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Task-based language learning (TBLL), also known as task-based language teaching (TBLT) or task-based instruction (TBI) focuses on the use of authentic language and on asking students to do meaningful tasks using the target language. Such tasks can include visiting a doctor, conducting an interview, or calling customer service for help. Assessment is primarily based on task outcome (in other words the appropriate completion of tasks) rather than on accuracy of language forms. This makes TBLL especially popular for developing target language fluency and student confidence.
Two early applications of a task-based approach within a communicative framework for language teaching were the national Malaysian Communicational Syllabus in 1975 (Richards and Rodgers 2001 p.223) and the Bangalore Project (Beretta and Davies 1985; Prabhu 1987) both of which were relatively short-lived. Prabhu noticed that his students could learn language just as easily with a non-linguistic problem as when they were concentrating on linguistic questions. Major scholars who have done research in this area include Rod Ellis, Teresa P. Pica and Michael Long.
According to Jane Willis, TBLL consists of the pre-task, the task cycle, and the language focus. The components of a Task are: 1 Goals and objectives 2 Input 3 Activities 4 Teacher role 5 learner role 6 Settings
Definition of a Task
According to Rod Ellis (2007), a task has four main characteristics:
- A task involves a primary focus on (pragmatic) meaning.
- A task has some kind of ‘gap’.
- The participants choose the linguistic resources needed to complete the task.
- A task has a clearly defined outcome.
The core of the lesson is, as the name suggests, the task. All parts of the language used are deemphasized during the activity itself, in order to get students to focus on the task. Although there may be several effective frameworks for creating a task-based learning lesson, here is a rather comprehensive one suggested by Jane Willis.
In the pre-task, the teacher will present what will be expected of the students in the task phase. Additionally, the teacher may prime the students with key vocabulary or grammatical constructs, although, in "pure" task-based learning lessons, these will be presented as suggestions and the students would be encouraged to use what they are comfortable with in order to complete the task. The instructor may also present a model of the task by either doing it themselves or by presenting picture, audio, or video demonstrating the task.
During the task phase, the students perform the task, typically in small groups, although this is dependent on the type of activity. And unless the teacher plays a particular role in the task, then the teacher's role is typically limited to one of an observer or counselor—thus the reason for it being a more student-centered methodology.
Having completed the task, the students prepare either a written or oral report to present to the class. The instructor takes questions and otherwise simply monitors the students.
The students then present this information to the rest of the class. Here the teacher may provide written or oral feedback, as appropriate, and the students observing may do the same.
Here the focus returns to the teacher who reviews what happened in the task, in regards to language. It may include language forms that the students were using, problems that students had, and perhaps forms that need to be covered more or were not used enough.
The practice stage may be used to cover material mentioned by the teacher in the analysis stage. It is an opportunity for the teacher to emphasize key language.
Types of task
Some kinds of task are commonly used in task-based language learning. These include dictogloss and information gap activities.
Task-based learning is advantageous to the student because it is more student-centered, allows for more meaningful communication, and often provides for practical extra-linguistic skill building. As the tasks are likely to be familiar to the students (e.g.: visiting the doctor), students are more likely to be engaged, which may further motivate them in their language learning.
Additionally, tasks promote language acquisition through the types of language and interaction they require. Although the teacher may present language in the pre-task, the students are ultimately free to use what grammar constructs and vocabulary they want. This allows them to use all the language they know and are learning, rather than just the 'target language' of the lesson. On the other hand, tasks can also be designed to make certain target forms 'task-essential,' thus making it communicatively necessary for students to practice using them. In terms of interaction, information gap tasks in particular have been shown to promote negotiation of meaning and output modification.
While task-based language learning is increasingly promoted world-wide and has the advantages described above, there are trade-offs and pitfalls to be considered in planning instruction around it. These include the risk that students will stay within the narrow confines of familiar words and forms, just "getting by", so as to avoid the extra effort and risks of error that accompany stretching to use new words and forms. As with all group work, in group tasks, some students can "hide" and rely on others to do the bulk of the work and learning. A second challenge is that the new learning elicited by the task-based lesson—one of its benefits—may yet be lost if the lesson did not include sufficient planning for, or runs out of time for, that new learning to be captured and reinforced while it is still fresh. A third challenge, one applying to many otherwise valuable language teaching methods, is the difficulty of implementing task-based teaching where classes are large and space limited and/or inflexible.
Professional conferences and organizations
As an outgrowth of the widespread interest in task-based teaching, the Biennial International Conference on Task-Based Language Teaching has occurred every other year since 2005. Past conferences have been held in Belgium, the United States, England, and New Zealand, with the 2013 conference scheduled to take place in Canada. These events promote theoretical and practical research on TBLT. In addition, the Japan Association for Language Teaching has a special interest group devoted to task-based learning, which has also hosted its own conference in Japan.
Related approaches to language teaching
Problem Based Learning is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject in the context of complex, multifaceted, and realistic problems. Another related approach is content-based instruction, which, like TBLT, incorporates authentic materials and tasks to drive language instruction.
- Willis, Jane. A Framework for Task-Based Learning. pg. 135-136. Longman, 1996
- Ellis, R. Task-based Language Learning and Teaching, Oxford Applied Linguistics (2003)
- Frost, Richard. “A Task-based Approach.” British Council Teaching English. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/methodology/task_based.shtml 4/12/2006
- Ellis, Rod (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching, 156–157, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
- Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. 3rd Edition. pg. 79-80. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd., 2001
- Loschky, L., & Bley-Vroman, R. Grammar and Task-Based Methodology. In G. Crookes & S. Gass (Eds.), Tasks and Language Learning: Integrating Theory and Practice. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, 1993
- Doughty, C., & Pica, T. (1986). "Information gap tasks": Do they facilitate second language acquisition? TESOL Quarterly, 20(2), 305.
- Pica, T., Kang, H.-S., & Sauro, S. (2006). Information gap tasks: Their multiple roles and contributions to interaction research methodology. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28, 301-338.
Language teaching methods
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