This project was both interesting and challenging for a couple of reasons. First, it was the first time I have ever seen an attempt to organize a curriculum for language teaching around a non- directly measurable holistic cognitive perceptual concepts – “constructs”. I had to do quite a bit of online research, which ultimately resulted in my changing the way I think about l language learning. In systems theory, where higher order systems accomplish more than the sum of lower systems, such as how the collection of cells that form a liver performs functions in the human body that individual cells cannot, so does a cognitive construct characterization of language learning capture the fact that people can do more when they acquire higher level skill complexes than they can with individual skills. So for example, cognitively the “reading-to-summarize” construct in the human mind is not the same as the “reading-to-take-notes” construct. Each is slightly different, and involves a slightly different combination of mental skills which evolve out of a different perception (cognitive representation) of the task. In addition, people do not all have the same constructs for different things and tasks. For example: the concept of “family” may differ from one individual to another within one culture, as well as across cultures.
In a way, learning a language could be considered a process of creating cognitive constructs that progressively become closer to matching those of native speakers rather than a process of acquiring different skills. It’s not one’s ability to write a sentence that makes it possible for them to write a well-formed paragraph. It is having a grasp of what a well-formed paragraph is, and the ability to integrate the individual skills necessary to accomplish what is, in reality, a multi-dimensional task.
Second, this was the first time I have ever worked with a decontextualized list of language learning objectives. It was magical for me to see how, with the stroke of a pen, learning theory becomes a teaching practice simply by adding context. So, for example, a desired learning outcome such as “use suprasegmentals correctly to express emotion” becomes pedogogically achievable when embedded into a communicative context: “Express surprise with the tone of you voice when someone gives you a gift.”
All in all, I’m not sure who benefited the most from this project — secondary students in Nepal or me. Certainly, I am now looking at what I do, both as a language teacher and as a teacher educator, in a new way. I am quite sure that improvement in my teaching praxis will follow as a result of this new perspective on what language learning is actually about. Hopefully, a contextualized, competency-based curriculum will lead to changes in pedagogy in secondary schools that will be beneficial for Nepali teachers and learners alike.