I wrote most of these articles and conference reports while I was doing my M.Ed.(CI). Originally put up on the website TeachAsiaOnline.com (defunct since 2009), I have decided to archive them here as I think most of the information is still relevant and useful for others. (2012) I'm now picking up where I left off to write about more recent seminars I attended.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Task-Based Learning and Teaching

Speaker: Mr. Dave Willis
Organised by: Oxford University Press, ELT Division, Bangkok
Date: 24 January 2006
Location: Orchid 2, Ambassador Hotel, Sukhumvit 11, Bangkok

The main idea of task-based teaching is that students use language to COMMUNICATE with others.

Mr. Willis defined the starting-points for teaching and learning as follows:
  1. What you teach is not what they learn
  2. Instruction makes learning more efficient
  3. There is a gap between knowledge and spontaneous use
  4. Learning to apply grammar is developmental (step by step)
  5. Learners pick up language that has not been taught.
English beginners will not use many grammar rules. "First get learners to communicate, then help them to grammaticise.”

Still, grammar is necessary to:
  1. Communicate complex notions; e.g. the purpose of something
  2. Free language from context
  3. Make it easier for the listener and reader
  4. Present self.
A task uses language in a genuine way and can be identified through:
  • Primary focus is on the meaning; e.g. hearing and repeating “This is a pencil” is not communication.
  • There is an outcome; e.g. you will be entertained by the story told
  • The success is judged in terms of outcome
  • The activity engages learners’ interest
  • The activity relates to the real world.
Note: Task-based learning CAN include focus on grammar and form, it does NOT necessarily depend on pair or groupwork (if it doesn’t involve speaking activities) and it does NOT necessarily focus on the spoken language.

Mr. Willis walked us through an example task concerning a group discussion about parents being strict or not when the learners were young. With this example he illustrated that communication comes first, after this the focus shifts to the language used, which will be reinforced through exercises and repetition.

Learners should think about the meaning first, without being distracted by form. “It is impossible to pay attention to both aspects at the same time.”

This way of working is opposite the old way of working. Communication comes first, grammaticise later.

My main problem teaching Thai students conversation has always been that students are so afraid to make mistakes that many don’t dare too speak much. At the beginning I always have to spend time to teach them that my classes are about COMMUNICATION and that I don’t care much about grammar as long as it is clear what you want to say. Good grammar is nice, but good communication is more important.

Therefore, I fully support “First get learners to communicate, then help them to grammaticise.”

And that is exactly what I do in my classes. I give my students speaking assignments (telling a story, agreeing and disagreeing with a presented case, talking about their weekend), and even though we do spend some time on form, most of it is about getting the message across.

More about developing students' language proficiency at Looking for Practical Ways to Help Develop Students’ Language Proficiency http://education-articles-and-conferences.blogspot.com/2011/11/looking-for-practical-ways-to-help.html.

(c) cafavier, 2006-2011

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