Rationale and Dimensions of Course Planning and Syllabus Design

Dimensions of course development (Richards 2001):
    1. developing a course rationale
    2. describing entry and exit levels
    3. choosing course content
    4. sequencing course content
    5. planning the course content (syllabus and instructional blocks)
A. The course rationale
A starting point in course development is a description of the course rationale. This is a brief written description of the reasons for the course and the nature of it. The course rationale seeks to answer the following questions:
    • Who is this course for?
    • What is the course about?
    • What kind of teaching and learning will take place in the course?
The course rationale answers these questions by describing the beliefs, values, and goals that underlie the course. It would normally be a two- or three-paragraph statement that has been developed by those planning and teaching a course and that serves to provide the justification for the type of teaching and learning that will take place in the course.
Developing a rationale also helps provide focus and direction to some of the deliberations involved in course planning. The rationale thus serves the purposes of (Posner and Rudnitsky 1986):
    1. guiding the planning of the various components of the course
    2. emphasizing the kinds of teaching and learning the course should exemplify
    3. providing a check on the consistency of the various course components in terms of the course values and goals
B. Describing entry and exit levels
In order to plan a language course, it is necessary to know the level at which the program will start and the level learners may be expected to reach at the end of the course. Language programs and commercial materials typically distinguish between elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels, but these categories are too broad for the kind of detailed planning that program and materials development involves. For these purposes, more detailed descriptions are needed of students’ proficiency levels before they enter a program and targeted proficiency levels at the end of it.
Information may be available on students’ entry-level from their results on international proficiency tests such as TOEFL or IELTS or specially designed tests may be needed to determine the level of the students’ language skills.
C. Choosing course content
The question of course content is probably the most basic issue in course design. Given that a course has to be developed to address a specific set of needs to cover a given set of objectives, what will the content of the course look like? Decisions
The link between goals and objectives
The connection between general goals at the curriculum level and specific objectives  at the syllabus level is evident in the effect which goals have on the three concerns of a syllabus:
  1. the dimension of language content
  2. processes or means
  3. product or outcomes
In general, curriculum goals tend to place emphasis on one or another of these dimensions.
Key questions about language content (based on a particular theory of language that has been adopted as the foundation upon which to write a curriculum):
  1. What elements, items, units, or themes of language content should be selected for inclusion in the syllabus?
  2. In what order or sequence should the elements be presented in the syllabus?
  3. What are the criteria for deciding on the order of elements in the syllabus?
Questions about Process dimension:
  1. How should language be presented to facilitate the acquisition process?
  2. What should be the roles of teachers and learners in the learning process?
  3. How should the materials contribute to the process of language learning in the classroom?
Product/outcome questions:
  1. What knowledge is the learner expected to attain by the end of the course? What understandings based on analyses of structures and lexis will learners have as an outcome of the course?
  2. What specific language skills do learners need in their immediate future, or in their professional lives? How will these skills be presented in the syllabus?
  3. What techniques of evaluation or examination in the target language will be used to assess course outcomes?