Maple Leaf ESL Curriculum

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The overarching rationale for the Maple Leaf ESL Curriculum Standard is to help Maple Leaf ESL students levels 1 to 9 reach their educational goal of successfully integrating into the BC High School curriculum program, and upon graduation pursuing higher learning at English-medium universities. In order to help students accomplish their ambitious goals, English language education at Maple Leaf must involve much more than teaching and learning about the language. It must involve teaching and learning how to use English and think in English by simultaneously weaving together attention to language competence, strategic competence, academic competence and cultural awareness.

The Maple Leaf ESL Curriculum Standard is a set of descriptive statements about the learning goals for successive levels on a continuum from Levels 1 to 9 in four domains: language competence, strategic competence, academic competence, and cultural awareness.

The educational principles underpinning the Standard involve weaving the four domains together with content knowledge through the use of interactive, action-oriented, communicative teaching and learning that, as much as possible, strives for authenticity and a reliance on the use of real-world problems and situations.

The Curriculum Standard advocates for an eclectic approach to language teaching methodology recognizing that methodologies may differ depending on the teaching objectives and the learners. For example, TPR (Total Physical Response) may be more suitable for some lessons for very young learners, while a genre-based analysis approach may be more suitable for some lessons for older learners.

Regardless of the teaching methodology, the focus should always be on relevant, meaningful teaching and learning with an eye to capturing attention to all four domains wherever and whenever possible.

In sum the Standard’s aim is to provide students with a high challenge, high support classroom.

Language Competence Domain

Contrary to what many believe, language competence is not limited to learning about language rules and vocabulary. That is only one side of language competence. More significantly, language competence refers to what a person can do in the skills of Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. These skills involve communication for different purposes: Social, Instructional, Reproducing, Transactional and Informational. Social communication involves maintaining relationships. Instructional communication involves giving instructions. Reproducing communication involves reproducing information through copying, summarizing or reducing. Transactional communication involves accomplishing goals. Informational communication involves sharing or presenting information.

While the majority of the tasks have classroom and school settings and are academic in nature, there is also significant attention given to tasks that have a social or service setting and orientation.

In the Curriculum Standard, the learning goals for language competence for each level are accompanied by comments on aspects of communication such as speed, length, complexity, topic familiarity and predictability. Such information can help teachers choose and/or design level-appropriate tasks and materials for instructional or assessment purposes.

Grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary are integral components of language competence and attention to these three areas is meant to be ongoing and contextualized, deriving from and integrating with instructional content, materials, tasks, and presenting difficulties. As such, the Maple Leaf ESL Curriculum Standard does not prescribe grammar forms, pronunciation items or vocabulary to be mastered at each level. Teachers may consult Part IX Supplementary Materials for suggested topics for each level.

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Strategic Competence Domain

Given the ambitious goals of Maple Leaf students to successfully integrate into the BC High School curriculum program, and eventually pursue higher learning at English-medium universities, it is critical that Maple Leaf teachers maximize the chance of success for their students in English-medium classrooms here at Maple Leaf and in their future academic environments. Teachers can do this by incorporating into their language teaching, attention to strategic competence, at all levels.

Strategic competence in language learning refers to a person’s ability to use techniques or a conscious plan of action to handle communication breakdown or enhance the effectiveness of a communication event or learning process.

Just as we have specific intent to develop learner subject knowledge and language competence, we must also have specific intent to cultivate strategies that will foster autonomous learning, helping learners maximize their language learning potential both inside and outside the classroom.

An ancient proverb which highlights the importance of teaching strategic competence is: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

As children advance in age, so will their self-discipline, learner autonomy and their ability to self-initiate and apply language learning strategies both inside and outside the class. While older children will benefit from explicit instruction that focuses on particular strategies and isolated parts of language, in general, all children learn best through meaningful exposure and practice. As such, it is important that teachers model the strategies they hope to cultivate in their students in addition to, at the higher levels, explicit teaching strategies.

The Teaching Methodologies/Strategies section of Part VII Suggestions for Implementation presents suggestions for how to teach and/or cultivate strategic competence for the beginning and intermediate level young learner.

Academic Competence Domain

Again, given the ambitious goals of Maple Leaf students to successfully integrate into the BC High School curriculum program, and eventually pursue higher learning at English-medium universities, it is critical that Maple Leaf teachers address not only the interpersonal English language needs of their students, but their academic thinking and learning needs too. They can do this by incorporating into their language teaching, attention to academic competence, at all levels, the result being a learning experience that is both language rich and intellectually challenging.

Academic competence refers to a person’s ability to function successfully in an academic context.

The ability to think critically is essential to academic success. Critical thinking involves making defensible judgements based on reasoning and contrasts sharply with the mere acquisition and retention of information alone.

Related to critical thinking skills and equally essential to success in academic contexts is mastery of the critical skills associated with information literacy and a commitment to lifelong reading and learning. Thanks to digital technology the information environment for our students is vast and ever-growing and academic success “necessitates that each individual acquires the skills to select, evaluate and use information appropriately and effectively” (Connolly B. et al, 2011, p.5).

Academic success is also linked to exposure to large amounts of key academic vocabulary, the ability to effectively employ a variety of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, rhetorical functions such as expressing and supporting viewpoints chief among them, and having facility with word processing and other applications of technologies.

Cultivating academic competence relates closely to teaching English for academic purposes (EAP), the aim of which is to prepare English language learners not only for success in the BC high school curriculum, but also for entry into post-secondary English-medium colleges and universities. EAP is typically viewed as standing in contrast with general English (GE). This is, however, a somewhat erroneous view as many of the tasks, skills and activities that are typically associated with EAP fit very well in a GE curriculum, for example, giving presentations, writing paragraphs, web-based research, agreeing/disagreeing, etc. As such, many of the learning goals for language competence are marked for their relevance to academic competence as the general goal is to cultivate academic competence across the curriculum.

While EAP has typically been aimed at older teens and young adults who are advanced level learners of English, with sufficient scaffolding, many core principles and practices of EAP can be integrated into a curriculum serving beginner and intermediate young learners of English thus leading to an overall increase in academic readiness.

In summary, the array of skills associated with academic thinking and learning align well with the multiple levels of academic thinking and reasoning skills as described in Bloom’s Taxonomy, is an essential source of inspiration for the ML ESL Curriculum Standard, and an integral element of the BC Curriculum.

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Cultural Awareness Domain

The foundation of the Maple Leaf Educational philosophy is internationalization and cross-cultural communication and understanding. We see this in the educational aspirations of our students to study the BC Curriculum and later pursue higher education abroad at English-medium universities. We see it every day through the presence of international students in Maple Leaf schools. We also see it through Maple Leaf’s wish to participate in the national Belt and Road initiative.

The ESL class is one of the most important classes for students here at Maple Leaf, and a teacher’s duty to cultivate cultural awareness is of paramount importance. As they do with the domains of strategic competence and academic competence, teachers should also simultaneously incorporate attention to cultural awareness into their language teaching.

When people think of culture, they often think of holiday traditions or cultural artifacts such as food, clothing, music, art, or literature. While cultural awareness does encompass an awareness of the products and customs of a people, it also involves an element of critical thinking and refers to the ability of a person to be aware of their cultural values, beliefs and perceptions and the cultural values, beliefs and perceptions of others. For language learners there is also the added dimension of becoming aware of the cultural similarities and differences that are unique to communication.

Raising the awareness of language learners for a variety of cultural dimensions can lead to not only greater intercultural and international understanding, but also to more successful intercultural communication experiences and ultimately to more successful integration into a target culture.

Integration into a target culture in no way implies a change in one’s identity or diminishment of one’s native culture. Rather it can be thought of as an enriching experience that adds to one’s identity and membership in a global community. While integrating into a target culture may not be the ultimate goal for all students, all students can benefit from increased cultural awareness given the ever-increasing interconnectedness of today’s world.With language being arguably one of the most visible and accessible expressions of culture, teachers can seamlessly weave cultural awareness training into their language instruction, doing double-duty as both cultural informant and language expert. The Teaching Methodologies/Cultural Awareness section of Part VII Suggestions for Implementation presents suggestions for how to teach and/or cultivate cultural awareness for the beginning and intermediate level young learner. Teachers may consult Part IX Supplementary Materials for suggested culture-related topics for each level.

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