Task-based learning – ideas for practice

In three different modules TBL has been, and still is, an issue over the past few weeks. So here are a few questions:

Does the “language focus” really have to be spontaneous, i.e. coming from the language the students have used while doing the task? I was relieved when the lecturer in the “Syllabus design” module said “If the teacher is experienced, the language focus may be truly emergent.” To me, that sounds like it’s ok for not-so-experienced teachers, and in reality even experienced teachers, to cheat and to either anticipate possible language foci for a task, or even to choose and design a task which is likely to yield certain language. (From a syllabus perspective, this latter option would of course be more on the synthetic side and therefore highly inappropriate for a task-based syllabus – which is not to prevent us from using the task-based model in a classroom within the framework of any syllabus, I should hope.)

If the language focus is truly emergent, can we do it the next day/next class? This is probably less than ideal because the language used by the students is not as fresh in their minds; but let’s not forget the cyclical nature of most language learning, and the need to then do something with the new, or newly focussed on, language after the clarification stage. Both would, I think, be valid reasons for deferring the language focus to a later point.

If we do the language focus immediately, or even if it is delayed, can we then have a quick test in the next lesson/on the next day, just to ensure that students take the “language focus” part of the cycle seriously?

Can we turn most activities into “tasks” by giving them a purpose, like rank order, pyramid discussion or the like?

If the language focus is purely student-centred, how do we ensure that “all” grammar is taught? This entails two further questions: What is “all” grammar”? And: Does it matter? If students use the language they use, is that all they need? Here comes some criticism from Cook (2008) into play: The tasks are not related to “real life”, and therefore I can’t imagine that whatever comes up during the tasks is sufficient.

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One thought on “Task-based learning – ideas for practice

  1. In so far as we have the grammar we need to do all the tasks we’ll encounter in everyday life, then there shouldn’t be a problem of covering all grammar, as long as you cover all tasks. Of course, the students don’t sometimes know, or know very well, the grammar they’ll need to, say, make suggestions or give advice (the subjunctive) or to say that something happened which was rather unexpected given some other information (a concessive subordinate clause), so we have to feed that in if we realise that they don’t have it, or they haven’t mastered it. And it seems ok to me (indeed necessary), and not contrary to the spirit of TBL, to anticipate what grammar a task may require. But I don’t see why the tasks wouldn’t be related to real life (in the criticism of Cook 2008); what else would they be related to?

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