S. Zhytska
National Technical University of Ukraine “KPI”
The success that our students can achieve in the process of language learning depends on different factors, among which students’ involvement in language acquisition is considered to be one of the crucial in modern communicative methodology. While teaching foreign languages we use various methods, approaches and techniques. Language purpose influences our choice of syllabus items and teaching techniques.
Many lesson plans are based on the traditional ‘Presentation, Practice, Production’ (PPP) approach. The reason for this is its reliability and validity. It allows us to cover all lexical and grammar areas, based on series of classroom activities. But they do not always meet the requirements of each student because the content is subordinated to the syllabus. For successful language learning students should be able to use language that they have at their disposal, i.e. to be engaged in meaning-focused interaction. Learner-centred approach fully satisfies students’ needs in foreign language communication. Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Task-Based Learning (TBL) present two learner-centred approaches. Many teachers tend to use more learner-centred approaches, among which we can distinguish between PBL and TBL, because they fully satisfy students’ needs in foreign language communication.
The history of TBL implementation goes back to the 1980s. Since that time it has become very popular. TBL is focused on the task rather than on grammar or vocabulary. The objective of such lesson is to complete the task using appropriate language to communicate ideas effectively. In contrast to PPP lessons where students are limited to usage of particular words or structures and are restricted from experimenting with the language, in TBL lesson students can express their ideas with various means, e.g. they do not need to use ‘should’ all the time to give advice, but can also use such phrases as ‘I would recommend’, ‘I would say’, ‘What you could do is…’). The main principle of TBL is task completion and the language results from the task. We can state that students can decide themselves what language to use to achieve the objective; and the main objective is to complete the task. In this approach teachers usually do not have ‘correct answers’ for tasks. While teaching English we can include TBL into our syllabus as well as we can replace the syllabus or use TBL as extra activities in PPP lessons.
Before speaking about TBL lessons we should give definition to the term ‘task’ and discuss the main characteristics of effective tasks. Different methodologists have their definitions of this term which vary to a certain extent, but all of them have one common idea. All of them agree that tasks involve communication based on the meaning rather than on the form. David Nunan gives such definition of the task: “A pedagogical task is 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 intention is to convey meaning rather than to manipulate form. The task should also have a sense of completeness, being able to stand alone as a communicative act in its own right with a beginning, a middle and an end”[1].
Effective tasks should meet certain requirements such as primary focus on meaning, learners’ interest engagement, successful achievement of clear outcome, relation to real-life authentic communication. Learning goals and outcomes are greatly influenced by task difficulty. Varying task difficulty teachers can use TBL for mixed-level groups focusing on the form (easier tasks) or the meaning (more difficult tasks). Dave and Jane Willis distinguish seven types of tasks and put them in the following sequence:
1. Listing: brainstorming and/or fact finding (e.g. things, qualities, people, places, features, things to do, reason);
2. Ordering and sorting: sequencing, ranking, classifying (e.g. sequencing story pictures, ranking items according to cost, popularity, negative or positive);
3. Matching (e.g. listen and identify, listen and do (TPR), match phrases/descriptions to pictures, match directions to maps);
4. Comparing: finding similarities or differences (e.g. comparing ways of greetings or local customs, playing ‘Spot the Difference’, contrasting two seasons);
5. Problem-solving: logic puzzles, real-life problems, case studies, incomplete texts (e.g. logic problems, giving advice, proposing and evaluating solutions, predicting a story ending);
6. Projects and creative tasks (e.g. doing and reporting a survey, producing a class newspaper, planning a radio show, designing a brochure);
7. Sharing personal experiences: story-telling, anecdotes, reminiscences, opinions, reactions(e.g. early schooldays, terrible journeys, embarrassing moments, personality quizzes) [2].
But there are also examples which present practice activities but not tasks. Among them are: acting out a dialogue, role-play activities, using pre-taught structure for producing personalized activity.
Different authors describe the TBL lesson as a three stages cycle which includes task, planning and report of outcome. Jane Willis suggested three stages of the TBL lesson: the pre-task, task cycle and the language focus [2]. During the first stage students are familiarized with the topic, situation or problem to be solved. Students understand the task instructions due to the highlighted words and phrases, which can be provided by the teacher after introducing the topic.
During the second stage students complete the task working in pairs or small groups. Accuracy is not so important at this stage; communication is the major focus. Chosen tasks should be authentic and relevant to students’ needs; that is why it is a good idea to ask students to suggest topics. Students’ background knowledge is a good tool for introducing the topic and activating discussion. Also we can provide students with necessary vocabulary and model the task with the help of audio, video or written examples. Students decide for themselves how to present their conclusions to the class while the teacher only monitors the groups and may take notes of typical errors or students’ needs. This stage helps students to be centred on the task, get instructions, time limits. This phase is obligatory, but for more efficient performance of the whole task we should include at least some options from the pre-task and post-task stages.
In the TBL lesson we focus on language and forms during the last, analysis and practice, stage in contrast to PPP lessons, which start with vocabulary or grammar presentation. This stage includes reflection, task and language feedback and repetition. During this stage students examine and reflect on specific language features necessary for task completion. They are concentrated on accuracy and practice specific or problem language. While reflecting on the task students consider what they have learned and improved during the task completion. The teacher provides questions and prompts for discussion and gives feedback on how successful students were and what they have achieved together with students.
Like any method or approach TBL has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of this approach are dealing with real-life communication before language analysis. TBL provides relevant and interesting topics to students. It is learner-centered and meets students’ needs giving them opportunity to use all possible language resources in authentic communicative situations encouraging learners’ autonomy. Due to this students can analyse what they know, do not know or partially know and need to improve; they are encouraged to investigate the language. Thus students take responsibility for their progress in language learning. Teachers can use this approach in mixed ability classes where both weak and strong students can perform the task successfully according to their language level, with different accuracy in the same communication situation and find out their individual needs. One more advantage of the approach is that students deal with a wide range of language not only grammar, they are not restricted by syllabus demands to definite lexis, grammar or structures.
As for the disadvantages of TBL we can agree that it cannot be used with beginner learners successfully because they do not have many language resources to fulfil the task. Tasks usually do not fit the traditional syllabus. TBL is not effective for systematic teaching of a new language. It is not appropriate when teachers have little time for teaching language according to the syllabus.
In conclusion, we can say that TBL is an effective approach in dealing with real-life situations, drawing students’ attention to authentic contexts and achieving their objectives in language learning. It is learner-centred, i.e. gives students more freedom in choosing language resources and means, in analysis of their needs and abilities. Usually teachers use a combination of TBL and traditional approach to language learning, but we consider the best way of language teaching the way which meets students’ requirements best of all.
1.                Nunan D. Task-Based Language Teaching / D. Nunan. – Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. – 4 p.
2.                Willis D. & Willis J. Doing Task-Based Teaching / D. Willis, & J. Willis. – Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. – 52 p.

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