Ashley J. Hastings University of Dallas
The FOCAL SKILLS (FS) approach is a relatively recent development in language program design. The basic intent of FS is to accelerate the acquisition of intermediate-level language proficiency by maximizing the efficiency of instruction; this is supposed to be accomplished by carefully placing each student in a sequence of skill-focused modules in which comprehensible input and communication are stressed. Since FS is now being used by several intensive English programs, it is both possible and desirable to evaluate the approach empirically.
In Section 2 of this chapter, I explain the key features of the FS approach, contrasting it with the standard model (SM, an informal label referring to the program design features that characterize many intensive ESL programs in the United States). In Section 3, I present the results of various studies that compare the learning outcomes of students in FS and SM programs. In the concluding section I discuss these results and their implications.
Before explaining the FS approach, I will outline the key features of the SM. This will provide a frame of reference with which the distinctive characteristics of FS can be contrasted. It should be understood that the SM is an abstraction, not a detailed description of any particular program.