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 ShehadehEDITOR: Christine A. CoombeTITLE: Task-Based Language Teaching in Foreign Language ContextsSUBTITLE: Research and implementationSERIES TITLE: Task-Based Language Teaching 4PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 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 theEnglish-speaking world. With the exception of the introductory and concludingchapters, which respectively contextualize the book’s topic and summarise itsthemes, the book is divided in two sections. Section I (Chapters 2-6) containsfive studies on how different variables impact interaction and performance inTBLT. Section II (Chapters 7-14) comprises eight chapters reporting on theimplementation of TBLT in authentic classroom contexts across the world.

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

Chapter 2: Effects of task complexity and pre-task planning on Japanese ELFlearners’ oral production (Shoko Sasayama & Shinichi Izumi). This chapterreports on an empirical investigation into the effects of task design on oralproduction. Sasayama and Izumi report on an experiment involving 23 Japanesehigh school students which tested the effects of task complexity and planningtime 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 ofattention (the Cognition Hypothesis). In brief, the former holds thatattentional resources are finite, and that increased quality in one aspect ofoutput will be offset by decreased quality in the others. Focusing more ontask design, the latter posits that increased task complexity can, undercertain circumstances, lead to interlanguage development. The authors’findings suggest that the differences between the two positions might not beirreconcilable, and that what is required is an understanding of “exactly howtheir seemingly contradictory claims can be reconciled” (p. 40).

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 8: Incidental learner-generated focus on form in a task-based EFLclassroom (Paul J. Moore). In Chapter 8, discussion shifts to interactionbetween learners. Moore reports on a longitudinal study into Language RelatedEpisodes: instances of meta-discourse during task implementation, which weregenerated by four pairs of Japanese undergraduates. Using quantitative andqualitative methods, the study finds that there is a paucity of incidentalfocus-on-form in the learners’ output, and that individual performance isimpacted by learner-learner interaction.

Chapter 9: Qualitative differences in novice teachers’ enactment of task-basedlanguage teaching in Hong Kong primary classrooms (Sui Ping (Shirley) Chan).Drawing data from four primary classrooms in Hong Kong (not, strictlyspeaking, an EFL context), Chen’s study offers insights into the ways in whichnovice teachers manage the linguistic, cognitive and interactional demands oftasks. Her findings suggest that the implementation of TBLT differs withrespect 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) creatingconditions for noticing, and (6) enabling restructuring. Taken together, thefindings constitute a useful framework for the analysis of TBLT and criticalreflection on the teachers’ beliefs.

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

Chapter 11: Task-based language teaching through film-oriented activities in ateacher education program in Venezuela (Carmen Teresa Chacón). This chaptercontinues on the theme of technology-enhanced applications of TBLT, by lookinginto film-oriented tasks. Chacón reports on a ten-week study during whichtrainee teachers in Venezuela engaged in collaborative task-based projectswhich used films as input. Multiple methods (focus groups, reflective journalsand audio-recordings) were used in order to elicit the participants’ views,and frequency counts of key terms were carried out. Overall, positive viewswere recorded regarding TBLT and collaborative learning activities. Inaddition, participants were reportedly empowered to implement TBLT in theirfuture careers.

Chapter 12: Task-based language teacher education in an undergraduateprogramme in Japan (Daniel O. Jackson). Chapter 12 describes a semester-longclassroom study in which 15 teacher trainees engaged in a task-based seminaron language teaching methodology. Using retrospective comments, classroomdiscourse and a questionnaire survey, Jackson concludes that there aresignificant practical knowledge outcomes associated with task-based pedagogyin teacher education, including classroom teaching techniques, the opportunityto learn from members of their student cohort, and enhanced experience inmaking, adapting and using plans. Although the attitudes of this group did notappear to differ significantly from those of other students in the samecontext, positive attitudes towards TBLT were recorded overall.

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

Chapter 14: Language teachers’ perceptions of a task-based learning programmein a French university (Julie McAllister, Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes &Rebecca Starkey-Perret). The penultimate chapter of the collection reports onthe way TBLT was used in a ‘blended’ language learning programme delivered toBusiness English undergraduates in a French university. The blended programmeinvolved the concurrent use of onsite and online learning activities andtherefore involved a re-conceptualisation of the teachers’ roles. This studylooks into the perceptions and attitudes of 14 teachers, which wereinvestigated through qualitative analysis of a corpus of interview data. Thefindings indicate that despite some variance as to the teachers’ beliefsregarding Second Language Acquisition, there is broad acceptance of thepedagogical principles that informed the blended learning programme. Thefindings also hint at the impact of institutional and cultural factors in theimplementation 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 thepreceding chapters are brought together, and possible future directions forTBLT are traced. The chapter describes the methodological aspects of thevarious contributions, by drawing attention to their mutually reinforcingorientations and possible limitations. The author then discusses the ways inwhich contextual factors impact the implementation of TBLT, with particularreference to the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong. Next, implicationsof TBLT for assessment and teacher education are brought up. Turning to thefuture, Carless discusses the potential of empirical investigations intostudent perceptions of tasks, the affordances of new digital media, and therelative effectiveness of TBLT and traditional forms of pedagogy.

EVALUATION

This collection forms a welcome addition to the growing body of literature onTBLT (e.g. Edwards & Willis, 2005; Ellis, 2003; Van den Branden, 2006; Van denBranden, Van Gorp, & Verhelst, 2007; Willis & Willis, 2007). The contributionsthat make up this volume usefully complement existing scholarship, which haspredominantly focused on the way TBLT is implemented in settings where Englishis used as a native language. Despite a somewhat uneven geographical coverage,the volume contains a wealth of valuable insights and background informationon diverse educational settings, along with first-hand accounts of how EFLpractice is shaped by local contextual influences. In addition, the collectionachieves a good balance between studies with a theoretical and appliedperspective, and between research with qualitative, quantitative andmixed-methods outlooks. The extensive discussion of methods and themethodological rigour of the papers will likely prove useful as a resource forresearchers and post-graduate students in Education and Applied Linguistics.

The commendable strengths of the volume notwithstanding, one cannot helpraising a number of critical remarks. Most importantly, the dichotomousdistinction between ESL and EFL that underpins the book is being increasinglychallenged by the global spread and hegemonic status of English. The inclusionin the collection of a study from Hong Kong, which could easily be describedas 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 onpage 5. This remark is not meant to challenge the editors’ claim thatsettings where English is not natively spoken were under-represented in theliterature, or to detract from the value of the present contributions.However, it seems that the distinction could have been more usefully framed byreference to theoretical models that more accurately reflect the global andglobalising role of English (e.g. Kachru, 1985; Phillipson, 1992).

A second theoretical concern I have with some of the chapters in thiscollection is that TBLT appears to be conceptualized as an a prioriappropriate model of instruction for all settings. Carless (Chapter 15)delivers a persuasive argument regarding the need for contextual adaptationsof TBLT, but the underlying question of whether this mode of instruction iscontextually appropriate in the first place remains largely unaddressed acrossthe collection. Similarly, in many papers, local influences tend to beconceptualized 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 ispragmatically or politically useful is something that readers of this revieware invited to judge on their own.

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

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

REFERENCES

Edwards, C., & Willis, J. R. (2005). Teachers exploring tasks in Englishlanguage 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 internationallanguage. 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 andliteratures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress.

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: OxfordUniversity Press.

Van den Branden, K. (2006). Task-based language education : from theory topractice. 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: OxfordUniversity Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

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

Page Updated: 17-Apr-2013