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Using Task Based Learning

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    Using Task Based Learning

    This article focuses on the following quote from Jane & Dave Willis, The Cambridge Guide to TESOL, CUP 2001: 174. 

    'One feature of
    TBL …… is that learners carrying out a task are free to use any language they
    can to achieve the outcome'. 

    and considers the following questions:

    a) What might be the advantages and disadvantages
    of task-based learning? 

    b) In the light of the above quote from Willis, how can the teacher ensure
    that the language syllabus is covered
    in task-based learning? 


    a) Advantages (underlined)


    1. TBL prepares the Ls to use language outside the c/r,
    as it focuses on fluency and on communicating meaning and fluency. During the
    task the learners are allowed to use whatever language they have at their
    disposal – as they will need to do in the “real” situation. 

    2. TBL
    is a process based approach which is possibly closer to current theories of
    second language acquisition than product based approaches such as Presentation Practice Production
    . For example, the type of grading and
    systematic coverage provided by PPP may not reflect how language is actually
    acquired while  TBL provides scope for the ideas
    expressed by Swain in her “Output Hypothesis” – that it is by formulating and
    reformulating ideas until they are understood that learners will gradually
    acquire the “language that works”. 


    3. TBL
    allows for more varied patterns of interaction; focuses on ‘real’ communication
    within classroom limits and thus teaches communicative rather than purely
    linguistic competence
    example, while performing the task, learners will have to negotiate meaning,
    turn-take, use repair strategies, ask for clarification etc as well as using
    the lexical and functional/structural items that the task itself requires.


    4. Except in
    its most extreme form (Prabhu, the Procedural Syllabus), TBL does still provide
    scope for a focus on form, but form-based instruction arises from naturally
    occurring examples of use rather than any predetermined linguistic syllabus.
    Learners are therefore focusing on “improved” versions of what they wanted to say, which may mean the
    language is processed at greater cognitive depth
    than if it was just “the
    next thing in the coursebook” with no personal relevance.


    TBL is good for mixed ability/mixed level 
    classes as the same  task can
    be completed successfully by weaker or stronger learners using different
    .  Eg in a task involving
    making suggestions, weaker or lower level learner may use “We could…” or “Why
    don’t we…”  while hearing stronger
    learners use “it might be a good idea to…” or “Have you thought of…”.
    Similarly, if they (inaccurately) say *“Why we don’t…” they might hear the
    correct form (or be corrected by) the stronger learners.


    a) Possible
    disadvantages (underlined):

    6. TBL is
    difficult to implement at lower levels
    where Ls haven’t yet assimilated enough of the possible language items that could be used to perform the task.

    7. Even at higher levels, focus on meaning could come at the
    expense of focus on form as learners 
    just use language they are already familiar with
    (more or less
    accurately) in the task. Whilst a focus on form does occur after the task stage
    in TBL (eg comparing their own performance with a version of the task recorded
    by native speakers or other expert users of the language), if Ls are not given
    the chance to practise it and repeat the same or a similar task (as in the
    Test-Teach-Test approach) it may not be internalised. Fluency may be increased
    but not range or accuracy.

    8. This potential lack of assimilation of the language
    in TBL may also lead to dissatisfaction with the course as learners feel
    they are not learning anything new.

    9. Many TBL models include a Pre-task stage which feeds in
    information, but also language items, useful for the task. This means that
    ls are essentially moving straight from Language Focus to Free Practice (the
    task itself)
    – or in other words from Presentation straight to Production
    rather than having an intermediate Controlled Practice stage – as in the PPP
    approach. Again, at lower levels this lack of a chance to manipulate the
    language before having to use it may result in inaccuracy or avoidance of any new

    10. It is difficult
    to grade and sequence a focus on form and function appropriately in TBL
    This may not match the learning preferences of serialist learners who like a
    systematic “step by step” approach to learning.

    11. TBL may
    also be contrary to Ls’ cultural expectations
    – for example those of some
    SE Asian learners who expect to be “told” what they have to learn.


    b) Coverage of the
    language syllabus


    12. Tasks can
    be organized in order to encourage (rather than compel) learners to use
    particular language from the syllabus. For example, a task where learners have to explain how cook a specific
    dish from their own country will naturally involve the use of sequencing
    expressions and clauses, eg  – First /
    Next / After you XXXX (etc). If these items are not used, they can then be
    highlighted in the language focus stages.

    13. Tasks can
    be done in parallel with language work (whether grammar, lexis, discourse or
    pronunciation), as with a course-book such as ‘Cutting Edge’. 

    14. Alternatively,
    a TBL lesson can be “inserted” into a course at regular intervals with the
    tasks chosen to “match” the language that learners have been studying recently.
    The language focus stage can highlight any item remembered and used accurately,
    any used inaccurately, or any avoided  in
    preference of other more familiar items  – eg if the
    learners completed a task discussing how they spent their holidays as children
    using only adverbs of frequency  plus the
    past simple (“We often went to the mountains” they can be “reminded” how to
    express the idea in the same way using “used to” or “would”).


    15. Post-task
    analysis can focus on learner error with items on the syllabus, or items from
    the syllabus which could have been used but were avoided. Eg.
    If higher level learners are heard to say 
    “It rained a lot”, the T. can recycle more advanced expressions which
    they have met in previous units  such as
    “It poured with rain all weekend” or “It rained really heavily”. 


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