Many areas of education are undergoing changes in the way teaching and learning is perceived. Teacher-centered lecturing and structural-syllabus instruction are giving way to a more student-centered, hands-on, practical, and flexible approaches (Shank and Cleary, 1994). The field of English language teaching is no exception in this paradigm shift. One of the areas, which came under this paradigm shift, is the traditional Present-Practice-Produce method of teaching English. It has been replaced by Communicative Language Teaching. An offshoot of Communicative Language Teaching is Task-Based Teaching. The teacher has been identified to be a learning facilitator. He does this largely through the medium of communication, verbal and non-verbal. The quality and effectiveness of such communication have a lot to do with the amount and quality of learning that takes place. This paper talks about a teachers experience in a mixed/heterogeneous classroom situation.
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The classroom, a small social structure, but sometimes large, is a working group of students coming from different socioeconomic background, tribes and cultural affinities, mixing with some friends, some strangers and the indifferent. These differences become complex in pluralistic societies including India. Their common task is learning a given content. It is the teacher who is the enabling agent for these socialization and learning. The teacher is the expert (at most in his field), the leader, the more mature mind and wiser. This is the idea of traditional pedagogy.
During instruction in the classroom, it is the intent of the teacher to impact information and knowledge to the students and on many occasions such information and knowledge are designed to change the behavior of the learners. However, before a teacher can change the behavior of his students, he must not only possess adequate knowledge of the subject matter, he must be able to communicate his massage effectively. The teacher must have the ability to persuade his students to accept his ideas and arguments and not to leave them wondering at the end of the lesson whether to accept or reject them. The teacher should be able to use the classroom as a social system that breads atmosphere for meaningful social interactions and conducive learning environment. This brings us to the question, “What is Communication?”
There dare many definitions of communication, as there are experts in the field. Oxford English Dictionary defines communication as “the imparting, conveying or exchange of ideas, knowledge etc. (whether by speech, writing or signs). It has also been defined as “the process of attempting to share with another person or other persons, ones knowledge, interests, attitudes, opinions and ideas (Ralph, Hance, and Wiksell 1975:4). Farrant (1980) also defined communication as “the process of passing an understandable message from one person to another” (P. 186).
Every language teacher today realizes the importance and the relevance of the “student-centered, hands-on, practical and flexible approach” (Shank and Cleary, 1994), and the worldwide demand for Communicative Language Teaching, which helps to understand the language in context and to use it effectively in situations outside the classroom. As a result, changes have been taking place in many areas of education. The field of second/foreign language teaching is no exception in this paradigm shift. But for ELT, it has become a challenge to accommodate the changes due to various reasons. The most important factor is that one cannot ignore the practical aspect of every existing education system.
This paper deals with students from mixed backgrounds who come under one roof to learn English. This paper deals with teaching methodology undertaken in CELT, O.U, Hyderabad, India, to see how a short term program can benefit students improve their communication skills. As they are mixed background students it became necessary to see how the merits of different language learning frameworks like Communicative Language Learning and Task-Based Learning can be put together to achieve the best result.
As Joanne Pettis, quoting Henry Widdowson comments, “If you say you are eclectic but cannot state the principles of your eclecticism, you are not eclectic, merely confused.” (Pettis, 2003). Roger Dunne from Universidad Veracruzana, Mexico rightly states, “In any event, most language teachers are probably influenced more by course books than by manuals and training courses and most popular course books are decidedly eclectic in their approach. It is probably these pragmatic market forces that will determine the future direction of language teaching in many parts of the world rather than a fight to death between academic fundamentalists” (Dunne, 2003).
This paper was set within the dual framework of Communicative Language Teaching and Task-Based Learning. Theories of language use in context play important roles in Communicative Language Teaching and theories of language learning play important roles in Task-Based Learning. Hence, the merits of both were used.
Howatt (1984) distinguishes between the weak and the strong versions of Communicative Language Teaching. The weak version stresses the importance of providing learners with opportunities to use English for communicative purposes and therefore attempts to integrate communicative activities into the programme of language teaching. This is the version followed in most learning contexts, especially in Asian countries. As different from this, the stronger version of communicative language teaching claims that language can be acquired only through communication. This would mean that teaching involves not just “activating an existing knowledge of the language”, but “stimulating the development of the language system itself” (Howatt, p. 279). However, whether it is the weak or the strong version, the proponents of Communicative Language Teaching have always viewed learning a second/foreign language as acquiring the linguistic means to perform different functions. Some principles of Communicative Language Teaching include:
1. Language should be a means to an end and the focus should be on meaning, not on the form.
2. The learner has to formulate and produce ideas, information, opinions and so on.
3. Teacher intervention to correct mistakes should be minimal as this distracts from communication.
(Richards and Rodgers, 1994)
As David Nunan (1989) says, “Task based teaching and learning is teaching and learning a language by using language to accomplish open ended tasks. Learners are given a problem or objective to accomplish but are left with some freedom in approaching this problem or objective.” A task is defined by David Nunan as, “an activity (or technique) where students are urged to accomplish something or solve some problem using their language. Preferably, this activity is open-ended; there is no set way to accomplish their goal” (1989).
According to Jane Willis, a task is a goal-oriented activity with a clear purpose. Doing a communication task involves achieving an outcome, creating a final product that can be appreciated by others. Tasks can be used as the central component of a three-part framework: “pre-task”, “task cycle”, and “language focus.” These components have been carefully designed to create four optimum conditions for language acquisition, and thus provide rich learning opportunities to suit different types of learners (Willis, 1996). Learners get exposure at the pre-task stage, and an opportunity to recall things they know. The task cycle gives them speaking and writing exposure with opportunities for students to learn from each other.
The task cycle also gives students opportunities to use whatever language they have, both in private (where mistakes, hesitations, and approximate renderings do not matter so long as the meaning is clear) and in public (where there is a built-in desire to strive for accuracy of form and meaning, so as not to lose face).
Motivation (short term) is provided mainly by the need to achieve the objectives of the task and to report back on it. Success in doing this can increase longer term motivation. Motivation to listen to fluent speakers doing the task is strong too, because in attempting the task, learners will notice gaps in their own language, and will listen carefully to hear how fluent speakers express themselves.
A focus on form is beneficial in two phases in the framework. The planning stage between the private task and the public report promotes close attention to language form. As learners strive for accuracy, they try to organize their reports clearly and check words and patterns they are not sure of. In the final component, language analysis activities also provide a focus on form through consciousness-raising processes. Learners notice and reflect on language features, recycle the task language, go back over the text or recording and investigate new items, and practice pronouncing useful phrases.
Components of a Task
Tasks contain some form of ‘input’ that may be verbal (a dialogue/role play/reading) or, nonverbal (pictures/a gesture) followed by an activity, which is in some way derived from the input. This activity sets out what learners need to do in relation to the input. Tasks have also goals and roles for both teachers and learners.
Components of a ‘Task’ (Nunan: 1989)
From the above diagram, a task can be viewed as a piece of meaning focused work, involving learners in comprehending, producing and/or interacting in the target language.
Before taking up the task of converting the textual content into various tasks, the following points were noted and kept in mind by the investigators:
-The objective of the task must be stated very clearly
-The task must be appropriate for the level of the learners
-The task must equip the learners with the ability to apply classroom learning in new situations.
-Tasks must be interesting and motivating to the students
-The form the input takes, must be clear to the teacher
-The roles of teachers and students must be specified clearly
-Through the task, learners must be encouraged to negotiate meaning
-The language that will be generated by the task must be predicted
-There should be variety and flexibility in the tasks
Few strategies for classroom practice to improve verbal, non-verbal and interpersonal communication
Materials needed: Paper and pencil for each participant.
I am going to describe a drawing I have made of a bug. Without seeing the drawing, you are to draw the bug that I describe. You may not ask questions or talk to each other.
Describe the bug.
The bug is round.
The bug has eight legs, grouped in pairs with four legs on the left and four legs on the right. In the pairs, one leg is longer than the other.
The bug has two eyes on top of the body.
The bug has two squiggly antenna.
The bug has two pea-pod shaped wings.
The bug has a spot next to each wing.
The bug has a triangular stinger on the bottom of the body
The bug has two feelers on each foot – one longer than the other, both coming from the same side of the leg.
The bug has a round mouth, placed between the two eyes.
The bug laid five square eggs to the left of the stinger.
After everyone is finished. Hold up your bug so others in your group can see. Note some of the similarities and differences.
Show the drawing to the entire group.
-Why don’t all the bugs look like mine? (Interpretation: everyone has a different interpretation, based on his or her experiences.)
-What did you think of first when you were told to draw a bug? What did you see in your mind?
-What could we have done differently so that your drawings and mine would have looked more alike?
-What would have been the advantages of allowing questions to be asked?
-How many of you wanted questions to be asked?
Adapted from A Kaleidoscope of Leadership, Minnesota Extension Service
Purpose: To demonstrate how important words are when the person talking and the listener cannot see each other.
Materials Needed: Small pieces of paper with one of the following words on each:
Procedure: Ask one person from the group to take a paper with one of the words on it and give a verbal description of what is on the paper (no hands allowed).
Tell them to concentrate on the careful choice of words, avoiding non-verbal signals. Use descriptive words relating to all five senses (smell, touch, etc…).
Example: ice cream — cold, smooth, soft, fluffy- looking, sweet, flavors.
Questions: 1. How efficient were words alone in expressing ideas?
2. How did you feel doing this activity? (talker and listener)
3. What does this remind us to do in our own communication?
Students showed interest in learning English. The reasons they gave were, “classes are full of activities and play.” Noted that students started talking in English openly without any apprehensions. They were highly motivated by the tasks and were encouraged to participate in doing the tasks.
Though it is time consuming it is quite a rewarding experience as they gain useful insights by working through activities. They improve in their language as well as personality traits like team building, interpersonal relations, adaptability etc. Even with the existing constraints, classroom teaching can be given a communicative orientation, giving enough opportunities to students to use the language creatively. Teaching can be made learner-centered; with more emphasis on the learning process any given text may be re-created into various tasks and activities. Task-based teaching enhances the language proficiency of learners.
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