Task Based Learning for Newcomers
by Adam Simpson
This text serves as an introduction to teachers curious about the phenomenon of task based learning, and is of particular relevance to those at the post CELTA stage wishing to expand their knowledge of the profession. Its purpose is to provide a basic definition of this particular methodology, to give a brief contrast to other methodologies, and also to indicate its pros and cons.
At the outset of my teaching career, I readily adopted what little teaching methodology I was aware of to my classroom practice. As with most new teachers fresh from the CELTA course, my lessons followed the PPP (presentation, practice, production) model, or slight variations thereof. However, as my teaching quickly developed on a steep learning curve, so did my awareness of other methodological possibilities, and also the shortcomings of the method I had thus far applied. Nevertheless, I persisted with this method.
Whilst the PPP method offered a comfortable and safe framework (1) for me as a newly qualified teacher, I nevertheless soon realised that i) it is important to meet the specific needs of ones learners, and ii) an authentic context will enhance the learning experience. A failure to deliver on both of these counts is one of the major reasons why the PPP method is criticised. This is also the reason why I have chosen to examine an alternative to this model: Task-based learning.
2. A Comparison of Approaches
As stated, the model I based much of my early teaching on was PPP. In this method, the teacher presents a particular language item; it is then practiced in a controlled way by the learners (2), and then finally used by the learners in freer practice activities. My reasons for using this model were twofold. Firstly, it was the one presented to me during my initial teacher training. Furthermore, it offered me a very safe framework in which to operate as an inexperienced teacher, in that it is a reasonably straightforward process to present a structure from a grammatical syllabus (most course books tend to have this to a lesser or greater extent). Having said this, there is a clear drawback. There is an apparent arbitrariness to most 'selected' grammar points, which may or may not meet the needs of the learner.
A radically different model exists in the form of TTT (test, teach, test), in that the production stage occurs first: the learners are required to perform a task (3) without any input or guidance from the teacher. The grammatical or lexical problems that this activity generates are used by the teacher for language analysis, the learners then being asked to do a similar/the same task again. Although Bowen suggests that the language presented in the 'teach' can be predicted (especially if the initial test is car fully chosen) (4), there is a distinct danger of randomness which in turn means that the language focus may not reflect the needs of the learner.
A third model for organising lessons is offered by Willis (1996) (5). Task-based learning is not entirely different from the aforementioned TTT, although this approach clearly takes into account the need for authentic communication. Typically there are three stages (6);
2.3.1 The Pre-task Phase
Before the task, the teacher explores the topic with the class. Useful (relevant) lexical items may be given. Also, the learners may be given further input, such as a recording of someone doing a similar task or part of an authentic text as a lead in. During the pre-task stage the learners will have their schemata (7) activated, and given the opportunity to become personally involved in the lesson.
1. As noted by Skeehan, (1996), p.17.
2. Usually in oral or written exercises such as drills.
3. Such as a role play.
4. Bowen, T. (2002).
5. Willis, J. (1996), p1.
6. As noted by Willis, J. (1998).
7. Schemata is the knowledge of the lexis related to a particular subject
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