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Task based-learning

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  • 1. Methodologyin language learningT-KitThis section provides the theoretical back-ground to Task-Based Language Learning(TBLL); a framework for TBLL with explana-tions; factors to consider when implementingtask-based language learning; and finally, aconcrete example of a task.It shows how adapted versions of task-basedapproaches to language learning are wellsuited to the non-formal context of learningin the framework of European languageprogrammes. This method relies heavily onlearners’ involvement and their world know-ledge. It places emphasis on the value of theinformation and experiences which partici-pants bring to the language learning sessions.As participants share their knowledge, expe-rience and opinions, they will also be usingtheir existing language, be exposed to newlanguage and develop a variety of strategiesfor improving their language skills.TBLL also allows the facilitator to use authentictopic material, which is relevant to the partici-pants’ needs and encourages the developmentof skills necessary for the successful comple-tion of real-life tasks.Clarification of termsLinguistic jargon is notorious for its ambiguity.Different terms mean different things to dif-ferent people. So for clarification, some of thekey terms used in this publication are listedbelow, together with an explanation.• Activity Doing something which can beseen as a step towards achieving the task;one part of the process; work in progress.• Collaborative learning Working togetherand supporting each other to maximiselearning and task outcomes. It is the oppo-site of competitive learning where eachlearner is trying to be better than his com-panions.• Language facilitator The person who hasa native speaker competence in the lan-guage being learnt and can provide all thenecessary linguistic input to facilitate theactivities and task achievement.• Learner–centred Describes an approach toclassroom methodology which puts lear-ners’ needs and interests at the centre of thelearning programme.• Learning styles/strategies A range of waysof studying and learning, along the spec-trum from experiential to studial. (SeeSection 1.2 Roles of learners and facilita-tors).• Materials Anything which is used to formthe basis of a language learning activity ortask.• Task The end product to a planned process;a completed piece of work• Topic Any subject which provides contex-tualised language learning.2.2 Task-Based LanguageLearning (TBLL)2.2.1 Background to Task-BasedLanguage LearningLanguage acquisition and learning: How isit done?There is no definitive model for learning alanguage or indeed for the acquisition of lan-guage by children. Research has suggested thathuman beings are born with a device whichenables them to organise the language theyare exposed to (their mother tongue) and formrules which can be used to generate morelanguage and be applied in different situa-tions (LAD: language acquisition device andUniversal Grammar, Chomsky 1965). Yet thereis also research to show that even without thestimuli of exposure to a language, deaf chil-dren develop language which displays simi-lar features of a formal language structure(Goldin-Meadow 1990). This has also beenshown through the study of Pidgin languages– languages that are formed by people whohave no common mother tongue but whoneed to communicate among themselves andso form another language. The first intrepidexplorers and international traders relied onpidgin communication. When pidgins are usedas a native language by the next generation,they develop into a Creole language (Bickerton1984) and a new language is formed by peo-ple who were exposed to a language which212. Task-Based Learning (TBL)2.1 Introductionand clarification of terms2
  • 2. Methodologyin language learningT-Kitdid not display a full range of structures. Thisis known as poverty of stimulus (Gleason andRatner 1998). Some theories also relate thecognitive development of children to theirlanguage acquisition. This is another major dif-ference between mother-tongue acquisitionand learning a second language which is usu-ally undertaken after childhood cognitive deve-lopment is complete. (Bates 1979, Piaget 1926).This is a very cursory dip into this area todemonstrate that nothing is finite in languagelearning or acquisition theory. Also, it mustbe remembered that we are attempting todevelop ideas for language learning not lan-guage acquisition. It is therefore important tobear in mind the difference between languageacquisition of mother tongue and second lan-guage learning later in life. As mentioned inSection 1.1 Language learning and languageteaching, there have also been many theoriesof language learning, which have been reflect-ed in approaches and methodologies in lan-guage teaching.Learner-centred approachesLearner-centred approaches draw knowledgefrom the learner, working through their needsand interests and selecting materials, activi-ties and tasks accordingly. At all stages, nego-tiation between facilitators and learners isencouraged. Learning is seen as a collabora-tive enterprise. Any approach must considerthe context in which it is to be used and con-sequently the possible reaction of learners tothe methodology. Are learners going to acceptthe choice of methodology with open arms?If the proposed methodology is unfamiliar orgreeted with foreboding, facilitators will needto negotiate with learners to ensure that theyare motivated and happy to learn in that way.The learners will then be stakeholders in theapproach. Of primary concern therefore is thatfacilitators take into account the learning envi-ronment they are working in and manage newapproaches sensitively. (See Section 1.2 Rolesof learners and facilitators.)2.2.2 Task-BasedLanguage LearningIn Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL), lear-ning is fostered through performing a series ofactivities as steps towards successful task rea-lisation. The focus is away from learning lan-guage items in a non-contextualised vacuumto using language as a vehicle for authentic,real-world needs. By working towards taskrealisation, the language is used immediatelyin the real-world context of the learner, ma-king learning authentic. In a TBLL frameworkthe language needed is not pre-selected andgiven to the learners who then practise it butrather it is drawn from the learners with helpfrom the facilitator, to meet the demands ofthe activities and task.TBLL relies heavily on learners actively expe-rimenting with their store of knowledge andusing skills of deduction and independentlanguage analysis to exploit the situation fully.(See Section 2.4 Concrete example of task –Preparing a meal.) In this example, the aim ofthe session is to work together to prepare ameal where everyone can contribute. Bydoing this, a great deal of language will beactivated under the theme of food. As can beseen by the example, menus have to be dis-cussed, food has to be bought and jobs allo-cated. The participants are prepared for thetask, so that they will be aware of the languagethey need in order to carry it out successfully.In this approach, motivation for communica-tion becomes the primary driving force. Itplaces the emphasis on communicative flu-ency rather than the hesitancy borne of thepressure in more didactic approaches to pro-duce unflawed utterances. Exposure to thetarget language should be in a naturallyoccurring context. This means that, if mate-rials are used, they are not prepared especiallyfor the language classroom, but are selec-ted and adapted from authentic sources. (SeeSection 4 Selecting and using materials.)The Task-Based Learning Framework shownbelow has been adapted from the Willis frame-work (1996). In the adapted framework, thefocus of attention is upon a final task. This taskis defined as an undertaking that is authenticto the needs of the learners.In the case of European youth work pro-grammes, these tasks will relate to the workof participants and will reflect the tasks andsituations they find themselves involved in.An explanation of this framework follows thediagram.222
  • 3. Methodologyin language learningT-Kit232Task-Based Methodology Framework(Adapted from Willis, Jane 1996A Framework for Task-Based Learning,Oxford: Longman)DEFINITION OF THE TASK2.2.3 Task-Based MethodologyPRE-TASKWillis suggests that the teacher (facilitator)‘explores the topic with the group and highlightsuseful words and phrases’. For facilitators wish-ing to exploit materials, it is at this stage that thechosen material will need to relate to the task.In preparing for the task fulfilment the facilita-tor will need to consider how the chosen pieceof material will be exploited. Exploring the topicwith the group could be by exploitation of a pic-ture (see Section 3.2), by watching a video clip,(see Section 4) or by looking at a text (see Sec-tion 3.3). The material to be exploited can beused for topic content as a springboard or tohighlight useful words and phrases. It is up tothe facilitator to decide how much language workhe/she thinks will be needed by the learners butit is necessary to remember that the purpose ofusing a piece of material is as a pre-task lead-in.e.g.:• material exploitation: using a picture/text etc.to lead into the topic• brainstorming: making a list; comparing ideas;sharing experiences• activating language: eliciting and providingvocabularyPRE-TASKTASKPREPARATIONTASKREALISATIONPOST-TASK
  • 4. Methodologyin language learningT-Kit242TASK PREPARATIONThis has been separated from the Pre-Task phaseused by Willis to highlight the importance ofpreparing learners thoroughly, where necessaryrehearsing the task in order to recycle the lan-guage and familiarise learners with the contextas much as possible. If the previous stage involvedbrainstorming words connected with the topic,this stage could involve learners in a discussion oftheir attitudes to it, and preparing their argumentsfor a debate, or their ideas for a leaflet to drawpeoples’ attention to the issueLearners prepare own input for taskse.g.• planning a report• practising role-play• writing a questionnaire to be administered• thinking of issues in a debate• brainstorming necessary language• activating language: eliciting and providing thenecessary languagePRE-TASKTASKPREPARATIONTASKREALISATIONPOST-TASK
  • 5. Methodologyin language learningT-Kit252TASK REALISATIONThe two previous stages will have been lea-ding up to this stage by fully preparing learnersboth ideologically and linguistically for the task.This part of the task cycle will mirror as closelyas possible an authentic undertaking which par-ticipants in European youth work will have tocarry out. Whether the task is performed, dis-played, recorded, conducted as a group, orcarried out in small groups the focus will beon successful realisation of the task.Learners produce/perform/present their taskse.g :• Producing a poster• Performing a role-play• Having a debate• Producing a leaflet• Giving a presentationPRE-TASKTASKPREPARATIONTASKREALISATIONPOST-TASK
  • 6. Methodologyin language learningT-Kit262POST TASKPost-Task optionsLanguage focusWhile the task is being carried out, the facilitator may wish tomake notes on the language: could any vocabulary be added?Were there any structures that caused misunderstanding orconfusion? Were there any phrases which could have beenexpressed differently? Could any of the language have beenused to better effect e.g. made less abrupt, more persuasive etc.?After the task has been completed, participants may wish tolook at the material again to gain a better understanding of thelanguage: to look at structures, difficult/unusual vocabulary etc.Feedback and evaluationThe facilitator may wish to conduct a feedback session to discussthe success of the task and consider suggestions for improvingit. Participants may wish to discuss such issues as working toge-ther, performing in a group, reactions to the topic, amount oflanguage input, things they enjoyed doing, things they didn’tenjoy and so on. Evaluation of the task will provide usefulinformation for facilitators when planning further tasks.Reflection upon task realisation• Was it useful?• Was it enjoyable?Language reflection, possible further input• Further exploitation of material for language• Error correction• Reflection by learnersPeer suggestions: ‘could you explain…?’ ‘could you repeat…?’PRE-TASKTASKPREPARATIONTASKREALISATIONPOST-TASK
  • 7. Methodologyin language learningT-Kit2.2.4 Language abilityand learning stylesWhen asked to use ‘all the language they canmuster to express themselves’ (Willis 1996),participants who are unfamiliar with this lear-ning context may not feel comfortable or pro-ductive in this learning environment. This isnot to say that it should be rejected if this is thecase, but that facilitators must be aware thatthey may need to allow time for adjustment,encouragement and confidence building. Someparticipants may feel they are being thrownin at the deep end and may find they are unableto swim, especially if they are working withpeople much more confident than themselves.The psychological dynamics of the group willhave a great influence on the success of wor-king groups in this respect. If a hesitant parti-cipant is working with a supportive grouphe/she will gain considerable experience evenif he/she is not ready to fulfil his/her potentialto the full. As was stated in the introduction,(Section 1.2) these approaches require adven-turous learners, prepared to take risks, so aspirit of adventure must be fostered by facili-tators.In cases where the participants’ language leveldoes not enable them to carry out the taskpreparation, adaptations will have to be madewhere more language is fed in as the situationdemands. In keeping with the ethos of theseapproaches to language learning, however, itmust be remembered that the language inputshould be related to the task. A functionalapproach to language learning would ensurethat the learners are aware of the contextualuse of the language and that they are going touse it for real-world situations. It is essentialthat materials developed on a task-based frame-work should include variations to meet theneeds of beginner and lower level learners.The TBLL approach can be adapted to suitbeginner level language learners as long asfacilitators are aware of learners’ needs andable to adapt. The language input during thepre-task and task preparation stages will haveto be suitably adapted. At his level, there maybe more call from the participants for stopand explain sessions with further examplesof the language structures being used. Thefocus, however, remains the same: the overallaim is on the accomplishment of a real-life taskand real-life activities leading to this.2.3 Factors to considerWhen using TBLL approaches many differentfactors have to be taken into considerationand some of these are explored below.2.3.1 Learners’ profileIf you are preparing materials before yourgroup arrives, it is advisable to draw up a likelyprofile of the group. Even if the profile is notexact it will be a framework to start from. It ishelpful to aim your materials at a definedgroup and fine tune later as necessary. You willrarely be faced with a homogeneous group evenif the participants are of the same nationality.Although participants will all be involved inEuropean youth work and may have similarconcerns and interests, their learning back-grounds are likely to have been very different.It is important to be aware that there may wellbe as many different learning backgrounds asthere are participants. Each person will comewith their own experiences, feelings and atti-tudes, which are likely to surface during acourse. Some participants may not be willingor used to discussing issues. People may havecome from a learning environment which isvery didactic where they are not asked to pro-vide the information, but to absorb it. They maynot be used to giving a controversial opinionor exercising self-expression in a mixed group.An appropriate course of action will need tobe negotiated if a task specifically requiring acertain method is to succeed. Participants maynot want to practise their language with otherparticipants, having been used to giving answersonly to a teacher. Some learners may expect272
  • 8. Methodologyin language learningT-Kitthe facilitator to provide all the answers andmay be unused to interacting with other par-ticipants during language lessons.A key element in any language course is astrong learning to learn component. This couldinclude discussions and even demonstrationsof different learning styles and explanations ofthe methods. This is important in the deve-lopment of participants’ learning strategies and,if employed near the beginning of a course,can ease the way for the introduction of newmethodologies such as task-based learning.Some factors for facilitators to consider: par-ticipants’ ages and any special requirements;their roles in European youth work; their rea-son for learning the language; various socialrealities; how participants are used to learning;their previous language learning experiences;ways of encouraging participants to be confi-dent and adventurous learners. (See 1.2 Rolesof learners and facilitators).2.3.2 Negotiatingcourse contentAn over-riding influence in choosing your taskswill be the wishes of the participants. There islittle point in pursuing a course of action ifparticipants are unwilling to carry it out. Theymay each have a different agenda: this willneed to be managed and negotiated as a group.If participants are asked about their expecta-tions, requirements and wishes, a course canbe negotiated which can address most plausi-ble requirements of the participants. In thechoice of methodology, it must be rememberedthat an unfamiliar methodology cannot befoisted upon a group without negotiation.Facilitators may need to adapt decisions andmethodologies according to the wishes of thegroup and in response to on-going evaluationduring a course. If however, the facilitator feelsit necessary to introduce the participants to anew methodology, this will have to be discussedwith them. Participants are sometimes surprised,however, at how much they enjoy methodswhich were previously unfamiliar to them.2.3.3 Location of courseand resources availableThe location of the course will inevitably affectthe availability and choice of tasks and mate-rials. The following points need to be consi-dered: will materials to support activities andtasks be freely available? If not, what can youdo in advance to obtain suitable material? Willyou have to adapt or change planned tasks inthis location? Will participants contribute mate-rials? How can you manage with minimalmaterials? How can you use other resources aswell as language-based materials? (See Section4 Selecting and using materials.)You may be in a situation where you and theparticipants are the only resources available:this might seem a daunting challenge, but isa stimulating call for your resourcefulness! Incase you find yourself in such a situation, wehave provided an example to inspire you!. Ifthere are few conventional teaching materialsavailable, look within and around you, drawon the experiences/feelings/observations... etcof the participants. Once your task has beendecided upon, the materials can be createdfrom what is available: people, geography,buildings and so on. (See Section 3.1 Tasksfrom No Materials).2.3.4 The interculturaldimensionWhen considering suggestions for languagecourse activities and materials, the desire toincrease participants’ cultural awareness isparamount. Rather than provide a platformto expound the glories of high culture, it ishoped that by learning the language, partici-pants will also be encouraged to consideraspects of daily living which may be differentto what they are familiar with. In this way, it ishoped to provoke participants’ self-awarenessand awareness of others, and to examine cer-tain cultural aspects which may have beentaken for granted. Activities and tasks shouldattempt to challenge pre-conceived stereo-types and stimulate enquiry, which it is hopedwill lead to better mutual understanding.The cultural and linguistic make-up of thegroup will also need to be considered. If it isa mono-cultural group in the target languagecountry, will the intercultural dimension bejust two way between the host country andcountry of origin? Will there be a micro-inter-cultural dimension between one nationalitywhich is seemingly homogenous? This canbe a very rewarding exercise in self-awarenessamong participants, especially in breakingdown stereotypes: even within a mono-natio-nal group, people can be asked to consider dif-ferent experiences, lifestyles or social realities282
  • 9. Methodologyin language learningT-Kitand beliefs. Participants will be encouragedto see themselves and those around them asindividuals with their own values and beliefs.Intercultural understanding can be very enri-ching when bonds are formed through beliefsand attitudes rather than only national boun-daries. If it is a multi-cultural group, there maybe one nationality which is conspicuouslylarger than others; will this have any bearingon activities and group dynamics? Might someparticipants feel excluded if they are not partof the dominant language sub-group? (Con-sideration of this may need to be given whenorganising sub-groups.) Will participants them-selves decide who they form sub-groups with,or will the facilitator form the groups with anintercultural balance? Facilitators may alsoneed to consider any tensions which mayalready exist or arise between nationalities andto be aware of possible sensitivities.The material you find may not seem to havean intercultural perspective to it, yet you maybe able to create intercultural tasks from it.Often, something very specific to a certainenvironment can lead very well into compa-risons and reflections about the differences inexperiences. For example even an article aboutsomething as seemingly banal as dog–walkingmay lead to reflections on animals: the waypeople treat them, people’s attitudes to them,vivisection, animal rights groups, workinganimals and so on. An article was recently usedabout a strand of Bill Clinton’s hair which wasauctioned for almost £500! As you can ima-gine, the reflections upon this can take manypaths. Even shopping receipts picked up off thefloor can lead to tasks on shopping habits/foodconsumption/consumerism. Observing the waydifferent countries organise addresses can alsolead to interesting comparisons of people’sviews of housing and civic matters.This Section ends with a concrete example of aworked through task. The task is preparing andeating a meal together. The only materials arethe participants, facilitator and course locali-ty. This means it is a task from no materials.(See also 3.1 Task from No Materials.) At eachstage of the framework there are step-by-stepguidelines indicating what to do and how todo it. Successful realisation of this task shouldbe a most enjoyable experience!292
  • 10. Methodologyin language learningT-Kit302 Context: with a multicultural group youdecide to prepare a meal andto use this activity to learn thelanguage.TASK: preparing a meal2.4 Concrete example of a taskWhat to doDiscuss:• Possible menus/dishes• Food likes/dislikes• Available budget• Available ingredients• Available utensils• ……How to do itExplain specialities from different countries;gather promotional material from diffe-rent stores; study special offers; examineavailable budget; check available ingre-dients, utensils, etc; put together a menu.Important language points: vocabulary ofcooking and food, numbers, etc …PRE-TASKWhat to do• Select the menu to be prepared• Divide it into stages• Find out what each person is able to do• Decide each person’sresponsibility• Collect money• Go shoppingHow to do itExpress likes and dislikes; decide who is todo what; decide where to shop; go shop-ping; make a list of things to be bought withtheir prices; check receipts; … Importantlanguage points : making comparisons,negotiating, decision-making, communi-cation activities (buying things, asking forinformation, prices, etc).TASK PREPARATION
  • 11. Methodologyin language learningT-Kit312What to do• Cook the meal• Set and decorate the table• Resolve any disputes• Eat and chat• Wash upHow to do itDecide where everyone is to sit; settle anydisputes; talk about individual preferences,the role of women and men, eating habitsin different countries, etc; write out menus;Important language points: negotiating,conversation gambits, giving commands,requesting things, prepositions of place etc.TASK REALISATIONWhat to do• Comment on and discuss the meal and itspreparation, human relationships, anydisputes that may have arisen• Exchange recipes, etc• Write a letter to a friend describing theevening, etc• Invent a new (intercultural?) recipe• ......How to do itShare views, feelings and sensations; orga-nise a debate on different food habits (vege-tarian/non-vegetarian); put together aninternational menu; write an account inthe past tense; etc …Important language points: expressing thepast, expressing subtleties, agreeing anddisagreeing, etc.POST-TASK