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LINGUIST List 24.1720

Wed Apr 17 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Shehadeh & Coombe (2012)

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

Date: 19-Feb-2013
From: Achilleas Kostoulas <achilleas.kostoulaspostgrad.manchester.ac.uk>
Subject: Task-Based Language Teaching in Foreign Language Contexts
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-4709.html

EDITOR: Ali Shehadeh
EDITOR: Christine A. Coombe
TITLE: Task-Based Language Teaching in Foreign Language Contexts
SUBTITLE: Research and implementation
SERIES TITLE: Task-Based Language Teaching 4
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Achilleas I. Kostoulas, University of Manchester

SUMMARY

This volume contains a range of papers on task-based language teaching
(TBLT), as practiced in the periphery (Phillipson, 1992) of the
English-speaking world. With the exception of the introductory and concluding
chapters, which respectively contextualize the book’s topic and summarise its
themes, the book is divided in two sections. Section I (Chapters 2-6) contains
five studies on how different variables impact interaction and performance in
TBLT. Section II (Chapters 7-14) comprises eight chapters reporting on the
implementation of TBLT in authentic classroom contexts across the world.

Chapter 1: Broadening the perspective of task-based language teaching
scholarship. The contribution of research in foreign language contexts (Ali
Shehadeh). Τhe first half of Chapter 1 provides a comprehensive overview of
recent literature on TBLT, which serves to contextualize the volume. Shehadeh
points out that much published scholarship on TBLT tends to report on English
as a Second Language (ESL) contexts, where English is natively spoken and
taught to learners from diverse linguistic backgrounds. By contrast, English
as a Foreign Language (EFL) contexts, where English is taught in the public
education system for purposes such as communication with visiting foreigners,
tend to be underrepresented. The author then describes the salient features of
EFL settings which set them apart from ESL ones, and discusses the factors
which might impede the implementation of TBLT. The latter half of the chapter
presents an overview of the individual contributions that make up the volume.

Chapter 2: Effects of task complexity and pre-task planning on Japanese ELF
learners’ oral production (Shoko Sasayama & Shinichi Izumi). This chapter
reports on an empirical investigation into the effects of task design on oral
production. Sasayama and Izumi report on an experiment involving 23 Japanese
high school students which tested the effects of task complexity and planning
time on the syntactic complexity, accuracy and fluency of the participants’
output. In doing so, they test the predictions made by Skehan’s (1998)
Trade-off Hypothesis against Robinson’s (2001) multiple-resource model of
attention (the Cognition Hypothesis). In brief, the former holds that
attentional resources are finite, and that increased quality in one aspect of
output will be offset by decreased quality in the others. Focusing more on
task design, the latter posits that increased task complexity can, under
certain circumstances, lead to interlanguage development. The authors’
findings suggest that the differences between the two positions might not be
irreconcilable, and that what is required is an understanding of “exactly how
their seemingly contradictory claims can be reconciled” (p. 40).

Chapter 3: Measuring task complexity: Does EFL proficiency matter? (Aleksandra
Malicka & Mayya Levkina). The discussion of the relative merits of Skehan’s
(1998) and Robinson’s (2001) psycholinguistic models is carried forward in
Chapter 3. Malicka and Levkina look into the mediating effects of linguistic
proficiency on perceptions of task complexity and oral output. In their study,
37 undergraduates in Spanish tertiary institutions were assigned to high and
low proficiency groups and asked to complete tasks with differing levels of
cognitive demands. Following that, their perceptions of task difficulty, and
the accuracy, fluency and complexity of their output were compared. For the
high-proficiency group, the findings seem more consistent with the Cognition
Hypothesis, whereas the data regarding the low-proficiency group are more in
line with the Trade-off Hypothesis. These findings suggest a shift in the
psycholinguistic processes that operate at different stages of language
learning.

Chapter 4: Effects of strategic planning on the accuracy of oral and written
tasks in the performance of Turkish EFL learners (Zubeyde Sinem Genc). Genc
takes a more focused perspective by looking into how the accuracy of learners’
oral and written output is influenced by the provision for strategic planning
in the task design. A total of 60 learners in a university in Turkey were
divided into four groups with reference to two criteria: the opportunity to
engage in pre-task planning (or lack thereof), and task modality (i.e. whether
they engaged in an oral or a written task), and the accuracy of their output
was compared. Genc’s findings suggest that increased time for strategic
planning is associated with lower accuracy, both in the written and the oral
modality (the difference between modalities not being significant).

Chapter 5: Effects of task instructions on text processing and learning in a
Japanese EFL college nursing setting (Yukie Horiba & Keiko Fukaya). Horiba
and Fukaya discuss how vocabulary acquisition and the retention of information
from texts in a foreign language are impacted by the language in which tasks
are implemented. Their study, which involved 70 young adults in Japan,
suggests that the cognitive strategies employed during reading comprehension
tasks are influenced by the language in which they are expected to produce
output. Learners who were instructed to read a text in a foreign language and
repeat its propositional content in their native language tended to use
strategies conducive to reading comprehension and content retention; by
contrast, learners asked to conduct the task entirely in the foreign language
seemed to use strategies that facilitate incidental vocabulary acquisition.

Chapter 6: Task structure and patterns of interaction: what can we learn from
observing native speakers performing tasks? (James Hobbs). The last chapter
of Section I differs from the ones that precede it, in that it takes a
qualitative perspective in order to analyse the output of Native Speakers (NS)
performing language learning tasks. Using Discourse Analysis methods, Hobbs
teases out salient aspects of task performance which are claimed to
differentiate the output of NS from that generally produced by language
learners. The view underpinning this study appears to be that “NS norms are to
be the basis of what is taught in class” (p. 111). This, of course, has become
a controversial issue in recent years, and Hobbs positions himself carefully
to avoid too literal an interpretation of ‘native-ness’. A particular strength
of the chapter, from the perspective of educators, is an extended discussion
of practical implications and classroom applications informed by the study.

Chapter 7: Patterns of corrective feedback in a task-based adult classroom EFL
classroom setting in China (Noriko Iwashita & Huifang Li). Iwashita and Li
report on a case study of a typical Chinese adult EFL class where
task-supported learning methods were being implemented. The chapter contains a
rich and highly informative description of the research setting (provincial
China), and of the factors which appear to hinder the implementation of
task-based pedagogy. By analysing the patterns of corrective feedback that
were provided by the teacher during instruction time, the authors determine
that students actively participated in the learning process, and make the
claim that resistance to task-based teaching methodology is not quite as
strong as might be expected.

Chapter 8: Incidental learner-generated focus on form in a task-based EFL
classroom (Paul J. Moore). In Chapter 8, discussion shifts to interaction
between learners. Moore reports on a longitudinal study into Language Related
Episodes: instances of meta-discourse during task implementation, which were
generated by four pairs of Japanese undergraduates. Using quantitative and
qualitative methods, the study finds that there is a paucity of incidental
focus-on-form in the learners’ output, and that individual performance is
impacted by learner-learner interaction.

Chapter 9: Qualitative differences in novice teachers’ enactment of task-based
language teaching in Hong Kong primary classrooms (Sui Ping (Shirley) Chan).
Drawing data from four primary classrooms in Hong Kong (not, strictly
speaking, an EFL context), Chen’s study offers insights into the ways in which
novice teachers manage the linguistic, cognitive and interactional demands of
tasks. Her findings suggest that the implementation of TBLT differs with
respect to six dimensions: (1) visual support, (2) contextualization, (3)
simultaneous attention to task demands and progression in complexity, (4)
scaffolding through sequencing and adjustment of variables, (5) creating
conditions for noticing, and (6) enabling restructuring. Taken together, the
findings constitute a useful framework for the analysis of TBLT and critical
reflection on the teachers’ beliefs.

Chapter 10: Implementing computer-assisted task-based language teaching in the
Korean secondary EFL context (Moonyoung Park). Park reports on a study that
investigated the effects of Computer-Assisted TBLT. Over a period of eight
lessons, a group of 31 Korean middle-school students engaged in a series of
communicative tasks which involved the use of Information Technology and
online resources in order to develop their writing skills. Their performance
was measured pre- and post-test, and compared against a control group of
similar size. Additionally, the teacher’s and students’ attitudes towards
Computer-Assisted TBLT were elicited through a retrospective written survey.
The findings, which include significantly higher performance by the
experimental group and positive attitudes towards the intervention, are
suggestive of the pedagogical value of Computer-Assisted TBLT.

Chapter 11: Task-based language teaching through film-oriented activities in a
teacher education program in Venezuela (Carmen Teresa Chacón). This chapter
continues on the theme of technology-enhanced applications of TBLT, by looking
into film-oriented tasks. Chacón reports on a ten-week study during which
trainee teachers in Venezuela engaged in collaborative task-based projects
which used films as input. Multiple methods (focus groups, reflective journals
and audio-recordings) were used in order to elicit the participants’ views,
and frequency counts of key terms were carried out. Overall, positive views
were recorded regarding TBLT and collaborative learning activities. In
addition, participants were reportedly empowered to implement TBLT in their
future careers.

Chapter 12: Task-based language teacher education in an undergraduate
programme in Japan (Daniel O. Jackson). Chapter 12 describes a semester-long
classroom study in which 15 teacher trainees engaged in a task-based seminar
on language teaching methodology. Using retrospective comments, classroom
discourse and a questionnaire survey, Jackson concludes that there are
significant practical knowledge outcomes associated with task-based pedagogy
in teacher education, including classroom teaching techniques, the opportunity
to learn from members of their student cohort, and enhanced experience in
making, adapting and using plans. Although the attitudes of this group did not
appear to differ significantly from those of other students in the same
context, positive attitudes towards TBLT were recorded overall.

Chapter 13: Incorporating a formative assessment cycle into task-based
language teaching in a university setting in Japan (Christopher Weaver).
Walker’s contribution brings into focus the topic of Task Based Language
Assessment, with particular reference to formative assessment. The chapter
begins with the description of an evidence-centred formative assessment cycle,
which is then illustrated with empirical data from its implementation in a
Business English class in Japan, comprising 41 undergraduate students. A
combination of quantitative (Many-Facet Rasch analysis) and qualitative
(Discourse Analysis) methods were used to analyse the data, and the argument
is put forward that the implementation of these, or similar, methods can
provide useful feedback for learners and task designers.

Chapter 14: Language teachers’ perceptions of a task-based learning programme
in a French university (Julie McAllister, Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes &
Rebecca Starkey-Perret). The penultimate chapter of the collection reports on
the way TBLT was used in a ‘blended’ language learning programme delivered to
Business English undergraduates in a French university. The blended programme
involved the concurrent use of onsite and online learning activities and
therefore involved a re-conceptualisation of the teachers’ roles. This study
looks into the perceptions and attitudes of 14 teachers, which were
investigated through qualitative analysis of a corpus of interview data. The
findings indicate that despite some variance as to the teachers’ beliefs
regarding Second Language Acquisition, there is broad acceptance of the
pedagogical principles that informed the blended learning programme. The
findings also hint at the impact of institutional and cultural factors in the
implementation of TBLT.

Chapter 15: What is next for task-based language teaching? (David Carless).
The collection concludes with a contribution in which the main themes of the
preceding chapters are brought together, and possible future directions for
TBLT are traced. The chapter describes the methodological aspects of the
various contributions, by drawing attention to their mutually reinforcing
orientations and possible limitations. The author then discusses the ways in
which contextual factors impact the implementation of TBLT, with particular
reference to the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong. Next, implications
of TBLT for assessment and teacher education are brought up. Turning to the
future, Carless discusses the potential of empirical investigations into
student perceptions of tasks, the affordances of new digital media, and the
relative effectiveness of TBLT and traditional forms of pedagogy.

EVALUATION

This collection forms a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on
TBLT (e.g. Edwards & Willis, 2005; Ellis, 2003; Van den Branden, 2006; Van den
Branden, Van Gorp, & Verhelst, 2007; Willis & Willis, 2007). The contributions
that make up this volume usefully complement existing scholarship, which has
predominantly focused on the way TBLT is implemented in settings where English
is used as a native language. Despite a somewhat uneven geographical coverage,
the volume contains a wealth of valuable insights and background information
on diverse educational settings, along with first-hand accounts of how EFL
practice is shaped by local contextual influences. In addition, the collection
achieves a good balance between studies with a theoretical and applied
perspective, and between research with qualitative, quantitative and
mixed-methods outlooks. The extensive discussion of methods and the
methodological rigour of the papers will likely prove useful as a resource for
researchers and post-graduate students in Education and Applied Linguistics.

The commendable strengths of the volume notwithstanding, one cannot help
raising a number of critical remarks. Most importantly, the dichotomous
distinction between ESL and EFL that underpins the book is being increasingly
challenged by the global spread and hegemonic status of English. The inclusion
in the collection of a study from Hong Kong, which could easily be described
as an ESL setting, is indicative of how awkward this distinction has become,
and the editors seem to be aware of the problem, as evidenced in a footnote on
page 5. This remark is not meant to challenge the editors’ claim that
settings where English is not natively spoken were under-represented in the
literature, or to detract from the value of the present contributions.
However, it seems that the distinction could have been more usefully framed by
reference to theoretical models that more accurately reflect the global and
globalising role of English (e.g. Kachru, 1985; Phillipson, 1992).

A second theoretical concern I have with some of the chapters in this
collection is that TBLT appears to be conceptualized as an a priori
appropriate model of instruction for all settings. Carless (Chapter 15)
delivers a persuasive argument regarding the need for contextual adaptations
of TBLT, but the underlying question of whether this mode of instruction is
contextually appropriate in the first place remains largely unaddressed across
the collection. Similarly, in many papers, local influences tend to be
conceptualized as constraints or difficulties to be overcome. This ‘deficit’
perspective seems discordant with thinking in the critical tradition
(Holliday, 2005; Kumaravadivelu, 2001), and whether such an outlook is
pragmatically or politically useful is something that readers of this review
are invited to judge on their own.

In terms of overall coherence, the editors have done a commendable job in
selecting papers that complement each other thematically, and -- from a
reader’s perspective -- the flow from chapter to chapter seems seamless.
Further improvements might have been possible by reducing occasional overlap
between chapters (most notably the literature reviews in Chapters 2 and 3,
which cover very similar information), or by enhancing the terminological
consistency between contributions: for example, Skehan’s (1998) hypothesis is
referred to as the ‘limited cognition’ hypothesis in Chapter 2 and the
‘trade-off’ hypothesis in Chapter 3. Similarly, a more consistent formatting
of figures (e.g. on p. 36 and p. 54) would have been desirable. These minor
issues aside, the good thematic coherence of the book sets it apart from many
edited collections.

Overall, it is my belief that this volume addresses a significant gap in the
literature on language education by bringing to the forefront the
under-represented realities of the periphery of the English-speaking world.
The dual focus of the book bridges the gap between research and practice, and
the papers in the volume make a case for the feasibility of applying
task-based pedagogy in a variety of settings. In doing so, the collection
makes a valuable contribution to the on-going debate regarding the role of
TBLT in English Language Teaching.

REFERENCES

Edwards, C., & Willis, J. R. (2005). Teachers exploring tasks in English
language teaching. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: OUP.

Holliday, A. (2005). The struggle to teach English as an international
language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, B. B. (1985). Standards, codification and socio-linguistic realism:
the English language in the outer circle. In R. Quirk & H. G. Widdowson
(Eds.), English in the world: teaching and learning the language and
literatures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2001). Toward a Postmethod Pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 35,
537-560.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University
Press.

Robinson, P. (2001). Task complexity, task difficulty, and task production:
exploring interactions in a componential framework. Applied Linguistics,
22(1), 27-57. doi: 10.1093/applin/22.1.27

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Van den Branden, K. (2006). Task-based language education : from theory to
practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Van den Branden, K., Van Gorp, K., & Verhelst, M. (2007). Tasks in action :
task-based language education from a classroom-based perspective. Newcastle:
Cambridge Scholars.

Willis, D., & Willis, J. R. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Achilleas Kostoulas, MA TESOL (Manchester), BA English Studies (Athens), is a
postgraduate doctoral researcher at The University of Manchester (UK). His
doctoral research focuses on the way English Language Teaching is practiced in
Greece, and draws on complexity theory to describe how it is eclectically
shaped by the interplay of global and local influences. Previous employment
included designing and delivering courses in English as a Foreign Language and
Language Teacher Education at the Epirus Institute of Technology in Greece.
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