This is a term from Cook (2008: 262), characterising TBL as a “form of teaching where the language content is invisible”. In a “Methodology” session, this has been picked out and labelled a “good term” to think about: How much do we, as teachers, make visible to our students? How much do we tell the students about the underlying methodology of what we are doing; about the aims of the lesson; about the grammar/language point that is being taught? In some contexts, e.g. strict TBL, there is not much scope for a language-related aim of the lesson that could be made visible at the outset; there would maybe be an anticipated goal if TBL was conducted in a CLIL framework. But Cook understates the language element of TBL; it is NOT invisible. It is student-centred. After the task, it is “unveiled”, and this order of events is guided by the very nature of the language focus of a given lesson emerging from the students’ language use.
“Invisibility” seems also to be connected to VanPatten’s Processing Instruction (Lee & VanPatten 2003), where the process of language processing is made explicit to the students – highly visible – or omitted, as seems to be possible according to studies that have compared “structured input plus processing instruction” groups with “structured input without processing instruction” groups (147). In the latter case, the process is “invisible” like the methodology/rationale behind the structured input activities. (Structured Input: “Grammar” practice where the focus is on meaning, on a non-linguistic outcome; the form of interest is provided and not produced; it is [crucially!] provided in such a way that the form in question needs to be decoded to understand the meaning, i.e. it is made salient by removing other cues that would make it redundant, as in “(Yesterday) I played with…”, where –ed needs to be decoded to understand the past reference only if there is no other cue, like “yesterday”.)
Cook, V.J. (2008): Second language learning and language teaching, 4th Ed. London: Edward Arnold.
Lee, J.F. and B. VanPatten (2003): “Processing Instruction and Structured Input”, in Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen. London: McGraw Hill, 137-167.