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Branden (2006: 4) points out that 'A task is an activity in which a person engages in order to attain an object, and which necessitates the use of language.' When teachers design a task in the curriculum, they must consider the use of target language in the activity. According to Nunan (2004), he gives the principles and practices:
A needs-based approach to content selection.
An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language.
The Provision of opportunities for learners to focus not only on language but also on the learning process itself.
An enhancement of the learner's own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning.
The linking of classroom language learning with language use outside the classroom. (Nunan, 2004: 1)
In the description, Task-based approach is not only teacher's teaching but also focus on student-driven. The approach provides an environment for student that they can practice the target language in a more authentic situation in the classroom. Students have to achieve the task with their personal experiences or by sharing each other's experience. Therefore, students need to negotiate in target language in the class.
Willis (2004: 133) defines that TBL (Task-based Learning) is essentially different from another language teaching - that of presentation, practice and production (initials as PPP). A lesson should be proceeded as the three stages. During the lesson, students acquire the grammar, vocabulary through the task.
Furthermore, Richards & Rodgers (2001: 228) also notes that 'tasks provide both the input and output processing necessary for language acquisition'. In the Task-based lesson, learning is not only about language, but also meaning sharing. By conversation, learners can have more stimulation of input and output information.
Task-based approach to primary school students in Taiwan
In Taiwan, the Ministry of Education released the Trial Curriculum Standards for the Grade 1-9 Curriculum in 1998, first announced in 2004 and amended in 2006. Since 2001, English has been a compulsory subject for 5th and 6th graders and a lot of schools even implemented English teaching for 3rd graders (Tseng, 2006).The Standards emphasize more on listening and speaking, the communicative skills, than on reading and writing. Therefore, it adopts Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) as guideline for English Teaching.
Tseng (ibid.) claimed that 'Task-based approach only benefited high achievers, and low achievers in their speaking skill...most participants in TBI (Task-based Instruction) agreed not only their four-skill performance but also their affective development and social skills had improved.' We can see that the benefits of Task-based Approach are limited, but it is still a choice for English teacher. Teachers in Taiwan prefer teacher-centered approaches in 30- student-class because it is easy for teachers to control the time and discipline. If the teachers try to use another approaches, it takes time for primary school students to adapt new style teaching activities within 40-minute session. It also takes additional time for teachers to design plenty of tasks in the syllabus before class. Although Communicative Language Teaching is popular in Taiwan, the Task-based approach has been implemented in high schools and colleges sometimes, but not at primary schools (Tseng, ibid.).
Material choice for task-based teaching
Richards & Rodgers (ibid: 236-237) points out that 'Instructional materials play an important role in TBLT (Task-based Language Teaching) because it is dependent on a sufficient supply of appropriate classroom tasks.' When the task designer considers about the activities, they need to consider the proper materials they will use in practice as well. Richards & Rodgers (ibid.) also shows that 'TBI proponent favor the use of authentic tasks supported by authentic materials wherever possible.' Everything in the real world could be the materials in the task-based class if it is meaningful and associated with the teaching content. Teachers may use newspapers, posters, product tags, telephone, television and internet as their task-based materials. Students may be asked to search the information of the products and query latest price and functions to the shop by phone.
Multimedia for task-based teaching
Schrooten (2006: 129) states that 'ICT (information and communication technology) is a general term, encompassing a diversity of applications ranging from the internet, e-mail and video-conferencing to educational software... "Multimedia" refers to a particular characteristic of an ICT-applicationâ€¦..including video, photographs, text, graphics, animation, sound.' He argues that the subject matter must be interesting and relevant and the tasks are authentic. The software may be the crucial element of the teaching. If we cannot find out the proper software that is associated with the task, the activity will become less meaningful. Taiwan students are usually excited at using computer as their learning tool in English class.
However, the concept of "ICT" is given and practiced in recent years; it seems not easy to find out the proper software for Taiwan's children. Most of the software was designed as computer game for students, but there is no linking with the teaching material. Recently, some software (e.g. Labcommender) was written for English classroom. With this software, a teacher can ask the students proceed pair works or group works by random arrangement or teacher's decision. After the task, the teacher may project the students' work on the screen or electric whiteboard. Although the system is very convenient and interesting, it takes time for teachers to adapt the usages.
Assessment for task-based teaching
Willis (op. cit.: 143) points out that 'pair and group tasks are commonly used to test a student's ability to communicate and co-operate in spoken interactionâ€¦reading and listening tasks based on authentic materials.' In this statement, students were assessed speaking skills during the tasks rather than traditional paper exam. The assessment agrees with teaching. After the lesson, students not only learned English from authentic materials, but also assessed by similar resources from real life.
Analysis and Discussion
Advantages and disadvantages of Task-based Approach
Gordon (2007: 176) suggested that 'complex role-plays, science experiments, or fixed form writing are examples of assisted practice. Children can experience success in the activities only if the teacher scaffolds their action through directions, or questioning, or graphic organizers.' When we discuss about ideal task-based learning, we may wish students have high interests in the tasks and everyone learns English successfully. Actually, it happens in many conditions. Make a contrast with teacher-centered approaches, Task-based teaching is more interesting. Task-based provides students more opportunities to practice communication skills. If the task is proceeded fluently, students may enjoy in the more authentic activities.
Gorp & Bogaert (2006: 89) argue that 'If the task presents no difficulties, opportunities for learning may be minimal.' Tseng (op. cit.) also claims that 'TBI benefits high achievers only or whether all students enhance their affective development and social skills needs further investigation.' By their arguments, first of all, teachers need to deal with the grouping and seat arrangement. When the level of task fit with high students, it may be an interesting and exciting challenge, but not for the others. Therefore, the task needs to contain the flexibility to various levels of students.
Even though the teachers arrange proper tasks that are suitable for every student, the problem is, how the primary school students aware their responsibility in the task? Could all of the students involved in the tasks? It depends on the age and maturity of the students (Tseng op. cit.). When the individuals have a little motivation to study, they may forget the target during the tasks and concentrate at arguing. Gordon (ibid: 175) mentions that 'A careful assessment of a language learner's needs is required before the teacher can establish whether or not the young student is ready to handle a task.' More extension, if the students have enough social abilities, they may handle the task very well and play the role as leaders in group work. It seems that the students must have enough social ability to negotiate and cooperate, otherwise the teacher may give them pair work or individual task. It may make the teaching process easier.
How do teachers improve students' accuracy during the task?
As mentioned above, tasks focus on communication, that is meaning exchange, and been put more concentrate on meaning rather than language form. For 'output' fluency helping 'intake', there should be another learning stage after the task. Students have to use target language during the task, which may lead to more grammar mistakes. How could a teacher improve the students' accuracy? Willis (ibid: 36) suggests that 'learners are more familiar with the features of written language, and often feel that they should speak in perfect sentences. But even native speakers talking in real time back-track, hesitate, and compose in short chunks'. It seems we may keep the balance between over emphasize perfect grammar and some mistakes with fluency, the students need to be corrected during or after lesson. Therefore, the teacher can ask the students to be aware of some target grammar before the task and practice the sentence patterns at pre-task stage. If students make mistake when they are dealing with the task, the teacher should not interrupt their concentration, rather than correct the errors in the gap between steps of task.
At the closure stage of the lesson, the teacher generalizes the distribution of the students' task and then corrects the most common mistakes again. If there is enough time, the teacher may ask the students make sentences and share them by pair work. As the lesson is about to finish, the teacher may assign the feedback of the lesson as homework, which contains the grammar practice and self-evaluation. This homework could also be seen as the pre-task stage of next lesson. When students come to the class next time, the grammar should be reviewed and involved the new task. Thus, the procedure will become as a task cycle. The most common grammar errors that students make may be involved in the task more frequently. Therefore, the review of the specific sentence should be designed in the task more frequently as well. And the students can recall after task.
The reading task including the grammar that students usually make mistakes is necessary. By reading a lot of materials every day, students will really acquire the English. Most of English teachers may feel that correcting students' errors does not really work. Even teachers have told the students for many times, the students will still make the same mistakes. If the learners are aware of the grammar as a habit, mistakes will reduce. As much as students read, they will get more grammar and vocabulary knowledge. It is one of the ways that improve the students' accuracy.
Class management of 30-students-class
In Taiwan, the usual amount of students in a class is 30. Although the class size is much smaller than a decade ago, it is still a difficult work for an English teacher to handle with such a huge class of task-based teaching. When the task starts, the classroom will be noisy and be lost of control easily. Willis and Willis (2007: 223-224) suggest that 'introduce set routines for different activity types and make sure they know what the rules are', 'Try to teach from the back of the class sometimesâ€¦spend more time at the back when monitoring group work'. The English teacher needs to prepare before the task, and make sure if the students have the abilities to deal with the task. In addition, the teacher must assign simpler task to younger learners and keep the rules simple. As the rules are set, they may finish the activity in a short time. The teacher has to attract their attention for entering next stage.
Furthermore, in the same class, students may prefer to sit with their friends to discuss. But, the discussion may become to chat and make the classroom nosier. The students will get used at the same opinions from their partners gradually and lack of stimulation. Willis and Willis (ibid: 224) also notes that 'encourage students to mix up a bit â€¦This means they will be in different pairsâ€¦ and they will learn different things from different people.' With the variety of students' partners, the students will have more intakes and keep more concentrate on the task.
Learners' feedback to task design
What is a good task? Is it judged by the teacher or students? When a teacher evaluates the task of student, the syllabus should also be evaluated by students, too. After the lesson, micro-adjustment of the curriculum syllabus is necessary. Whatever the teaching process meets the teacher's prediction, the main learning subject which is the students provides their opinions and feeling to the teachers. During the task, teachers evaluate the students' behavior and the task itself by observation. According to Breen (2009: 349), 'Learners will invest effort in any task if they perceive benefit from it.' 'If a task confronts a learner with psychological and social uncertainty or disequilibrium, that learner will endeavor to reduce the uncertainty and restore personal equilibrium.'
Recommendations & Conclusion
Solutions for the students who cannot follow the pace of the class
There are always students who cannot follow the instruction of the teacher in a class. The more low achievers, the worse of the teaching process will be. However, they should not been considered as problems. Instead, the teacher should think if the task is suitable for every student. If not, how can the teacher do for helping the students? Here are my suggestions below:
First of all, the teacher must consider every student as designing the task. Every student's personality, interests and behavior in the class must be concerned. Therefore, the task will be designed for the students need.
Secondly, the teacher should mix the students with high achievers, middle levels and low achievers by grouping. Every student receives a mission to play a role in the group. The high achievers are encouraged to not only do their jobs but also help the low achievers in their group. When they are dealing with their work, the teacher walks around to help the students for making sure that every learner is with others.
Thirdly, the lower achievers should be arranged to the front seat for helping them focus on the teacher's instruction which before the task.
Team teaching for task-based teaching