afterward, the studies were much easier and comfortable for students who were aware of their share put into curriculum, and their dedication to studies was much higher than in the groups who were only informed about the ready curricula. Teachers and students always feel detached from something they do not do, so the externally imposed curricula are usually of less effect.


Breen, M. 1987. Contemporary paradigms in syllabus design(parts 1 and 2). Language Teaching, 20(1), pp. 81-92; 157-174.

Connelly, E., & Clandinin, D. (1988). Recovery of Curriculum Meaning: In Teachers as Curriculum Planners, Toronto: OISE Press. pp.81-97.

Fox,J. (2004). Curriculum design: Does it make a difference? Contact 30 (2), pp. 1-4.

Hargreaves, A. 1989. Chapter Three: National curriculum policy and the culture of teaching. In Curriculum and assessment reform. Toronto: OISE Press. pp.54-69.

Markee, N. (1993). The diffusion of innovation in language teaching. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, No. 13, pp. 229-243.

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White,R. (1988). Chapter Two: Two Traditions. In The ETL curriculum: Design, innovation and management. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell. pp. 7-23.

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