All curriculums are made up of three distinct parts, all of which need to align for the students to achieve what the school leadership want them to. Exactly what the school leadership identify as the key knowledge and skills is a matter of great importance. Language education is no different. Every course has learning goals, which they hope the content, pedagogy and assessment will help their students reach.
We can think of the content as specific skills, such as being able to write a persuasive essay, use present perfect sentences accurately and appropriately or discuss a variety of topics relating to health. Often the core textbook of the course will hold the majority of the target content – otherwise it would be better to choose a different textbook. Where schools go wrong is in choosing content inappropriate for the broader goals of the curriculum. If the goal is for students to be able to use English conversationally, then they will need to be given content relating to conversational styles, idiomatic language and enough lesson time spent on conversational practice. Many courses’ content doesn’t align with the boarder learning goals of the curriculum. Regardless of the quality of the teaching staff and the assessment, if the content and goals are unaligned, then the course won’t be able to deliver.
It’s possible that the content is appropriate, but if the teachers’ methodology doesn’t align with the content then it will be difficult for average and poor students to master the desired knowledge and skills. High achieving students who have access to the appropriate content will still be able to teach themselves. If one of the goals of the course is for students to have a detailed knowledge of grammatical rules appropriate for taking English tests for entrance into university, then the teacher shouldn’t focus too much on getting the students to research their interests and give long powerpoint presentations. They should spend more time on controlled practice activities and checking through answers as students won’t be able to understand why some answers are right and others are wrong by themselves.
When a course’s goals, content and pedagogy are all aligned, there is still a way for the course to fall down. If the tests, and the scores of the students, are unaligned with the content or the teaching then students will have to either reduce their level of engagement with the course content to focus on the knowledge and skills needed for the test, or be unprepared for the tests. This is a very common problem that students have, especially when they are studying for standardised multiple-choice English tests run by non-native English speaking education departments.
Curriculum designers need to focus on aligning these three aspects of the curriculum so that all lead students toward their language goals.