28 December, 2009

Task Based Syllabus

Definition of Task Based Syllabus

A task-based syllabus is the content of the teaching is a series of complex and purposeful tasks that the students want or need to perform with the language they are learning. The tasks are defined as activities with a purpose other than language learning, but, as in a content-based syllabus, the performance of the tasks is approached in a way that is intended to develop second language ability. Language learning is subordinate to task performance, and language teaching occurs only as the need arises during the performance of a given task. Tasks integrate language (and other) skills in specific settings of language use.

Task-based teaching differs from situation-based teaching in that while situational teaching has the goal of teaching the specific language content that occurs in the situation (a predefined product), task-based teaching has the goal of teaching students to draw on resources to complete some piece of work (a process). The students draw on a variety of language forms, functions, and skills, often in an individual and unpredictable way, in completing the tasks. Tasks that can be used for language learning are, generally, tasks that the learners actually have to perform in any case. Examples include: applying for a job, talking with a social worker, getting housing information over the telephone, and so on.

A task-based syllabus is based on task-based learning, an approach where learners carry out tasks such as solving a problem or planning an activity. The language learnt comes out of the linguistic demands of the activity. A task-based syllabus is structured around a series of these tasks.

Example of Task Based Syllabus

A teacher uses a series of projects on British culture as a syllabus for teenage learners on a summer course in the UK, and applies the task-based approach to the work the learners do.
In the classroom various elements of the task-based approach are applicable to activities in other methodologies. For example, learners can see a model of the activity they are to do first, prepare a report of how they completed a task, or a project, and the teacher can record this report and analyze it for further work.

Characteristic of Task Based Syllabus

Looking at the characteristic of task-based syllabus, there are positive and negative characteristic. Positive characteristic:

(1) task-based instruction is potentially very powerful and widely applicable.
(2) Suitable for learners of all ages and backgrounds.
(3) Addresses the crucial problem-directly, by using active and real tasks as learning activities.
(4) Ability to perform the instructional task is equivalent to the ability to use the language, so functional ability should be a natural outcome of the instructional experience.
(5) task-based learning can be very effective when the learners are engaged in relatively similar out-of-class activities (social or academic).
(6) task-based learning can be especially useful for learners who are not accustomed to more traditional type of classroom learning or who need to learn cognitive, cultural, and life skills along with the language.

While the negative characteristics are:
(1) Problems can easily arise with teachers, the instructional setting, or the students,
(2) task-based learning requires resources beyond the text books,
(3) Because TBL is not what many students expected and want from a language, they may resist or object to this type of instruction,
(4) Evaluation of TBL can be difficult; however, it is easy to measure the language proficiency.
Willis (1996) offers a somewhat different pedagogic classification of tasks based on an analysis of the kinds of tasks commonly found in text book materials. The types reflect the kind of operations learners are required to carry out in performing tasks:

• Listing, i.e. where the completed outcome is a list
• Ordering and sorting, i.e. tasks that involve sequencing, ranking, categorizing or classifying items.
• Comparing, i.e. tasks that involve finding differences or similarities in information.
• Problem-solving, i.e. tasks that demand intellectual activity as in puzzles or logic problems.
• Sharing personal experiences, i.e. tasks that allow learners to talk freely about themselves and share experiences.
• Creative tasks, i.e. projects, often involving several stages that can incorporate the various types of tasks above and can include the need to carry out some research.
Cognitive classification
A cognitive approach to classifying tasks is based the kind of cognitive operations different types of tasks involve. Prabhu (1982) distinguishes three general types of tasks based on the kind of cognitive activity involved:
• Information-gap activity involves ‘a transfer of given information from one person to another-or from one form to another, or from one place to another-generally calling for the encoding or decoding of information from or into language.
• Reasoning-gap activity involves ‘driving some new information from given information through process of inference, deduction, practical reasoning, or a perception of relationships or patterns’.
• Opening-gap activity involves ‘identifying and articulating a personal preference, feeling, or attitude in response to a given situation’.
Psycholinguistic classification
A psycholinguistic classification of tasks sets out to establish a typology of tasks in relation to their potential for language learning. The system is ‘psycholinguistic’ in the sense that is based on interact ional categories that have been shown to affect the opportunities learners have to comprehend input, obtain feedback, and to modify their own output. The categories are:
• Interactant relationship: this concerns who holds the information to be exchanged and who requests it and supplies it in order to achieve the task goals. It relates to the distinction between one-way and two-way tasks. This category is derived from research that indicates that when there is a mutual relationship of request and supplanted, negotiation, of meaning is more likely to occur.
• Interaction requirement: this concerns whether the task requires participants to request and supply information or whether this is optional.
• Goal orientation: this concerns whether the task requires the participants to agree on a single outcome or allows them to disagree.
• Outcome options: this refers to the scope of the task outcomes available to the participants in meeting the task goals.
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