ELTABB Journal Volume 1 - Page 10

Once learners have identified the language they need, according to Long (1983) it is extremely important that they perform tasks to try out any new language (to “negotiate meaning”) in order to be able to use it correctly; in other words, to “learn by doing”, as in the second discussion in the example above. TBLT is also supported by a host of other theories, such as those concerning collaborative learning (e.g. Lantolf, 2000), gains in ‘complexity’, ‘accuracy’ and ‘fluency’ (e.g. Skehan, 1998), plus the views of educational theorists such as Dewey. other words, to “learn by doing”, as in the second discussion in the example above. TBLT is also supported by a host of other theories, such as those concerning collaborative learning (e.g. Lantolf, 2000), gains in ‘complexity’, ‘accuracy’ and ‘fluency’ (e.g. Skehan, 1998), plus the views of educational theorists such as Dewey. Learning By Discussing – An Example Of How A TBLT Approach Works (The Proof?) Having largely satisfied my curiosity as to why a TBLT approach was effective in a series of lessons, I decided to expand upon the research I had done, by developing an entire, purely taskbased course. To this end, I created a course designed to develop students’ ability to participate and interact more fully in academic discussions. The course consists of a series of (three to four) academic discussions on topics determined by students. Each academic discussion sequence begins with students informing themselves on the topic (from a variety of sources e.g. ProCon.org, Debatepedia) and sharing information in small groups, which is followed by the whole-class discussion itself (recorded and uploaded to Moodle), then student comparison of their own performances with those of C2-level speakers performing a similar task (easily found on e.g. YouTube) and, finally, (self- and group-)reflection and feedback phases (in TBLT terminology, ‘focuses on form’) to address their individual language needs. Following each discussion, students produce an argumentative or opinion essay on the same topic. In order to ‘push’ students to use newly-acquired language, I built in a system of assessment where two-thirds of the course grade is based on performance during the discussions. For this purpose, I developed CEFR-related scales with the assessment criteria of content, flow, grammar and vocabulary, interaction and pronunciation. Incorporation of the assessment scales has proven to be a major motivating factor as well as enabling students to know exactly what they need to do to reach a certain grade for each criterion, with any “weak areas” providing the ‘focuses on form’ in the feedback phases following each discussion. Student results and feedback on the course (which, at the date of publication of this article, has been run five times) have been extremely positive, with more than satisfactory improvement of student oral and written grades, also in external exams. In their end-of-course questionnaires, participants also cite improved knowledge concerning the course topics (borne out by their excellent grades for essay content) as well as increased motivation, autonomy, selfawareness and critical thinking. Most importantly, perhaps, participants say they value the usefulness of the course for their academic studies. From my perspective, the chance to put TBLT theory into practice in the form of a wholly task-based course has been extremely valuable, and I feel that, through providing students with the opportunity to improve over a series of discussions, together with the introduction of assessment criteria and the feedback given in the ‘focuses on form’, students have been able to further improve their performance and make significantly more gains than in the single, non-assessed and feedback-less discussion that took place during my MA research. In short, I would definitely recommend designing courses that are wholly task-based and which incorporate comprehensive feedback and assessment. 10