Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Task-Based Teaching

While cruising the internet, I came across this helpful site from David Nunan.  It looks like an online course that is currently underway.  So far, only lesson one is up on the site but it looks like the other ones will be up soon.  He has a helpful summary of two different approaches to methodology:

"Transmission model
The first approach is known as the transmission model of learning. The word 'transmission' captures the philosophy of the approach. 'To transmit' is to send someone from one person or place to another. So this approach involves sending something, in this case knowledge, from a teacher to a learner. The teacher knows - the student doesn't. The teacher's job is to recreate the knowledge in the mind of the student. The philosophy leads naturally to a teacher-centered classroom in which the learners are passive recipients of input fed into them by the teacher. Language classrooms predicated on this approach are characterized by rote learning, memorization, and repetition.

Experiential model
The alternative view is that the transmission approach simply doesn't work, that if someone is to learn, then they have to do the learning for themselves. This approach is know as experiental learning. The role for the teacher is to create the conditions through which this can happen. Again, the label ' experiential' gives a clue as to the essence of the philosophy. Learners learn through active experiences in the classroom – 'learning by doing'. This philosophy leads to learner-centered classrooms in which learners acquire skills (rather than memorize facts) through hands-on experiences. Methodologically, students will engage in role plays, simulations and other active learning tasks. (For a comprehensive overview of this approach, see Kohonen, 1992.)"

In many traditional subject areas in the humanities or social sciences, learning happens mostly through transmission.  Your teacher knows more about history than you do, and he or she transmits that information to you.  In other areas though, such as physical education, music, or even engineering, science you learn through an experiential model.  Playing sports, an instrument or by time spent in the lab working out problems.  

I think both the transmission as well as experiential models have their place in the esl/efl classroom.  Some things, such as vocabulary or verb conjugations just need to be memorized.  There is really no way around it.  But, the need for this transmission model is really quite minimal, and indeed it must be if the learning is to be long-lasting, beyond the final exam.  Language is impossible to separate from the experiences of daily life in which it's used and so it's the role plays and real-life learning situations of the experiential model that prove most helpful.   How does this practically work itself out in my classroom?

1. I will almost never have a class discussion where the students talk with me directly unless there are less than about 5 students in the class.  I will ALWAYS put them in partners or groups of 3, have them talk amongst themselves about whatever we're discussing that day and then I'll poll a representative from each group to tell me and the class what they talked about.  This way, I'm in the background and the students are responsible for their own learning/progress.  I provide feedback through the answers I get at the end.  I will usually not correct mistakes unless they blatantly inhibit understanding, or more than 1 person makes the same mistake.

2.  I use role plays involving real life situations.  I'll usually start the students off with few beginning lines of a conversation, give them about 15 minutes to finish the conversation, memorize and then present to the class.  I act as a resource, not the center of the activity.

3. I play a lot of games in my class.  This again puts me in the background and I like how it mimics real life.  The students have to understand directions about how to play, in English.  Then, they will receive a handout or set of cards or something, all in English and they need to figure out what to do.  It puts the responsibility for understanding onto the students.


Unknown said...

Hi Jackie,
I read over many of your posts on this site and on Just wandering and the AT blog as well. Awesome!!!
I traveled for a year and before that had traveled a month here and there. In any case, I agree with so much of what you believe--live simply, be conscious about spending/not spending money, service work etc. I would love to one day hike the AT as well. I did walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain last year. At the moment I am seriously considering a teaching job in Korea-preferably in or near Seoul and preferably in Uni or Public school. I have teaching credentials but no ESL Cert. Do you think I should get the Celta? If you would be kind enough to answer some questions for me, that would so appreciated! My email addy is Again, so nice to find someone that shares many sensibilities. Take care. Jill

Jackie Bolen said...

Hey Jill...I'm happy to answer questions but I will usually do it publicly for the benefit of everyone that reads the blog and only if I haven't answered it before. So...ask away!