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Task-Based Learning as an Effective Method

Introduction

Task-based learning involves the use of activities or tasks in the learning activity. The activities chosen are relevant to the topic that learners are learning. The notion of task-based learning is the belief that students are more likely to learn if their minds focus on a task instead of the language used.

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Advantages

This method of learning is effective because students remember what they do more than what they learn through mere listening. The method is advantageous because of its learner-centered nature, in addition to giving learners an opportunity for meaningful communication. Learners also have a chance to build their skills in language through extra-linguistic practice, by using grammar and vocabulary freely. During the task, the teacher does not interrupt the students, he or she waits until the completion of the task and “draws attention to the language used, making corrections and adjustments to the students’ performance” at the language analysis stage (Task-Based Learning).

Task-based learning creates a natural learning environment since learners draw from learners’ experiences “with the language that is personalized and relevant to them” (Task-Based Approach). The tasks given to students are familiar to students from all cultures (for example, dressing a doll, painting or making a phone call), and this makes learning more meaningful. Furthermore, the materials applied in learning are authentic and thus relevant to the learner’s needs. This encourages development of skills necessary for task completion. Students are encouraged to learn the new language because they can relate to it in a personal way by completing familiar tasks. “The method relies heavily on learners’ involvement and their world knowledge” (Task-Based Approach). Learners bring prior knowledge to language learning classes, and share their knowledge experiences and opinions using their existing language. This exposure enables the learners to develop various strategies for improving their language skills.

The method is learner-centered and therefore the language taught depends on the needs of the students. This gives the learners more control of what they learn. In this method, learners spend a lot of time communicating. Not only does this improve their communication skills, but it also makes learning motivating and enjoyable to the learner. The motivation for communicating becomes the driving force behind learning the new language. “Emphasis is on communication fluency instead of hesitancy borne of the pressure in more didactic approaches to produce unflawed utterances” (Task-Based Approach). “Students communicate meanings without focusing of accuracy and this encourages fluency” (Carter and Nunan 18)

Difficulties in TBL in Hong Kong classrooms

Teachers in Hong Kong have difficulty in implementing task-based learning in classrooms because of resistance. Most teachers and principles resist task-based learning because “teachers’ attitudes towards pedagogy tend to be entrenched “they also have the “tendency to accept rhetoric change without actually implementing it in their classrooms” (Gordon). In addition, teachers view task-based learning as different from the approaches they already use. Some teachers say implementing task-based learning is difficult due to lack of time. Classes are big and teachers feel they would not have enough time to listen to all learners communicating during tasks. This method would also make completing the syllabus difficult because task-based learning requires more time. Therefore, teachers prefer traditional methods that make it possible to complete the tight syllabus.

Classes are close- wall to wall and due to high levels of noise in task-based learning most teachers shy away from this method. This physical constraint is “identified as the major cause for a teacher–centered transmission style teaching method in local classrooms” (Luk and Lin 61). The other difficult teachers face in implementing task-based learning in their classrooms is the use of Cantonese. Cantonese is the language widely spoken by many Hong Kong students and it is the language used as the medium of instruction. The challenge arises when giving instructions to students in English lessons, as teachers may have to use Cantonese to make instructions clearer. On the other hand, some students resort to using Cantonese during English lessons, making learning English a difficult task (Luk and Lin 59).

Teachers in Hong Kong rank amongst the well-paid teachers in the world. However, their “workload is also at the top of the list” (Luk and Lin 61). Most teachers may have up to 32 lessons every week. It is not strange for a teacher to have seven forty-minute lessons in a day. To cope with constraints caused by the large classes and the exam-oriented curriculum, they use textbook-based teaching and teacher-centered methods.

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Solutions to difficulties in implementation of task-based learning in Hong Kong

Teachers and principals should change their attitudes towards task-based learning. Most of the “teachers’ pedagogical mindsets might have formed obstacles to the effective implementation of task-based learning” (Luk and Lin 61). Hong Kong’s education system is heavily exam-oriented. In addition, classes are big thus; teachers concentrate on completing the syllabus and drilling learners to pass examinations. To solve this problem the government should reform the education system so that emphasis shifts from passing examinations to acquiring skills and knowledge. Reducing the content in the syllabus will give teachers more time in their hands that they can use in task-based learning (Harmer 341). Teachers and the government need to ensure that English becomes relevant to the learners by making the environment favorable for English learning. Encourage the students to interact with Chinese non-speakers. “Learners construct new language through socially mediated interaction” (Brown 167). This will make them see the relevance of learning English.

Task-based lesson

The target students for this particular study consist of 33 Chinese students, in their eighth grade of learning. Since for them English is a second language, the interests that they have towards learning this language, and the associated learning motivation, are quite low. The school in question happens to be a CMI school (Chinese as Medium of Instruction). The low learning motivation of the English language amongst the students is complicated since according to the students, English is no different from all the other subjects that they usually learn and for this reason, getting to learn about it has failed to get the level of importance that it deserves. The absence of an intrinsic motivation may also have played a significant role in affecting the learning process of these students of the English language. Intrinsic motivation is due to rewards that are inherent to a specific activity or task. This means that the individual finds the joy of accomplishing the activity at hand from within themselves, as opposed to from others.

There appears to be a lack of intrinsic motivation amongst the Chinese students who are the subject of this study, as far as the issue of learning English language is concerned. Research studies indicate that students have a higher likelihood of manifesting signs of intrinsic motivation if they are in a position to attribute the education results that they obtain to such controllable internal factors as the effort they dedicate to the learning activity at hand. For these Chinese students in question, they appear to lack intrinsic motivation because they have developed an attitude already that English language is no different from the other subjects they are learning. Accordingly, they are less likely to put more effort into learning the subject better. This shows a lack of interest for the students to try to master English.

Preparation of a meal

Food is common to all the students hence this is topic that will interest them. Students have some knowledge about certain food from their community. The majority of the students know how to prepare at least one meal. Those who have not prepared one before can still participate in the task and therefore will not be disadvantaged. This topic will be learner-centered and the role of the teacher will be facilitation only. Students will draw from their prior knowledge about food to complete the task.

Objectives

Upon task completion, a learner should be able to present their recipe orally to the rest of the class. This will help them to improve their communication skills. The learner should also be able to use appropriate food language. The entire task is anticipated to take 70 minutes.

Design of tasks

The teacher together with the learners will discuss the topic. The teacher will give appropriate phrases and words to the students relevant to meal preparation. The teacher will show the class pictures of different foods. A video clip on the preparation of a meal will follow. The students will watch the clip and the pictures for 15 minutes and then discuss the types of food for an extra 10 minutes. A few recipes will be availed to the students. They will go through the recipes and note down new words that they have learned. The teacher will use this opportunity to discuss the new words as he or she will have a clear knowledge of the scope of his or her learners in food terminologies. Learners will exploit the materials availed to them and they will come up with the topic as guided by the materials. Students will brainstorm the topic through sharing experiences and comparing ideas. This discussion will include students’ possible menus. They will discuss foods they like or dislike. Availability of ingredients and utensils necessary will determine the meals the students can prepare for the task. Students will also foot the budget. Every student will note down points during the brainstorming session, expected to last for 5 minutes.

To prepare for the task the students will rehearse the task to become familiar with the context of the task. The students will discuss their attitude towards meal preparation. This discussion will culminate into a debate. During the debate, students will air their divergent attitudes about meal preparation. The class has both boys and girls and they will discuss who prepares meals in their homes. They will also discuss if both genders prepare meals in their communities. “Vocabulary sets… in meaningful, culture-bound contexts “(Brown 87). As students go through the discussion, they will think about the issues for discussion in the debate. Students will also form groups to prepare the meal.

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After preparing students both linguistically and ideologically for the task, they will engage in the actual task, for 20 minutes. At this stage, the students will prepare the food. After cooking the food, they will set the table. The teacher or the students will decide on the sitting arrangements. As the students eat, they will discuss their individual preferences in food. This will be an opportune time to discuss eating habits in various communities and countries. For example, students can discuss how different communities request things at the dinner table, give commands, leave dinner table, and so on. The students can also comment on the meal and its preparation and settle any disputes that may have arisen during the task. The students can also come up with an intercultural menu by combining the various menus from the various groups. The students will finally write a letter to a friend describing the events that took place before, during and after that task.

Rationale

The topic of food preparation offers a good opportunity for language learning through students’ participation in an activity. Learners learn a language in a contextualized environment. The materials used in the task are authentic to the students and this increases their interest in the task. Students will be able to communicate and present their findings with the rest of the calls because they will have an opportunity to use English in a real-world context. This makes learning authentic and meaningful to the students, which in turn increases their ability to learning the target language in an authentic environment.

Students will learn the target language by drawing upon their prior knowledge. The teacher will give them a chance to practice the language to meet the needs of the task. In this task, students will work in cooperation to prepare a meal and everyone will contribute. This will require the students to use language under the theme of food thereby increasing their vocabulary in this area. In addition, through the various stages of the task, learners will get an opportunity to learn language. During the discussion of the topic that will take 15 minutes, learners will apply their prior knowledge and come up with menus to use for the task. Through, the preparation for the task learners will become aware of the kind of language they need to use in order to succeed in the task.

Using authentic materials in the task learners will appreciate the lesson more because they can identify the materials utilized in the task. They are the ones who will buy the ingredients to use as well as get the utensils necessary for the task. Thus, the students are at the center of the learning process and this makes learning student-centered and more meaningful to them because their interests and needs come first.

After the task is complete, the teacher will take 5 minutes to give the students his or her feedback on the task. The feedback will be on words, structures that were misunderstanding, phrases wrongly used, or suggestions for alternative use of the phrases. Learners can go back to the materials provided in the task and see how words the correct usage of the words are.

Conclusion

The teacher needs to identify the learners’ differences because some may not be willing to share experiences due to cultural differences. Some students may fail to participate in the discussion because they know how to give answers to teachers only. After the teacher dispels fear in such students, they can participate in the discussion and achieve the discussion the objectives of the topic. Task-based learning is effective and teachers should be encouraged to use it because it places learners at the center of learning. Learners benefit more from this method of learning because they become active participants in the learning process rather than passive learners waiting to absorb all knowledge for the teacher.

Works Cited

Brown, H Douglas. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. 4th ed. Prentice Hall, 2000.

Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. 2nd ed. London: Longman, 2001.

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Carter, Ronald and Nunan, David. The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: C.U.P, 2001.

Gordon, Anne and Carless K David. 2009. Web.

Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman, 2007.

Luk C M Jasmine and Lin Angel. Classroom Interactions as Cross-Cultural Encounters: Native Speakers in EFL Lessons. New York: Routledge, 2006. ISBN0805850848, 9780805850840.

A Task-Based Approach.” British Council. 2004. Web.

“What Is Task-Based Learning?” Pearsonlongman.com. 2009. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 21). Task-Based Learning as an Effective Method. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/task-based-learning-as-an-effective-method/

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