Task Based Learning for Newcomers
by Adam Simpson
5. Relevance to Teaching Contexts
As stated, PPP is popular with many new teachers, as it offers what Scrivener (1996) defines as a single, simple, clear, workable lesson model (21). Furthermore, it is very comforting for the teacher to be in charge of proceedings (22), and this method of teaching is largely based on teacher activity. This ties in with shortcomings mentioned in the introduction, in that it isn't facilitating the needs of learners so much as easing the life of the teacher.
Indeed, it is true to say that utilising learner interaction (which clearly occurs in TBL) as a teaching method is underused, mainly due to the fear of factors such as a reversion to L1 (23). However, the relevance of learner motivation and involvement cannot be overlooked. Learner-centred methods, such as TBL, draw on the learner's knowledge, and consequently materials are selected on the basis of both their needs and interests. Learning can be seen as a collaborative enterprise, in which there is a great deal of negotiation between the teacher and learner.
Nevertheless, when considering TBL it is necessary to examine the context in which it is to be used, and furthermore the possible reaction of the learners. Will learners openly accept a methodology that is alien to them? If learners are unfamiliar with TBL, then it will be necessary to negotiate with learners to make sure that they are happy to learn in this way. If this can be done, then the learners become stakeholders in the approach. It is therefore vital for me as a teacher to take into account my teaching environment and apply this new approach sensitively.
It is an accepted fact in my institution that learners cannot possibly be taught all the English that they need to know in one academic year. Consequently, a large part of their classroom time is allotted to teaching skills that will i) allow learners to cope with academic English using the level of language they have thus far attained, and ii) to encourage autonomous learning through the development of learning skills and the use of resources relevant to their future academic careers. Therefore, a methodology that supports the reflective learner, encourages autonomy and accommodates a range of learning styles should suit my learners' needs.
Also, as stated, TBL is of particular relevance as language is used for a genuine purpose, meaning that real communication should take place. Furthermore, learners are forced to consider language form in general rather than focusing on a single structure (24), as is the case in PPP. Another way in which TBL is more relevant to learners than PPP is that the aim of TBL is to integrate all four skills (25) and move from fluency to accuracy plus fluency (26).
TBL offers a structured approach to learning, and supports the notion that learning occurs most effectively when related to the real-life tasks undertaken by an individual. TBL encourages the development of the reflective learner, and accommodates a wide range of learning styles. TBL offers an attractive combination of pragmatism and idealism: pragmatism in the sense that learning with an explicit sense of purpose is an important source of student motivation and satisfaction; idealism in that it is consistent with current theories of education.
Nevertheless, teachers wishing to branch out and develop through the use of alternative methodologies should be careful not to jump on the latest language learning bandwagon. Michael McCarthy, the eminent applied linguist, suggests that TBL figures high on such a list of latest fads, and in its strongest forms risks relegating learning about the language system to a secondary place, subservient to some real-world task (27). TBL, as a practical and pedagogically sound alternative, should not exclude grammar and vocabulary learning via a systematic syllabus, as systematic progression is a key psychological concept for learners.
Notes & References
21. Scrivener, J. (1996), p.79.
22. Skeehan, P. (1996), p.17.
23. Dinou, G. (2001). L1 refers to the learner's native language.
24. Bowen, T. (2002).
25. Reading, writing, speaking and listening.
26. Bowen, T. (2002).
27. McCarthy, M. (2005)
Bowen, T. (2002) Task-Based Learning, ONE STOP ENGLISH WEBSITE (http://www.onestopenglish.com)
Dinou, G. (2001) A New Approach to Course Design: Task-Based Learning, TESOL GREECE CONFERENCE PAPER 2001 (http://www.tesolgreece.com/dinou01.shtml)
Harden, R.M., Laidlaw, J.M., Ker, J.S. and Mitchell, H.E. (1996) Task-Based Learning: An Educational Strategy for Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Continuing Education, MEDICAL TEACHER JOURNAL (1996) Volume 18, no.1 pp.7-13 and Volume 18, no.2 pp.91-98
Littlewood, W. (1999) Task-Based Learning of Grammar, HONG KONG BAPTIST UNIVERSITY (http://www.eltnews.com/features/interviews/036_michael_mccarthy1.shtml)
McCarthy, M. (2005) quoted in an interview for ELT News website, ELT NEWS WEBSITE (www.eltnews.com/features/ interviews/036_michael_mccarthy2.shtml)
Moor, P. (2000) Implementing a Task-Based Approach Without Task-Based Materials, IH WORLD INTERNET JOURNAL (http://www.ihworld.com/ihworldjournal/)
Skeehan, P., (1996), A Cognitive Approach to Language Leaning, OUP
Stone, L. (2000) Task-Based Activities: Making the Language Laboratory Interactive, ERIC CLEARINGHOUSE ON LANGUAGES AND LINGUISTICS
Tritt, G. (2000) Task-Based Exercises, (http://tritt.bizland.com/swissenglish/tbl/richmond.htm)
Willis, J. (1996) A Framework for Task-Based Learning, LONGMAN ADDISON-WESLEY
Willis, J. (1998) Task-Based Learning: What Kind of Adventure? JAPAN ASSOCIATION FOR LANGUAGE TEACHING WEBSITE (http://langue.hyper.chubu.ac.jp/jalt/pub/tlt/98/jul/willis.shtml)
| Adam has been living and working in Istanbul for the past six years. After several enjoyable years at Istanbul Bilig University, he is now enjoying life at the school of languages of Sabanci University, also in Istanbul. He is currently plying his trade as an apprentice corpus linguist, and is heavily involved in the development of the school's lexical syllabus.
Adam can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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