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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2006

Автор: Нурбаева Ж.

The Mission and Goals of the New Graduate Program

In the fall of 2004 the first students, enrolled in a new graduate program, started their coursework toward a master’s degree in foreign languages. The mission of the Master in Foreign Language Degree Program at Kazak-American Free University (KAFU) is to develop competitive University faculty capable of teaching foreign languages at the level that allows their students to enter the international community unhindered by language proficiency. The State Standard of Education (3.09.141-2004) sets the following goals of this program:

1) To provide fundamental training in teaching and research;

2) To broaden the communicative and professional competency in a foreign language;

3) To form research skills required for carrying out research work at the master and PhD level;

4) To develop the culture of intellectual work, ability to identify problems and find optimal solutions.

5) To form self-education competence, promoting professional mobility and adaptation to ever-changing socio-economic and professional conditions and ability to function in a multicultural world.

The graduate of the program is expected to have fundamental scientific training; master newest information technologies, including scientific data entering, processing, and storing; to be able to organize and carry out scientific research activities, teach in higher education institutions, successfully manage academic and research staff, and to possess creative and critical thinking.

The State Standard of Education sets several levels of required qualities graduates of this new program are to exhibit upon graduation: general erudition or scholarship, social competence, professional competence and specialization competence. To name just a few from this long list, a graduate is expected to be aware of the history of development of Kazakstan and target language cultures, to possess bilingual competency in target languages and cultures, to form reflective teaching skills and motivation to self-improvement, use the latest technologies in education, to know the Kazakstan Education Development Program until 2015 and the State language policy, to use acquired research methodologies, to create and recognize various types of discourse, and to use a target language for different functions: cognitive, communicative, cumulative and emotive. As far as language proficiency, graduates are expected to be fluent in Kazak and Russian, and to have mastered foreign languages of their choice at a very high level according to the international standards of foreign language proficiency. Since advanced language proficiency is one of the major features of the program, we will spend more time discussing the international standards and what skills graduates are to acquire at the desired level.

International Language Proficiency Requirements

According to the Requirements stated in the State Standard of Education (2004), graduates of this program are expected to function in a foreign language in compliance with the international standards of proficiency. This document, however, does not refer us to any particular metric or set of standards. The faculty that was developing the graduate program decided on using the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines as the measuring tool.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines have been accepted by the wide international community as a metric to measure a learner’s functional competency in a foreign language. The Guidelines define 10 levels of proficiency presented in a descending order: superior, advanced-high, advanced-mid, advanced-low, intermediate-high, intermediate-mid, intermediate-low, novice-high, novice-mid, and novice-low. Such guidelines have been developed for four areas – speaking, listening, reading and writing. The Guidelines provide prose descriptions of each level, which are “to alert the reader to the major features of the levels and to serve as a quick reference” (ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, Revised, 1999).

Based on these Guidelines, masters of foreign languages must be able to demonstrate the following proficiency levels:

1) Advanced-High for First Foreign Language (English);

2) Advanced-Low for Second Foreign Language (resumed after undergraduate course of study);

3) Intermediate-Low for Third Foreign Language (commenced at graduate level).

Below are the descriptions of graduates’ abilities to function in these languages upon graduation: speaking in second and third languages and speaking and writing in English (1st foreign language) since English is the language of instruction and written thesis manuscript. This does not mean that there are no expectations as to their receptive skill development that is in listening and reading. However, the scope of this paper does not allow us to go into much depth of this issue, so these two skills will serve as an example.

Advanced High (English)

Speakers at the Advanced-High level perform all Advanced-level tasks with linguistic ease, confidence and competence. They are able to consistently explain in detail and narrate fully and accurately in all time frames. In addition, Advanced-High speakers handle the tasks pertaining to the Superior level but cannot sustain performance at that level across a variety of topics. They can provide a structured argument to support heir opinions, and they may construct hypothesis, but patterns of error appear. They can discuss some topics abstractly, especially those relating to their particular interests and specific field of expertise, but in general, they are more comfortable discussing a variety of topics concretely.

Advanced-High speakers may demonstrate a well-developed ability to compensate for an imperfect grasp of some forms or for limitations in vocabulary by the confident use of communicative strategies, such as paraphrasing, circumlocution, and illustration. They use precise vocabulary and intonation to express meaning and often show great fluency and ease of speech. However, when called on to perform the complex tasks associated with the Superior level over a variety of topics, their language will at times break down or prove inadequate, or they may avoid the task altogether, for example, by resorting to simplification through the use of description or narration in place of argument or hypothesis.

Writers at the Advanced-High level are able to write about a variety of topics with significant precision and in detail. They can write most social and informal business correspondence and describe and narrate personal experiences fully but has difficulty supporting points of view in written discourse. Advanced-High writers can write about the concrete aspects of topics relating to particular interests and special fields of competence. Often they show remarkable fluency and ease of expression, but under time constraints and pressure writing may be inaccurate. Such writers are generally strong in either grammar or vocabulary, but not in both. Weakness and unevenness in one of the foregoing or in spelling or character writing formation may result in occasional miscommunication. Some misuse of vocabulary may still be evident. Style may still be obviously foreign.

Advanced Low

Speakers at the Advanced-Low level are able to handle a variety of communicative tasks, although somewhat haltingly at times. They participate actively in most informal and a limited number of formal conversations on activities related to school, home, and leisure activities and, to a lesser degree, those related to events of work, current, public and personal interest or individual relevance.

Advanced-low speakers demonstrate the ability to narrate and describe in all major time frames (past, present, and future) in paragraph-length discourse, but control of aspect may be lacking at times. They can handle appropriately the linguistic challenges presented by a complication or unexpected turn of events that occurs within the context of a routine situation or communicative task with which they are otherwise familiar, though at times their discourse may be minimal for the level and strained. Communicative strategies such as rephrasing and circumlocution may be employed in such instances. In their narrations and descriptions, they combine and link sentences into connected discourse of paragraph-length. Structure of the dominant language is still evident in the use of false cognates, literal translations, or the oral paragraph structure of the speaker’s own language rather than that of the target language.

Advanced-Low speakers contribute to the conversation with sufficient accuracy, clarity, and precision to convey their intended message without misrepresentation or confusion, and it can be understood by native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives, even though this may be achieved through repetition and restatement. The vocabulary may still be very generic in nature.

Intermediate Low

Speakers at the Intermediate-Low level are able to handle successfully a limited number of uncomplicated communicative tasks by creating with the language in straightforward social situations. Conversation is restricted to some of the concrete exchanges and predictable topics necessary for survival in the target language culture. These topics relate to basic personal information, for example self and family, some daily activities and personal preferences, as well as some immediate needs, such as ordering food and making simple purchases. At this level, speakers are primarily reactive and may struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information, but they are also able to ask a few appropriate questions. They express personal meaning by combining and recombining short statements what they know and what they hear form their interlocutors. Their pronunciation, vocabulary and syntax are strongly influenced by their own language; however, native speakers accustomed to dealing with non-natives can generally understand Intermediate-low speakers.

Teaching Implications

Language education takes the central part in this graduate curriculum. Students take a semester of advanced English language study with a native speaker and enroll in three semesters of intensive second/third language study. Besides, the majority of courses are offered in English so students have an opportunity to not only grow in their language skills but also in their ability to employ various types of discourse and use this language to achieve other educational goals.

Application and Admission

These are the required components for the graduate degree application: completed application, official transcripts and diploma, application fee, Graduate English Test (developed by the Ministry of Education) and the KAFU English Examination. The latter consists of two parts; one takes the form of an oral exam to gauge the English speaking proficiency and knowledge of pedagogy and teaching methodology and the other is a multiple-choice English test to evaluate an applicant’s mastery of English grammar and vocabulary. To carry out the KAFU exam, a committee of three faculty members is formed. Based on both exam scores (nationwide and local), students are admitted to the program and candidates for State scholarships are selected.

The applicants must hold a baccalaureate degree in either Foreign Languages or Translation/Interpretation. Applicants in the last semester of an undergraduate program may be granted conditional admission until a baccalaureate degree has been awarded and the Graduate English Test has been taken. It is crucial that each applicant submit a complete application file to be admitted into the program.

Curriculum

To reach all the objectives stated earlier, a new curriculum has been developed to offer graduate students a range of foundation and elective courses. 60 credit hours within 2 years of study are required to complete the MA Degree in Foreign Languages. Students must also complete a comprehensive exam and write a thesis. This program provides a solid foundation in EFL teaching, including courses in all of the major areas of the field. The required courses meet the State Standards established by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Kazakstan as well as the standards for professional preparation established by the international agency for English language teachers, TESOL, Inc. Among the required foundation courses are Philosophy, Psychology, Advanced English, Management and Pedagogy. Earlier, we offered the same Management and Psychology classes for all graduate majors (Foreign Languages, Law, and Management majors). However, starting from this academic year, special courses have been developed to suit the demands of our particular program. Thus, our students now study Basics of University Management and Psychological Aspects of TEFL. The electives in the foundation block are a second/third foreign language (Spanish, Turkish or German) and Public Speaking. The student may wish to continue the study of a second language if it is one of the three specified language options, or choose to begin a new language as part of the graduate coursework. In Public Speaking classes, graduate students learn the main principles of making and delivering successful presentations and speeches in English.

The Specialization coursework (both required and elective) includes Nature and Functions of Higher Education, TEFL Methodology, Foundations of Cross-cultural Communication, Teaching Adult EFL, Teaching EFL to Young Learners, EFL Assessment, Materials and Course Design, Workplace EFL, Introduction to Research, Business English, Contemporary Issues in TEFL Methodology, Linguistics, Teaching Reading and Composition, Teaching Listening and Speaking, Teaching Pronunciation, and Practicum.

Just to give an idea of what these courses offer, followed is a brief description of some of them. The course on Nature and Functions of Higher Education is a survey of Higher Education components, goals, mission and values, and world wide educational trends. This is an introductory course that will make the students better understand processes and driving forces in Higher Education.

The TEFL Methodology course is meant to help students and in-service teachers improve their language teaching skills and understand the main concepts related to language teaching methodology. During the course, the students build a repertoire of classroom techniques and have multiple opportunities to express their responses to the topics being discussed improving their critical thinking skills. At the end of the course students write their teaching philosophy and present an TEFL issue researched in the final paper on the topic of their choice.

The EFL Assessment class offers a range of standardized tests for students to take and evaluate: IELTS, TOEFL, 1st Certificate and others. During this class, students learn the principles of language assessment and develop various types of tests to use in their classrooms.

The Teaching English Reading and Composition class is developed to equip students with an understanding of how to develop reading and writing skills, how to distinguish between intensive and extensive readings, how to teach literacy and academic writing and how to evaluate a reading/writing textbook; this course will offer an array of activities related to teaching reading and writing, grammar and vocabulary.

The Cross-cultural Communication course has been specifically developed for this University as both students and faculty members have regular interactions with foreign faculty. Students learn about the building blocks of culture such as the concept of time, self, power distance, etc. Issues of cross-cultural conflict and resolution are covered in a case study approach. Implications for teaching culture as part of language education are also defined.

The practical implications of the material covered in the classroom are strongly emphasized. This can demonstrated through the course of Workplace EFL where students are to develop a course for a particular group of working students. Last spring our students designed and implemented an 8-unit course for hotel workers. The project included needs assessment, materials evaluation, designing a course, teaching and finally evaluating the course.

Program of Studies

For each student, there is a program outline form to be used in planning the specific courses to be included in a student’s program of studies. This form is available from the department. This form must be completed, signed by the student’s advisor, and submitted to the graduate studies manager.

Practicum

This program requires practicum course work, which is designed to give the graduate students a hands-on experience on the field. The majority of the enrolled students are permitted to teach university-level classes (undergraduate) as part of their assistantship. Such students teach regular classes throughout the academic year and are observed four times a year; classroom observations are followed by a conference where a detailed discussion of the lesson observed occurs. The students who are not working as assistant faculty are required to fulfill the practicum requirement through six weeks of supervised teaching, either at KAFU or elsewhere. Supervised teaching experiences focus on a broad range of instructional skills useful for a variety of classroom situations. During the practicum the students are required to keep a journal and at the end of the practicum submit a report. The classroom observations and the report serve as basis for a grade.

Master’s Thesis

A master’s thesis is a required for this program as carrying out master’s thesis research and writing a master’s thesis are indispensable experiences for future university faculty members. For this particular major, Foreign Languages, graduate students have chosen various area of research: linguistics, teaching methodology, cross-cultural communication, and translation.

A master’s research committee must be appointed consisting of three faculty members. To provide direction, a scientific advisor from the major area of specialization is selected by the student or assigned by the department. The thesis study must include the gathering of information to answer a question that has been posed that is pertinent to the area of specialization. A thesis manuscript must be written in English on 70-100 pages and submitted to the committee. The thesis manuscript must explain all aspects of the study, including the question posed, the rationale for the study, a literature review, the methodology and procedure for collecting the data to answer the question, procedure for data reduction, synthesis and analysis, conclusions of the study, and educational implications. The thesis must be defended in a public oral examination. The committee members assess the quality of the manuscript and the oral defense and assign a grade.

Advantages and Opportunities

Among the obvious advantages of this program are its uniqueness and accessibility at the same time. This University is one of the few schools in the Republic who offer the master degree in Foreign Languages. The curriculum has been developed to consider both the requirements of the State and the international teaching community. The languages of instruction are Russian and English; however, the majority of courses are taught in English by highly qualified local and international faculty. The students have a real opportunity to be trained as skillful college teachers through excellent teaching exhibited by their professors, a rigorous coursework, regular classroom observations and conferences with their mentors, supervised teaching and valuable research in the chosen area. The program, although new and still developing, has attracted some of the best students who have stated advancing higher education, especially in the filed of teaching foreign languages, as their career goal.

The program is accessible in that it brings some of the newest methodologies to the students who are only teaching in an EFL context that is without having to leave their home country they can be introduced to the issues educators in other countries face and be involved in the dialogue through conducting research.

At present the program is assessing the opportunities to reach a higher level of its development. Work is being done in two main directions: international accreditation of our language programs and international certification of our graduates.

Being an integral part of the Kazak-American Free University, the Master in Foreign Languages Degree Program bears the same features as the rest of its programs reflecting its vision and mission: the focus on acquisition of practical skills, leadership development, cross-cultural communication skills, teambuilding skills, integration into an international community and dedication to quality improvement.

REFERENCES

1.   American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Web site. (http://www.actfl.org).

2. George Washington University Web site. ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines for speaking, listening, reading and writing. (http://www.gwu.edu/~slavic/actfl.html).

3. Государственный Общеобразовательный Стандарт Образования Республики Казахстан. Магистратура. Специальность 6N0119 «Иностранный Язык: Два Иностранных Языка». 3.09.141-2004



К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2006


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