Dissertation Diary 5

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.

Having read Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing  Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press, and made copious notes relevant to my materials, flicked through Willis, J. (1996) A framework for Task-based Learning. Longman (looks very useful and clear, I will refer to it while making my tasks), and looked at a bit of Nunan, D. (2004) Task-Based Language Teaching Cambridge University Press, I do feel a lot better informed about TBL now than I did before. There is a lot more similarity between Ellis (2003) and Willis&Willis (2007) than there is between those and Nunan (2004). For Ellis (2003) and Willis&Willis (2007), the task is central whereas for Nunan (2004), it comes at the end of lengthy preparation sequence that resembles PPP. I prefer the Ellis and Willis versions, which have a stronger link to SLA theory. I like the principles that Nunan’s version is based on:

  • Scaffolding (to maximise learners’ chances of successful task completion)
  • Task dependency (logical sequencing)
  • Recycling (to maximise learning opportunities)
  • Active learning (active use of language helps learners learn best),
  • Integration (form, function and meaning)
  • Reproduction to creation (not only reliance on models)
  • Reflection

(Nunan, 2004:35-38)

However I think they can be met through the Ellis and Willis approach, keeping the task central. Ellis and Willis both demonstrate how to scaffold the task through the preparation phase, while maintaining the focus on meaning and language (learner-directed – vs focus on form, which is teacher or materials led). Task-dependency is important vertically (within a lesson) and horizontally (across the task-based syllabus) – there needs to be logic behind it all. This can still be achieved while keeping the task central; it’s a matter of selection, grading and ensuring coherence. (In the case of my materials, the coherence is being maintained horizontally by the project thread and vertically by logical sequencing and grading of activities) Recycling can be achieved through giving learners the opportunity to produce similar meanings in different contexts (Willis and Willis, 2007). Active use of language occurs during the main task as well as in the preparatory and post-task activities. Integration is achieved through focus on language and focus on form, all contextualised. Making the task central does not prohibit creativity or limit the learners to following a model. And reflection can be woven in at any point in the task cycle, both vertically and horizontally.

As far as I can make out, Ellis (2003:163) believes that Consciousness-Raising (CR) Tasks, “a kind of puzzle which when solved enables learners to discover for themselves how a linguistic feature works” are tasks in their own right, with the non-linguistic outcome being awareness of the feature in question, while Willis&Willis (2007) believe in explicit form focus only featuring in the post-task phase, with implicit, learner-directed focus (language focus) able to arise at any stage. For CR tasks, Ellis (2003:163) identifies 4 main characteristics:

  1. There is an attempt to isolate a specific linguistic feature for focused attention.

  2. The learners are provided with data that illustrate the targeted feature and they may also be provided with an explicit rule describing or explaining the feature.

  3. The learners are expected to utilize intellectual effort to understand the targeted feature.

  4. Learners may be optionally required to verbalize a rule describing the grammatical structure.

Heightened cognitive engagement, in the discovery element, should make the forms learnt in this way more memorable. So, this is materials and teacher-driven discovery of elements of language, where the task consists of discovering whichever structure it is. (Now I begin to see why H was emphasising the need to clarify exactly where the overlaps and differences are between this and Language Awareness, and which elements I am using of each…) 

Language Awareness, then. As I discovered early on (see Dissertation Diary 2), Borg’s description of LA is cited thus in Svalberg, 2007 (emphasis as in original):

  1. It involves an ONGOING INVESTIGATION of language as a dynamic phenomenon rather than awareness of a fixed body of established facts.

  2. It involves learners in TALKING ANALYTICALLY about language, often to each other.

  3. It considers essential the INVOLVEMENT of learners in exploration and discovery.

  4. It aims to develop not only the learners’ knowledge about and understanding of language but also their LEARNING SKILLS, thus promoting learner independence.

  5. The aim is to involve learners on both a COGNITIVE and AFFECTIVE level.

Comparing Ellis’s CR features and Borg’s LA features, exploration and discovery of language are common to both. Talking about language is common to both, if the CR task is collaborative. Recognition of the importance of cognitive engagement is common to both. The aims, I think, differ slightly. I think LA is wider, embracing the affective level, the learner skills, as well as the dynamism of language. I think Borg’s first point almost seems to be contrasting LA with CR. Ellis (2003:166) claims that CR tasks are “an effective means of achieving a focus on form while at the same time affording opportunities to communicate” but warns that they are not “an alternative to communication activities, but a supplement” (ibid:167). I think LA is similarly effective with similar caveats, but allows greater breadth of focus, perhaps more holistic. I.e. language is more than “a puzzle” (it’s dynamic, it’s socially situated – if Critical LA is included), learning is more than cognitive engagement (includes “learning skills” and the “affective level”). Bolitho et al. (2003) stress the importance of affect in LA and in language learning – unsurprising, perhaps, given that Tomlinson is part of the ‘et al.’! – and this seems compatible with TBL, provided task design takes this into account. How? Presumably by allowing for personal response, using engaging texts and providing learners with the opportunity to engage emotionally as well as cognitively.

TBL and LA make good bedfellows on the level of theory and principles: Bolitho et al. (2003) explain that LA approaches “like Task-Based Approaches, reflect the research findings that, in both L1 and L2, language acquisition occurs when, and only when the learners are ready” whereas LA approaches “do not typically exploit a syllabus based on a prescribed inventory of language items”, again much like Task-Based approaches. In terms of theories of language, “Pedagogically […] Language Awareness is seen as inseparable from text awareness, and the emphasis on language and use and in context entails a view of language as a social and cultural medium”; the importance of use and context echoes in TBL. So, it seems logical to agree with Ellis in terms of the validity of CR tasks within TBL but expand such tasks to reflect LA principles too. I think if a set of materials can successfully embody this (as mine will aim to…!), learners will benefit from a task-based approach that is enriched by the LA principles of language and learning.

For an LA approach, Tomlinson in Bolitho et al (2003:257) recommends that “some lessons are experiential, with the learners unaware that they are developing implicit awareness by focusing on features of a text in order to achieve an intended outcome” while “other lessons are both experiential and analytical, with the learners being helped to begin the exploration of features of a text which they have just experienced.”. To me, this parallels with the focus on meaning and focus on form elements of TBL. He adds that other lessons could be “analytical with the learners being asked to articulate and refine discoveries they have previously made” (ibid) – I think part of other lessons could, and this would be in keeping with the idea of recycling language in different contexts to refine awareness of how it is used, which Willis and Willis recommend. Tomlinson also recommends that “in all lessons learners are asked to think for themselves, and are encouraged to become more aware”. Within TBL, reflection is described as “a natural conclusion to the task cycle” (Willis 2006), though Willis (2006) emphasises the outcome of the task as the primary focus, while Ellis recommends that learner performance of the task and how they might improve it is equally valid. I think awareness of the reasoning behind the tasks is important too: metacognitive awareness. According to Vandergrift and Goh (2012), Self-awareness, task awareness and strategy awareness, elements of metacognition, are important in language learning. I think all of of these may be implicit in Tomlinson’s recommendation for learners to “become more aware”.

Ok, so now:

  • I am clear on how CR and LA are similar and how they are different: that’s one piece of homework addressed.
  • I’ve read Willis and Willis, and mined it for relevant, useful information in relation to my materials: another homework tick.
  • I’ve thought intensively about the organisation and labelling (with regards to what constitutes a task etc) of my materials and made a diagram to illustrate this: I’m clear in my head with regards to the vertical and horizontal progressions that I want. This is the beginning of the diagram:

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 09.19.24

So, each vertical pod is a task cycle but these task cycles sit in the macro-task cycle, which is the horizontal pod. So there is vertical sequencing and horizontal sequencing to think about. *NB The right-hand side of the horizontal pod should really be open, only closing right at the end of the very last vertical pod. But, I’m using power point to organise my thoughts and I don’t know how to make it do that, with only two vertical pods fitting per slide. 

I need to:

  • Address the culture issue
  • Continue mapping my skeleton back to the theory/principles and fleshing it out/pinning it down: doing day one was easy, having discussed it with H during the tutorial – the rest will be more challenging! But at least having talked through the process for one sequence, with H, and knowing what questions I need to ask and answer, I am in a good position to have a decent crack at this.

Screen Shot 2013-06-14 at 09.10.41

This is what I am attempting to do for all of my vertical sequences, as a starting point: identifying exactly what each part is and what it is trying to do. Once I have done this for all vertical sequences and made sure they cohere horizontally towards the main task of the horizontal cycle, I can then flesh them out more in terms of exactly what steps each task will entail etc. Part of identifying this information for each vertical sequence is the cross-referencing to theory and seeing if what I am trying to do matches with my rationale for doing it. My rationale for doing it is based on TBL and LA theory in interaction with my context. Obviously a massive omission in the above example, which is the only one I’ve done so far, is timing. Timing is still on the list of things to do…

  • Once I have mapped out the vertical sequences as above, and fleshed them out, including deciding how much time to allocate to each vertical sequence and therefore the complete duration of the horizontal sequence, I need to combine that with my diagram. The combination will then be the map of my materials.
  • Then I need to draft a rationale.

So, progress is being made….!

References:

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing  Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press

Willis, J. (1996) A framework for Task-based Learning. Longman

Nunan, D. (2004) Task-Based Language Teaching Cambridge University Press

Bolitho et al. (2003) Ten questions about Language Awareness in ELTJ vol. 57/3 Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task Based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Of course, thoughts/criticisms/suggestions etc all as heartily welcomed as usual. 🙂

Dissertation Diary 4

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 (a day earlier than planned, by necessity, but it worked out well in the end, happily!) I had my second tutorial with H. It was fantastic! Much better than the previous meeting (which was also really, really good, don’t get me wrong!), because I’d done some proper work on the project, so there was something to properly pull apart and get our teeth into. So, this post will summarise what we covered in 45mins of tutorial as well as the next set of goals that have emerged. Boy, do I ever have my work cut out for me now! (Both in synthesising that little lot AND implementing the resulting plan of action!)

(But a quick aside before I start: I think doing a dissertation project like this, with an experienced supervisor whom I trust implicitly (important because it means I feel comfortable discussing my [often questionable] ideas), a.k.a. a “more experienced other”, means exactly working in my own “Zone of Proximal Development” (a la good old Vygotsky) – I’m being scaffolded to work beyond my current capabilities and produce something that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to produce, acquiring valuable skills/learning in the process. Socio-constructivist learning in action. And I LOVE it! :-))

Right, to business…

We began with a somewhat timid “What do you think of my ideas?” from me, and the first thing addressed was a glaring gap in my reading thus far. So, next on my list to read is:

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing  Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press.

Or it might be…

Willis, J. (1996) A framework for Task-based Learning. Longman.

Ach, why not both! Basically, there is a Willis (and Willis?)-sized hole to be filled! I don’t have to follow the Willis framework but it can be a starting point, even if it becomes a case of simply rationalising why it isn’t there or using it as a point of comparison when discussing Ellis’s version. Not unreasonable – a dissertation project based on TBL with no mention of Willis OR Willis might be rather questionable!

H likes the combining the Language Awareness work with Task-Based Learning idea, so that was a good start. I need, though, to clarify exactly what the cross-over is between Ellis’s Consciousness-Raising and Language Awareness – if I claim they are similar, I need to be very clear how they are similar and how they are different.

Regarding the culture element, for the rationale I need to be aware (and state) exactly what my approach is:

  • what cultural content am I including?
  • what exactly is it that I am aiming to do AND aiming not to do in terms of culture? E.g. I’m not trying to get them to learn about the Queen/parliament!, it’s a different kind of culture and a different approach, an enabling approach.
  • what exactly are the materials doing and not doing with culture?
  • what about intercultural capability?

We discussed how I am approaching the syllabus. My task cycle is preparatory tasks, the main task (exploiting the ESE), then tasks using the information gathered, then ending up with it on the wiki and then reflection. I need to think about/justify in the rationale my approach to language focus (in terms of selection).

Then we moved onto the (somewhat half-baked) framework I produced yesterday (just in time for the meeting!) and spent the rest of the meeting pulling it apart in great detail, which was very useful (genuinely!).

Here is the framework as it was: Framework Draft 1  

One of the criteria for calling something “task” is that it must have a non-linguistic outcome. (NB: A non-linguistic outcome needs to be tangible e.g. for the task “Find 3 pieces of dirt under your table”, the outcome would be the three pieces of dirt!) “Page 1” involves scaffolding use of the self-access centre. However, that may be the pedagogical goal of the sequence but it isn’t an outcome – as far as the task goes it’s a means to an end. The leaflet that the learners are going to produce is an outcome but it’s an outcome of the post-task element rather than the main task. In the end we established that the data collected through use of the self-access centre (scaffolded via a worksheet which will be a photocopiable resource in the teacher’s book) was the non-linguistic outcome of the main task. Getting from the outcome of the main task (the data collected) to the outcome of the post-task (the completed leaflet) will require more scaffolding for the learners. Another task…

And herein lies a major flaw in the current framework: The word “task” is repeated so many times that it becomes at best confusing and at worst meaningless. I need to decide what I am going to label a “task” and what I am going to label an “activity” and I need to be careful in applying these labels.

  • What I call things needs to be principled and thought out so that it is clear when the big task is coming, which will have all the qualities specified in the literature.
  • Avoid the trap of calling everything a “task” and then not knowing what is meant anymore. It will make things seem more sensible.

“Page 2” – With regards to the vocabulary focus, I need to think very carefully about how to focus on form in a) Task-based learning and b) Language Awareness approach. Is this going to be teacher and materials led or is it going to be students finding what they find useful? Need to link back to the theory – look carefully at what L.A. says about how much it should be teacher/materials-led and how much it should be open to students to look for examples of x and work out the rules for yourself. Need to think about exactly how I am going to do this.

  • Will the students be able to work out the rules?
  • What happens if they can’t?
  • Are the resources there for the teacher to guide them?
  • Is the L.A. approach suitable for everything? Or suitable only for some language points?

For the materials-led form focus, I can have a language reference in the book as well as the L.A. stuff, but I need to justify why I am combining these approaches. Now is the time where I need to go backwards and forwards between this initial draft framework and the theory, it’s a good stage to do this. And keep asking for every step of it:

  • Is this compatible with the theory or am I just trying to shoehorn something in for the sake of it or something that doesn’t quite fit with the ethos of what I am doing?
  • What am I going to put in my rationale to justify this?
  • Is the world ready for this?! Or might I want to include something a bit more traditional (e.g. the language reference vis-a-vis Language Awareness approach) to make it more palatable?
  • What are the non-linguistic outcomes for each of the tasks in the task cycle?
  • What exactly is the purpose of each main task?
  • Exactly which part of the task is the main part? (It is from this that the non-linguistic outcome must emerge.)

“Page 3” – It starts to become clear that I am taking the students through a process, almost like a research process, some input at the beginning and preparing them for the main task (exploiting E.S.E.) through making questions/a questionnaire and then exploiting the data collected. So each of the stages is a mini-task but the whole thing is also one big task cycle.

To make it easier to understand:

  • I need to make a framework of the macro task cycle, divided up into stages, A/B/C/D etc however many stages.
  • That framework then should be reflected in the mini-tasks that go on in each lesson so that each lesson is going to take on a task cycle.

It’s a matter of the labels and the language I use around it that will make my pattern transparent.

  • I need a formula that will be followed for each mini task and for the overall task.
  • A diagram in the rationale would be good.
  • And I must pay attention to the headings for everything and the language used to describe everything (very important!).

That’s what will (hopefully!) make it understandable for me/H/teachers and students who use the materials/to anyone who looks at the materials: They would be able to look at the pattern, understand it, see how everything fits in. That will also make it fit what I say it’s doing, vis-a-vis the theory (Ellis and Willis and so on), which will be important for the rationale: bringing it all together in perfect harmony… (ah, can you just imagine it…somewhere wayyy up the dissertation mountain…)

So, next goals:

  • Address all the above bullet points/questions
  • Think about how long each mini task cycle is going to take and therefore how long the macro cycle will take as well. (This is important because if it’s a 20hr cycle, then I only need to make one but if it’s a 10hr cycle, then I need to make two)
  • Make sure the task sequence that is followed each lesson is clear (in terms of non-linguistic outcome, duration etc)
  • Maintain the inclusion of different kinds of tasks.
  • Map out the the materials – an outline (what is each task going to be, what is each stage in each lesson going to be, that kind of thing)
  • Draft a rationale if possible (or headings and notes and references otherwise)

There’s no one way to structure the rationale, but I do need to consider and include:

  • Description of the context
  • What theories I’m drawing on (methodology, SLA, materials design…) [this is the biggest part of it]
  • Main principles behind what I’ve chosen to do.
  • Make an argument for the design of the materials in the way that I’ve done it (why I’ve chosen the methodologies/principles that I’ve chosen )
  • Why TBL? What task cycle am I using? What kind of tasks? How are the materials organised? Exemplify it.

Essentially it’s a whole justification of what I am doing. So I can make a diagram of the task cycle, relate it back to the theory and justify why it is that students will be learning from this task cycle in that context better than they would if done in a different way. It answers the question: “Why are my materials like this?”

At this point time ran out (I reckon we could easily have gone on for another 15mins or half an hour if H hadn’t had back to back appointments all afternoon – we only talked through the first two pages of the plan and touched on the third!). Next meeting will be at the end of June. Plenty to be getting on with meanwhile… So many questions to answer, so much thinking to do, so much to produce. I think I might still be in the foothills of this dissertation mountain!

First things first, time to go to the library and dig out the Willis collection…

As ever, any thoughts/criticism/comments etc all very welcome! 🙂

Dissertation Diary 3

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.
    Having spent the last 24hrs reading and grappling with the theory behind Task Based Learning, what does and doesn’t constitute a TBL task, how to design a Task-Based Syllabus, how to grade tasks in terms of their complexity and the different criteria that need to be considered in order to do this, how to sequence tasks to maximise learning and so on and so forth, (the beginnings of) my plan (well, plan A anyway – no guarantee that this will actually be implemented, more than likely it will just be the first to be discarded!) is slowly emerging. In fact, according to Ellis (2003:229), I may just about have started to establish my “starting point” – “the determination of the goal(s) of the course in terms of its pedagogic focus (general or specific purpose), skill focus (listening, speaking, reading, writing, learner training) and language focus (unfocused or focused)”…
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Dissertation Diary 2

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.

Delta module 1 exam is over, all semester 2 assignments are in: time to focus on this dissertation now. My next meeting with H is on Wednesday (assuming I’m ready), so I’m in the process of responding to everything that was raised for consideration in the first meeting. As well as getting my head around all those questions that emerged, I need to prepare a possible framework for my materials. So, here goes…

So far, since my last dissertation meeting, I’ve read (in order):

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3.

Ellis, R. (2009) Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings in International Journal of Applied Linguistics vol 19/3. Blackwell Publishing.

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Bolitho et al. (2003) Ten questions about language awareness in ELTJ vol. 57/3. Oxford University Press.

Next on my list to read: 

Van den Branden, Bygate and Norris ed. (2009) Task-Based Language Teaching: A reader John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press.

My context:

Private language school in Leeds

Upper intermediate learners

Multilingual classes

Continuous enrolment (students arriving and leaving regularly, some stay for a number of months, others as little as a week or two)

Big mixture of learning goals (some want to study in the U.K., some want to improve their English because it will help in their job back home, some are on holiday and want to improve their English at the same time, for some it’s a hobby).

They study General English in the morning and in the afternoon the sessions are more skills-focused and for those that want it there is the possibility of joining an IELTS preparation class or having one to one tuition.

Students can also use the self-access room, which has a suite of computers, some graded readers and other resources. This is supervised on a daily basis by different members of staff, for 2hrs on a Monday and an hr Tuesday to Thursday, who are on hand to help the students find something suited to their needs/wants.

The majority of the students particularly want to improve their speaking and listening, but there are some whose speaking/listening are already pretty good and whose writing lets them down. These tend to be the students who want to study in the U.K. and choose the IELTS afternoon classes. Students also tend to have learnt English at school in their home countries, usually with a heavy grammar focus.

I want to make materials for the morning classes, so systems and skills needs to be integrated and content suited to General English learners.

The teachers at this school are all pretty experienced and used to preparing weekly schemes of work based on the course books in use. There are also regular CPD sessions. They do, however, make good use of teachers books in their planning – whether or not they then elect to adhere to what the teachers book says. So, a good set of teachers notes to accompany my materials will be a must. Ideally, these notes will have a lot of flexibility built in, rather than being didactic.

Theory:

Having (re)read the articles listed above, I think a well-designed set of TBLL materials, using elements of the Language Awareness approach would work well for this context:

  • Although usually associated with speaking tasks, Ellis (2009) points out that tasks can be input-based too. Apparently in a book of his, he has a chapter on the use of listening tasks in TBL – I will be reading that! I believe it should therefore be possible to design materials, using this approach, that ensure focus on all 4 skills, as well as grammar/vocabulary/pronunciation – Ellis (2009) explains that focus on form is not limited to grammatical form and cites studies that show focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. So it’s possible, the challenge will be designing materials that promote and enable this.
  • Tasks can be focused or unfocused. A task-based syllabus can be purely focused, purely unfocused, or a mixture. I would go for a mixture, as I can see benefits for both task types.
  • Language Awareness can be deductive or inductive, but inductive is most common. According to Borg, cited in Svalberg (2007), there are five main features of an LA methodology:
  1. It involves an ONGOING INVESTIGATION of language as a dynamic phenomenon rather than awareness of a fixed body of established facts.

  2. It involves learners in TALKING ANALYTICALLY about language, often to each other.

  3. It considers essential the INVOLVEMENT of learners in exploration and discovery.

  4. It aims to develop not only the learners’ knowledge about and understanding of language but also their LEARNING SKILLS, thus promoting learner independence.

  5. The aim is to involve learners on both a COGNITIVE and AFFECTIVE level.

(Svalberg, 2007:291, emphasis here as per the article)

  • (Continuing from the above bullet point) As is mentioned in this article, there is a crossover here between LA and Ellis’s Consciousness-Raising approach to grammar, which he believes is compatible with his TBLT framework. I’m inclined to agree with Ellis on this one, I think his TBLT framework and elements of the LA approach could complement each other nicely. I would add a further metacognitive element, so that learners are helped to understand this non-traditional approach and not feel threatened by it.
  • Combining the two approaches would enable a greater variety of learning styles to be catered for: LA is very analytical BUT, as cited above, aims to involve learners affectively too. Affective engagement could come, for example,  through use of engaging texts, to which learners respond, in input-based tasks as well as through use of input or output-based tasks which draw on learners’ experiences and backgrounds.
  • Using tasks which generate written output would enable learners who are keen to improve their writing the chance to do this, while those learners who are most interested in speaking would still benefit from the task process, which would involve collaboration and therefore the opportunity to speak. Speaking skill development, meanwhile, could come through form focus in speaking tasks, by focusing on features of spoken discourse. In keeping with the LA approach, awareness of how and why these features are used, and to what effect, would need to be incorporated.

Other features that my materials will include:

Development of intercultural awareness

This, I believe, would be helpful for learners, whether they stay long term in the (multicultural) UK, e.g. to study, or whether they return to their own countries and use English as a language of wider communication. Nault (2006:323) recommends that more attention be focused on “issues such as cultural misunderstandings, cross-cultural pragmatics, stereotypes, non-verbal communication and culture shock”. Of course, the question is quite how to go about this. I think one immediate resource would be the diversity of learner backgrounds within classes in my context. Another interesting resource would be recordings of learners’ own interactions with each other during tasks. These could be compiled into a corpus and learners could look for patterns. (This needs further thought with regards to how it would work on a practical level!)

Use of the English-Speaking Environment

This is a valuable resource for these learners, so it would be beneficial for materials to exploit it. I think this would work well as a project thread. So it could be that tasks prepare learners to undertake the project, then scaffold them through the process of undertaking it, after which it could be used as a basis for further tasks. Then the cycle would begin anew. For this element, I am also considering use of a wiki. The non-linguistic goal of the wiki would be to create a resource for incoming learners to access, which would help them better understand and negotiate the ESE of Leeds. In terms of dealing with the constant flow of new learners, new learners would join existing groups (as these lost members) and existing group members would then explain what they have been doing and what they intend to do. New learners would also access the resource, once established, and begin to participate, helped by their group.

The school/context has a social programme, which learners can take part in. This would be a resource that could be tapped in the course of these projects. Additionally, learners stay in residences with other non-native speakers or in host families. This, too, could be exploited by the materials. For example, activities could include surveys and interviews about what people do for fun in Leeds or the types of films they like and why. Learners are keen to interact with people in their environment, so giving them a purpose and scaffolding the process through use of pre-, during- and post-project tasks would be helpful for them and may also motivate and help those who are keen but uncertain about how to go about it or perhaps shy. The collaborative element would provide additional support.

Information gathered, e.g. what people do for fun in Leeds, could be compared with learners’ own countries/cultures, but also in terms of different-subcultures, such as different ages, different social backgrounds etc. A task could be used to scaffold this process, the outcome of which could also go on the wiki. Thus, as well as information about Leeds and the people who live in it, either temporarily or permanently, there would also be information about how this compares with other countries in the world. Newcomers to the class could add their perspective to such tasks at any time, if their country wasn’t represented in a particular task, or they wanted to add to the representation of their country, as well as participating in whatever the current project was.

This will be where the “originality” of my materials comes in: Because they are designed specifically for the E.S.E. rather than as a global course book, they will scaffold the use of this environment as a learning tool. (In fact, Tomlinson, 2008, complains that “none of the books [that he reviewed for this volume] seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere”.)

Use of multimedia

As well as the wiki/project element, it would be useful to scaffold learners’ use of the self-access centre computer suite, to enable them to benefit more fully from this resource. In order to do that, tasks could be used which require grouped learners to use the suite initially during class time and then outside of class time, with subsequent in-class discussion/reporting/presenting/reflecting/evaluating based on this.

And now it’s time for me to go away, get more books out of the library and work on a unit framework and an organisational framework within which units will sit. For it to be task-based, the task needs to be the unit of organisation, but also to consider is the task-as-plan vs task-as-process, sequencing of tasks to maximise their yield for learners, and how this will fit together with the ESE project and intercultural awareness threads…

References:

Ellis, R. (2009) Task-based language teaching: sorting out the misunderstandings in International Journal of Applied Linguistics vol 19/3. Blackwell Publishing.

Nault, D. (2006) Going Global: Rethinking Culture Teaching in ELT Contexts  in Language, Culture and Curriculum vol. 19/3.

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language awareness and language learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. (Abstract: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0261444807004491) Cambridge Journals.

Tomlinson B. and Masuhara H (2008)  Materials used in the U.K. in Tomlinson, B. (ed.) English Language Learning Materials: a critical review. Continuum. London.

Hopefully progress is being made…  However, I would be interested to hear anybody’s thoughts on what I have explored in this post – be as critical as you like! 🙂

Materials Development – What is it that makes learning materials better than good?

This subject is uppermost on my mind at the moment, as the final lesson of my materials development module will be this Friday. Next Friday, we will be doing “Dragon’s Den” presentations, where we have to speak persuasively for 12 minutes justifying and “selling” the materials we have been designing for the module assessment. Hopefully our materials will be principled, workable, suited to the chosen context and we will show evidence of the application of theory to practice – with a splash of creativity thrown in!

The materials I designed are aimed at upper intermediate students studying at private language schools in the U.K. It’s been an interesting and rewarding experience developing them from random sparks of ideas into a coherent 6-8 hour unit. I do like the idea of the module assessment being something which is not only practical and will be useful in the long run but also generates learning rather than simply testing it. The group has had 3hrs a week of input for the module this semester, in which we’ve systematically worked through different aspects of materials design from picking out theories of language, learning, acquisition and teaching,  principles in existing materials and identifying what theories and principles we believe in, to evaluating and adapting materials for a particular context, and looking at things like visual impact, clarity of instructions, how to integrate effective systems and skills development into materials, as well as issues such as how to develop intercultural competence. I expect I’ve probably left something out, but I’m sure you get the general idea.

Anyway, my question for anybody out there who happens to find this page is this:

What, in your opinion, separates the wheat from the chaff as far as materials are concerned?

What principles/theories etc influence your materials writing or teaching the most? 

And finally, How important do you think enjoyment is to language learning and why?

I shall post my presentation/powerpoint on here after I’ve delivered it, which will provide a good idea of my own views, but meanwhile what about all of yours? I’d be very interested to hear.

Feel free to answer as few or as many of the questions as you like – any and all responses are welcome!