Essay time…

The Birmingham MA TEFL is a distance course consisting of six modules and a thesis (six 4000 word essays and a 12,000 word thesis). Each module contains two topics. The current module is LEXIS, then SYLLABUS & MATERIALS. We read like hell for as long as it takes and then have to crank out a 4000 word essay answering one of about 10 preset questions. The module lasts for 4 months and it feels like I’m reading for 3 months and then writing for the last month.

I’ve read a great deal (maybe even too much) and everything is still sifting its way to the bottom of my brain. It is really quite an unreasonable task to try and process all of this and come up with anything meaningful in such a short time, isn’t it!

I was all set to offer up my own brave new world of TBL for my JSHS situation and now realize that TBL is pretty much dead according to many, even though Ellis, Willis, J. and Willis, D. may not admit it yet. I don’t think they are entirely wrong in their ideas, just off track somewhat. I’ll hopefully explain why in my essay. If you can’t wait, go google Michael Swan, among others.

I’m hoping I can somehow salvage some new perspective/approach to the essay before I crash and burn at the end of March. Last week, one of our study group, Anthony, offered up his outline and sat in the online skype “hotseat” while we all attacked him (lovingly). At the end of an hour, he said that he now knew what he wanted to write in his essay, and felt ready to get writing/editing. It’s my turn tomorrow evening and I hope my experience will be equally as clarifying. God knows when I’ll send a draft to my tutor, but my classes ended last Friday, so I’ll have more daytime hours to deal with my essay angst.

Still cheerful,


3 thoughts on “Essay time…

  1. I am also a Birmingham MA TES/FL student and I started in October 2006. I am now on Module three and I am experimenting with TBL (Jane and Dave Willis have had a great impact on me) in my Korean elementary and middle school classes. I have just begun researching and experimenting with TBL. My curiousity was peaked after reading that “TBL is pretty much dead” in your post. Are you refering to your Japanese situation or the ESL/EFL world in general? Being in Korea, my students do not have any experience with TBL and do not see group work as a constructive tool for learning yet I am trying to change their view of learning, knowing that culture has a profound impact on learning and on a classroom. It’s slow going yet, I find my students receptive. So my question for you is, what alternative is there to TBL as PPP is out of the picture? Who gives the counterpoints on TBL? You mentioned Michael Swan but who else? Really, what was the context of your comment on TBL as being dead? I guess I have more reading to do to find the negative side of TBL. I hope to hear from you soon.


  2. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks so much for leaving a comment. I’m just beginning to panic a little because I have 11 days to crank out this module 4 essay and realize it’s gonna take at least 11 days.

    You must be just about at the same place my study group was at with regards to the world of TBL . We (4 Ss) were overwhelmed with the excitement of finding out why all those years of PPP often didn’t amount to any kind of cumulative gain for so many students, and then, in walk Dave and Jane Willis! We bought all the books (Ellis and Nunan, too) and thought we had arrived in TBL Utopia.

    I was rather shocked to find that senior colleagues and FWM (friends with Masters) were still luke-warm about TBL. How could they not see the light…

    From my little vantage point, I think there are two basic problems with TBL:

    1. It has not been clearly/succinctly defined (and agreed on) and, it is equally confusing to try to explain to others. I tried numerous times to explain it to JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) and beyond the easy definitions of task, outcome, etc. nobody has clearly explained the details. So, what do you do and how do you do it? I’m more comfortable with explaining that TBL is more a way of thinking (an approach to planning lessons) than a methodology.

    2. There seems to be a huge hole in TBL. How do Ss get beyond practicing what they already know and how do they access and use new language? The strong version of TBL can’t seem to answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction. With the frustration towards PPP, I think there were overly-ambitious expectations for TBL: in the excitement of seeing everthing that is good about TBL, no one wanted to seriously face the limitations of TBL.

    There are a few references that I would like to recommend for you to look into:

    Hadley (Bham tutor) article
    Swan article
    Ellis TBL talk at KTESOL
    Shehadeh in Teachers Exploring Tasks Chapter 1
    Willis J – Delphi article

    If you were to catch me online through skype sometime, I could EASILY send these to you. If that doesn’t work, let me know and we’ll figure something out.

    All that being said, I’ve thrown out all my textbooks this year and am doing a combination TBL/Nation’s 4 strands/Extensive reading/ type curriculum thingy. I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing with TBL. Let’s chat…


  3. Hi Steve,

    Your ambitious approach to life is inspiring!

    I too have purchased some TBL themed books and they seem very straightforward and very convincing as you mentioned the feeling of “arriving in TBL Utopia.” That’s exactly how I have been feeling. But when it comes to implementing the tasks, it’s an entirely different picture. The impact of TBL is still very premature as I have only just begun.

    I have been experimenting with using spontaneous language via recorded conversation along with the transcripts to be exploited through consciousness-raising activities. Jane Willis makes a very good point about bringing real language into the classroom so learner can so learners can see the gap between their L2 production and a native speaker’s (Schmidt and Frota, 1986) and therefore strive to make their L2 more accurate. Fair enough, but as you pointed out, TBL can be a bit problematic in getting learners to go beyond what they already know. This is where C-R activities can help with focusing on form. I am also experimenting with C-R activities of which provide opportunities for noticing new L2 without the expectation of pressured L2 production. Results need to be viewed in a long term process yet with tests scores being the measure of a students’ language ability, communicative competence goes out the window here in Korea. Can TBL ever be valued as a way of learning in Korea? I don’t know.

    Motivation is so important and it’s something that most of my students don’t have, unfortunately.

    With all the input we get from the MA and other ESL/EFL teachers/professors, I think our approach to teaching will be eclectic. Human nature is too unstable to follow one route; the exception being the Korean context of learning. Koreans are memorizing machines and can endure a lot of pain from the “love stick.” Being a foreigner, I’m not allowed to use the pain stick on my students. Anyway, back to my point, as long as we critically analyze and test what we do in the classroom (as Nunan advises), we will and can improve the language learning context with hopes of boosting motivation and confidence in our students.

    Wow, I didn’t think I would write that much. I guess what I’m saying is thank you for your insights into TBL and the references.

    Good luck on finishing your paper!


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