A fellow Bhammer!

Rachel writes:

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.

Doing Task-based TeachingTeachers Exploring Tasks in English Language TeachingTask-Based Language Teaching (Cambridge Language Teaching Library)Task-based Language Learning and Teaching (Oxford Applied Linguistics)

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 Task-Based Learning (TBL) . Into the second month of reading all about TBL, we (4 of us) were overwhelmed by the excitement of finding out why all those years of the (evil) PPP often didn’t amount to any kind of cumulative gain for so many students. Then, lo and behold, in walk Dave and Jane Willis! We bought all their books (Ellis and Nunan’s, too) and we thought we had arrived in TBL Utopia.

I was rather shocked to find out 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 nor agreed upon as to what it is (we can understand PPP in less than 10 words) 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. it’s a nightmare to clearly explain the details. So, what exactly 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(I know they don’t claim it to be a methodolgy, either).

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 within the the TBL approach? The strong version of TBL can’t seem to answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction. The weak version of TBL seems to include just about anything – and is therefore too weak! With the frustration towards PPP, and the not-so-clear results from CLT, I think there were overly-ambitious expectations for TBL: in the excitement of seeing everything that is good about TBL, no one wanted to seriously face its limitations.

There are a few references that were very helpful for me and I would like to recommend them to you:

  • Hadley (Bham tutor) article, Returning Full Circle,
  • Swan article, Legislation by Hypothesis: The Case of Task-Based Instruction
  • Ellis TBL talk at KTESOL (a beautiful, masterful explanation of TBL on video)
  • Shehadeh in Teachers Exploring Tasks Chapter 1 (the best written explanation I’ve seen)
  • Willis J – Delphi article Changing to TBL

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 in your classroom. Let’s chat…


One thought on “A fellow Bhammer!

  1. Steve,

    Thanks for elaborating on the references! How about that video? Is that online or VHS?

    It seems that Japan is home to more interest in professional development as the Birmingham summer seminar in korea has been modified to three days due to only 4 students being able to make it!!!!! That’s unacceptable but I guess that’s life. To look on the bright side, I’ll be more or less personally tutored by Terry Shortall and Murray Knowles!


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