#ELTChat Summary: Task-Based Language Teaching [TBLT] (8/5/19)

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Introduction

Each ELT era has had a preferred teaching method, from grammar-translation to audiolingualism to PPP. To me, at least, TBLT seems to be the zietgiest of current ELT teaching. In this edition of #ELTchat, we discuss TBLT. However, due to various reasons, it seems that a lot of teachers don’t fully practice or are fully aware of what TBLT is. As one commentor succinctly mentions, she is “task-curious” [0.1].

We had 3 guest contributors, @NeilJMcCutchen, @neilpma74, and @GeofferyJordan who all thoroughly added their expertise to this subject. I’d like to personally share my gratitutde to each of you; it feels very rewarding to listen to very educated people share their expertise in my profession.

In this week’s #ELTchat, the discussion focused on 3 key themes: (1) What is TBLT?; (2) A discussion of tasks, and (3) Issues and Solutions of TBLT.

I highly encourage you to read the references I give, especially where prompted, as they give more detail about the topic than this summary could.

1. What is TBLT?

The discussion starts off with a definition of TBLT. @NeilJMcCutcheon states with he takes a broad view of TBLT: it’s a fluency first approach that “needn’t follow a … rigid framework” [1.1]. He further explains that the aim of the lesson focuses on a communicative task rather than “rehearing pre-selected language items” [1.2]. He also comments that teachers might have already have TBLT leanings in their teaching without knowing it.

@GeoffreyJordan and @JessBCM provide definitions from some scholars:

task = a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing, or interacting in the target language while ther attention is principally focused on meaning rather than form
Nunan, 2009
a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward. In other words, by “task” is meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play, and inbetween
Long, 1985
A task has four characteristics:

1. A task involves a primary focus on pragmatic meaning
2. A task has some kind of gap (information, reasoning, opinion gaps)
3. The participants choose the linguistic resources needed to complete the task
4. A task has a clearly defined, non-linguistic outcome.
Ellis, 2003

@JessBCM brings up an interesting point: how do we assess whether a task has been ‘completed’? Language is unpredictable and some authentic/real life tasks don’t have tangible goals, remain unfinished, or serve a higher function. For example, what about an aimless task such as small talk? What would the criteria for success be – if somebody doesn’t walk away? [1.3] @TESOLacademic replies that for Ellis and others, “TBLT completion usually involves a non linguistic outcome”. He references Jarvis 2015 for the practice of TBLT in MALL. More non linguistic outcomes might also include politeness, persuasiveness, empathy, or reading between the lines [1.4]

It was also discussed how similar TBLT is to other ELT approaches or methodologies. For example, @Marisa_C notes that some people call TBLT an “upside down PPP” [1.5]. This image by Jane Willis compares the two. On another note, @fionaljp questions how different the TBLT is from dogme if they both focus on student driven communication [1.6]. They do have similar elements, however TBLT has a clearer framework that supports lesson design. Further, dogme is less structured and the lesson can (or should?) go in any way the students take it. The outcome of dogme can be vague whereas the outcome of TBLT has a definite goal and outcome [1.7]. On another note, @PhillipMErasmus questions the relationship between TBLT and ELF. A focus on “getting the job done” and communication rather than an obsession with ‘linguistic accuracy’ (although the discussion of what standard English is and what accuracy inside that is is another topic) [1.8]

2. A discussion of TBLT tasks.

As stated before, the aim of a task is communication and fluency rather than accuracy. To this end, @neilpma74 notes that it is “important to recognise the value of scaffolding a task with supporting language.” [2.1]

@MarisaC notes that information gaps are limited and aren’t a good task. They seem to be more of a linguistic activity. Instead, opinion gaps and reasoning gaps, instead, are better alternatives. [2.2] Another way to create tasks might be to “problematise something” and create a task around finding the solution [2.3]. @SueAnnan likes to give students a fictional island in which they have to determine infrastructure, society, needs, etc. [2.4]. The communicative skills of negotiation, compromise, describing cause and effect, and more are all present here and authentic communication. Another important aspect of a good task-based lesson is the ability for the student to repeat the task. Conversely, an error that a lot of teachers make is a lack of repetition in the lesson (possible due to time) [2.5].

There is disagreement of how complex tasks should be, not only by #ELTchatters but also by academics. For a brief explanation of the differences between Robinson (2008) and Skehan (1998), please read Geoff Jordan’s comment. It is also important to consider the students: for instance, are they younger learners or presessional EAP/ESP students? Scott Thornbury talks about upping the ante each time (e.g. no notes, different partner, no prep time) to increase complexity through repetitons. Check quote 2.6 for a more thorough discussion [2.6].

A concern about the task-based lesson is how to deal with new emerging language that pertains to solving the task. @neilpma74 responds with a detailed explanation of I.C.E [2.7].

Jane Willis gives six types of TBL tasks here. More tasks might be found in Long, M (2015) Task-Based Language Teaching and Second Language Acquisition.

3. Issues and Solutions of TBLT

With the emergence of TBLT, it seems in comparison that PPP is the older but less useful relative. Despite this, PPP is still prevalent in the modern ELT industry. One of the reasons is the prominence of PPP on ITT courses which cements PPP in teachers. Another reason might be the state of the current ELT industry: short teaching hours; low/zero planning hours; low student motivation, and large classrooms simply make the PPP model more accessible than TBLT. @neilpma74 understands that there needs to be a bridge between SLA research and the realities of the ELT industry. He, among other commentors, propose a sort of ‘TBLT Light’ which follows a Task, Teach, Task model. Check quote 3.1 for a more thorough explanation [3.1].

Another aspect of the current ELT industry that opposes TBLT are coursebooks. Coursebooks don’t generally seem to promote TBLT, which might then lead to a lack of teacher knowledge and experience of TBLT. @SueAnnan thought that Cutting Edge had ‘TBL leanings” [3.2]. There was some discussion as to whether Cutting Edge actually has or intended to have TBLT. @MatsSupport notes that in her use, Cutting Edge has a task at the end of a unit which she revolves her teaching around [3.3].

Conclusions

As a teacher, I am given a lot of autonomy in my class. However, this comes at the expense of little to no guidance in my practice. I, as well as other teachers I’m sure, can feel like lesson planning can sometimes be a shot in the dark and praying for good results on the day. I am particularly pleased with this chat because despite studying it before, TBLT has become more demystified and accessible. Moreover, I am glad that the disconnect between SLA research (which may sometimes assume the ideal classroom? perfectly motivated students; ideal class size; adequate resources, etc.) and the realities of the various ELT classroom  was addressed. As a former proponent of PPP due to classroom circumstance, the suggestion of ‘TBLT light’ is something I am keen to implement into my class.

Further Links

 

 

 

 

Credits

Title Image: http://www.tblt.org/

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#ELTChat Summary: To what extent is teaching just about personality? (27/3/19)

First, I’d like to give warm welcomes to all of the #DU19chat members who joined our discussion tonight. You positively contributed to the conversation, which helped everybody in critically engaging in these important ELT topics. We hope to see you again and again!

Second, I’d like to mention why this topic is important for me. Whilst teaching in the KSA, I have noticed that motivation is low and anxiety is moderate. This could be for a variety of reasons. Moreover, as teachers, we are all sometimes guilty of failing to inspire, motivating, or instilling confidence. There has been, perhaps, an idea that teaching is primarily about teaching language systems and skills. I argue, however, that the role of a teacher is more than this. In this #ELTchat discussion, we explore the role of a teacher’s personality on student’s learning.

I have found 5 common themes in this week’s discussion which I will use to organise this summary. They are:

  1. What types of personality are present in ELT?
  2. Why is teacher personality so important?
  3. How can we learn/teach personalty to ELTs?
  4. Is there a relationship between personality and ‘edutainment’?
  5. What research has been conducted so far in teaching personalities?

1. What types of personality are present in ELT?

@adi_rajan began the conversation by stating that he is a “tad suspicious of charismatic teachers”. It was discussed that charisma is sometimes used for negative reasons – for example, selling a product or a having a lack of substance. However, charisma is valued in the classroom in some contexts. A positive interpretation of charisma might be ‘passion for the subject’ or even ‘passion for the student and their progress’. How can teachers who lack or don’t have it, fake it? [1.1] @sandymillin stated that passion is ‘far more important than charisma’, although they are often together. Teachers need to both be interested in their subject and share that enthusiasm with students. Another negative of ‘personality’ might a risk of too much TTT. Further, whereas an assertive personality might motivate; a teacher should focus on the learner and not on themselves. In response, one commenter wrote that a strong, dynamic, and assertive teacher seemed like his idea of hell if he was the teacher [1.2]. @SamCoff72294423 commented that in his teacher training, he has had teachers who lack a ‘sparking personality’ but have other positive teaching skills such as patience. @Michael37093679 humourously stated that one doesn’t need to be Oprah Winfrey to be a good teacher. For him, ‘professionalism, stamina and resilience’ are the important aspects of the job.  [1.3]

So what are valued teacher personality traits?

A teacher’s passion for their job, as opposed to an ‘in-between’ job, might also be popular with students. [1.4]  For young and teenage learners: ‘Presence’, or the ability to appear in command, was mentioned. Students need to trust and respect the teacher. [1.5] For a teenage student, an important personality trait was strictness. However, it was also noted that a friendly personality encouraged speaking, perhaps by shyer students [1.6]. Moreover, for young or teenage learners, classroom management is important. Teachers with generally lower self-esteem might need more development on their classroom presence. This is particularly true of a full class of teenagers who have no English, for example. Sometimes, that authority is not a natural part of the teacher’s personality. @SueAnnan wisely reminded us that ‘presence can be gentle’. [1.7]

@Marisa_C gave an interesting metaphor:

To what extent is teaching about love, or other parental qualities?

2. Why is teacher personality so important?

@KLaperrouze noted that the teacher’s personality helps create interactions. If the teacher looks bored or unmotivated, the students mimic that behaviour. However, are these traits from personality or from daily behaviours? It was noted that the classroom atmosphere definitely affects students – which the teacher is responsible for. [2.1] @BnndC cautiously stated that there might some students have strong personalities. As a result, the teacher’s ability to lead is required. [2.2] Moreover, “a dynamic and motivated teacher will encourage his/her students if the learning process, which can be tedious for students” [2.3]. Aside from teaching, it is also good to think of students as human beings(!). Relationships between human beings are vital for learning [2.4]

In a 1:1 context, it was discussed whether it is important if the teacher’s personality should match the students. If they don’t/can’t get along, what happens next? It was advised that, although difficult, the professional approach might be to put our personality on the back burner [2.5].

Moreover, regarding teacher types, how much does context affect what is a good teacher ‘personality’? In Saudi Arabia, for example, it was noted that the students want to see the teacher as their personal friend. Would this also be true in China? Teacher personality is a difficult and multifacted concept, which might need more bridges to general educational studies [2.6].

Lastly, it was commented that it can be disheartening that some students remember a teacher’s personality without remembering or understanding that they didn’t learn/produce any English. Conversely, a negative persona might block learning [2.7].

3. How can we learn/teach personalty to ELTs?

@CsillaBeen advised that ‘drama and theatre techniques are very useful for learning presence in the classroom [3.1]. Teaching ‘personality’ might be difficult and is often not in teacher training programs – however teacher rapport is. @fionaljp shrewdly pointed out that we should help trainees gain confidence in the classroom ‘so their best personality traits shine through’. @jonjoTESOL asked CELTA trainer @Marisa_C about the content of personality on the current CELTA. She replied that whereas it isn’t part of the syllabus, but the teacher’s personal traits in different contexts and teaching approaches is covered [3.2]. It might be the case that personality cannot change, on the other hand ‘soft skills’ and emotional intelligence can be learnt, which should be apart of CPD [3.3]. Moreover, role modelling might be preferable on some teacher training syllabuses in hopes to avoid directly the teacher’s persona. Perhaps, a more personal 1:1 feedback is more preferable because it is a personal and tricky area to tackle [3.4]. Self-reflections also seemed to be a better way to shape and mold teachers – as opposed to barking orders like ‘be happier!’. However, it was rightfully noted that teacher reflections need to come from a pedagogical standpoint rather than a personal opinion [3.5]

4. Is there a relationship between personality and ‘edutainment’?

Edutainment was a word that was often used in this discussion. @evelynreverhart notes that some parts of the ESOL industry want teachers to put on a show rather than teach language [4.1]. This isn’t beneficial for students, but is perhaps beneficial for the school itself. But, then, shouldn’t all lessons have some aspect of edutainment? There are unacademic, anxious, and unmotivated students who need entertainment to encourage positive learning traits. This might include games or jokes, depending on age and context. It was noted that the suffix ‘-tainment’  is often a derogatory term (for e.g., information being superior to infotainment). As such, is edutainment bad? [4.2] For one, engaging materials that meet learners’ needs will trump edutainment. He was firm to assert that students being entertained doesn’t always equal learning [4.3]. As such, what is the difference between a fun lesson, an interesting lesson, and edutainment? [4.4].

5. What writings and research has been conducted so far in teaching personalities?

  • @lauraahaha has written and spoken about introverts in ELT. This might be important for introverted teachers in and out the classroom. She also occasionally uses #introvelt. One of my favourite tweets from that hashtag:

Concluding Thoughts

At this stage of my teaching career, I am beginning to wonder where the teacher’s personality is the elephant in the classroom. It is a difficult topic to discuss with teachers but it might be an obvious and simple answer to problems in the classroom. Whereas it is easier to comment on the helpful and unhelpful actions of a teacher (e.g. boardwork, instruction giving, TTT/STT), discussing their personality might be seen as an attack on the person themself. Like other art forms, the teacher can invest a lot of themselves in the class and their students. Teaching is a personal action. Luckily, some of the advice and solutions given above regarding teacher training and feedback seem helpful. As other #ELTchat commenters noted, it is difficult to systematically identify and categorise ‘teacher personalities’ – this is made even more difficult as different teaching contexts value different teacher personalities. However, if it truly is as big as the elephant, further research into this topic would definitely be valued.

Credits

Featured Imagehttps://blog.rendia.com/patient-personalities/

Transcript: http://eltchat.pbworks.com/w/page/132792603/Does%20a%20teacher%20need%20a%20personality

The elephant in the room: https://wronghands1.com/2018/01/12/parts-of-the-elephant-in-the-room/