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Doing Task Based Teaching
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Doing Task-Based Teaching Task-Based Language Education
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Brian Tomlinson, Doing Task-Based Teaching Task-Based Language Education, ELT Journal , Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 92–95, https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccm083
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In forty years of reviewing this is the first time that I have been able to enjoy recommending almost unreservedly the books under review.
Both these books focus on task-based approaches in which second or foreign language learners are set tasks whose target outcomes can only be achieved through the learners' use and development of their L2 communicative competence. The learners' primary focus is not on language learning but on language use. But the theory is that by using language to achieve an intended outcome they will potentially acquire ‘new’ language from motivated and repeated exposure to it and develop greater communicative competence from their meaningful attempts to use language for a purpose. Both these books refer to the recent literature on the theory and practice of task-based approaches and, in particular, to Bygate et al. (2001) , Edwards and Willis (2005) , Ellis (2003 , 2005) and Leaver and Willis (2005). They also acknowledge, though, that their topic is not a new one and both trace the origins of task-based approaches to language learning back to Long (1985) and Prabhu (1987) . (I would personally have gone back even further to the sort of communication activities many of us were using in the late seventies.) Neither book, however, is primarily concerned with reporting the development of task-based approaches and both books offer something distinctively new. Doing Task-based Teaching is ‘a practical guide to designing, creating, and using tasks and task sequences’, whereas Task-Based Language Education unites a ‘discussion of task-based pedagogical principles with descriptions of their application to real-life education problems’, in particular in the last ten years in 1,200 state schools and other institutions throughout the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium. Unlike many previous books on task-based approaches both these books, whilst informed by theory, are focused on classroom practice.
Doing Task-based Teaching starts by setting the readers an interesting task, getting them to reflect on their awareness and views of task-based teaching (TBT). After providing their commentary on this task, the authors then provide a brief overview of the different approaches to TBT whilst signalling their own preference for an approach in which the learners perform an ‘engaging’ outcome-orientated task with any explicit focus on form coming after the meaning focused task has been completed (though they also advocate an incidental focus on language during the meaning focused activity if the learners want to consider how best to express themselves). This structure is used in many of the chapters and is, for me, one of the main strengths of the book. The overview gives me the information I want and the advocacy of an approach stimulates me to reflect and respond.
In Chapter 2 the authors discuss and exemplify how to develop task-based sequences in the classroom. Again they stress the value of focusing on meaning first before helping learners to study specified forms at the end of a task sequence and this time they refer briefly to second language acquisition (SLA) research to justify their views.
In Chapter 3 the focus is on tasks based on written and spoken texts and, in particular, on how such tasks can provide in the classroom the contexts, purposes, and challenges which we always encounter when reading and listening outside the classroom. This is a very practical chapter in which detailed advice is given and exemplified about how to design discussion tasks, prediction tasks, jigsaw tasks, ‘student as question master’ tasks, general knowledge tasks, ‘corrupted text’ tasks, linguistic gap-filling tasks and re-ordering tasks. There is also a very useful section on ways to recycle tasks, without which TBT loses a lot of its power as a facilitator of language acquisition.
Chapter 4 looks at different ways of designing and using topic-based tasks (for example, from such typical topics or themes as ‘Families’, Holidays', or ‘Pets’). It gives advice on selecting topics and then lists and exemplifies lots of different types of tasks which can be driven by topics (for example, brainstorming, fact-finding, sequencing, rank ordering, classifying); it provides commentaries on some of the example tasks and, as in other chapters, it provides useful practical tasks for the reader to do.
Chapter 5 is a continuation of Chapter 4 and outlines and exemplifies lots more task types which can be driven by topics or themes. It stresses the value of sequencing tasks so that they lead out of the preceding ones and of the benefits of personalizing tasks—for example, of a teacher giving directions to her own house and a teacher using photos from his holiday.
Chapter 6 looks at ways of ensuring that the learners focus primarily on meaning, but also sometimes focus usefully on form in the context of a meaning focused activity. Again the authors provide lots of interesting examples of how the teacher can help learners to focus on form during the priming stage which prepares the learners for the topic, during discovery activities based on the texts experienced and generated in tasks, and during teacher correction phases. It also gives advice on finding texts, on developing and organizing form-focused activities and on using tasks for examination preparation.
Chapter 7 is one of my favourites as it focuses on linking the task-based classroom with the real world. It looks at how to make use of tasks which are real-world at the level of meaning, of discourse, and of activity and provides lots of examples of role plays, of using ‘everyday English’ and of communicating electronically. It also looks at how artificial classroom tasks which do not mirror real world activities can actually involve real-world meanings and real-world discourse acts—for example, on p. 142 a game is described in which the learners have to try to remember the positioning of objects on a tray, not a task which is performed often in the real world but one which nevertheless involves the real-world meaning of locating in relation to others and the real-world discourse act of seeking clarification.
Chapter 8 is distinctive in that it sets up seven parameters for adapting and refining tasks in order to make them more engaging and to generate as much meaningful use of language as possible. Again, though it is the examples of actual classroom tasks (and of adaptations of them) which makes the chapter so useful to teachers, as well as the wealth of incidental advice about what to do in the classroom to promote useful learning—for example, about ways of helping learners to appreciate the differences between rehearsed, planned, and spontaneous discourse on p. 166 and ways of making use of task repetition on pp. 170–1.
Chapter 9 considers how to design a task-based syllabus and quite rightly focuses on how to ensure re-cycling, repertoire development, application, and eventual automatization in a meaning-based approach. The issues are discussed and then practical applications are proposed and exemplified in ways which most teachers will be able to make use of.
Chapter 10 tackles the question of how to integrate TBT into coursebooks, plus other frequently asked questions, such as, ‘How can I make time to do tasks in class?’ and ‘How can I motivate my students to do more than just the minimum?’ As always the answers are realistic and realizable, and are illustrated by many tasks developed by teachers around the world.
In Appendix 1 there are seven sample task-based lessons used by teachers around the world, in Appendix 2 there are sample projects and scenarios; and in Appendix 3 there are transcripts of task recordings.
Doing Task-based Teaching is clear, coherent, and very readable. It benefits both from the authors' knowledge of SLA theory and from their extensive experience in classrooms around the world, and it gains great credibility and value by including many examples of tasks which have actually been used in ELT classrooms by teachers from thirty-four teachers in thirteen different countries (including such countries as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, where a resistance to TBT might be expected). I learnt a lot from reading this book about different approaches to TBT, about what has actually happened in classrooms where TBT has been used, about the authors' informed views about teaching and learning, and about my own teaching.
My only small criticisms of Doing Task-based Teaching are that:
▪ Occasionally it risks confusing the reader with unnecessary comparisons of terminology (for example, the comparison on p. 5 between the authors' use of ‘language’ and ‘form’ and Long's (1988) use of ‘form’ and ‘forms’).
▪ It sets the reader very interesting tasks, but then sometimes immediately afterwards provides an authors' commentary on the tasks (thus, in my case, ensuring that I didn't do many of the tasks—for example, Reader Activity 4 E on p. 83–4 and Reader Activity 5 A on p. 86–7).
▪ Its examples of tasks could sometimes have been strengthened if the task had been given situational outcomes as well as pedagogic task outcomes (for example, adding phrases and sentences to a text in order to make it more suitable for a specified audience with specific purposes for reading it rather than just selecting from given phrases and sentences in order to complete a text for no particular purpose—as in an example of completing a text about jumping off the Empire State Building on p. 50).
Task-Based Language Education starts by giving a brief but comprehensive account of the development of task-based approaches in which it compares the various definitions of tasks and reviews attempts in the literature to say what language learning goals need to be reached, how educational activities can be designed to help learners reach these goals, and how the students' learning processes and outcomes can be assessed and followed up.
Then in Chapter 2 Avermaet and Gysen discuss how subjective and objective needs can and should be used to specify task types for learning and assessment activities. They refer to empirical data from projects in which task-based curricula were developed for adults and for children learning Dutch as a second language in Belgium.
In Chapter 3 Duran and Ramaut report on a programme which uses task-based approaches to help children of immigrants progress in their first year at secondary school from beginner level in Dutch to a level of communicative competence which enables them to enter mainstream education in classes together with native speakers of Dutch. The chapter emphasizes the need to grade tasks according to the complexity of world, task, and text demands and it also stresses the importance of beginner level tasks being in the here and now, having a lot of visual support, having a high level of redundancy, and requiring only non-verbal reaction to descriptive language.
In Chapter 4 Van Gorp and Boegaert report the development of L2 language tasks for primary and secondary education in Belgium. In what I found to be a very stimulating chapter, they use examples taken from task-based syllabuses to illustrate how pedagogic tasks can be developed as more motivating and simpler variants of target tasks. They insist though that ultimately it is the interaction between learner and learner and between teacher and learner which determines how much is learnt from the tasks and they also stress the importance of these interactions responding to the learner syllabus rather than to the Ministry or teacher syllabus.
In Chapter 5 Bogaert, Van Gorp, Bultynck, Lanssens, and Depauw demonstrate how students (especially those who speak Dutch as an L2) can fail scientific, technical, and vocational subjects because the language of the teacher and the textbook is above their level of complexity. They also describe how subject teachers were trained to make their language more accessible to L2 speakers of Dutch and how materials were developed in Belgium for task-driven subject teaching.
In Chapter 6 Schrooten reports an evaluation of available multimedia materials for Dutch as an L2 which found that most of them provided either behaviouristic ‘drill and practice’ or discrete skills practice and did not satisfy principled criteria developed for task-based approaches to teaching Dutch as an L2. The chapter makes many discerning points about the both the potential benefits and the limitations of using ICT (information and communication technology) in a task-based approach and reports on a project in which ICT materials were developed according to stated principles of language acquisition.
In Chapter 7 Colpin and Gysen discuss the problem of reconciling the desirability of direct task-based testing of real life competencies with the need for reliability within the practical constraints of classroom based testing. They give examples from various tests of Dutch as an L2 and focus on the compromises which had to be made. They also report the initially sceptical reaction of the teachers to the introduction of task-based tests and the eventual positive washback which this had in many cases on classroom teaching and testing.
In Chapter 8 Avermaet, Colpin,Van Gorp, Bogaert, and Van den Branden exemplify and discuss ways in which the teacher as privileged interlocutor can stimulate and facilitate effective learner task performance through motivating the learner and interactionally supporting task performance. Many revealing samples of real lessons are provided in which the teacher supports the learners through both planned and unplanned interventions and a warning is given about the dangers of teacher intrusion.
In Chapter 9 Machteld Verhelst provides the most valuable advice I have ever read on how the supportive and responsive teacher can help infants to acquire an L2 through day-long task performance. The advice centres on the provision of opportunities for gaining acquisition in a safe and motivating environment and is persuasively illustrated by extracts from transcripts of actual lessons. My only reservation is that most of the samples seem to be from smallish classes in which teacher-centred activities can stimulate and facilitate student–teacher and student–student interaction.
In Chapter 10 Van den Branden reports and comments on a number of empirical research studies of the outcomes of inservice and preservice teacher training to prepare teachers to become effective users of task-based language programmes. Of particular interest to me were the reports of the effects of on-site coaching, of observation and feedback, and of team teaching and observation. It seems that teachers were generally enthusiastic about making their own use of task-based learning approaches and that their learners benefited but that many teachers simplified the deliberate complexity of many tasks and changed activities so that they could remain in control.
In each chapter we are engagingly and clearly told a lot about what the students did, how they did it, and why they did it. Unfortunately in no chapter are we told a lot about what the learning outcomes were of what the students did. In Chapter 3 we are given some interesting generalizations about outcomes and in Chapter 10, for example, indications are given of the effect of interventions on learner motivation and development. But, in order to really appreciate the value of the educational programmes described, I felt I needed more information about their actual effectiveness. What I was really appreciative of, though, were the many insights about the causes and effects of the observed behaviour of teachers and of learners and of the expression of these insights in ways which made it very clear what the effects were of the application of theory to practice and practice to theory.
Task-Based Language Education is very well-written and edited. Its chapters are rigorous but very readable accounts and evaluations of task-based experiments and projects which have actually been carried out in classrooms. It should prove stimulating and informative for any researcher, teacher, or student of L2 learning anywhere, but would be of particular value to curriculum developers, assessors, and teachers of ESOL in such countries as Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK and USA, where there is currently a great need among immigrants for the development of the sort of occupational, educational, and social language competence which seems to have been developed by the approaches described in this book.
In conclusion, I would strongly recommend Doing Task-based Teaching to teachers and teacher trainers for its very clear and practical advice on how to make effective classroom use of task-based approaches and I would strongly recommend Task-Based Language Education to researchers, teachers, teacher trainers, and students for its perceptive insights into the specific benefits and limitations of task-based approaches in actual classroom use.
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A Framework for Task-Based Learning
1999, TESOL Quarterly
Task Complexity and Second Language Syllabus Design: Data-Based Studies and Speculations (Special Issue, University of Queensland Working Papers in Language and Linguistics)
Syllabus design is a practical matter. It involves a specification of what was, or is to be done, and of the sequence in which it was, or is to be done. Syllabuses are used for different purposes, by different groups. On the one hand institutions and authorities often require syllabuses so that teachers and learners can be accountable for what was done in a program, and so that comparisons can be made across institutions. For institutions and authorities, then, the purpose of the syllabus is to ensure accountability and allow coordination. Individual language programs have syllabuses to define, guide or sometimes simply to record the courses of action taken by teachers and learners. Given autonomy a language program can design a syllabus to act in any of these three capacities. The syllabus as a definition of units and sequence of learning is prospective, and non negotiable, and there is no room for adjustment to meet teachers' and learners' emergent needs (see Wilkins, 1976). Where a syllabus acts simply as a guide there is room for adjustment, and modification of the syllabus specifications regarding sequencing, or even of the units themselves (see Nunan, 1988). Where the function of a syllabus is simply to record then it is possible for units and sequence to be negotiated between teachers and learners, and for no clear syllabus to emerge until the end of the course, after the program has ended (see Breen, 1987). The shift from definition, to guide, to record reflects a shift from the view of the syllabus as a prospective, to on-line, to retrospective document. For the language program, then, the purpose of the syllabus is predominantly managerial, and there are options in how such management is to be accomplished. That is the view from outside the classroom. From inside the classroom the ultimate purpose of the syllabus is to facilitate learning. The papers in this special issue of the UQWPLL are based on research undertaken by myself and by my students in the Centre for Language Teaching and Research at the University of Queensland between August 1994 and March 1995. All are concerned with exploring the implications of task-based language learning and teaching for syllabus design. They focus on the question of how tasks are to be sequenced for learners, following the assumption that information about the relative complexity of tasks will be important input for decisions about task- based syllabus design.
Temple University Japan Studies in Applied Linguistics: Teaching Materials for the Four Skills, (83), 47-53.
Perspective actionnelle et autonomie chez l’apprenant dans les manuels: Une analyse comparative
Raquel Pollo Gonzalez
Interested as I was in action-oriented approach, a very important tendency in today's language teaching, I decided to study its evolution through a comparative analysis of its implementation in these two FFL textbooks. Tout Va Bien 1 was one of the first methods to adhere to it, while the more recently created Latitudes 1 also claims to follow this approach and to respect CEFR's recommendations. In addition, being captivated by learner's autonomy, I could not avoid observing the treatment of learner autonomy as an intersection zone of the action-oriented approach. My choice of research topic obeyed to a desire of both modestly contributing to the selection (or not) of a new method for the Alliance Française of Havana while looking both textbooks in a theoretical light, and of putting in practice the assets provided to me by this course. My main objective is to compare and evaluate both method-textbooks as well as to identify the advocated methodological tendency. Contents 1. Introduction: Choice of methods, topic and features to be compared. ................................................ 2 2. Factual presentation of both textbooks. Some nuances, remarks, criticisms and subjective observations. ......................................................................... 3 3. Action-oriented approach and task concept in both textbooks. An analysis of its implementation: Trial and error or success?. ..................................................... 6 3.1. Learners as social actors and the class as a micro-society: Searching for traits of a collective dimension in both textbooks. ................................................ 11 4. Learner's self-assessment versus self-correction: ........... 13 5. Learner autonomy: Self-assessment and learning strategies. ............................................................ 15 6. Conclusion .................................................................. 165 7. Bibliography................................................................ 187
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Doing Task-Based Teaching (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers Series)
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Want to try Task-based Language Teaching? Welcome to the Willis-elt site!
The aim of this site is to help those already involved in task-based learning and teaching (TBLT) to extend their knowledge and skills, and to introduce as many new teachers as possible to TBL. A task-based methodology can be used for teaching any foreign language, in fact TBLT also stands for task-based language teaching, also referred to as task-based instruction (TBI).
The best way to learn about TBLT is to DO it. Try out the free down-loadable task-based lesson plans with commentaries . Check out our past conference presentations on task- based teaching, grammar, lexis and spoken language. Follow the links to articles and books and then if you have a question – see if the Questions and Answers page can help you.
NOTE My book ‘A Framework for Task-based Learning’ has been republished as an E-book and is available from Intrinsic Books (NB Amazon says it is out of print, but it has occasional second hand copies.) It has a chapter on Task-based Learning – TBL – for Beginners.
For details of my presentation ‘After the task, then what? ‘ at the IATEFL conference in Birmingham, go to Conferences .
NOW AVAILABLE Dave Willis’s last book
Winning the Grammar Wars: What grammar really is and how we use it has now been released as a Kindle eBook. It’s a short, punchy, polemic book giving an engaging overview of all aspects of English – especially useful for teachers, educators and parents.
To find out more about the book click here .
To purchase the book from Amazon UK click here .
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