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
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
". . . 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
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.
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:
- The rationale behind streaming needs to be explained clearly to all students at the beginning of each semester.
- Students who we plan to move up or down should be asked if they consent to this.
- 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.
- We need to look into means to measure motivational as well as linguistic levels.
- 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.