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Task-based Learning

Task-based learning combines the best


insights from communicative language
teaching with an organised focus on
language form (J.Willis, 1996 A
Framework for Task-based Learning,
Longman)
Explain what you understand by the
term task-based learning and describe
and evaluate a lesson or a series of
lessons which you have planned and
taught using the principles of task-based
learning.

I Introduction
One of the most invigorating things about teaching is that we - teachers
- never stop learning
(Brown, 1994). We learn about our practices by analysing the principles
that govern our class preparation and teaching and by evaluating
observable aspects of our classes (Nunan, 1989, and Brown, 1994). The
conclusions we reach are based on examining our own rules, the
students roles and performance, and objective evidence.
In this assignment I examine the definition of the word task and the
designing of tasks, discuss the basic elements and principles that
underlie a task-based learning framework and then go on to describe
and evaluate a lesson I have planned and taught using the principles of
task-based learning.
II Definition of Task
When planning a task-based lesson, it is essential to have in mind the
meaning of task and the implications it may have in designing the task
itself. Below are five definitions of task:

Source/Researcher

Definition

Collins COBUILD English


Dictionary

an activity or piece of work which


you have to do, usually as a part of
a larger project

Breen, M. P. (1987:23)

Any structured language learning


endeavour which has a particular
objective, appropriate content, a
specified working procedure, and a
range of outcomes for those who
undertake the task

Prahbu, N. S., cited in Long and


Crookes, (1993)

Nunan, D (1993)

Willis, J. and Willis, D. ( 1999 )

An activity which required


learners to arrive at an outcome
from given information through
some process of thought, and
which allowed teachers to control
and regulate that process
A piece of classroom work which
involves learners in
comprehending, manipulating,
producing or interacting in the
target language while their
attention is principally focused on
meaning rather than form
Activities where the target
language is used by the learner for
a communicative purpose
( goal ) in order to achieve an
outcome

Although there might be little likelihood that those who use this term
(task) will agree on what they mean by it (Crookes, Graham, and Gass,
1993), there seem to be some common grounds in researchers
definitions. They focus on:
-

the learners actions involved in negotiating - Crookes (1993)


discusses negotiation opportunities as giving learners more
involvement in the learning process. Successful communication is
dependent on attentiveness and involvement ( Crookes, Graham,
and Gass, 1993 )
language manipulation and outcome Language is the tool for
negotiating meaning and the assumption is that language acquisition
will be facilitated through the exercise of the cognitive capacity of
the learners (Willis, J and Willis, D., 1999 ).

Bearing in mind the definitions above, it is possible to say that tasks


serve as compelling and appropriate means for realising certain
characteristic principles of communicative language teaching and
learning, as well as serving as a testing-ground for hypotheses in
pragmatic and second language acquisition (Candlin, 1987: 5)
It is time now to turn our eyes to the design of tasks.

III Designing Tasks


Willis (1999) discusses the following aspects that should be taken into
account when designing tasks:
-

Goals and outcomes - all tasks should have an outcome. The focus
is on understanding and conveying meanings in order to complete a
task successfully. It is within the challenge of achieving an outcome
that lies much of the motivation in the classroom.
Meaning before form learners need to feel free to experiment
with language and to take risks. Fluency in communication is what
counts (Willis, 1999:24).
Tasks and skills practice in designing a task the teacher should
aim at a combination of skills that should not be practised in a
vacuum but should form an integral part of the process of achieving
the task goals.

She also suggests six basic task types:


1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Listing
Ordering and sorting
Comparing
Problem solving
Sharing personal experiences and opinions
Creative tasks or projects

which involve the following processes:


a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f.
g.
h.

brainstorming
fact-finding
sequencing items
ranking items according to personal values or specified
criteria
categorising
classifying
matching
finding similarities/differences.

She also proposes that tasks can have five starting points:
-

personal knowledge and experience tasks based on the


learners personal and professional experience and knowledge.

problems statement of a problem and the discussion of possible


solutions
visual stimuli tasks based on pictures, photographs, tables or
graphs
spoken and written texts tasks based on recordings of spoken
English, extracts from video recordings and reading texts
childrens activities action games, miming and guessing amongst
others.

and that they can be classified as:


-

closed highly structured tasks with very specific goals


open more loosely structured tasks with a less specific goal

A question needs to be posed: Is doing one task after another enough


to guarantee that learners will gain in accuracy and fluency?
IV The Task-Based Learning (TBL) Framework
For the task to promote constant learning and improvement, we should
see it as just one component in a large framework (Willis, 1999:40).
Willis proposes a TBL framework, which consists of three phases (
http://langue.hyper.chubu.ac.jp/alt/pub/tlt/98/jul/willis.html ):
Pre-task
It is in this phase that the topic and the task are introduced. The
teacher explores the topic with the class, highlights useful words
and phrases, and helps learners understand task instructions and
prepare. Learners may hear a recording of others doing a similar
task, or read part of a text as a lead-in to a task.
Task Cycle
It consists of three parts:
-

Task students do the task, in pairs or small groups. Teacher


monitors from a distance, encouraging all attempts at
communication, not correcting. Since this situation has a private
feel, students feel free to experiment. Mistakes dont matter.
Planning students prepare to report to the whole class (orally or
in writing) how they did the task, what they decided or discovered.

Since the report stage is public, students will naturally want to be


accurate, so the teacher stands by to give language advice.
Report some groups present their reports to the class, or
exchange written reports, and compare results. Teacher acts as a
chairperson, and then comments on the content of the reports.

Learners may now hear a recording of others doing a similar task and
compare how they all did it. Or they may read a text similar in some
ways to the one they have written themselves, or related in topic to the
task they have done.
Language Focus
-

Analysis - students examine and then discuss specific features of


the text or transcript of the recording. They can enter new words,
phrases and patterns in vocabulary books.
Practice teacher conducts practice of new words, phrases, and
patterns occurring in the data, either during or after the Analysis.

According to Willis (1999) this framework offers:


-

exposure to rich but comprehensible input of real spoken and


written language in use.
use of language to do things.
motivation to listen and read the language and to speak and write
it.
instruction in language ( i.e. chances to focus on form).

IV A lesson using the TBL framework

Sexual Harassment
Class and course background
Upper-Intermediate, Portuguese-speaking learners of roughly the
same ability, aged between early-twenties and late-thirties. Used
to the PPP framework and very willing to speak. The course
students have enrolled in covers the first half of Headway Upper
Intermediate ( Soars and Soars, 1987). They come together for
two fifty-minute lessons three times a week. They are in unit 3 of
the book and the topic of the unit is work. They have already
talked about the dos and donts of relationships at the workplace
and the topic of sexual harassment has been briefly mentioned.

Starting lesson
Teacher (T) explains this is an extra-activity on the topic of
relationships at the workplace. There will be two task cycles. They
will lead into examining real cases of sexual harassment as if they
were members of a jury and comparing their verdict with the ones
given by judges in the USA.

Sample lesson outline for


text-based tasks

Pre-task 1:

Task 1
Planning 1
Report 1

Task 2:

Planning and report 2:

Lesson Plan for extra


reading to be used
in Unit 3 of
Headway UpperIntermediate
T explains the task: in trios
students will read about two cases
of sexual harassment and will give
their verdict on each case.
Trios read the cases (Appendix A)
and give the verdict. (Dictionaries
are available)
Trios rehearse how to report and
justify their verdict to the group. T
stands by to give language advice
Trios report to the group and
justify their verdict and group
listen and choose the most
convincing verdict. T acts as
chairperson.
T gives out text with the verdicts
(Appendix B) given by American
judges and students list possible
reasons for the differences or
similarities between the verdicts
given by the American judges and
the verdicts students have given. T
stands to give language advice
Students tell each other possible
reasons for similarities and/or
dissimilarities between the

Language focus

verdicts. Group listen and choose


the best arguments. T acts as
chairperson.
Find 5 phrases /clauses that report
events in cases 1 and 2. What
would have been the real words
that were said in those events?
Find the phrase one of the crowd
in case 1. Use a dictionary to find
this use of crowd. What other
phrases with crowd can you find?
Choose two to teach your partners.
Go over cases 1 and 2 again and
circle all words that have to do
with life at the workplace and
divide them into two or three
categories.

V- Evaluation
I felt the TBL framework easy to adapt to because I already partook of
many of its principles. I was worried students would react negatively to
the order of events in the TBL framework, but they seemed very
confident and showed no signs of anxiety. In reality, during the task
phase they seemed quite pleased to be able to try to grope with things
without much interference from the teacher. On the other hand, they
also felt it reassuring to have the teacher as, one of them put it, a
language advisor in the planning phase. They found the language
focus phase very interesting although some of them had some
difficulties in categorising words. However, they could count on their
partners for help and this helped them overcome any feelings of
frustration that may have surfaced.
VI Conclusion
In this assignment I tried to examine the definition of the word task and
tried to analyse the designing of tasks. I also discussed the elements
and principles that underlie a task-based learning framework. I
described and evaluated a lesson I had planned and taught.
I believe that getting in touch with the way a lesson can be organised in
a TBL approach and understanding the underlying principles that are
involved gave me a chance to rethink the way I prepare my lessons and
the way I help others do the same.

Appendix A

CASE #1
The Securities and Exchange Commission office was a sociable place to work - sociable,
that is, if you were one of several employees, including supervisors, having romantic
affairs with each other, holding frequent parties and leaving the office during the day to go
drinking.
But one female attorney who did not participate in the carousing found her co-workers
behaviour repulsive. She claimed she was harassed by the environment in which she had
to work. Moreover, she said, women who had affairs with male supervisors were rewarded
with bonuses and promotions. The woman conceded that no one had pressured her for
sex or denied her any promotions because she wasnt one of the crowd.
Was she being too touchy?

CASE #2
Few things are as boring as most corporate meetings. In an attempt to liven up the
presentations, an oil company brought a barely clad woman on a motorcycle to a regional
meeting, according to a sexual-harassment complaint filed by a female supervisor for the
company.
Moreover, she charged, when the corporation held a sales meeting at a restaurant, the
entertainment was provided by strippers. And at a slide show held for employees, one
slide featured the female supervisors clothed rear end.
Was the woman harassed?

Appendix B

Decision #1
Although the woman wasnt harassed on a quid pro quo (give something to get something)
basis, a judge ruled that the pervasive behaviour in the SEC office had created an
offensive work environment. She was awarded back pay, a promotion and her choice of
two jobs. The SEC also agreed to an outside review of its personnel practices.

Decision #2
The federal judge presiding over this case noted that the incidents were without question
inappropriate but werent sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a hostile
environment. That noted, he found that no harassment had taken place.

References
Breen, M.P. 1987. Learner Contributions to Task Design. In Lancaster
Practical Papers in
English Language Education Volume 7. Prentice Hall
International Teaching.
Brown, H.D. 1994. Teaching By Principles. Prentice Hall Regents
Candlin, C. 1987. Towards Task-based Language Learning. In
Lancaster Practical Papers in
English Language Education Volume 7. Prentice Hall
International Teaching.
Long, M. and Crookes, G. 1993. Units of Analysis in Syllabus Design
The Case for Task.
In Task in a Pedagogical Context (eds: Graham Grookes and
Susan M. Grass). Multilingual Matters.
Nunan, D. 1993. Task-based Syllabus Design: Selecting, Grading and
Sequencing Tasks. In
Task in a Pedagogical Context ( eds: Graham Grookes and Susan
M. Gass). Multilingual Matters.
Willis, J. and Willis D. 1999 A Framework for Task-based Learning.
Longman