Teaching techniques form the backbone of a teacher’s repertoire. A teacher who is informed about language teaching research would be better placed to execute and reflect on instructional materials and practices, and the theory that underscores them. (Ellis, 2012) In this paper, I will investigate different types of teaching techniques before discussing TBLT in greater depth and summarise my lesson plan and assessment. I will also be reflecting on my first experience in an ESL classroom and what insights it gave me about lesson planning.
Evaluation of teaching techniques
Teacher-talk is the defining nature of many classrooms. However, there are very few studies about it because it is difficult to account for individual, sociocultural and other factors that influence the teacher’s choice of language. Few studies also examine the relationship between teachers’ choice of questions and the learners’ proficiency level. Teachers do tend to ask many questions, but they need to be careful of the type of questions being asked. Questions can help teachers achieve their instructional purposes and scaffold student learning, but more research needs to be done. (Ellis, 2012)
There is an enormous amount of research which suggests that peer interaction is beneficial to language learning. Studies have shown that group work assists learning and provides a context for learners to maximise the use of L2 for learning. However, for group work to be effective, a few conditions need to be present. Learners have to be attentive, engage collaboratively, pay attention to linguistic form, and participate in beneficial talk to all participants. Group work might not also be the most effective way of providing learning opportunities in a classroom and its benefits are sometimes overstated. There are dangers of being over-exposed to L1 or to ‘interlanguage’ talk. (Ellis, 2012)
Form-focused instruction (FFI)
Form-focused instruction (FFI) refers to activities that is intended to induce language learners to pay attention to linguistic forms. FFI includes both traditional approaches to teach forms based on structural syllabi and more communicative approaches using meaning-focused activities. (Ellis, 2012) There are many approaches to FFI, including explicit and implicit instruction, input-based or production-based instruction etc.
Learners might interpret instructions differently, and the lesson on linguistic forms might not always end up as planned. Furthermore, the instructional context in FFI is dynamic, meaning that teachers and students are constantly orienting and re-orienting in a single lesson or activity. (Batstone, 2002)
FFI can result in students remembering the linguistic form in the long run, and that the effects of instruction in FFI are often durable. (Norris & Ortega, 2000) However, other students have shown that the effects of instruction atrophy over time. When ‘form-focused instruction is introduced in a way which is divorced from the communicative needs and students, only short-term effects are obtained.’ (Lightbown, 1992) For the effects of FFI to be lasting, instruction therefore needs to be embedded in communicative activities.
Task-based language teaching (TBLT)
An ideal teaching and assessing technique would therefore seek to balance both learner-and teacher-centred teaching, while being useful and engaging for learners. Communicative activities also need to be included to extend the durability of instruction. Task-based Language Teaching (TBLT) seems to be a good solution and addresses the above requirements.
TBLT is a strong form of communicative language teaching. It started in the 1980s and became popular as a ‘fluency-based’ approach based on second language acquisition research. (Long, 1985) It is an approach that emphasises holistic learning, is learner driven and entails communication-based instruction. Commentators have argued that tasks result in poor language use where learners over-rely on context and limits their linguistic resources. (Seedhouse, 1999) However, there is also plenty of evidence to suggest that tasks encourage rich interaction and complex language use. Tasks can also promote a wide range of grammatical and lexical features. (Ellis, 2012)
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There are a few different approaches to TBLT. While there might be differences in how attention to form is achieved, all of them emphasise on creating contexts for natural language use or using authentic language. There is some evidence that task-based learning might not always result in anticipated learning because learners might interpret the task given according to their individual motives and goals. This results in varied activities and performers based on the individual learners. (Coughlan & Duff, 1994)
However, studies investigated unfocused tasks, which is different from focused tasks that TBLT requires. Studies have shown that it is possible to design tasks that result in the required use of the target language forms. (Ellis, 2012)
The fundamental principal of L2 acquisition is that internalising new linguistic forms and their meanings happen subconsciously if learners receive comprehensible input. This input is made comprehensible by simplifying it and using contextual support like pictures. (Krasken, 1985) As such, an input-based task that involves learners in responding and clarifying through the negotiation of meaning is beneficial for learners’ comprehension. (Long, 1996)
Studies also found that tasks involving interactionally modified input resulted in better comprehension than baseline or pre-modified input. This might be because learners had more time to process the input. (Ellis, 2012)
There is clear evidence that the type of tasks influences how learners interact and learn L2. A general finding is that information-exchange tasks result in more meaning negotiation in the classroom. L1 also occurs less frequently in required-information exchange tasks. However, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that a complex task results in more language-related episodes than a simple task in a classroom. Many factors affect the quality of task performance, and there is a need for more classroom-based studies to investigate the effect of tasks. (Ellis, 2012)
Others argue that TBLT ‘casts the teacher in the role of the manager and facilitator of communicative activity rather than an important source of new knowledge’. (Swan, 2005) However, tasks do cater to student-centredness as students normally work in pairs of small groups. Teachers are also involved when they perform tasks with students in a whole-class context. Task-based learning is therefore both teacher-and learner-centred. (Ellis, 2012)
Overall, TBLT is one of the few methods that incorporates both teacher-and learner-centred teaching, and proper use of focused tasks can promote engaging and interesting learning of linguistic forms.
Ultimately, the teacher must decide the type of tasks most suitable to the target learners, and consider strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, and other factors while planning the most effective learning strategies in the classroom. There is no one-size-fits-all teaching strategy, and the teacher needs to adjust according to the situation the classroom presents. However, TBLT is a good place for teachers to start planning meaningful ESL lessons and is the one of the best ESL teaching techniques.
Lesson Plan Framework
One of the lesson plan models is the Presentation, Practice, Production (PPP) model, which was very common in the eighties. However, many students who learned English using the PPP model were unable to use English to communicate adequately. (Willis, 2007) I am going to follow the task-based framework recommended by Willis (2007) as below:
Advantages of using TBL framework
The above framework is useful because students begin with a holistic experience of the linguistic form they are supposed to learn in an authentic context. It provides a context for grammar teaching and learning, which will allow learners to focus on the linguistic forms and how they are used for meaningful purposes. (Willis, 2007)
Most Second Language Acquisition (SLA) researchers agree that four important conditions need to be met for students to learn a language effectively. The four conditions are:
Exposure to rich but comprehensible input of authentic language.
This occurs mostly during the pre-task phase and when reviewing language analysis. Teachers need to ensure that they use authentic language sources in their lesson. (Willis, 2007)
Opportunities for real use of language.
In the Task cycle, the TBL framework gives students opportunities to express themselves using the linguistic forms they just learnt during their interaction with other students. The Report phase then challenges learners to drafting a report for the public. The Planning stage gives students the confidence to revise their report before performing. These stages provide students with the opportunity to use the forms they have learnt in a real context. (Willis, 2007)
The goals which the tasks provide motivation for the learners and encourage them to complete the tasks set by the teacher. Since the work is completed by the students, they will be keen to listen or read related materials. (Willis, 2007)
Focus on language forms
The TBL framework has a natural focus on language forms as students need to present their report publicly, and therefore strive for accuracy and fluency in their reports. Analysis activities allow students to analyse the text at their own pace without concentrating on a pre-selected structure such at PPP. (Willis, 2007)
Summary of Lesson Plan
The full lesson plan can be found in Appendix 1. It is based on the above TBL lesson framework, and follows the structure provided. The table below summarises the lesson.
20-30 years old
Aims and objectives
Students learn to:
Who is someone you admire?
Tests and assessments are often mistrusted by language teachers, and the mistrust is often justified. However, information about a person’s language ability is also very useful. Universities and organisations often need to know a person’s proficiency in English before accepting them. This is true for teaching systems too. It is only appropriate for individuals to be given a statement of what they have accomplished in a second language for their educational decisions. While a teacher’s informal assessment might be appropriate and sufficient depending on the situation, a formal assessment is still needed in many situations. (Hughes, 2002)
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There are two main types of assessments- formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment is used for teachers to check on the progress of their students and use the information to modify their future teaching plans. It could also be feedback for students so that they know where to improve. Formative assessments can be conducted through informal tests, quizzes, portfolios etc. Students could even perform self-assessment to monitor their own progress. Summative assessments are formal assessments conducted to measure individual and group achievement. (Hughes, 2002)
In the case of my lesson plan, the objective was for students to be able to identify adjectives from a text and use these adjectives to describe people. As such, a summative assessment is unnecessary, and a formative assessment is sufficient for the teacher to assess if students have managed to complete the objective.
Since the lesson is an informal one, I have decided to make it more interesting and engaging for the students. Their previous task was to identify adjectives from a model text and use some of those adjectives to describe someone familiar to them. The students will then be encouraged to add more adjectives and write their description of their chosen person in a paragraph. They will then exchange their paragraphs with a partner who will attempt to draw their impression of the person based on their friend’s description. Once partners are done drawing, they will return the paragraph together with their drawing to their friend, and they can discuss how certain adjectives might lead their partner to a correct or wrong impression. The teacher will then collect the paragraphs and drawings to mark and verify that students have used the adjectives in an accurate manner. I have done this assessment in class before, to great hilarity and enjoyment. The students enjoyed this tremendously, and it gave them new insight into the effect of adjectives.
On Monday, I stepped into an ESL classroom for the first time. While I had previously worked with international students, it was mostly individual tutoring or in small groups. I had arranged to volunteer at Morley Senior High school, where they have an intensive language centre for newly arrived international students. These students learn intensive English for a few months until their English is of an adequate level for them to move into mainstream classes. I thought that I was prepared for it after having studied this course for almost a year. However, I was proven wrong extremely quickly.
In a class of about 20 students, there are 3 different grades, and students from 6 different countries in a class. Three quarters of them spoke Mandarin, so I could understand them. I quickly realised that while the best-made lesson plan might be prepared, nothing could replace knowing the students’ needs and wants. The Chinese students got along very well and had great camaraderie, at the expense of students from other countries who could not understand them. This led to a few students being isolated in the class. I also realised how important differentiated learning was in planning a lesson, which I did not consider at all. In Singapore, students were streamed into classes based on their results, and their English standard were generally equal. There was no need for differentiated instruction at all.
However, in Morley, I found myself having to deal with a range of student abilities. There were some students who could not understand basic instruction, and there were some whose English was far superior and were clearly bored by the tasks given to them. It suddenly made me realise how inadequate lesson plans could be, and how much more planning could be done while planning a lesson. I learnt that classroom dynamics can be so varied that an ESL teacher has to be ready to deal with a wide range of abilities and learners, more so than an ordinary teacher does. Never has the importance of a lesson plan being reinforced so strongly to me. A lesson plan in an ESL class allows the teacher to have a ready frame of mind to teach and adapt to the class’s needs and be more adequately prepared to handle the extra challenges an ESL class throws at her.
It was an eye-opening experience, and I enjoyed myself tremendously. It also reaffirmed my interest in working as an ESL teacher. I relish the challenges, and I find it very meaningful. I feel that I will continue learning and growing as an ESL teacher, while I keep learning how to plan better lessons to cater to each class as well. There are now so many new factors in designing a lesson plan in my head, and I am sure to continue learning as much as I can.
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