Task-based teaching

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Task-based teaching course work

Focussing on forms

Once the task is completed, students can be invited to focus on forms, with no danger that in so
doing they will subvert the tasknessof the task. It is for this reason that some methodologists recommend reserving attention to form to the post-task phase of the lesson. Willis(1996), for example, sees the primary goal of the task componentas that of developing fluency and promoting the use of communication strategies. The post-task stage is needed to counter the danger that students will develop fluency at the expense of accuracy. In part, this is met by asking students to report on their performance of the task, as discussed above, but it can also be achieved by a direct focus on forms. It should be noted, however, that this is the not the position I have taken. I have emphasised that a focus on form constitutes a valuable during-task option and that it is quite compatible with a primary focus on message content, which is the hallmark of a task. Furthermore, in some tasks(e. g. consciousness raising tasks)a linguistic feature is made the topic of the task. Attention to form, one way or another, can occur in any(or indeed all)of the phases of a task-based lesson. In the pre-task and post-task phases the focus will be on forms while in the during-task phase it will be on form, to invoke Longs(1991)distinction.
Two obvious methodological questions arise regarding attention to form in the post-task phase. The first concerns which forms should be attended to. The answer is fairly obvious; teachers should select forms that the students used incorrectly while performing the task or useful or natural forms(Loshcky and Bley Vroman 1993)that they failed to use at all. In other words, teachers should seek to address errors or gaps in the students L2 knowledge.
Consideration also needs to be given to how many such forms a teacher should seek to address. Should the focus be placed on a single form that is treated intensively or a number of forms that are treated extensively? Both approaches are warranted and are reflected in the various options described below.
The second question concerns how the target forms should be dealt with. There is a whole range of options available to the teacher. It should be noted however that in many cases the effectiveness of these options has not been investigated.

  1. Review of learner errors

While the students are performing a task in groups, teachers can move from group to group to listen in and note down some of the conspicuous errors the students make together with actual examples. In the post-task phase, the teacher can address these errors with the whole class. A sentence illustrating the error can be written on the board, students can be invited to correct it, the corrected version is written up, and a brief explanation provided. Lynch(2001)offers an interesting way of conducting a post-task analysis, which he calls proof-listening’. This involves three cycles based on repeated playing of a recording of the task. First, the students who did the task review and edit their own performance. Second, the recording is replayed and other students are invited to comment, correct or ask questions. Finally, the teacher comments on any points that have been missed.

  1. Consciousness-raising tasks

CR-tasks constitute tasks in their own right and, therefore, can be used as the main task in a lesson. But they can also be used as follow-up tasks to direct students to attend explicitly to a specific form that they used incorrectly or failed to use at all in the main task. Willis and Willis
(1996)and Ellis(1997a)offer descriptions of the various options that are available for the design
and implementation of CR tasks. When used as follow-up tasks, CR tasks can profitably take their data from recordings of the students performance of the task. For example, students might be presented with a number of their own utterances all illustrating the same error and asked to identify the error, correct the sentences and work out an explanation.

  1. Production practice activities

An alternative or addition to CR tasks is to provide more traditional practice of selected forms. Traditional exercise types include repetition, substitution, gapped sentences, jumbled sentences, transformation drills, and dialogues. Willis(1996; pp. 110)offers a number of more novel ideas. The value of such production practice activities has been called into question(see, for example, VanPatten 1996)on the grounds that they have no direct effect on learners interlanguage systems. However, they may help learners to automatize forms that they have begun to use on their own accord but have not yet gained full control over.

  1. Noticing activities

A number of suggestions have been made for developing noticing activities as a follow-up to a task performance. Fotos(1993)used dictation exercises that had been enriched with the target structures that students had tackled initially in CR tasks to examine whether the subjects in her study subsequently attended to the structures. She found that they did so quite consistently. Lynch(2001)recommends getting students to make transcripts of an extract(90–120 seconds) from their task performance as a method for inducing noticing. After transcribing, they are required to make any editing changes they wish. The teacher then takes away the word- processed transcripts and reformulates them. The next day the students are asked to compare their own edited transcript with the teachers reformulated version. In a study that investigated this procedure, Lynch found that students cooperated effectively in transcribing, made a number
of changes(most of which resulted in accurate corrections of linguistic forms), and engaged in both self- and other-correction. Lynch also analysed the types of changes the students made, noting that the majority involved grammatical corrections, editing slips(i. e. removal of redundancies, literal repetitions and dysfluencies)and reformulation(i. e. changes directed at more precise expressions). Finally, Lynch comments that there was plenty left for the teacher to do after the students had made their changes.

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