LINGUIST List 23.3510

Wed Aug 22 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics: East (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <monicalinguistlist.org>



Date: 22-Aug-2012
From: Elis Kakoulli Constantinou <kakelishotmail.com>
Subject: Task-Based Language Teaching from the Teachers' Perspective
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AUTHOR: East, MartinTITLE: Task-Based Language Teaching from the Teachers' PerspectiveSUBTITLE: Insights from New ZealandSERIES: Task-Based Language Teaching 3PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2012

Elis Kakoulli Constantinou, Language Centre, Cyprus University of Technology

SUMMARY

This book concentrates on teachers’ interpretation of Task Based LanguageTeaching (TBLT) in New Zealand, and aims to make readers think of how TBLT canbe applied in their own contexts.

In the first chapter of the book the author introduces the reader to the settingof the study by establishing the theoretical foundations on which the study wasbuilt and by explaining the reasons which led to the investigation of teachers’perspectives about TBLT in New Zealand. Specifically, the author citesLittlewood’s (2004) questions about what constitutes a ‘task’, which suggestthat TBLT is not easy to understand. Furthermore, the author distinguishesbetween what theorists and researchers describe as TBLT and what teachers orclassroom practitioners perceive as the task-based approach. East says that arevised curriculum was introduced to New Zealand’s schools in 2009 (it waspublished in 2007 and fully implemented in 2010) with a component dedicated tolanguages other than English which automatically makes the case of the specificcountry attractive to research. In this context the author investigatesteachers’ perspectives on the TBLT innovation which the new curriculum hasbrought. He suggests that several factors influence teachers’ perspectives(Borg, 2006; Pajares, 1993; Phipps & Borg, 2007), and then focuses on studieswhich involve a task-based approach (Van den Branden, 2006; Carless, 2007; Andon& Eckerth, 2009) which demonstrate that teachers’ beliefs have an impact onclassroom practices. Towards the end of the first chapter, the author providesthe reader with details regarding the study concerning the participants (19secondary school teachers of French, German, Japanese and Spanish and eightteacher advisors who had the responsibility to support teachers across thecurriculum and ensure “best practice”; p. 15 ) and the tools that were employed(interviews).

The second chapter of the book concentrates on curriculum renewal in NewZealand, which emerged through a more general shift in language pedagogy fromCommunicative Language Teaching (CTL) to TBLT. According to the author, CTL hadtwo manifestations, the ‘weak’ CTL through which the focus remained on form andthe ‘strong’ CTL through which the form was completely neglected and the focuswas purely on meaning. TBLT managed to direct attention to both accuracy andfluency. In this context of change, the author stresses that the New Zealand’s1993 Curriculum Framework needed renewal. Despite the fact that it was based onthe communicative approach, in reality there were no rules for the teachers tofollow concerning methodology, only guidelines that the author characterises as“problematic” (p. 26), and the assessment followed the grammar-translationmethod rather than the communicative approach. In addition, student enrolmentsin language courses were disappointing, especially in the last years, due to thebelief that English was the most important language as well as to other factors;e.g. the idea that studying a language becomes more difficult as the studyprogresses. Therefore, New Zealand’s 2007 curriculum was composed, which had anew component ‘Learning Languages’, and it was governed by language-centredness,experiential learning and co-construction of knowledge (p. 32). The newcurriculum was aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference forLanguages (CEFR). These changes, according to the author, led to the adoption ofTBLT.

The third chapter is a description of the underlying philosophies of the newcurriculum, the ‘Learning Languages’ component and the means provided to theteachers for support in its implementation. The author explains how ‘LearningLanguages’ was founded on 10 principles expressed by Ellis (2005), and how TBLTwas embedded in and promoted by the new curriculum even though it was not statedin the curriculum that TBLT was the required approach to Foreign Language (FL)teaching. Different opportunities were offered to teachers for support, such asonline access to materials, a series of Curriculum Support Days, the TeacherProfessional Development Languages (TPDL) programme, etc. The author alsooutlines the reactions of teachers and advisors to the implementation of thefirst of Ellis’ principles, the development of a repertoire of formulaicexpressions and a rule-based competence. The findings illustrate that althoughstudents seemed to communicate fluently, it was clear that sometimes formulaicexpressions limit the creative use of language and that teachers interpreted thefirst principle in different ways. On the other hand, it is obvious that theteachers were willing to adopt the changes that the 10 principles would launch.

In chapters 4, 5 and 6 the author presents the advisors’ and the teachers’understandings of the three aspects of the ‘Learning Languages’ component of thenew curriculum, namely communication, language knowledge and cultural knowledge.He also illustrates the participants’ views about TBLT in relation to thesethree aspects. Starting with chapter 4, the author puts emphasis on the “corecommunication strand”, as he characterises it (p. 77). The new curriculum wasestablished on the idea that the aim of learning a foreign language iscommunication; thus, meaning was central, learning should enhance the ability tocommunicate, and in order to communicate learners should understand input and beable to produce output as well. This would possibly create somemisunderstandings concerning the nature of tasks which the author discusses.These misunderstandings concern the beliefs that tasks must necessarilyrepresent real-life scenarios, they must primarily involve speaking, they mustalso involve other people as interlocutors and finally they should focus on userather than learning. He then proposes ways to address thesemisunderstandings. In the same chapter the author presents the advisors’ and theteachers’ perspectives on using tasks in language teaching in order to cater tothe core communicative strand of the curriculum. The interviews showed that theadvisors viewed TBLT as the way to meet the requirements of the communicativeaspect of the new curriculum since it promoted meaningful and authentic use oflanguage, the co-construction of knowledge, and it also allowed for individualdifferences. Being influenced by the transition from CLT, some of the teachersinterpreted the communicative strand in a more traditional way, employingcommunicative activities with limited use of language in their teaching insteadof tasks. Nevertheless, others had a more developed conceptualisation of tasks.The chapter includes teachers’ stories about how they used different types oftasks to enhance meaningful communication in their classroom both at a beginnerand a senior level.

Chapter 5 focuses on the aspect of language knowledge which involves learners’grammatical or formal competence. According to the literature as well as theparticipants in the study, focus on form is essential for fluent and accuratecommunication. The author discusses how focus on form can be integrated in TBLTby addressing several questions that arise. Finally, he reaches the conclusionthat meaning is central in TBLT, hence focus on form comes after the learners’completion of the task, and that targeted focus on form follows only whenlearners notice it in the input following inductive procedures. As in chapter4, the author moves on with the analysis of the advisors’ and teachers’understandings of how language knowledge could be treated in the new curriculum.The interviews showed that the advisors believed that language knowledge isessential; however, it should come after students had the opportunity to use thelanguage for meaningful communication. The author characterises the teachers as“eclectic” (p. 121) when it comes to their teaching. He claims that severalfactors guide their choices, such as their experiences of the present and past,the dilemma of whether to use inductive or deductive approaches when dealingwith language knowledge, the issue of using English when explaining the rules,and finally the question whether to use different approaches with junior andsenior year students. Towards the end of the chapter, Sophie’s (a teacher’s)case is presented, which is indicative of the challenges teachers had toconfront because of the changes in the curriculum.

In chapter 6 the author analyses the third strand on which ‘Learning Languages’is based, that is cultural knowledge. He cites Brown (1994) and Liddicoat (2008)to support the view that language and culture are interconnected and that forlearners to be communicatively competent in a foreign language they must have,apart from language knowledge, cultural knowledge as well. Furthermore, theauthor describes a more traditional view of how cultural knowledge could beacquired by learners, which involved teaching of customs and traditions or‘facts’ (p. 138), and which he considers ineffective since cultural knowledgeinvolves much more than customs and language appropriateness. He characterisesintercultural competence as a theoretical construct, and he explains Byram’s(1997) perception of what is required to acquire intercultural competence; thatis the development of certain ‘savoirs’ (knowledges), and Kramsch’s (1999) modelof the ‘three places’. These models are similar and both claim that learnersneed to understand their own culture as well as the culture of the targetlanguage, and should try to relate the two. Further on, the chapter elaborateson how TBLT may enhance cultural knowledge by referring to Liddicoat’s (2005)approach of four stages, awareness-raising, skills development, production andfinally feedback, and also by emphasising the role of visits to the targetcountry, “global simulations” (p. 144), online interaction etc. Eventually, theauthor once more focuses on practitioner perspectives, and therefore he presentstheir struggle to integrate cultural knowledge into the language learningexperience, emphasising the fact that teachers were used to handling the issueof culture in isolation, that is separately from language learning. This factwas also acknowledged by the advisors and was considered to be an Achilles' heelwhich needed treatment. According to the author, advisors even go a step furtherand claim that intercultural knowledge must be integrated into the languagelearning experience instead of mere knowledge of the target culture. Finally,before concluding, the author provides comments expressed by advisors, whichportray different types of tasks that enhance intercultural knowledge, takingthe reader back to see some of the tasks presented in chapter 4, which could beexploited for such purposes (e.g. creation of a class magazine, a visit to aChinese restaurant by learners of Chinese). An invaluable tool for setting uptasks that raise intercultural knowledge according to the author is alsoinformation and communications technology (ICT). The author concludes bystressing the significance of the integration of the three dimensions of the NewZealand curriculum: language knowledge, cultural knowledge, and communication.

Chapter 7 is dedicated to the relationship between TBLT and assessment. Itmainly concentrates on the challenge of what constitutes ‘good’ (p. 163)assessment practices in the context of adopting TBLT, taking into considerationthat the role of assessment is to inform different bodies (i.e. students,teachers, parents, school, future employers, gate keepers and government) aboutthe success of the educational procedures. To set the context, the author startsby elaborating on the two assessment paradigms that exist in the literature:assessment for learning and assessment of learning. The first reflects aprocess-oriented approach and mainly involves formative assessment that givesinformation to the learners and teachers on where they stand and how they shouldmove on; hence, it involves the provision of corrective feedback that willfacilitate the learning process. The latter mirrors a product-oriented approachthat focuses mainly on summative assessment procedures for identifying thelevels of learners with no corrective feedback. According to the author,assessment could be seen as a “continuum” (p. 165) that incorporates bothsummative and formative processes and would cater to the demands of allindividuals, learners, teachers and stakeholders. In the New Zealand curriculumhowever, the primary consideration of assessment is to improve the learningprocess, thus tasks are seen as “assessment opportunities” (p. 165) that giveinformation for this purpose. Elicitation of such information could be donethrough various sources, according to the new curriculum, including tests thatare more compatible to an assessment-of-learning approach. Nevertheless, theauthor highlights that the most suitable performance-based assessment is the oneconnected to the real world, in other words, the one that contains authentictasks which measure learners’ language proficiency. The author cites Bachman andPalmer (1996), who claim that such tasks also “promote a positive affectiveresponse” (p. 170) to the test taker. Furthermore, the author describes how NewZealand’s high-stakes assessment system was reviewed by New Zealand’s Ministryof Education and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority because it conflictedwith Task Based Language Assessment (TBLA) so that it promoted positive washbackeffect. In the second part of the chapter, the author illustrates thepractitioner perspectives concerning TBLA, which were compatible with the newcurriculum view that assessment is primarily for learning. In the case ofassessment of learning, according to the practitioners, it must be seen as anopportunity for learners to receive feedback and feedforward that does notdemotivate them, it must be clearly connected to learning, and it must alsoconcentrate on what they know instead of what they do not know so that it isfair. The interviews with the practitioners provide ideas for various assessmentpractices as well.

In the last chapter of the book the author proceeds to an evaluation of thefindings of the study which he characterises as “encouraging” (p. 191). Itappears that the teachers have illustrated sincere willingness to adopt TBLT andthat advisors are capable of supporting the implementation of the new approach.Nevertheless, previous research cited in the book as well as the interviews inthis study have shown certain challenges in the implementation of TBLT. Thesechallenges are categorised by the author into three areas, namely lack ofknowledge and understanding of TBLT among practitioners, concerns abouteffective FL learning, and concerns about meeting the demands of high-stakesassessments; in other words the negative washback effect. The author refers toexisting literature and to comments made by the participants in the study toclaim that the implementation of TBLT becomes even more complicated due to thefact that there are no clear guidelines in the new curriculum concerning whichapproach teachers must follow. Nevertheless, lack of guidance means thatteachers are free to interpret TBLT to meet their own classroom context needs.Undoubtedly, teachers need both theoretical and practical education. At thispoint, the discussion concentrates on the TPDL programme that the authorintroduced in chapter 3, which is a one-year programme that presents to theteachers the principles of TBLT and ways of implementing them. In the discussionboth strengths and weaknesses of the programme are identified after formalevaluation conducted by the Ministry of Education. Towards the end of thechapter the author generalises the findings of his study so that they apply inany FL teaching or learning context where there is a wish to implement TBLT. Heexplains that the main challenges that can be generalised are the need foreducating teachers, the provision of support as concerns planning andimplementation that will reduce teacher anxiety, and the assessment processesthat should support TBLT. Finally, he offers some recommendations to address theaforementioned challenges. The chapter closes with some of the limitations ofthe study and by providing suggestions for future research.

EVALUATION

The book, even though reporting on the findings of a study conducted in NewZealand, is an important contribution to literature on task-based languagepedagogy world-wide. It is most appropriate for language teachers as well asstudents of language teaching, curriculum developers, teacher trainers,researchers in the field of language teaching and learning and generally allthose who are interested in TBLT.

The author does not follow a traditional way of presenting the study by clearlyposing the research questions, presenting in detail the tools utilised to gatherdata and elaborating on the analysis procedure; however, this should not beconsidered as a weakness, since he provides all this conventional informationconcerning the study in Appendix 1. There he makes clear that what he describesin the book does not fall under the umbrella of objective research. The beautyof the book lies in the fact that the author himself admits that his study issubjective since it is purely qualitative, and that he considers himself ‘ajournalist’ who reports the truth as presented by the participants instead of a“real researcher” (p. 241). The presentation of stories narrated by teachers aswell as thoughts and comments expressed by teachers and advisors in their ownwords makes it easier for the reader to identify with them, especially if thereader is a language teacher. It also makes the book more exciting andinteresting to read. Through the unfolding of the stories many ideas of tasksappear for teachers to adopt in their teaching as well as many challenges thatteachers or stakeholders need to be aware of. Another positive element thatmakes reading easier is the fact that participants were given pseudonyms by theresearcher following a smart encoding system not only to protect anonymity butalso to help the reader identify the status of each participant (whether theywere teachers or advisors) and the principal language each teacher taughtthroughout the book. This is indicative of how structured and well-thought outhis work is.

The limitations of this study are identified by the researcher himself in thelast part of the book. Perhaps the selection of a larger number of participantswould have helped more in drawing better conclusions on various issues, despitethe fact that the process of selection is very well-explained and justified bythe researcher. Nevertheless, since the author’s intention is to merely statethe participants’ stories, the number of participants cannot be considered as aflaw.

The suggestions for future research made by the author in the end could lead tovery interesting findings. Definitely, research in the specific context shouldcontinue in order to provide valuable insight to all parameters relating to TBLTin FL pedagogy not just in New Zealand but all over the world.

REFERENCES

Andon, N. & Eckerth, J. 2009. Chacun à son goût? Task-based L2 pedagogy from theteacher’s point of view. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 19(3).286-310.

Bachman, L. F. & Palmer, A. 1996. Language testing in practice: Designing anddeveloping useful language tests. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Borg, S. 2006. Teacher cognition and language education: Research and practice.New York / London: Continuum.

Brown, H. D. 1994. Principles of language learning and teaching (3rd ed.).Englewood Cliffs, NY: Prentice Hall Regents.

Byram, M. 1997. Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence.Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Carless, D. 2007. The suitability of task-based approaches for secondaryschools: Perspectives from Hong Kong. System 35(4). 595-608.

Ellis, R. 2005. Instructed second language acquisition: A literature review.Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Education.

Kramsch, C. 1999. Thirdness: The intercultural stance. In T. Vastergaard (Ed.),Language, culture and identity (pp. 41-58). Aalborg, Denmark: Aalborg UniversityPress.

Liddicoat, A. 2005. Teaching languages for intercultural communication. In D.Cunningham & A. Hatoss (Eds.), An international perspective on languagepolicies, practices and proficiencies (pp. 201-214). Belgrave, Australia:Fédération Internationale des Professeurs de Langues Vivantes (FIPLV).

Liddicoat, A. 2008. Pedagogical practice for integrating the intercultural inlanguage teaching and learning. Japanese Studies 28(3). 277-290.

Littlewood, W. 2004. The task-based approach: Some questions and suggestions.ELT Journal 58(4). 319-326.

Pajares, F. 1993. Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up amessy construct. Review of Educational Research 62. 307-332.

Phipps, S. & Borg, S. 2007. Exploring the relationship between teachers’ beliefsand their classroom practice. The Teacher Trainer 21(3). 17-19.

Van den Branden, K. 2006. Training teachers: Task-based as well? In K. Van denBranden (Ed.), Task-based language education: From theory to practice (pp.217-248). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER:

Elis Kakoulli Constantinou is an English Language Instructor at the Cyprus University of Technology. She holds a BA in English Language and Literature and an MA in Applied Linguistics. She teaches Academic English, and English for Specific Purposes. Her research focuses on English Language Curriculum Development, and she is also interested in the latest developments in Language Teaching Methods including the Integration of New Technologies in Language Teaching.


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