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Review of Task-Based Instruction in Foreign Language Education
Date: Tue, 24 May 2005 06:38:53 -0700 (PDT) From: Seyyed Abdolhamid Mirhosseini Subject: Task-Based Instruction in Foreign Language Education
AUTHORS: Leaver, Betty Lou; Willis, Jane R. TITLE: Task-Based Instruction in Foreign Language Education SUBTITLE: Practices and Programs PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press YEAR: 2004
Seyyed Abdolhamid Mirhosseini, Iranian Ministry of Education
The book is comprised of thirteen chapters in four parts preceded by a brief preface. Chapter one provides a general overview of the theoretical issues surrounding the notion of task and the other twelve chapters are papers describing aspects of task-based instruction in various foreign language teaching contexts. Besides the main chapters, five other sections are presented at the end of the book: a glossary of key terms, an appendix of multiscale proficiency descriptors, bibliography, information about contributors, and index.
PART I: An Overview of Task-Based Instruction: from Theories to Practices
CHAPTER ONE: Perspectives on task-based instruction: Understanding our practices, acknowledging different practitioners (Jane R. Willis) In this introductory chapter Willis overviews issue of task-based instruction as represented in the literature on foreign language teaching methodology. The historical trend of methodology from traditional approaches to communicative language teaching is briefly reviewed and after a look at basic theoretical views underlying task- based approaches, the author discusses various definitions of task in the literature and different interpretations of task in practice. Four dichotomous elements are described as major parameters in designing different types of tasks: open/closed, one way/two way, focused/unfocused, and real world/pedagogic. The author then, mainly referring to Ellis (2003), presents a framework for describing tasks and goes on to discuss aspects of task-based syllabus design in detail. Testing in task-based instruction is also touched upon and pre-task, task, and post-task options are discussed before the concluding remarks in which illustrating a range of foreign language teaching contexts and helping readers reflect on their own practices are stated as the main aim of the book. Three appendices accompany the chapter.
PART II: TBI in Classroom Instruction
CHAPTER TWO: Task-based instruction in U.S. government Slavic language programs (Betty Lou Leaver & Marsha A. Kaplan) This chapter focuses on US foreign language programs that implemented task-based instruction, specifically reporting a basic Czech course, an advanced Russian course, and a Ukrainian course. In all these programs a task was defined as an activity ''that results in a product with a measurable result'' (p.47). The programs are elaborated on in terms of the type of tasks they involved, the materials, the length of the courses, and some other methodological details. Evaluation procedures are also reported under the subtitle of ''Testing''. Challenges and outcomes of the US government task- based programs are also represented. The challenges referred to include significant time investment, unpredictability, faculty development, student expectations, and paucity of materials. Major outcomes of the programs mentioned by the authors, include motivation, non-boring practice, curricular flexibility, promotion of learning how to learn, natural error correction, risk taking, higher proficiency results, student satisfaction, better program evaluation results, and what the authors call ''intrinsic rewards'' (p. 64). In two appendices at the end of the chapter, a sample task of the Czech program and excerpts of comments by students involved in the Czech course are presented.
CHAPTER THREE: Using media-based tasks in teaching Spanish (Alicia Mora van Altena) An advanced Spanish course at Yale University is presented in this chapter. The materials were about contemporary media and journalism and the tasks were aimed at teaching linguistic and paralinguistic skills to students who were content specialists. Therefore the course was a combination of Task-based instruction and Content-based instruction. The author elaborates on the rationale for the combined program and goes on to describe different aspects of program development and implementation, including the selection of textually, contextually, and technically appropriate materials, faculty preparation, assignments, the nature of the tasks, grammar and vocabulary handling, and grading. Language improvement and student satisfaction are mentioned as two major advantages of the combined Task-based Content-based program. The tasks are reported to have increased students' ''awareness of the connotative and the denotative language'' (p. 77) and to have satisfied the students as their positive feedback indicates. A sample Task-based lesson and a sample final paper are appendixed to the paper.
CHAPTER FOUR: Introducing TBI for teaching English in Brazil: Learning how to leap the hurdles (Juarez Lopes) Chapter four describes a Task-based program aimed at teaching English in a private school in Brazil with different learners including adolescents, young university students, or adults who needed English for professional purposes. The program substituted an ineffective presentation-practice-production program. A particular task-based course book was selected as the basic material for implementing tasks. Two types of tasks are referred to by the author as popular tasks dealt with in this course: tasks that the students could relate to their own lives, and those involving an element of competition or challenge. The problem of anxiety, vocabulary learning, acceptance of long-term progress, lack of focus on grammar are discussed as problems encountered in the process of replacing the old program with task-based instruction and how they were dealt with are described. Evaluating the program and concluding the chapter, the author refers to more effective learning of English, changes in students' view of learning and move towards independence, student satisfaction, and more teacher confidence as advantages of implementing the task- based program. Occasional focus on grammatical accuracy and training teachers before using Task-based instruction in the classroom are recommended. Three appendices exemplifying course activities appear at the end of the chapter.
CHAPTER FIVE: Learning Arabic: From language functions to tasks in a diglossic context (Mahdi Alosh) The program described in this chapter is the Arabic language program at Ohio State University. The author, first, briefly reviews different varieties of the Arabic language and how this variation influences teaching Arabic as a foreign language. The learners, either Muslim students from countries all over the world or Muslim Americans, are reported to enroll in Arabic classes with the purpose of reading religious texts. Arabic language courses at Ohio State University are described in terms of procedures, materials, teachers, and assessment and characteristics of a communicative-functional task- based approach as the basis of these courses are elaborated. Communicative tasks used in the program are introduced and their components including context, objective, content, student role, teacher role, procedure, and reporting are discussed. Communicative tasks that relied on information transfer principle, information gap principle, and functional principle, were applied in form of oral, reading, writing, and integrative tasks at different levels of proficiency and with different levels of linguistic complexity. Concluding the chapter, the author states that using communicative tasks helped the learners develop communicative abilities and knowledge about the language. Throughout the chapter figures and sample tasks are used to better illustrate the program.
CHAPTER SIX: Designing an outcomes-based TBI Japanese language program (Yoshiko Saito-Abbott) The Japanese language program discussed in this chapter depicts an attempt for implementing Task-based instruction in what the author calls an outcomes-based curriculum that focuses on ''how well learners can perform'' (p. 123). Learners involved in this program at California State University, Monterey Bay were of various groups including a large number of Hispanic and Chicano students. According to outcomes-based education policy, prior to designing the language course syllabus specific outcomes were set: students' ability to communicate with native speakers of the language, students' ability to appreciate culture, and their ability to compare their own culture with another culture. Communicative competency, cultural appropriateness, and depth of understanding were set as criteria and standards for the language requirement regarding the three specific outcomes. The author explains why task-based instruction was brought into an outcomes-based system and illustrates how the theme-based and content-based tasks were designed and implemented in such a program. After a look at the challenges facing task-based instruction in this particular course, its benefits are reported, including: greater motivation and confidence, higher rate of achieving outcomes, and emergence of a collaborative and supportive learning environment.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Task-based instruction for teaching Spanish to professionals (Clemencia Macias) The program presented in this chapter is a beginning level ''language for specific purposes'' course of Spanish. Task-based instruction and content-cased syllabus were used in this program to teach Spanish to professionals. The tasks and activities employed in the program at Hartnell College, Salinas, California, and the procedure of developing them are described by the author. Three main issues in implementing task-based instruction in this program are discussed in detail: the role of teacher as facilitator, how grammar was dealt with, and error correction procedures. A similar program implemented at the American Global Studies Institute is also briefly reported by the author. Four major advantages of task-based instruction of Spanish to professionals are mentioned in the chapter: deeper learning, immediate applicability, self-determination of success, and student satisfaction. The author concludes the chapter after a couple of paragraphs about the materials used in the program.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Bridging the gap between the sciences and humanities: French for engineers and other technical professions (Wayne Richard Hager & Mary Ann Lyman-Hager) This final chapter of the second part of the book focuses on an advanced course of French for American Engineering students spending their internship in France. The course, as part of a partnership program between Pennsylvania State University and University of Artois in France, was aimed at meeting the immediate needs of engineering students arriving in France with little knowledge of French. The curriculum was a Task-based and student-centered experiential one integrating knowledge of engineering and French language and culture. The author describes different aspects of the needs assessment and the diagnosis process that led to tasks with three general topics: issues of daily life, issues of culture, and issues of workplace. Institutional and discipline-related challenges encountered by the program are then discussed. Concluding the chapter, the author asserts that task-based learning experiences are vital for ''the kind of knowledge needed in a truly global economy'' (p. 173). Three appendices accompany the chapter.
PART III: Internet Tasks and Programs
CHAPTER NINE: Task-based instruction in online learning (Natalia Antokhin, Abdelfattah Boussalhi, Kuei-Lan Chen, Pamela Combacau, & Steve Koppany) In this starting chapter of part III, the application of tasks in developing units of instructional materials for teaching foreign languages is dealt with. The chapter reports the process of developing such units (called learning objects) for teaching different levels of Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish at the Defense Language Institute. In designing online learning objects defined as independent instructional units ''designed to address specific student needs'' (p. 182), program developers are reported to have paid particular attention to diagnostic assessment of abilities and needs, interaction levels, and technology requirements. The rationale for implementing tasks in online learning objects is stated to be ''the same as for incorporating task-based activities in the classroom'' (p. 185). The author elaborates on different aspects of selecting reading texts that were then applied in a sequence of activities: a prereading task, three enabling tasks, and a wrap up activity. Issues of coping with grammar and vocabulary are also discussed in the chapter and, as an example, task-based activities in an Arabic online course are briefly presented. Handling a dispersed classroom, the problem interaction without a classroom, strategic development, writing systems, and evaluation are mentioned as challenges to such online programs before the concluding remarks and the five appendices.
CHAPTER TEN: Webhead communities: Writing tasks interleaved with synchronous online communication and web page development (Vance Stevens) Another instance of virtual classroom implementing writing tasks is described in this chapter. The author reports activities of groups of learners and teachers involved in online writing practices. The writing tasks were aimed at purposeful interaction and technology was a vehicle of implementing pedagogical principles not the driving force. The author's initiative for conducting an online writing and grammar course is reported to have been the starting point of this community of online writers called Webheads. The group interactions involved various topics including projects on which teachers interacted and themes and tasks of interest to learners. Cost, ease of use, multicasting capability, and cross platform adaptability were the criteria in selecting the tools for computer mediated communication. Email groups, web pages, and synchronous chat were the major modalities of interaction and implementation of tasks. After a brief discussion on evaluation and in the conclusion section the author mentions lowering affective obstacles and promoting a sense of community as the main message from the project and recommends that the model be applied in other situations. In an appendix some technology related issues are dealt with.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Using web technology to promote writing, analytical thinking, and creative expression in German (Franziska Lys) Using technology in developing web projects as part of an advanced course of writing German is reported in this chapter. After a look at writing in language courses in general and in German courses at Northwestern University where this course was offered, the author describes the goals of the course and the task-based structure of the course. The students were asked to choose topics as the basis of the specific tasks they would be involved in. They also had to design a web page based on skills they were taught in technology sessions. Tasks were assigned in a rigorous writing program including writing, revising, and learning from fellow learners. Aspects of necessary technological tools and skills were also incorporated in to the program. ''Evaluating and grading such a project can be challenging for instructors and daunting for students'' (p. 242) but informal during- project evaluation and final evaluation in the areas of content, organization, topic, vocabulary, and grammar is reported to have been conducted. In the final sections of the chapter the author discusses the project in terms of task-based instruction and presents a generally positive evaluation of the course, recommending it for improving student writing and at the same time motivating them to be more self directed. The midterm evaluation of the course is appendixed to the chapter.
PART IV: Assessment and Teacher Development
CHAPTER TWELVE: Implementing task-based assessment in a TEFL environment (Claudio Passos de Oliveira) This chapter dealing with issues of task-based assessment, focuses on attempts aimed at changing assessment procedures to parallel task oriented instruction at an English language teaching center in Brazil. The chapter presents an account of traditional English teaching that was based on a presentation-practice-production view and also an overview of task-based instruction. The author describes the current teaching practice of the institute that is a combination of the traditional practices and task-based instruction and goes on to describe the traditional testing methods that -- involving end of the term structure, vocabulary, and reading exams -- did not match the new trends of teaching. The new assessment procedure was developed with the purpose of paying more attention to language production skills and also moving towards a process-based assessment system. The assessment criteria focused on six elements: participation, daily oral grade, compositions, structure test, reading and writing test, and oral test. The tests based on these criteria are reported to have been in line with fundamental characteristics of language tasks and thus reflecting attributes of task based assessment system. In two appendices analytic rating scales used in the task-based assessment system in this particular project and sample test items are presented.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: It's all in the team: Approaches to teacher development in a content-based, task-based EFL program (Kathryn Cozonac) This final chapter of the book looks at the issue of faculty development for task-based instruction. It describes the Junior Faculty Development Program of the American Council for International Education, adhering to content-based and task-based instruction. After a brief overview of the general design and objectives of the program, the author of the chapter elaborates on the process of the teacher development program involving three major parts: First, training seminars in which topics such as history of methodologies, content- and task-based methodology, and syllabus design were covered. In the second part participating teacher trainees collaborated on lesson planning. The third part of the program was devoted to classroom observation conducted by the program director. The director visited class sessions of the instructors participating in the teacher development program. Before conclusion a case study is presented to illustrate the significance of teachers' background. Concluding the chapter, the author refers to positive results of the faculty development program.
The book draws on a wide range of foreign language teaching contexts at different levels and with a variety of languages. It, therefore, seems to serve the general purpose of illustrating various teaching contexts and providing readers with abundant practical hints and ideas, but it hardly goes beyond that. A number of flaws are evident throughout the book: First, the book does not help much with understanding theoretical views underlying tasks-based instruction. The introductory chapter, presenting a review of the historical development of language teaching methodology leading to task-based instruction, could be much more comprehensive, ignoring for the moment the author's excessive drawing upon Rod Ellis's (2003) book. Moreover, the authors seem to be undecided between applying the discourse of recent communicative approaches and traditional terminology. This ambivalence is evident in talking about communicative task-based views as recent issues in language education and at the same time relying on outdated terminology such as ''input'' and ''output'' (p.10), ''affective filter'' (pp. 51, 63, 224), ''methods'' (p.69), and even ''task-based method'' (p. 83).
Second, this theoretically loose context leads to the point that task turns to be understood as almost anything. Consequently the application of the term 'task' in this overly open sense would not signify any theoretical basis and therefore any practical procedure. The last point is that, not unexpectedly, socially based critical trends in language education (Norton & Toohey, 2004; Reagan & Osborn, 2002) did not at all find the opportunity to appear in the practices reported in this book. Task-based Instruction in Foreign Language Education: Practices and Programs is, therefore, recommended to readers looking for practical hints and an illustration of ''a range of foreign language teaching contexts'' (p. 40) but not more.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford University Press.
Norton, B & Toohey, K. (2004). Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning. Cambridge University Press.
Reagan, T. G. & Osborn, T. A. (2002). The Foreign Language Educator in Society: Toward a Critical Pedagogy. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Seyyed Abdolhamid Mirhosseini received his MA in Teaching English
as a Foreign Language form the University of Tehran, Iran. His areas
of interest include Critical language education, Critical discourse
analysis, and Qualitative research methodology.