Task-Based Teaching

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Task-Based Teaching

Post by Joanne » Fri Aug 08, 2003 5:31 am


I'm interested in what I've been reading about task-based teaching, and want to know if anyone's using it or has tried to use it, and with what result.

I wasn't really aware of it until quite recently, so for anyone else in a similar position....

As I undersand it, following research (eg by Breen, Prabhu, ... )suggesting learners do not learn language in prefab chunks, in grammatical/functional structures of progressing difficulty, by drilling, or by practicing dialagues, task-based teaching involves getting learners to use English to do tasks, e.g. a project abou the environment, making a web-site, doing problem-solving, etc, in English and drawing their attention to features of English as they arise. This is not the same as the dominant Communicative Approach which is still practising English for certain communicative functions.

To me, this sounds potentially very good. However, I've only seen it demonstrated with speakers who were already proficient, and I'm not sure how you would draw learner's attention to forms 'as they arise' especially at a lower level. Can anyone fill me in on this?


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Post by Jason » Fri Aug 08, 2003 8:02 am

Hi Joanne,

I've used various forms of TBL for EFL Young Learners in a CBI course. Actually, to my mind TBL, CBI (Content-Based Instruction) and Experiential Learning all fall into the same boat in very complimentary ways.

At lower levels, it doesn't hurt to provide a bit of scaffolding in the form of helpful instructions and background info in the L1, and as students get used to the techniques and routines involved, it can gradually be supplanted entirely in English. At lower levels, one of your key challenges will be for students to understand what exactly it is they are supposed to be doing.

Task Based Learning can be used in very simple ways - for example the kind of activity where students find themselves on a deserted island (they choose 5 items each to save from the sinking ship and then compare their item lists - where the same item has been listed twice it has to be crossed off - and then they attempt to explain why they chose their items and what they would be useful for). At low levels, I find that very simple Science orientated tasks are the most useful, because the students are learning new language alongside a very real and potentially interesting 'experiment' or something such. The language of science also lends itself well to verb tense 'discovery': Simple Present tense (to explain universal truthes), Present Continuous (to note what is happening stage by stage), Past Tense (to report on procedures and findings) and future/conditional tenses (to make hypotheses). I believe that this is where TBL and CBI make such great companions, because (especially for younger learners) you cannot rely on them being interested in a 'language task for the sake of learning new language'. CALL is another area where TBL has enormous possibilities, using the internet to solve problems and figure out puzzles.

Skehan has also written some interesting things about how TBL is essential to any cognitive approach to language learning.

However you go about implementing TBL, I recommend that you use it in combination with other (supporting) techniques. It makes a great aspect in integrated approaches to language learning.

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Post by Joanne » Fri Aug 08, 2003 8:33 am

Hi Jason

Thanks for the informative reply.

I can see that science and multimedia would both be good ways of incorporating more learning through doing, especially in an ESL setting and for young learners. (I agree about TBL CBI and experiential learning all overlapping)

I'm looking at its use in an adult EFL setting with an L1 I don't speak - that's where I teach. Actually, I use tasks already. Before I heard 'TBL' I just called them fluency activities. However, I've always used them to supplement more traditional instruction, so it's played a smaller role. Your last comment matches my instincts: that TBL's not enough on its own, but I'm wondering if anyone's experiences suggests I'm right or wrong, or shows how the emphasis might be moved.

I've read some of Skehan's work, and it's part of the reason I'm intereted.

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Post by fluffyhamster » Sun Nov 27, 2005 8:35 am

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Post by Superhal » Tue Dec 27, 2005 4:25 am

I was fortunate enough to study at the University of Hawaii with Michael Long, the founder of TBLT (_not_ TBL). He managed to start the Korean Language Flagship Program there before he moved to Georgetown, and the development of the program was often the topic in his lectures or in the lectures of his wife, Cathy Doughty.

Starting a TBLT program is extremely difficult and takes years of research before the first class is even taught. What you do is take a task and either have a bunch of native speakers do it or record native speakers doing it naturally. The data is analyzed, and structures and vocabulary are identified as being "necessary" for task completion. This data is then broken down into smaller tasks that can be ordered into a curriculum and taught to learners.

TBL is not a theory, method, or pedagogy. It is a method of curriculum design that looks as "task" as the basic unit of the curriculum. As far as I can tell (looking at Skehan, Nunan, and R. Ellis) there is no difference between a TBL task and a task you can find in any textbook. Ellis and Nunan both suggest the TBLT way as stated above for task creation.

CBLT is basically a regular class (non-ESL) that has ESL support, such as a Geometry class for non-native speakers. Most people confuse CBLT with CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) but CBLT is extremely weak in that it does not add any methodology or pedagogy to the content. Therefore, you can have a Geometry class for ESL students that is not communicative at all. Generally, CBLT is meant to be communicative, but careful implementation is necessary.

TBL, imho, is an extremely bad way to order a curriculum, because within this body of work, anything can be a task: a listening task, a cloze task, a reading task, etc. etc. etc. Because of it's lack of a clear definition of "task", in practice, almost any crappy curriculum can be labled TBL with little or no surface changes.

TBLT is generally extremely hard to implement because of it's grounding in "real" and "authentic" language. Most of the TBLT research suggests that almost all tasks can be done quite naturally with only basic forms and structures. For example, "how do you exercise?" will trigger single-word responses from most native speakers. At higher levels, fewer and fewer tasks become available.

CLT is much easier to implement and you are allowed far more freedom in input and lesson stucture.

[edit] regarding the result of TBLT, the Korean flagship program is considered a smashing success. However, I have my own personal doubts about TBLT. After 5 years of using it in the classroom, I have no confidence whatsoever in the expected result. I feel that VanPatten's Input Hypothesis yields more results at a faster rate.

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Post by Carol Keeney » Sat Dec 31, 2005 4:10 pm

Students of language have always learned best by immersing themselves in an activity. As they focus on the necessary work to be done, vocabulary will be taught naturally rather than through word lists etc. Basically, people learn when they can relate to what they are being taught, thus the importance of task-based activities. I have always used this method. It also provides a venue for your own creativity so that you have some fun too. It's catching. You might want to check out my new book which gives some great tips and techniques based on the standards which need to be stressed accross the curriculum. Good luck to you. Carol Keeney www.brandnewteacher.com

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Post by towamba » Wed Feb 01, 2006 12:02 am

Hi all

For those of us teaching ESL in both withdrawal and mainstream contexts i have just finishedreading a great book called Designing learning for diverse classrooms. It engages the reader really well with theory but always links to the practical. It talks a lot about classroom interaction but at heart is a really sound task-based teaching approach. Can't recommend it highly enough. It is published by the Primary English Teachers Association in Australia - you can check their website for details as I don't know how widely available it is.


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