Task Based Learning for Newcomers
by Adam Simpson
2.3.2 The Task Cycle
The task cycle can be broken down into three stages (8); task, in which the learners do the task; planning, when the learners prepare to report to the whole class (usually orally or in writing) how they did the task; and report, when the reports are presented to the class and results compared.
During the task, the teacher monitors and encourages all attempts at communication without correcting. Willis suggests that this harbours a free environment in whish learners are willing to experiment (as mistakes aren't important) (9). At this stage in a PPP lesson the focus would be very much on accuracy, with all mistakes corrected. During the planning stage, the learners are aware that their output will be 'made public' and will consequently aim for accuracy. The role of the teacher here is therefore to provide assistance with regard to language advice (10). The teacher then chairs the report, and comments on the content. At this stage, the focus is on both fluency and accuracy (11). Also, the learners may hear a recording or read a text of a similar task, in order to compare how they did it.
2.3.3 Language Focus
The language focus consists of analysis and practice. In the analysis learners examine the recording or text for new lexical items or structures, which they then record. The teacher conducts a practice of the new items either during the analysis or after. The learners are given the opportunity to reflect on how they performed the task and on the new language they used in this final part of the lesson (12).
3. What TBL Offers
Such a framework theoretically provides the learner with an opportunity to use the language they need for genuine communication (13). I will now consider how this approach benefits the learner, and how it theoretically eliminates the pitfalls of other teaching approaches.
A need to achieve the objectives of the task and report on it provide short-term motivation. Long-term motivation will be gained from successfully completing tasks (14). Bowen (2002) notes that the range of useable tasks (15) offer a great deal of flexibility and should also lead to more motivating activities for learners (16). TBL also therefore accommodates different learning styles
3.2 Private v Public
There are clear instances in TBL in which the learner has the chance to privately practice the language, using it fluently, and then to publicly show other learners that they can use the language in a fluent and accurate manner. There is no such opportunity or necessity for public performance in the other methodologies.
Task-based learning offers action and reflection. In contrast, PPP is relatively low in action and offers little if any chance for reflection as the language focus comes at the start of the lesson, and is entirely teacher generated.
4. Potential Shortcomings
Learners who are used to a more traditional grammatical syllabus may find this approach difficult to come to terms with. This is primarily due to the apparent randomness of TBL, a criticism shared with TTT. Just because the teacher is aware of the benefits of this type of methodology, will the learners ever grasp what is going on, or what they are supposed to have gained from the experience?
In addition, Littlewood (1999) notes that one of the features of TBL that worries teachers is that it seems to have no place for the teaching of grammar (17). Nevertheless, Willis (1998) suggests there are two phases of TBL in which focus on form prove beneficial (18). Firstly, the planning stage between the private task and the public report promotes close attention to language form. Secondly, the language analysis activities provide a focus on form through consciousness-raising processes (19). To summarise, TBL does not, or rather should not, mean 'forget the grammar' (20).
8. Willis, J. (1998).
11. Bowen, T. (2002).
12. Harden et al, (1996).
13. Harden et al, (1996).
14. As stated by Willis, J. (1998).
15. Examples being reading texts, listening texts, problem-solving, role-plays, questionnaires.
16. Bowen, T. (2002).
17. Littlewood, W. (1999).
18. Willis, J. (1998).
19. Learners can reflect on language features, or recycle the task language, for example.
20. Willis, J. (1998).
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