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Bong Sun Hwa
The Task-based Classroom in Practice
Andrew Finch, Hyun Tae-Duck
Andong National University, Korea

A humanistic perspective of language-learning as education can been realized through the use of a task-based framework, and this paper/workshop will took at how student-centered goals for learning (learner-training, language-learning-awareness, self-confidence, motivation and independence) can be incorporated into the normal Conversation Classroom. As well as looking at Tasks as a means to the end of encouraging self-directed learning, the presenters will be showing how they can be classified and adapted for most teaching situations (including teaching grammar!) in Korea.

"The Task-Based Classroom in Practice"

PAC2 Conference, Seoul, Oct 3, 1999.
Andrew Finch, M.Ed., M.A.
Visiting Professor, Andong National University.
[email protected]

This paper concentrates on the practical aspect of using TBTL ideas in the classroom, at the same time making the point that teacher-reflection on basic principles and beliefs (in addition to methodology and pedagogy) is indispensable, since these perceptions determine everything that happens in the classroom. 

Second-language teaching in the last 30 years has shown a tendency to adopt "new" methodologies to the exclusion of those preceding them, these "new" ways of teaching subsequently suffering the same fate as even "newer" trends come along. In this process, current politically correct terms enter the teaching vocabulary, becoming "all things to all people" and being absorbed into teaching practices that are otherwise unchanged. Thus (for example) few teachers would claim not to be promoting "communication" and "autonomy" in their classes. The same situation has occurred with the term "task-based". Many practitioners advocate "Task-Based Teaching" though continuing with previous methods and underlying principles, simply using the term to justify these: "Today our task is to listen to the teacher"; "Here is a grammar-translation task"; "Your  task is to do the cloze exercise on page 52"; "Here is your rote-learning task." As can be seen, the "goalposts" have shifted a little, but everything else is unchanged. 

However, if we look at the literature, we find that choice of the task as the unit of syllabus analysis (Crookes & Gass 1993). Tasks and Language Learning. Cleveland, UK: Multilingual Matters) actually implies a certain approach inherent in the term "Task-Based Language Teaching" (TBLT). Thus White's (1988) "Type B", analytic (as against synthetic) syllabus, and Breen's (1987) "process" (rather than "propositional") paradigm, imply a student-centred focus on performance, problem-solving (learning skills), and reflection (self-evaluation) which is not found in the earlier forms of syllabi. The focus now is on process rather than product, and on how to learn rather than what to learn. The task, rather than being a unit of grammar to be digested, or a collection of lexical items to be remembered, is a means of using the language (Widdowson 1978) in order to learn the language (Allwright 1984). It has meaning for students who have to solve communication problems, and that meaning, along with the authenticity in the use of real-life situations, becomes internalised as linguistic competence. Lastly, the process of understanding, performing and reflecting on the task produces a wealth of 'real' use of the target language (e.g. agreeing, suggesting, questioning, explaining, checking for understanding, asking for clarification), fostering learning in a cyclical, ongoing manner.

Type A: What is to be learnt?
Type B: How is it to be learnt?
External to the learner
Internal to the learner
Other directed
Inner directed or self fulfilling
Determined by authority
Negotiated between learners and teachers
Teacher as decision-maker
Learner and teacher as joint decision makers
Content = what the subject is to the expert
Content = what the subject is to the learner
Content = a gift to the learner from the teacher or knower
Content = what the learner brings and wants
Objectives defined in advance
Objectives described afterwards
Assessment by achievement or by mastery
Assessment in relationship to learners' criteria of success
Doing things to the learner
Doing things for or with the learner.
Table 1: Language Syllabus Design: Two types (White 1988:44).

This attitude to teaching and learning inherent in the 'task-based' approach can be summarised in terms of the sort of basic principles referred to earlier:

1. There is a difference between learning and education. 
2. Learners learn what is meaningful to them. 
3. Learners learn in ways that are meaningful to them. 
4. Learners learn better if they feel in control of what they are learning. 
5. Learning is closely linked to how people feel about themselves. 
6. Learning takes place in a social context through interactions with other people.
7. What teachers do in the classroom will reflect their own beliefs and attitudes.
8. There is a significant role for the teacher as mediator in the language classroom.
9. Learning tasks represent an interface between teachers and learners.
10. Learning is influenced by the situation in which it occurs.

Reasons for TBLT
The immediate problem for over-worked, tired language teachers is one of application: "Even if I subscribe to this idea,
how do I put it into practice in my classrooms?" "How do I structure lessons and courses using tasks?" "My syllabus is based on an old-fashioned traditional-style textbook and is exam-driven. Why should I use tasks to teach this prescribed material?" In answer to these very valid questions, let us look at the "why" of TBLT first:

1. Meaning: When tasks are the means of learning, the target language takes on meaning. Instead of the TENOR situation (Teaching English for No Obvious Reason), students have a reason for learning. They can see that the new language is a means of communication, and that they need to be able to transfer information and opinions in that language (teaching through communication: rather than for communication [c.f Prabhu, 1980:164]). 
2. Ownership: If students are allowed to see the task through all of its stages (task completion), without the teacher playing an interventionist role (explaining instructions that students can read for themselves and focusing on discrete learning points that are irrelevant to the majority of students) they can achieve a valuable (and motivating) sense of fulfilment and heightened self-confidence that comes from understanding, performing, and reflecting on the activity by themselves. Without such motivational stimulus, learning is unlikely to occur, irrespective of method.
3. Learning levels: Learners take on (intake) content matter (input) that is appropriate to their current stage. If everyone learns the same thing at the same time, this content will rarely be suitable for more than a minority of students. If they are allowed to progress through tasks at their own rate, however, students can concentrate on aspects that are suitable for their learning level.
4. Assessment: Evaluation usually concentrates on the teacher, providing him/her with a snapshot of learning that can be turned into a grade. However, it is the students who need to know how they are progressing, so that their learning in the future can be informed by feedback. Tasks give students such information, focusing on outcome, showing them their learning needs, and helping them to evaluate their communicative competence.
5. Error-correction: As with other aspects of the synthetic, grammar-based propositional approach to learning, error-correction can be harmful to motivation and self confidence, and ineffective in terms of its results for the whole class of students. If they are conducting problem-solving in groups, however, errors in communication become evident to the whole group, and the teacher (functioning as a language resource) can be asked to supply the necessary language, giving "the right information to the right people at the right time."

Secondly, let us take a look at the "How?" of TBLT: A number of writers (e.g. Skehan 1998; Skehan and Foster 1997); have commented on the need for a structured sequence of tasks in the classroom, rather than the disconnected and directionless mixture of game-like activities that can result from an uninformed application of task-based ideas. Task difficulty is important in this structuring, and Candlin (1987) offers a checklist of considerations:

* One-way tasks should come before two-way tasks; * Static tasks should come before dynamic ones;
* "Present time" tasks should come before ones using the past or the future;
* Easy tasks should come before difficult tasks;
* Simple tasks (only one step) should come before complex tasks (many steps).

The following chart (table 2) suggests a means of doing this, proceeding from static, one-way information-transfer (upper
left of the chart) to dynamic, independent tasks (lower right). For more information on task types (and definitions) and
associated research, table 3 presents a list of research findings to date:

Task Types
* memory games
* review activities (one-way)
* simple lexis activities
* brainstorming
* review activities (two-way)
* storytelling
Guided tasks
* classroom English
* interactive lexis activities    structural activities (drills)
* questionnaires (one-way)
* comprehension
* dictation
* basic role-plays
* questionnaires (two-way)
* short skits (dramas),         designed by the students,    based on earlier role-play    activities

* pair-work (one-way)
* group-work (one-way)
* tasks which access information     about class members
* simple dialogs
* pair-work (e.g. interviews)
* group-work (two-way)
* jigsaw activities
* pyramid activities
* role-plays
* simulations
* error-correction
* peer-assessment
Independent tasks
* homework
* self-assessment
* discussions
* projects
Table 2: Checklist of task-types .

Researchers Findings
Long (1981a)
Two-way tasks prompt more conversational adjustments than one-way tasks
Brown & Yule (1983)
The length of the speaking turn is a factor in the difficulty of speaking tasks
Brown, Anderson, Shilcock & Yule (1984)
Distinction between static, dynamic and abstract tasks: 
* static tasks involve simple transmission of information in a linear sequence, often using easily prescribed language;
* dynamic tasks involve the speakers in two-way conversations in which language is not prescribed, and in which relations
may vary.
* Static tasks (e.g. description) are easier than dynamic tasks (e.g. narration), which are easier then abstract tasks
(e.g. opinion-giving). 
* The number of elements, participants, and relationships in a task makes it more difficult
Tarone (1985)
Attention to form has a clear effect on accuracy of performance.
Brock (1986)
Use of referential questions prompts significantly longer and more systematically complex responses containing more
Doughty & Pica (1986)
Required information exchange tasks generate significantly more interactional modifications than optional information
exchange tasks
Duff (1986)
Convergent (problem-solving) tasks produce more negotiation of meaning than divergent (debating) tasks (this was not born
out fully).
Long & Crookes (1986)
Use of referential questions results in greater mastery of experiential content.
Ellis (1987)
There is evidence of an interaction between the engagement of planned discourse and different forms of the past tense under
different task conditions.
Nunan (1987)
Use of referential questions prompts more negotiation of meaning and syntactically and discoursally more complex language
Prabhu (1987)
Classification of task types:
* Information-gap tasks
* reasoning-gap tasks
* opinion-gap tasks
Nunan (1988a; 1988b)
There are often dramatic mismatches between the activity preferences of teachers and students.
Willing (1988)
Learners' activity preferences can vary markedly and are determined by cognitive style and personality variables
Crookes (1989)
There is greater complexity and lexical variety for tasks done under a planning time condition, but no greater accuracy
Nation (1990)
Classification of task types:
* experience tasks (using the learners previous experience); 
* 5shared tasks (getting learners to help each other bridge the learning gap); 
* guided tasks (providing support while learners perform the task, by giving exercises and focused guidance); 
* independent tasks (in which learners work alone without planned help).
Brown (1991)
Interpretive tasks generate more complexity
Pica et al. (1993)
Symmetric tasks generate more interaction and negotiation of meaning.
Duff (1996);
* agreed-outcome tasks favour short turns and less complex language; 
* tasks allowing disagreement lead to longer turns and more complex and varied language.
Foster & Skehan (1996)
* Structured tasks produce greater fluency (unplanned) and accuracy (planned).
* Concrete/immediate tasks are easier, but evidence supporting this proposition is mixed.
* There is an interaction between opportunity to plan and task type.
Table 3; based on Nunan (1993:60) and Skehan (1998:116-7): Research on task types 

Planning tasks for the lesson
Tasks are best if they have preparation ("pre-task") activities, "during-task" activities and follow-up ("post-task")
Pre-task activities are important, because they give a chance to:
* introduce new language;
* increase the chances that the students' language system will change;
* mobilize language;
* recycle language;
* ease the language-processing load;
* push learners to interpret tasks in more demanding ways.

"During-task" activities are concerned with: 
* the language-learning task;
* planning (decision-making, agreeing, suggesting);
* reporting (concluding, making inferences).

"Post-task" activities give language input and focused tasks, in order to help learners to :
* identify and consolidate the language;
* classify (structurally or semantically);
* hypothesize, check;
* engage in cross-language exploration;
* search for patterns;
* recall or reconstruct texts.

Using tasks in the lesson
Willis (1996) offers five principles for the implementation of a task-based approach. These provide input, use, and
reflection on the input and use:
1. "There should be exposure to worthwhile and authentic language."
2. "There should be use of language."
3. "Tasks should motivate learners to engage in language use."
4. "There should be a focus on language at some points in a task cycle."
5. "the focus on language should be more and less prominent at different times."

Skehan (op. cit.) also proposes five principles for task-based instruction:
1. Choose a range of target structures; 
2. Choose tasks which create appropriate conditions for learning;
3. Select and sequence tasks to achieve balanced development. (i at an appropriate level of difficulty"; ii focused between
fluency, accuracy, and complexity"; 
4. Maximise the chances of a focus on form in the context of meaningful language use. 
5. Use cycles of accountability. Get learners to self-assess regularly.

These checklists are fine, but let's take a look at some actual examples (see Appendix B). This is a Chapter from the
Teacher's resource Book of "Now You're Talking!" (Finch & Hyun 1998), in which a topic ("At the Doctor's") is used as a
framework for practising various aspects of the target language (making appointments, parts of the body, explaining, etc.):
(See notes on the pages). As can be seen from this progression of activities, language (including grammar) is presented and
practised, and students can work through it all at their own speed, taking in what is appropriate for them at their own
stages. Instructions are to the students, and are practical comprehension tests, providing valuable feedback to the teacher
and the student.  Only if students do not start performing the activities does the teacher need to explain the instructions
and to talk to them. Towards the end of the Chapter, students make their own role play about the topic (independent,
dynamic use of the language), they perform it (language practice), and assess it (reflection), giving themselves valuable
input about their current learning needs.

Before concluding, let us take some time to reflect on the beliefs and perceptions that drive our own behaviour in the language classroom. There are of course no right or wrong answers, but the act of thinking about these ideas and talking about them with other people will help to clarify them for us, and will set evaluative processes in motion, thus informing our teaching in the future. Please put a check next to the appropriate items (any number of checks is OK):

Why am I teaching?
For the money

In order to travel

In order to meet colleagues

In order to learn a new culture

In order to promote western culture

To help my students become more fluent

To help my students become good learners

To help my students become responsible citizens

To change society

What sort of syllabus do I prefer?



Process syllabus






Who am I in the classroom?


Dispenser of knowledge



Language Guide

Language Resource



Material designer

Syllabus designer

Who are my students?
Absorbers of knowledge


Co-syllabus designers


Independent agents


Language consumers

Recipients of knowledge



How do I evaluate my students?
Quantitively (formal tests)

Qualititatively (interviews, learning diaries)

Through student self-assessment

Through teacher-assessment

Through "snapshot" proficiency tests 

Formatively (feeding results back to the students)

Continuous assessment

No evaluation

Through reviews of previous lesson content

Through assignments

Through projects and portfolios

It is important to remember that TBLT is an approach rather than a method. It assumes that the teacher respects the
students as individuals and wants them to succeed. It also acknowledges that motivation, attitudes to learning, student
beliefs, language anxiety, and preferred learning styles, have more effect on learning than materials, or methods. We
therefore need to take these into account in our classrooms, taking advantage of the opportunity TBLT gives us to promote a
student-centered learning environment. Teacher-centered controls, threats, rewards and restrictions are not an effective
means of stimulating learning, since no-one can be forced to learn. If we can instead stimulate a need to learn, and a
desire to learn, based on unconditional respect and mutual trust, learning will take place in an enjoyable and facilitative

In conclusion, the following table summarises the task-based "approach" and its rationale:

Task-based syllabus

What knowledge does it focus on?
* Communicative knowledge as a unity of text, interpersonal behaviour, and ideation;
* the learner's experience and awareness of working upon a new langauge.
What capabilities does it focus on and prioritise?
* communicative abilities and learning capability";
* the ability to negotiate meaning: the ability to interpret meaning; and the ability to  express meaning
On what basis does it select and subdivide what is to be learned?
* communication tasks: from an analysis of the actual tasks which a person may undertake when communicating through the
target language;
* learning tasks: selected on the basis of metacommunicative criteria. They provide the groundwork for the learner's
engagement in communication tasks and deal with learner difficulties which emerge during these tasks, addressing i) how the
knowledge systems work, and ii) how the learning  may be best done;
* subdivision is on the basis of task types (various ways).
How does it sequence what is to be learned?
* sequencing "can .. be characterised as cyclic in relation to how learners move through tasks, and problem-based (or
problem-generated) in relation to the on-going difficulties which learners themselves discover."
* there is a sequence of refinement as tasks require more and more learner competence;
* there is a sequence of diagnosis and remediation in parallel with the refinement;
* sequencing here "depends upon: a) the identificaton of learning problems or difficulties as they arise; b) the
prioritising of particular problems and the order in which they may be dealt with; c) the identification of appropriate
learning tasks which address the problem areas" :
What is its rationale?
* broader view of what is to be achieved in language learning.
* the learner's initial competence can be engaged as the foundation upon which new knowledge and capabilities may be
accommodated during the undertaking of tasks, matching the process which occurs when learners mobilise knowledge systems
when undertaking actual tasks in the L1;
* participation in communication tasks which require the learners to mobilise and orchestrate knowledge and abilities in a
direct way  will itself be a catalyst for language learning;
* a more sensitive methodology: represents the effort to relate content to how that content may be worked upon, and
thereby, learned more efficiently;
* means-focused and ends-focused;
* assumes that learning is necessarily both metacommunicative and communicative;
* based on the belief that learners can be analytical in their exploration of communication in the target language and of
the knowledge and ability use it entails";
* "Rests on the principle that metacommunicating is itself a powerful springboard for language learning."
Table: the Formal syllabus. Compiled from Breen 1987:85-87; 

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(eds.), pp. 3-18. 
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ANU Language Center's Teacher's Resource books can be found at these URLs:

"Tell Me More!":
"Now You're Talking!":
"The Way Ahead":