The needs and potentials of task-based EFL teaching using the sample task of speed-dating


Term Paper, 2014

22 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Francesca Cavaliere (Author)


Excerpt

Content

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Underpinning
2.1 Defining a task
2.2 Classifying task types and their components

3 The assets and drawbacks of TBLT
3.1 Authenticity
3.2 Learner and teacher roles
3.3 Assessment

4 A sample task: “Find your dream date”
4.1 The pre-task stage
4.2 The main-task stage
4.3 The post-task stage

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliographical References

7 Appendix
7.1 Lesson Plan
7.2 Blank role play cards
7.3 Notepad for speed-dating

1 Introduction

Until the late 1960s it was assumed that the ability to communicate in a foreign language would be exclusively based on the knowledge of grammar rules and vocabulary. The 1970s, however, saw a major shift in focus away from form to meaning. This basic insight led to the emergence of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) in the 1980s which until now serves as an umbrella term for a number of approaches, valuing communicative competence higher than linguistic knowledge. Among the strongest versions of CLT, there is Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) which basically promotes the use of tasks as the core unit of foreign language teaching (cf. Larsen-Freeman, 2000:121). Accordingly, it will be the aim of the present paper to verify whether TBLT is also a valid approach for the EFL classroom and how this can be justified in terms of current teaching objectives and learners’ needs.

The first section of the paper will provide the theoretical background to TBLT. It will be relevant here to compare different definitions of the term task, in order to identify useful criteria that help to distinguish a task from the concept of an exercise. Moreover, the functions and interrelations of a few selected types and components of tasks shall be discussed. In the second section, the focus will be put on factors to consider when implementing task-based language learning in EFL. For this purpose, the main principles of TBLT will be portrayed drawing on the potential assets and drawbacks of the approach. It will be relevant here to answer the following controversial questions related to TBLT: 1. How to avoid that the focus on “authentic” communication is done at the expense of formal accuracy? 2. How does TBLT affect teacher and learner roles in a TBLT classroom? 3. How can tasks be used to assess what learners can do in the L2? Finally, there will be provided a sample lesson of TBLT. This lesson is built around a speed-dating activity and is designed for grade 11/1. An attempt shall be made here to analyze how the lesson relates to the formerly defined criteria of TBLT and how this meets the latest standards of the official curriculum of Brandenburg for ESL at upper secondary school level.

2 Theoretical Underpinning

2.1 Defining a task

In the literature, there is no consensus on what exactly constitutes a task, which makes it difficult to provide a clear-cut definition. Although the term is often set in opposition to the concept of exercise, it is important to note that it is not always possible to clearly distinguish between the two, as some language activities combine features of both. There are, however, a number of factors that contribute to make an activity more task-like. One, if not the most important feature of task is its primary focus on meaning, as can be deduced from Nunans' (2004:4) definition of task as:

“ a piece of classroom work that involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is focused on mobilizing their grammatical knowledge in order to express meaning and in which the intension is to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form.”

In other words, in a task meaning is given priority over grammar competence, the latter serving only as a means to a higher end, namely successful communication. Ellis (2003:9 ff.) agrees with Nunan that focus on meaning constitutes a key feature in which tasks differ from rather form- focused exercises. Additionally, he identified five further criteria, acknowledging however that only the last three of them are distinctive for a task whereas the features 1 and 2 may also apply to an exercise.

First of all, Ellis defines a task as a working plan (1) that may take the form of teaching materials or activities a long which learning activity is organized. It is important to note that this working plan may differ from the actual activity performed by the students. This is why theorists often distinguish between “task-as-workplan” and “task-as-perfomance” (Ellis, 34). Secondly, he claims that a task is not restricted to any of the four language skills. While the focus can be put on either listening, reading, writing or speaking, it is most of the time a combination of receptive and productive skills.

As opposed to an exercise a task, thirdly, involves real-world processes of language use. This is to say that, although the task itself may have been artificially designed for teaching purposes, the language that results from it will have a genuine need for communication, as learners engage in true meaning negotiation triggered by some sort of non-linguistic gap. Prabhu (1987) distinguishes between three different types of gaps. There is the information gap activity which requires students to exchange precise pieces of information that cannot be inferred other than by communicative interaction such as is the case in a so called jigsaw task. In a reasoning-gap activity students have to infer new information from information they have already been given. Such is the case with logic problems. Finally, in an opinion-gap activity students are asked to give their personal attitudes or feelings to a controversial topic of discussion, thus providing potential solutions for a task. (qtd. in Larsen-Freeman 2000: 148). Fourthly, a task also requires learners to employ cognitive processes such as “ selecting, classifying, ordering, reasoning, and evaluating information ” (Ellis, 19). Last but not least, Ellis suggests that a task should have a clearly defined non-linguistic outcome which serves as a communicative goal for the learners as well as a means for the teachers to determine when participants have completed a task.

2.2 Classifying task types and their components

Given the difficulty to define what actually constitutes a task, it seems little surprising that all attempts to group tasks into different categories in the literature resulted in rather competing labels of task types. The following comments should therefore be restricted to the portrayal of only two important task types. Firstly, one can differentiate between focused and unfocused tasks. A focused task is designed in such a way as to push learners into using a particular grammatical structure whereas in unfocused tasks there is no such target. However, even in focused tasks, the learner is relatively free to use his/her own words (cf. Ellis, 16).

With regard to the tasks’ outcome, a common distinction is made between closed and open tasks. The former are highly directed towards exactly one possible outcome, and one single way of achieving it. Open tasks, on the other hand, are closer to real life tasks, in that their outcome is less predictable and may involve many different ways of getting there. Many tasks are, however, a combination of open and closed tasks (cf. Willis, 1996: 28). Independently of the task type, a task should at least divide into three stages: pre-task, main- task and post-task. It is the main purpose of the teacher-led pre-task to initiate the learners into the topic and create an anxiety-free atmosphere. One important function of the pre-task is that students are exposed to potentially useful vocabulary for the main-task. To achieve this, the teacher is free to choose any material he/she likes (ex. picture, video clip, text etc.) as long as it is in relation with the forthcoming main-task (cf. Larsen-Freeman, 146/ Ellis, 243). In the main task stage, the students are asked to carry out the task while interacting in pairs or small groups. This shall enable students to develop fluency in the target language and practice strategies of communication. Immediately after task completion, the teacher might give a brief comment on one or two points of interest he/she has noticed during monitoring (cf. Willis, 54).

Finally, the task cycle concludes with the post-task stage which shall serve to raise the students’ awareness about specific language features that have been dealt with in the preceding main-task. This part of the lesson is much more teacher-centered as it his/her job to make the students recognize new linguistic structures (cf. Willis, 40). Within the post-task stage, Willis further distinguishes between planning and report phase. In the planning phase students are given time to prepare (orally or in writing) a report on their task’s result, which they are asked to present to the whole class in the following report phase. It is precisely in these two phases that students are encouraged to pay more attention to formal accuracy. They are hence allowed to check their language with the help of dictionaries and grammar books. Additionally, the teacher circulates to give language support. During the report phase, it is vital for the teacher to plan the presentations and set a purpose for listening, in order to draw the student’s attention to relevant semantic or grammatical details (cf. Willis, 56 - 60).

3 The assets and drawbacks of TBLT

3.1 Authenticity

One reason why task-based learning is nowadays widely acknowledged as an effective approach to language learning and teaching resides in the assumption that it provides for a “natural” way of foreign language use within the school context. Acknowledging the limited exposure to the target language at school as opposed to real-world contexts, even the strongest advocates of TBLT have to admit that true authentic communication is almost impossible to achieve within a classroom setting. The essential claim, however, is that TBLT is very close to authentic language learning, by virtue of the fact that it aims at engaging learners in cognitive processes similar to those arising in real-world communications (cf. Ellis, 333 ff.). This is to say that students are encouraged to take part in genuine conversation with their classmates in order to solve a non-linguistic task. In preparation for it, they are exposed to complex new language that is based on authentic material wherever possible. This allows them to observe the new language and hypothesize over it. During the task, they are then free to use their own words, rather than practicing one predetermined linguistic item. This has the advantage that teachers may be witness to representative samples of learner's interlanguage, from which useful inferences can be drawn about the learning progress of each learner (cf. Ellis, 2003:1/ Larsen-Freeman, 2000: 144).

This freedom in expression, however, also constitutes a frequently used argument against the task-based approach. Thus, objectors to TBLT warn against the danger of students learning each others’ mistakes, as there is no control of formal accuracy on behalf of the teacher during group or pair activities. What is more, students may easily try to circumvent particular forms altogether and as a result run the risk to fossilize certain errors or simply not to progress to the next level of interlanguage (cf. Willis, 55/ Ellis, 319). This process is believed to be even reinforced by the non-linguistic cognitive processes involved in tasks, as they potentially distract students from paying attention to form (cf. Richards & Rodgers, 2001: 229).

With regard to these arguments, proponents of TBLT counter that missing teacher control is an acceptable risk in view of the positive effects to be achieved by it. First and foremost, it can be argued that the lack of teacher correction will encourage particularly less confident learners to express themselves more frequently in the target language. Instead of reiterating grammatically correct but predetermined target forms, they are thus given the chance to use their own words and in doing so, improve their intuition of what sounds right and work on their ability to give self- and peer-correction (cf. Willis, 142 ff.).

3.2 Learner and teacher roles

It has already become quite clear that with TBLT most of the lesson is organized in pair or group work which basically means that learners interact directly with each other, rather than communicating exclusively with the teacher. As a result, learners are supposed to take on a much more active role during the lesson, whereas the teacher adopts the more passive role of observer and language facilitator. This focus on independent learning skills is not only in line with the curriculum’s demand for learners to take over responsibility for their own learning process (cf. RLP Englisch, 2014: 6), but may also help to overcome differences in aptitude and cognitive styles among students (cf. Nunan, 2001, 79 ff./ Willis, 47/147). Similarly, Ellis (9) argues that TBLT is likely to motivate those students in particular who are less interested in or good at language learning, as they can experience success by solving the non-linguistic goal. This idea is also very much in line with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which distinguishes between at least 8 different types of intelligence and has motivated many EFL teachers to integrate complex tasks into their lessons in order to realize the full potential of their students’ language learning ability (cf. Armstrong, 1994).

A potential problem that goes hand in hand with learner-centeredness of TBLT, however, is that its success heavily relies on the learners’ world knowledge and personal involvement. The ideal students of TBLT should be adventurous, innovative and risk-taking learners who are not afraid to call on their strategic competence to bring across messages for which they still lack full linguistic resources. This ability, however, has to be trained in every learner over time (cf. Richards & Rogers, 235).

Likewise, Ellis (335) calls into question whether students can fully adopt the role of independent language users. He argues that during a task situations might arise, in which students fall back into old habits such as asking questions about particular forms or using their mother tongue for interaction.

[...]

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Details

Title
The needs and potentials of task-based EFL teaching using the sample task of speed-dating
College
University of Potsdam  (Englisch Fachdidaktik)
Course
Methods in EFL teaching
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2014
Pages
22
Catalog Number
V315228
ISBN (eBook)
9783668151970
ISBN (Book)
9783668151987
File size
1035 KB
Language
English
Tags
TBL, task-based learning, speed-dating, assets and drawbacks of TBL
Quote paper
Francesca Cavaliere (Author), 2014, The needs and potentials of task-based EFL teaching using the sample task of speed-dating, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/315228

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