Back in the 1980s I served on a committee that helped design a curriculum for an associates degree program at a technical college. Our task was to help develop a list of specific things that graduates of the program should be able to do, and to review proposed versions of the curriculum to make sure it seemed likely to impart the knowledge and skills in question. This was my first exposure to something called “competency-based education” or “competency based learning,” one of those notions that seems so obvious once you hear it that you wonder why it isn’t used more often. In fact, it is in widespread use today, for example at the innovative Western Governors’ University.
The basic idea, applicable to everything from developing a professional curriculum to planning a one-on-one tutoring session, is to base your teaching on a list of things a student needs to know and to be able to do — so-called “competencies.” For example, in a beginning Esperanto course being able to pronounce the sound made by each letter would probably be one of the competencies we would want to teach.) Good teachers — and good authors of textbooks and courses — do something like this instinctively, even if they don’t think in exactly these terms.
How do you know what competencies to include? You can try sitting down and making a list from scratch as the thoughts come to you and then go back and organize it later. In fact, that’s not at all a bad way to get started. However, you might find it easier to take a more organized approach. For example, try starting with a core goal and build out from it.
Let’s suppose you want to teach a course on conversational Esperanto. If your goal is too vague — say, “to impart the ability to carry on a reasonably fluent conversation in Esperanto,” you’ll probably find that too nebulous. You need something more concrete.
What are students likely to know already at the start of the course? How long will the course last and how often will it meet? What sorts of conversations are the students likely to have, and in what surroundings? (Are they likely to attend a major kongreso soon? Will they be using the Pasporta Servo?) Try to think about specific situations they’re likely to encounter and how they might handle them and what they’d need to know to do that. Also think about what resources are available for teaching the course — other teachers who could be present in person or via Internet video perhaps? Could you incorporate anything from Lernu? What do the students themselves want to learn? What do experienced speakers wish they had learned sooner?
You could try to answer those questions on your own, guessing when you’re not sure, but it makes sense to do something similar to the technical college I mentioned. I don’t mean you need to create a formal committee, but why not seek suggestions from potential students, other experienced Esperanto speakers, foreign language teachers, and so on? Also, as you develop your proposed list of competencies, you can run it by them for comments and suggestions.
It can help to make your list in a structured fashion, like an outline. You can use an outlining tool in a word processor or a separate specialized outlining program if you want, or you can simply use a basic word processor or text editor and group things by line spacing and indentation, whatever you find convenient. The point of a structured list is to help you think of things to include and notice where there might be gaps. If you’re teaching a grammar course, you might list the parts of speech, then go back through, and under nouns put a section on the accusative case, with sub-sections covering the various uses of the accusative (direct object, direction toward, etc.).
Incidentally, even when working on your list in this top-down way, remember to write down random ideas that occur to you. Otherwise you’ll go crazy trying to remember them later. Believe me, I know this from experience. That’s one of the main ways I went crazy.
Also, don’t be surprised if your list of competencies includes items not about language in the narrow sense. Most foreign language classes now cover cultural knowledge, such as the use of gestures (including which ones to avoid). I once saw Atilio Orellana Rojas start a class for relative beginners at a Universala Kongreso by discussing gestures, for example.
Once you have your list of competencies you’re not done. You still need to plan out your course, among other things deciding how best to impart those competencies to the students and in what order. (Especially in a direct-method course such as the Cseh-metodo, the sequence of topics can be critical.) But having that list means you are at least have a good beginning, and makes it much more likely that your students will end up with the knowledge and skills they most need.