Motivation: An Elusive Quality (Part 1)

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An Elusive Quality: The Syllabus

Feride Hekimgil, Turkey

Feride Hekimgil was born into a multicultural, multilingual family in Basingstoke in 1955. She grew up and completed her primary and secondary education in Istanbul after which she attended Boğaziçi University, an English medium university, in the same city. After graduating in 1976, having received a BA in English Literature and her teaching certificate from The Department of Education, she started teaching English as a foreign language at the School of Foreign Languages in the same university. She continues to teach at the same university. E-mail:


The action plan: the syllabus

Concerning the necessity of a syllabus…

Who plans the syllabus?

What kind of a syllabus?

Where to start?

What about the building blocks?

The wakeup call…

And our motto: Keep them enthused, keep them keen!


Appendix 1

Appendix 2

The action plan: the syllabus

Having established what the correct attire, mode of addressing the students and general demeanor in the classroom should be like, we need to move on to the teacher’s strategy and action plan, which is one thing that cannot be done on the hop. Before getting into the specifics of syllabus design, we would do well to focus on an article written by futurist Thomas Frey and posted on his website: Curiosity- Driven Education. Frey quotes A. Clark in this article, who he heartily agrees with, that “a student’s interest is the most important thing in education”; a fact that a lot of educational establishments seem to have lost touch with. He demonstrates by providing some rather scary factual information and I quote: “As it turns out, the average American spends 11.8 hours every day consuming information. Many other countries are posting similar numbers. People today are being exposed to far more information than ever in the past. Buried deep within “the other” category, constituting far less than 1% is formalized education. Even for students attending college, their classroom studies constitute a relatively small percentage of the information they are exposed to on a daily basis.” He goes on to inquire why “the pedigree of information coming from scholarly people is considered more valuable than all the other information we are exposed to on a daily basis.” The conclusion he reaches is that in fact it isn’t; the information we get from a host of other sources seems to be much more highly valued and thus have a greater impact – being much better retained. He cites various experiments to bolster his position that if a student is curious, enthusiastic and intrigued, he will learn and retain information better. When the excitement, scientific curiosity and desire to know more at all costs is gone, so is effective learning and how we, educators, have managed to lose track of this fact I really fail to see. Perhaps we didn’t completely lose track but although many seem to pay lip service to the idea, they don’t seem to actually act on it. It is sad but true that many of us seem to have lost sight of the most important goal of education: to foster “an amazing sense of curiosity driven by a need to understand nature” The only point I don’t see eye to eye on with Mr. Frey is the solution: while he tends to agree with Arthur Clark that If a teacher can be replaced by a machine, he should be”, I feel that although technology has a very important place in learning in the 21st century, the problem of lack of interest and motivation on the part of students is largely due to the teaching staff of many establishments for as I have been saying from the outset, they are the leaders, the master of ceremonies, the director and the ring master. It is down to teachers to enthuse – and technology is certainly one of the weapons in the teachers’ arsenal – if they are failing, there is something very wrong in the state of Denmark as Shakespeare so aptly put it.

Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world” and he was right. I strongly feel that it is this fact that seems to have fallen by the way side. No one ignites true passion more successfully than a dedicated and imaginative leader who can visualize “the complete picture” and also the methods to be employed while overcoming the various hurdles en route to achieving the goal he has set for himself. A real leader – in our case the teacher – who is by definition imaginative and unfettered by conventional ways of doing a job, can put the curiosity, enthusiasm and passion back in learning by carefully planning his strategy; i.e., his syllabus. Having determined what the underlying principle of syllabus design should be, it is necessary to direct our attention to the specifics of how the learning objectives envisioned can be married up with this philosophy. For married up they have got to be if successful learning, a lifelong love for the subject matter – in our case reading, writing and listening in English – high pass rates and complete cooperation on the part of the students is to be ensured.

Concerning the necessity of a syllabus…

When William of Normandy invaded England in 1066, he was greatly aided in his attempt by a series of events he had not bargained for. First of all, although he had been ready to set sail for the shores of Britain for some time, he was not able to do so until late September when there was finally a favorable wind. Being late autumn, the people of England were bringing in the harvest – understandably – and the small force that Harold had left when he set off for the north to face his brother Tosti and Harold Hardraada – The king of Norway with whom Tosti had formed an alliance and who had invaded the north of the country – were no match for William. This being the case, William pretty much walked a shore. To give him his due, Harold did defeat his brother and Harold Hardraada and marched straight south without so much as drawing a breath and faced William at Hastings. Despite his ordeal, Harold put up a wonderful resistance but was defeated; the result being that William of Normandy was crowned king of England. Now consider another battle that took place in 1071, a few years later, in what is now Anatolia: the battle of “Malazgirt”; fought by the Selchuk Sultan, Alpaslan. Being master tacticians, the Sultan and his generals surrounded the enemy army in a crescent shaped vice of soldiers, having lured them there, and destroyed them. This tactic was later successfully used by The Ottomans as well if I am not much mistaken. The point of this little history lesson is that while the latter had a tactic, a plan of action that was well thought out, the former invasion was greatly aided by first the weather and consequently the need to gather the harvest, and Tosti and his Norwegian ally. The fact that if such hadn’t been the case, William may, in fact, not have won is supported by the fact the Battle of Hastings could have gone either way in 1066. At this point, we should stop and ask ourselves whether we can always trust in chance or ourselves to make the right move at the right time, take the correct decision or implement the correct policy. There are two possible adjectives one can apply to anyone who ventures to say yes to such a question: foolhardy or misguided.

The view that long term strategy is a must holds true for the government and the business world, where five year plans, yearly budgets and long term policy decisions are commonplace. The manager, his department heads and in the case of Japan, workers way down in the hierarchy will be involved in determining long term policy and the best ways to implement it. Nothing is left to chance for fear of tactical errors that can have serious repercussions. No general in his right mind will say “Let’s get as far as that stream and then we’ll look and see” or “I’ll think of something when I get to the meeting”. The question is what if there are factors you didn’t bargain for? What if, when you are seated in the board room, your mind goes blank?” Or even worse, what if your tactical decision goes horribly wrong? Remember the Battle of The Somme in W.W.I and the disastrous consequences of the tactical decisions in that case – in the shape of a complete and utter bloodbath. This is why planning is paramount in any major operation and that includes deciding what to do in class. What is meant by this is not just sitting down for five minutes with coffee and a friend but very careful planning; the sort where no stone is left unturned.

There will always be those teachers who will amble in five minutes before the bell, flip through papers and books, grab something and walk into class – or grab the whole lot and walk into class postponing the final verdict for when they are actually facing the students. One thing these teachers need to remember is that students will feel at once if the teacher is well prepared and knows what he is doing or not (shuffling through a bunch of papers at the rostrum while students wait will not produce respect); they will then respond accordingly and most importantly, will not learn as well if they come to believe that their teacher is making decisions on the hop. There is another point too: the teacher won’t enjoy the process of teaching as much as he could have either thus perpetuating the problem. There is yet another problem closely linked to lack of planning and that is discipline. A great thinker once said “The only way to rule people is to serve them; the rule has no exceptions”. He was right; if a teacher wants to do a worthwhile job, be respected and followed, he has got to let the students see that he is serving them. The teacher who is really “serving” the students never need fear discipline problems; love and respect put a stop to that. There may be the occasional problem in spite of all this, but that issue we are going to need to postpone to a later date. We have, I hope, now established that a teacher can’t walk into class and expect to teach “ex cathedra”; through divine inspiration.

Who plans the syllabus?

Is there really any doubt about who is best qualified to plan the syllabus? When the aforementioned Sultan and his generals decided to go to battle, they didn’t consult “army campaign planners” who drew up the plans and handed it to them to implement. Similarly, our manager discusses policy decisions with department heads and assistant managers who are the same people who proceed to implement the plans. The point we need to keep in mind is that strategy works best if the planners and those who implement the plans are one and the same. When such is not the case, it is almost as if there is a break between the brain – whoever is designing the action plan – and the body, arms and legs and so forth who devoid of the need and often also the desire to think, will retire into a semi vegetative state from which position they will try and do as they are told like Dr Who’s Darlects. A position of blind obedience is supremely comfortable as one can sort of plod along without worrying oneself too much about the larger picture; or indeed the smaller picture like what happens on Tuesday for instance. This is why so many members of the teaching profession in such a situation fall rather too comfortably into a rut, becoming implementers rather than the master tacticians and leaders they were originally meant to be. Passivity is easy; questioning, challenging rocking the boat is not only harder but also unpleasant. Quarrels at universities or other teaching establishments can get vicious and hurtful so why would one bother to express qualms? The fact that a teacher doesn’t have the luxury of not thinking, not planning and not leading should be, by now, pretty obvious. So if there are still those members of the profession out there who are thus plodding along, I strongly recommend that they have a little rethink.

There are various additional reasons, which may not be immediately apparent, why “central planning committees” are not ideal: for one thing, they start becoming more and more cut off from the realities on the ground; i.e. the classroom, and lacking this valuable source of direct feedback, become more prone to mistakes which in turn they defend to the death – the “this is my baby syndrome” can mean the gloves come off. Any individual who is tucked away somewhere in an old university – especially if he’s permitted to vegetate there year in and year out – does tend to turn inwards and for lack of another focus in life, devote all his enthusiasm, passionate love and dedication to his one and only child: the syllabus. The bonds forged between a syllabus designer and his brain child; i.e. the syllabus, thus tend become a tad obsessive; a feeling that grows in strength – if that is possible – the longer that person is compelled to stay cooped up in his turret dishing out action plans. These action plans, lovingly nurtured, are delivered to the teachers who will take them on and walk off into the horizon – down the corridor to class. The tearful parent is destined never to see those first faltering steps his brain child will take, he will never be able to watch, lend a helping hand, encourage or if need be, take the child by the hand and leave.

Lacking the opportunity to observe and assess firsthand how his strategy works, he will be unable to make amendments. He may receive feedback from teachers who, as a breed, don’t mince their words to the effect that “This sucks! What the f*** were you thinking of!” which will lead him to cling ever more tenaciously to his darling whose existence now depends on him. In response to raised eyebrows concerning the ferocity of this attack on the curriculum planner, I would like to point out a certain idiosyncrasy of teachers worldwide: they live in mortal terror of not being able to get their point across, to fail to penetrate the hippocampus, jump start the creation of new synapses. Unlike politicians, they consider all who are before them in the capacity of students as somehow deficient and in need of PLENTY of consolidation. Believing that “a stitch in time saves nine”, the teacher charges the frontal lobes before him with the ferocity of a pneumatic drill. In prehistoric times, there were a group of dinosaurs called the bone heads the front bit of whose skulls were a good a couple of inches thick to enable them to head-but each other. It is to these creatures that the teacher – the pneumatic drill – likens the students on the receiving end. This is all unconscious you must understand but observe the teachers around you and you will find that no other group of individuals explains anything with such energy and with such an air of determination and desperation. To the teacher, it is a matter of life and death. This earnestness spills over into other spheres of life as well which means that the local grocer, the tea lady, family members all have to be “made to understand”; irritating for the latter as no amount of protest will make an iota of difference to the teacher in question. Naturally, the curriculum planner “must also be made to understand”. The latter being a teacher as well, he responds in a similar vein making staff meetings at educational establishments some of the stormiest in the world.

Getting back to the class teacher who we left confronting our curriculum planner ,his focus is the class – his attention is divided – he has no such hang-ups with any material he produces casting it aside if need be with a shrug of the shoulders and turning to what he deems a better alternative. Why then do we have curriculum committees?

The answer is simple: in large institutions where – as in the case of the institution I work at – there are close to two thousand students who have to be ready to pass a proficiency exam, or the IELTS or TOEFL at a specific date in eight months time; it is too risky to leave things to chance. Tight controls are a must, the system has to be foolproof, and the pitfalls are far fewer if there is a team doing the planning. Large institutions are compelled by their nature to play it safe; however, smaller establishments can implement more direct democracy if you like and mimic small town meetings in cantons in Switzerland: five teachers can perfectly well get round a table, exchange views, design their syllabus and then tweak it should the need arise; a couple of hundred teachers cannot. The problems linked to curriculum committees can be minimized with the implementation of certain safe guards:

  1. No one person should stay in the curriculum department for more than two years at the very most.

  2. Curriculum members should consider it part of their duty to observe classes

  3. They should hold frequent meetings with staff members where a frank exchange of views takes place.

Having rather reluctantly come to the conclusion that a more “representative” system is best, it is important to pose one crucial question: what is the magic formula, then, for that all important ideal syllabus? Very simple; there isn’t one. There is a single ideal syllabus suited to a particular group with certain features and needs. What this means for a teacher in a large teaching establishment is that although the syllabus the central committee prepares may be appropriate in the main, it may not be a hundred percent ideal, which in turn means the teacher has to roll his sleeves up as well. The teacher needs, in other words, to prepare material, contribute to the syllabus and the determining of the learning objectives as well. Teaching, like learning, is a truly active process; a detail that some would prefer to forget. Who knows? Rediscovering themselves as thinking, planning and teaching individuals may bring true joy. What could be more fulfilling than the satisfaction derived from a job well done?

What kind of a syllabus?

A syllabus is by definition an action plan devised to meet the needs of a specific, well defined target group. It is not an arena for a teacher or syllabus designer to ram down students’ throats what they feel they should be doing. Students, in the form of young business executives for instance, may be attending a course for the purpose of conversing more comfortably with clients or customers. Compelling such individuals to suffer through the intricacies of the reduction of adjective clauses for example would not only mean going against the customers’ wishes which in turn would mean loss of business ( in this case the students), but also mean either that no learning objectives have been devised or that they are being disregarded. Such a program is doomed to fail. Consider the reverse: a group of students are attending a course with the purpose of taking some kind of proficiency test to enter an English medium university. The learning objectives need to be thought out in tandem with this particular test: proficiency in reading, listening, essay writing and also everyday conversation is the target so skills practice should be a major part of the course as of day one, gradually building towards the climax. I was passing the time of day with a colleague – a young woman who most definitely has her head screwed on right – and she remarked, on being asked, that they were still completing the grammar required of them according to the syllabus and hadn’t got into skills proper; a capital offence in my mind as the said conversation took place at the beginning of May and the proficiency was in June. If, as I said before, the ultimate goal is a skills based English proficiency exam, skills practice should be fed into the program as of day one ( for further reference, see” The Lord Said Let There Be English Grammar And There Was Much Rejoicing”). I shudder to think how one can get through all that grammar without skills practice. If the class is still examining the past forms of modals or omitting “if” from a conditional sentence a month to the exam, it doesn’t take a university degree to tell you that there is something very wrong with the action plan. The particular teacher or planner’s individual fondness for some obscure grammar point (a common affliction among English Teachers) for instance should not be allowed to infect the program. To sum up then, the program should be tailor made to suit the needs, capabilities and interests of the group in question. If you recall, awakening curiosity, enthusiasm and passion for learning is the main criterion; this, as I said before, needs to be worked into the syllabus with a view to attaining the specific goal that is being targeted. However accurate the learning objectives, however good the syllabus, very little learning will be achieved if this latter point is disregarded (for details concerning the selection of material, refer to the relevant papers on this site). Someone once said of managers “Good management is the art of making problems so interesting, and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them”. This would be a very apt way of describing a teacher and curriculum planner’s relationship with the students.

Where to start?

Deciding where to start is only easy if the target group is composed of absolute beginners. This is not always the case however; there is often a most annoying amount of variety. Get the starting point too simple and the students will slip into those unhealthy study habits, unruly behavior and dangerous overconfidence before you can say Jack Robinson. Once there, they will be very hard to shift even if the material starts to become quite challenging, say in two or three week’s time. The feeling that they have very little to learn and that their being there is down to some administrative error is supremely hard to shift as generations of teachers and planners have discovered to their cost. When learning, overly simple material breeds boredom; overly difficult material breeds despair and both become deeply entrenched surprisingly fast. Challenging material that is just difficult enough to be interesting but not so difficult that one has to abandon the task is perfect however, and will engender full concentration; and in lieu of that, learning. With regard to the curriculum team, making the starting point too hard is not so great a problem as it is discovered in five seconds and rectified immediately.

What, in this case, is the novice curriculum planner to do? The answer is simple: unless there has been some major hue and cry the previous year, he sticks to the syllabus in hand slowly substituting material at each stage that he feels will better meet the requirements of the program. He does not play with the framework until he has done A LOT of observing of classes. It goes without saying that the teacher assigned to this post has to have taught at this level for some years, have a clear vision of what the goal and the various stages on the way to achieving it are and have views concerning what type of material will best serve the purpose. Most ideally, he should have his own tried and tested syllabus which he brings to the job. Anything short of this is unfair to the teacher in question if he is assigned to this post as he will be in for a very bumpy ride indeed and a much bruised ego. If, on the other hand, he has volunteered of his own free will, say while drunk, he is ripe for a very rude awakening. Like in the case of any other job, curriculum design presupposes a certain skill set any applicant to such a post must possess. It is a job the applicant needs to interview for like any other. Once ensconced in his new position, our curriculum planner needs to get together with the dinosaurs of the establishment – those individuals who have devoted their lives to the place and have been there since the year dot. As in everything, practice makes perfect: there comes a point in anyone’s career when estimations are spot on, plans slot into place and the material is just right. The experienced professional develops a feel for the job that is very hard to quantify although there have been efforts to do so. One system is to gage the level of a reading text via a lexical analysis yet vocabulary, sentence quality and grammar are not the only things that determine the level of difficulty of say a reading passage; there are the exercises as well. I would, at this point like to draw your attention to the reading passage “Curiosity Driven Education”, written by Thomas Frey and posted on his website, for which I wrote a set of questions (see appendix) which I referred to at the start of this paper. When I posted the task I deemed it, in my wisdom, sort of pre intermediate level; how wrong could I be! Although lexically it certainly is a delightfully straight forward text, the questions have turned out to be well, to put no finer point on it, hard. When writing questions for a text, one ends up reading the text at least half a dozen times by which point everything begins to look straightforward; hence the importance of feedback. I discovered my misjudgment when I walked into class with it. My students are advanced at this stage of the year and they had to concentrate; there was no way they could breeze through it in ten minutes as I thought they would. This in spite of the fact that I have been at this for a wee while! Let us consider another example, another article out of The Guardian: “BrainGate gives paralysed the power of mind control” The text informs of a wonderful little brain chip which enables those who are paralyzed or suffer from “locked in syndrome” to communicate with the outside world. The reading task I designed for it is fairly straightforward; the writing task, however, is not (see appendix). So where do you place it in the program? Determining the level of difficulty of material is not as easy as it looks and very hard to write computer programs for. The answer is to use it at an earlier level minus the reaction essay as a reading activity, or use it later on in the year as a prewriting activity. This kind of know how comes with experience so this brings me back once again to the all important communication, dialogue and the civilized give and take of opinions among members of staff to remedy problems.

What about pace?

Although the issue of pace seems to be a problem at first glance, in fact it often is not; not for our curriculum planner anyhow. The reason being that pace is often determined by certain outside factors beyond one’s control in the shape of central examinations or finals which are set for a particular date and cannot be altered. This leaves the curriculum planner facing the following predicament:

  1. The goal is firmly fixed and there is no shifting it even if one should wish to (our proficiency exam is on June 10th come hell or high water).

  2. The starting point is similarly firmly fixed ( the start of the year)

  3. This means the pace is also firmly fixed ( as students have to be prepared for and have a reasonable chance of passing the said exam)

  4. The goal being clearly defined, the learning objectives are also obvious even to the uninitiated.

  5. This leaves the itsy bitsy little problem of how to achieve the learning objectives imposed on the establishment from on high.

The very limited area of maneuver the curriculum planner is required to do his job in is consistently and sometimes willfully forgotten with the poor individual continually being upbraided for going too fast or introducing, say summary writing, too early. The truth is he doesn’t have a choice; he can’t go in fits and starts languishing for weeks on end to break into a sprint Ussein Bolt style for the next few weeks. A uniform pace has, at all costs, got to be maintained. What, you may wonder, is to happen to those who, for one reason or another, fall behind? “Adapt or die” Darwin said but we don’t need to be that brutal – we do need to come pretty close though; this is the way of the world: you shape up or ship out. Most schools will have safety nets in place in the form of remedial classes or extra coaching to help stragglers. In this modern age of fierce competition, we all know what happens to those who are left behind. The exam date you remember is fixed; this being the case, the pace cannot slacken. Occasional pleas from teachers that “We should slow down” are impossible to comply with. This reminds us, once again, how important it is to get the selection of material, which will enable the learning objectives to be successfully accomplished, correct at the outset. The solution is team work good and proper: the individuals responsible for the curriculum need to work hand in glove with the teachers for the duration of the program. One feedback meeting at the end of the year with nothing in between is a grave mistake as by that time, tempers get seriously frayed and people, in desperation, become vitriolic. This, in turn, puts the curriculum people on the defensive and no improvements to the program are made. The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the curriculum designer must actively and routinely seek feedback.

What about the building blocks?

Going back for a minute to that wonderful article “Curiosity Driven Education”, we discover that Arthur C. Clark embedded a computer in a wall in a New Delhi slum and provided high speed internet access. He then left. On his return he discovered that the children who had never seen a computer before in their entire lives had discovered how to download music and play it to their friends – this in four hours. I strongly recommend that you should read up on “The Hole in the Wall” experiment and its findings in its entirety. When you do, you will discover a truism that we should have known all along: what is truly intriguing and fascinating will enthuse like nothing else; will drive concentration, learning and attention like nothing else. This being the case, the curriculum planner’s job is relatively simple but again how often this simple truth is ignored is amazing. All he has to do is provide a framework and context for learning which is in keeping with the students’ interests. After all, “Can You Live For Ever? No, But You Can Have Fun Trying” (www., which is all about symbiosis and really appeals to students, will provide just as much reading, vocabulary and grammar practice as some stuffy text somewhere. While we are on the subject of stuffy texts, we, as teachers, need to hold up our hands and admit that “the fondness” we feel for them is as ingrained in our psyches as our love for say, the subjunctive. Sadly, if we are to really get through to the students, this is one obsession that has to be laid to rest. Bob Dylan warns those who refuse to keep up with the times in no uncertain terms: “Don’t stand in the doorway; don’t block up the hall; for he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled”. He could have been referring to teachers and teaching material. While we are on the subject of frank admissions, there is a whole list of subjects we need to lay to rest too: texts concerning education ( a pet hate with the average student), healthy living, aerobics, health issues, way out of date scientific texts we’ve been hanging onto( teachers are, by nature, pack rats)… Need I go on? However much we personally like these subjects, the sad truth is that students hate them with a passion (with the exception of Thomas Frey’s text). Teachers, as I stated in part one of this paper, need to really get to know their teams and correctly read the public pulse. The modern generation is into science and technology for instance. Have you ever wondered why students yawn through geography lessons but adore The National Geographic; why they loath history but adore the history channel; why they feel biology sucks but David Attenborough is OK? These are just a few examples of the rivals for students’ attention the curriculum planner has to compete with. My point: why compete at all? Why not keep up with the times? As Heraclitus said succinctly: “There is nothing permanent except for change”, and it is high time we accepted the fact that this is especially true for teaching material.

The wakeup call…

The Black Crows tell the “Daughters of the revolution” to “open their eyes and see the solution” and warn that “to give up now would be such a pity”. They weren’t referring to teachers but it really fits remarkably well. Changes have already started to appear in the latest language books in the shape of PowerPoint presentations to introduce lessons, online labs for students to benefit from and the like. Gone are cassettes ; even CDs are on their way out as they are being replaced by, say, YouTube, the multimedia sections of various online publications like The Scientific American or news channels like the BBC or CNN. Pre reading or pre writing activities now need to come from the cyber world if we are to capture students’ attention and keep it. How much better to include talks from websites like or as an alternative in listening lessons instead of the teacher droning on the whole while for instance?( Were you aware that the teacher who uses is also able to add subtitles in a language of his choice? )The teacher, whose focus is the young population needs, more than anyone, to keep up with the times. Failure to do this is, essentially, the root of all evil in teaching and classroom practices and what led Thomas Frey, in desperation, to suggest alternatives. There is one thing he may have overlooked however: as a breed we are always up for a challenge even if the challenge involves venturing into unknown territory – the world of technology. The instinct to instruct and impart knowledge cannot be destroyed but it most definitely needs to take a somewhat different rout. Fail and we lose the students. This being the case, curriculum planners need to rethink the building blocks of the lesson plans and syllabi they prepare. For details concerning these so called building blocks, I would suggest you consult the remainder of the papers on this site where specific examples as well as procedure and pitfalls are discussed at length. Although individual teachers can be very innovative in the ways they present the lesson, this will not suffice; the curriculum designer needs to work innovations, especially modern technology, into the curriculum. The innovations need, in short, to be made official. The curriculum designers are, after all, the vanguard and must lead the way in implementing changes and keeping up with the times if they are to keep the team, the students, on board. The students we face today are radically different from those ten years ago and to persist in planning for the former instead of the latter is both unpardonable and totally insane. For details of how this should be done, refer to individual papers on this site.

And our motto: Keep them enthused, keep them keen!

More details than this cannot be provided for as stated previously, curriculum planning does not amount to a prescription where one formula fits all; this we have established. There are certain general principles and an overall philosophy that apply everywhere across the board; this we have also established. Then there are specific learning objectives, a specific pace and specific ways of achieving these objectives which will only apply for the group in question and can be correctly ascertained only after close scrutiny of the latter. Generalizations can, however, be made in this area too and have been dealt with in earlier papers. As far as introducing innovations and excelling in the classroom however, the sky is the limit and we should all put our shoulders to the grindstone and remember what Faulkner said many years ago: “Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries and predecessors, be better than yourself”.


Shortly after writing this paper, I happened upon a wonderful article written by Andrea Kuszewski and published in The Scientific American ( titled “You can increase your intelligence: 5 ways to maximize your cognitive potential”. In it, I discovered to my utter joy that there is, in fact, a scientific basis for the views concerning learning I hold so dear (in the shape of brain activity leading to successful learning). Read the section titled “Seek Novelty” and you will see what I mean.

Appendix 1


Historical perspective, new strategy, people making a difference, powerful idea, technology trends, by Thomas Frey, January 27, 2011; Level of Difficulty **


Read as far as “Understanding the Word Stream” and answer the question:

  1. What conclusion can we draw from the experiments that Arthur C. Clark conducted in India?

  2. It is implied in this section that the teacher should be replaced by a machine if……………………..

Read “Understanding the Word Stream” and answer the question:

  1. What is the basic paradox expressed in this section concerning the information people are exposed to?

Read “The Cost of Words” and answer the question:

  1. What conclusion can be drawn from the information provided in this section?

Read “Are Colleges Pricing Themselves out of Existence” and answer the question:

  1. In what two ways are nonschool organizations considered superior to college classes?

Read “When Inertia Ends” and answer the question:

  1. In what respect are colleges and the newspaper world compared in this section?

Read “Curiosity Driven Education” and answer the question:

  1. The writer predicts that a lot of learning will take place on the internet. What are the two reasons why he makes this claim?

Read “More on the Hole in the Wall Experiment” and answer the question:

  1. What are the two reasons why students succeed in learning in Mitra’s experiment?

Read “Final Thoughts” and answer the last question:

  1. The text ends with the following sentence: “We do it by creating systems that empower our curiosity”. What does “it” refer to in this sentence?


It is now time for you to express your “final thoughts”. Write a reaction essay evaluating the views expressed in this text. Your teacher will discuss the text with you first and help you with planning.


The text is a little gem expressing some rather radical views on education with some undeniably strong arguments. The text is not hard lexically but the questions are real careful reading questions and the writing task is challenging. The reason is that summarizing a text like this for the second paragraph of the essay will be no mean feat.

  1. Students driven by curiosity will learn more, learn faster than when they were confronted with subjects of low interest.

  2. The machine arouses more interest in the students because interest is the most important motivating force in education.

  3. Although formalized education constitutes only 1% of information we are exposed to, it is considered far more valuable.

  4. The value of a university is now totally out of sync with…

  5. They present information in comprehensible formats for far less money; They are doing a far better job of matching the curiosity of the learner with the subjects and experts they are interested in.

  6. In terms of how good they are at meeting the demands of the emerging hyper-individualized, curiosity driven consumer.

  7. It is curiosity driven; It is designed round the two way flow of information.

  8. Students have near photographic recall; They are learning together at a time when their curiosity has been peaked.

  9. Removing the constraints and incentivizing people to build on a hunch with the remote…

Appendix 2


Paul Harris; The Observer, Sunday 17 April, 2011 (


  1. What means did the woman use to put the glass on the dot?

  2. What enabled the woman to use the above technique to place the glass on the dot?

  3. Who, is it hoped, will BrainGate provide the most help for?

  4. What modifications are currently being made to the BrainGate technology?

  5. What is the fundamental problem which prevents paralyzed patients from moving?

  6. What exactly does BrainGate pick up and transfer to a computer?

  7. What is the reasoning behind BrainGate’s computer programs?

  8. What is the next use Donoghue wishes to put BrainGate to?

  9. What would the above make possible?

  10. What activities did Nagle ultimately end up being able to do?

  11. What use could the military and intelligence services put BrainGate to? Write two.

  12. What suggestion does Donoghue make to counter the fears stated above?

  13. What advantage does the new version of BrainGate have over the initial model?

  14. In the last paragraph, the writer says “One person who did think about it was Bauby.” What does “it” refer to in this phrase?


Level of difficulty:**

The wonderful, heartwarming and deeply moving article comes out of The Observer which is, as you know, a linked to The Guardian. It details the latest in symbiosis – the merging of the human brain with computers – and as a search reading exercise, would go very nicely with “Can You Live Forever? No, But You Can Have Fun Trying” a wonderful text off The Scientific American website: as it provides a practical example of the processes outlined in the latter. Before introducing the article, it is suggested that you provide an article about Jean Dominique Bauby who managed to dictate a memoir, “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly”, detailing his tragic imprisonment in his own body by blinking one eye. Sadly, he passed away before the technology in this article became available.

  1. Her Thoughts

  2. A device implanted in her brain / BrainGate

  3. Sufferers of Locked-in syndrome.

  4. Pushing the technology to see how far it goes; trying to miniaturize it

  5. The fact that the pathways connecting the brain to the rest of the body such as the spinal cord have been broken.

  6. Electronic signals fired by…

  7. It is a form of mind reading based on the idea that…

  8. Hooking BrainGate up to a system of electronic stimulators plugged into the muscles of arms and legs.

  9. Patients would move their own bodies.

  10. Operate a TV, play simple computer games, send and receive emails.

  11. Probe the innermost thoughts of captured prisoners or dissidents; it could pave the way for robot worriers controlled by distant humans using their minds only.

  12. As long as there is a rational dialogue and scientists think about where…

  13. It is wireless

  14. Walking around with an artificial nervous system made of wires and chips


Ask the students to write an opinion essay expressing their views or reservations concerning this new technology.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Please check the Teachers as Leaders course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.
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