Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Tasks are not incorporated into many Japanese secondary school English classrooms

I just read an interesting chapter and article about problems that teachers encounter with Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT). In this post I will talk about the chapter. The chapter, "Pedagogic Perspectives on Second Language Tasks" is from Tasks in Language Learning by Virginia Samuda and Martic Bygate (2005, Palgrave Macmillan) and it attempts to explain why TBLT is not adopted in many educational contexts.

First, Samuda and Bygate argue that the three primary reasons that teachers do not use TBLT is the following 1) The decision to use tasks is a top-down decision made by people sitting in high places who are far removed from the teachers' daily grind. 2) Teachers are pessimistic about the potential pedagogic value of tasks. 3) Unrealistic demands are placed on teachers to dramatically change their way of teaching instantaneously. I think that these reasons show that change in education must also be a bottom-up process. Just telling teachers what they should do will not convince them to adapt new teaching methodologies into their classrooms.

Samuda and Bygate also list the following logistical issues that teachers have with tasks:
  • Using tasks in monolingual classes
  • Matching tasks with skill levels
  • Integrating tasks with a prescribed syllabus
  • Viability of tasks with beginning students
  • Using tasks in mixed ability classes
  • Using tasks to introduce new language
  • Giving feedback on task performance: how and when
  • Fitting tasks with other kinds of activities
  • Tasks and grammar learning
  • Motivating students to engage in tasks
The issues that are in red I think need to be discussed with Japanese secondary school teachers if they are to incorporate tasks into their classrooms. Hints in how to resolve these issues will give them a foundation necessary to start experimenting with tasks.

I do not think "using tasks to introduce new language" is a relevant issue. Samuda and Bygate make a distinction between Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) and Task Supported Language teaching(TSLT). In TBLT, the task is the central component of the syllabus while in TSLT tasks are used with a pedagogic purpose to help accomplish some of the goals of the syllabus. Tasks themselves in TBLT or TSLT are not different, but the ways in which tasks are used is different (Being the central part of the curriculum vs. helping to realize the learning goals of the curriculum). In the Japanese public secondary school which is based on a nationally approved structural syllabus and students have limited time to study English, I do not think that TBLT is viable. Thus, I do not think that the issue of using tasks to introduce new language is relevant.

Samuda and Bygate argue that tasks can serve a variety of purposes (provide students with an opportunity to use language that they have studied, give them an opportunity to experience real-world language use for a situation they might find themselve them in, learn communication strategies, enhance students' motivation - these examples are mine) and that teachers should not equate tasks with TBLT. I agree that teachers should adapt tasks into their current teaching (TSLT) rather and that expecting teachers do adopt a whole new teaching methodology (TBLT) is not feasible. The next article I will write about, addresses this issue.

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