Dissertation Diary 8

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component of my M.A. in ELT –  hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. (Other posts in this series can be found here) Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.

Yesterday (how can it be nearly the end of June already?!), it was time for another tutorial (no. 3) with H. The focus for this one was my rationale and my materials framework. Once again, a gap in my reading was identified: The works of TBLT opponents. I need to read up on those, weave them in to my rationale and take a stance – argue against what one of them said, or take some of it on board. So, next on my reading list is:

Swan, M. Legislation by Hypothesis: The Case of Task-Based Instruction

and:

Bruton, A. From Tasking Purposes to Purposing Tasks; A Non-Marginal Role for Tasks; When and How the Language Development in TBI?  (from the ELTJ)

Further problems with my rationale include:

  • Overly long introduction/description of context (words can be saved for the other parts)
  • Lack of bridge between context and why TBLT is going to do it better than anything else. I need to address the question of why TBLT is going to be suitable for exactly what it is that I am trying to do. (i.e. making the most of the English-speaking environment. Why is TBLT any better an approach for this than anything else? What are the learners going to get out of TBLT that they wouldn’t get out of any other approach? The answers to these questions need to come across strongly. So that it doesn’t seem to have just been plucked out of a set of possibilities, it needs to be argued why it’s the right approach.)
  • Need to say more about fluency/accuracy/complexity as competing goals – I mention it but I don’t make it clear how TBLT affects it and how a balance can be managed. It needs to be clear. One of the biggest criticisms of TBLT is that learners develop fluency at the expense of accuracy. I’ve got an accuracy/complexity focus in there, with the CR/LA, which compensates for the possibility that learners might not notice new language, just need to make it explicit.
  • Need to make sure when I refer to task organisation within the rationale, that either it is clear without a diagram to explain it or I put in a diagram to make it clearer what I mean, or  refer to an already existent diagram and adjust that diagram to clarify what I mean.

Then we moved on to the Task framework/map of my materials.

Issues that emerged:

  • What content in the first task is going to grab the learners’ attention and engage them, get them excited about the module? Need something more interesting and inspiring.
  • Lack of a ‘getting to know you’ type element for the beginning of the course as well.
  • Making sure the questionnaire-making is suitably scaffolded
  • Making sure the question-focus brings out issues of register/context so that learners can make suitable choices depending on who they are speaking to.
  • Lack of coherence in the task where they analyse an interview transcript?
  • Scaffolding for looking back on the pilots and deciding which questions did and didn’t work etc?
  • When they brainstorm possible problems, reasons and solutions, how will they be equipped with communication strategies, dealing with misunderstandings, language for asking for clarification etc so that they are armed with language and things to help them deal with problems that arise?
  • How to make sure the data collected doesn’t end up being incredibly superficial? How to encourage learners to dig a bit deeper? (Maybe model the questions in the first place to help the students get behind the attitudes, or get the students to research more after collecting the data to follow up on it?)
  • What if students are stuck for ideas? Need to preempt it a bit – make it a bit less open, so that there is less potential for it to end up being superficial – shepherd them towards deeper, more interesting directions. Give them topic suggestions/a model to help them dig a bit deeper etc (maybe a set of models, to illustrate different issues)
  • How to make it challenging for the students? To sustain the interest, it needs to be something worthwhile that’s coming back, not something really obvious that comes out of something really obvious that you asked, making no point in doing it in the first place.
  • How to push the students to set it up so that it’s interesting, that they are culturally engaging with other students and the outside world, how will it be set up? If it’s very loose and open, there may be issues with students lacking imagination. Need a model or a prompt or parameters, something to push them a bit more. So that what’s coming back is worthwhile. It needs to be an engaging process to go through, that they really learn something from.
  • When they take the least successful exchange, analyse it and write an idealised version, what happens if the lack of success isn’t their fault? You can focus them on the communication strategies used and so on, but it might not lend itself to idealised versions being produced.
  • If they have a choice of formats to use to present the information they’ve collected, how will that work? (Possibly go to the self-access centre and find an example of the format they want to use, which they analyse by guided discovery and use to help them produce their own.)
  • How will it be possible draw conclusions from the data collected? Maybe the key is to use it to illustrate the problem of making massive assumptions/jumping to conclusions. So that they can find things out without doing that and be aware of the need to keep finding things out rather than assume.
  • It’s very student-centred but relies a lot on students’ motivation and interest in the whole process. It goes on for 8 days. Quite a long time, not long for what they are doing, but will the students’ interest and motivation be able to be sustained for that long? Can more input be worked into it? Need to cater for the students who are not fully on board on it, maybe they don’t do the homework – what then happens? In the non-ideal situation. What if they don’t like analysing things? It’s a long, focused project to sustain, so it needs careful thought. Can some strands of something different be woven in? To minimise the risk of disengagement, which is higher when it’s so dependent on their own motivation. Need a contingency for when students are stuck for ideas, to make sure it doesn’t end up being mundane. Need to anticipate problems and make sure there are solutions on hand.
  • Can more use of the self-access centre be woven into the materials too? To justify spending the first task on getting to know the way around it. Related to language points? Exploit it by weaving in more things for them to work on. Otherwise what is the point of the self-access centre lesson?
  • How am I going to sell a research project to General English learners? What are they going to get out of it in terms of interest and enjoyment that’s going to keep them motivated?

(There were some positive comments too… ;-))

I need to step back and have a little think about how it’s all going to work with a group of students. Think through all the what-if’s and what the safety nets/support will be.  When I’ve decided what I’m going to do, then it will be time for the next tutorial to discuss it further!

…A little think? Ok, maybe more than a “little” one…! Anyway, seems my weekend has been taken care of! 🙂

Comments/questions/suggestions etc all welcome! 

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