Curriculum Innovation, Testing and Evaluation: Proceedings of the 1st Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.
May 11-12, 2002. Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto Institute of Technology.

Curriculum change and streaming in the
Department of English at Kyoto Sangyo University

by Amanda Gillis-Furutaka & Nobuko Sakurai

Kyoto Sangyo University is a highly ranked private university in Kyoto. It has a student population of 13,397 in seven faculties, plus some general studies research centres. There are 281 full-time tenured members of the teaching staff and 266 part-time teachers. In the Faculty of Foreign Languages, which is the focus of this paper, there are 2,111 students studying in nine language departments. English is the largest with 748 students, nine full-time tenured instructors, one three-year contract full-time instructor, and 32 part-time instructors.

The Old and New Curricula

In April 2000, a new curriculum was introduced for all the departments in the Faculty of Foreign Languages. It had been drawn up by a committee consisting of members of each language department. The basic plan was to provide the students with "intensive" language training for the first two years and then freedom to select their own seminar and language and lecture courses in the third and fourth years. The first year "intensive" course was to consist of six ninety-minute lessons a week, an introductory lecture course, and a computer skills course. Each language department was free to create their own syllabus within this framework.
Until then, students in the English Department had six ninety-minute lessons a week, all based on a separate language skill, (Intensive Reading, Extensive Reading, Grammar, Writing, Speaking, Listening and Pronunciation). The students were not streamed at all, so there was a wide range of ability in each of the classes. There was a prescribed aim for each course, but the teachers were free to choose their own textbook, design their own class activities and evaluate the students according to their own criteria. The only stipulation was that the mean grade for the class should fall within a specified range.
The English Department decided to introduce more standardization and to try to stream the students into classes of roughly the same level. The six lessons were divided into two blocks of three. The first block we named the Content Course because the aim of the lessons is to teach about a topic (Australian Culture, British Culture, Global Issues, Health, Music) using English as the medium of instruction. The lessons involve use of the four main language skills in an integrated way. The instructors meet one class three times a week for about seven weeks and then move to a new class and teach the same material again. The instructors appreciate the chance to meet all the students and to and to adapt and improve their lessons over the course of the year. The students also appreciate the chance to study a variety of topics with five or six different native speaker teachers.

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The other block we named the Skills Course. The focus of these lessons is the English language itself and language skill training. Each class has the same two instructors throughout the year. They meet one instructor twice a week and the other once a week. The instructors work together, each one picking up where the other left off in the previous lesson. (They communicate mainly by means of a notebook.) The lessons are based on CUP's New Interchange Level 2 (Richards, Hull, Proctor) text and video activity book. This course is a compromise because the level is too low for the top students and so needs to be supplemented heavily in some cases. However, it has many additional components which provide good out of class language practice (e.g. a workbook, a CD-ROM, video). We have been building up a bank of supplementary materials and composition topics (four per semester) as well as additional listening practice using the video units on the CD-ROM. An additional out of class course component is extensive reading using the Accelerated Reader computer program widely used in US schools. Students can choose from a wide selection of books to read then take quizzes on computers and earn points based on the number of quiz questions they answered correctly and the level of difficulty of the book. They have to meet targets at the middle and end of each semester as well as write a summary and personal evaluation of each book they read. One more course requirement is a Learning Diary in which the students record the new vocabulary, grammar, idioms they have learned as well as ways they have used or practiced English outside of class, their biggest success that week and what they want to try harder on the following week. They can also use it to communicate on a personal level with their instructor(s), one of whom checks the diaries each week.

Evaluation of the new curriculum

The overall improvement of the students has been measured by using TOEIC® in 2000 and Pre-TOEFL® in 2001, which were set in April and January. Results from the first two years have been very encouraging. There was an overall average increase of 101 points (from 366 to 467 points) in TOEIC® scores in 2000-2001 and an increase of 18.4 points (from 405.1 to 423.5) in Pre-TOEFL in 2001-2002. The latter score, however, does not give an accurate measure of the overall increase because the pre-TOEFL® was too low for a number of students who got full marks on some sections of the test and so their true level could not be measured. To prevent this, we shall be using the full TOEFL® in January 2003.

The introduction of streaming

One of the most important innovations has been the introduction of streaming. Now that all students were following the same courses, it made sense to try to place them in classes of roughly the same level. Various means have been used over the last three years to divide the students during Orientation Week into classes of about the same level. We found that the placement test which accompanies the New Interchange course was not an accurate predictor of the students' level in 2000. So the following year we used the Pre-TOEFL® test, but the results came back after classes had started. Students were placed in classes based on their university entrance test scores, adjusted according to the degree of difficulty of the type of test taken. They remained in these classes all year for the Content Course lessons, but a large number were moved to different classes for the Skills Course once the Pre-TOEFL® scores came back. We had planned to use the new computer version of the Oxford University Press Quick Placement Test in April 2002, but problems installing the software on the university's network meant that we had to resort to a combination of the paper and pencil version plus a CELT listening test. These scores, together with their university entrance test scores (adjusted for degree of difficulty again) were used and there seem to be only two students out of 159 who were seriously misplaced.

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". . . performance on tests and performance in class are often very different."

However, performance on tests and performance in class are often very different. So far, we have not tested the motivational levels of incoming students but teachers have remarked on the very clear differences in atmosphere in the different classes each year which are affected by the social bonding of the students and the positive or negative effects that a small number of students can have on other members of the class. A further complication is where to place students who failed and are repeating the course and whose motivational levels are very mixed.

Moving students mid year

For the above-mentioned reasons, at the end of the first semester in 2001, we thought it would be a good idea to move students who had got good class work grades and test scores to a higher level class and to move poorly performing students to a lower level class. We hoped this would motivate students to try hard and reward them for their efforts. We also thought that it would help in keeping students of the same level of ability together. Thirty students out of 185 registered were moved.
The reactions of the instructors and students were mixed and will be discussed below. The instructors were asked to respond to a questionnaire sent out by e-mail in April 2002. Generally speaking, they were in favour of streaming from the point of view of lesson planning and preparation as well as teaching. With students of a variety of levels in the same class, instructors often have to prepare two or more lessons to be carried out simultaneously if they are to meet the needs of all the students in their class. Some instructors prefer a little variety of level in a class so that the stronger students can be called on to assist or explain to the weaker students. An important point, however, was that from the point of view of the instructors, the arrival of new students and the departure of others half way through the year had a more positive effect on the atmosphere in the higher level classes but a more negative effect in the lower level classes. One instructor teaching a high-level class commented, "It brought a sense of balance, in that everyone was now approaching the class with a similar sense of purpose and interest." Another instructor teaching a low-level class remarked, "It created a sub-group, some of whom had a negative attitude towards the original students of the class. I think it was largely disruptive in that class."

The responses of the students

We felt it was important to investigate the students' views as well and conducted a survey by means of a questionnaire distributed in class in June 2002. About 60% of the students thought that most of the members of their class were about the same level as them in both the Content and Skills Courses. This is interesting because we thought they would be streamed more accurately in the first semester of the Skills Course as they were divided according to their Pre-TOEFL scores and only by their university entrance test scores for the Content Course. In the Content Course classes, about 25% thought their classmates were higher level than them and 12% thought they were lower. In the Skills Course classes, 23.5% thought their classmates were higher level than them and 15% thought they were lower.
At the start of the second semester, thirty students were moved to a higher or lower level class. Although they had not been explicitly told, only two of the thirty students who were moved to a different class did not know if they had been moved to a higher or lower level class. However, only about half of the total number of students (52.4%) knew why these students had been moved. This shows that we have to explain far more clearly to the whole student population about our streaming policy.

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Five of the students who were moved (16.6%) say that they never fitted into their new class. Most students fitted in after a couple of weeks (43.3%) or a month (36.6%). According to the students who were not moved, there was little (46.3%) or no change (45.5%) in class atmosphere in the second semester. Only 13.4% found it a little harder to work well in class in the second semester while 82.1% said it made no difference. A clear majority of the students (87.3%) agreed that students who work hard should be moved to a higher level class and only 2.4% disagreed. Five said that students should only be moved with their agreement. There was less agreement over whether students who do not work hard should be put in a lower level class. Only 62.7% agreed and 21.7% disagreed. Some pointed out that it will make students even less motivated and they might have a negative effect on other class members. Moreover, it is humiliating to students who are motivated to be moved down.
When asked which factor is most important to them in their English lessons, a large number (34.9%) said that being with students they can work well with during the lessons is the most important factor. Being with students of the same level of ability or motivation is most important to fewer students (18.7% and 19.9% respectively). Only 10.8% per cent feel that it is most important to be with their friends.
Here are some of the comments students wrote and which we must bear in mind:
"I think it's good to move students around because it's more effective to study with students who are at about the same level." (Student who was moved)

"It's good because you can make friends with more students." (Students who were and were not moved)

"If you are moving students around, please move all around. It's hard to 'jump into' a new class where the students have made their own atmosphere." (Student who was moved)

"It's OK to move students around, but if you are moving students around, you should move all around. Moving only some students gives us a hard time." (Student who was not moved)

"Because we had already created our classroom atmosphere, the new students looked uncomfortable." (Student who was not moved)

"I agree that higher level students are moved to a higher level class, but if lower level students are moved to a lower level class, they may be lazier." (Student who was not moved)


Feedback from the instructors and students has suggested that the following courses of action should be taken:
  1. The rationale behind streaming needs to be explained clearly to all students at the beginning of each semester.
  2. Students who we plan to move up or down should be asked if they consent to this.
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  4. If possible, all the students should be moved around at the start of each semester so that they all find themselves with some new as well as some old classmates.
  5. We need to look into means to measure motivational as well as linguistic levels.
  6. A clear policy of how to place students repeating the course needs to be drawn up.

We are actually implementing points 1, 2, and 3 already. The current first year students will be given a questionnaire at the end of the Spring semester 2002 explaining briefly the rationale for moving students around and asking if they agree with this policy. (They would remain in their original classes for half the intensive course, the Content section, but would be with a different combination of students for the Skills section.)
Overall, our second year students agree with the practice of streaming by level and appreciate the chance to study with students of the same level. We have to pay attention, however, to those who move down to the lowest levels. The less motivated students may well demotivate their more willing, but less linguistically gifted classmates.

2002 Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index
Complete Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index

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