About the Task-based syllabus
1.The theoretical background about the task-based syllabus design:
2.What is the definition of the task, task-based syllabus :
3.The different theories about the tasked-based syllabus:
4.The characteristics, advantages and disadvantages about the tasked-based syllabus:
5.The practical implication about the practice of the tasked-based syllabus and the envisage about the development of the tasked-based syllabus in future
1.The theoretical background:
Task-based syllabus design has interested some researchers and curriculum developers in TEFL since the mid-1980s, as a result of widespread interest in the functional views of language and communicative language teaching.
2.Description of the task as well as task-based syllabus :
In line with this perspective, we have seen the rise of the ‘task’ as a fundamental concept in L2 teaching methodology and course design. At a more fundamental level, the term “task” itself is a complex concept, there are many different sayings of ‘task’ in applied linguistics, for example, two are provided below:
…a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward. This, examples of tasks include painting a fence ,dressing a child, filling out a form ,buying a pair of shoes, making an airline of reservation… In other words, by “task” is meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life. (Long1985: 89)
…an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language …A task usually requires the teachers to specify what will be regarded as successful completion of the task. (Richards, platt, and Weber 1985:289.cited in Nunan 1988:45)
While in the discussion in Nunan (1989: 5), we have a definition of “task” adopted in this article follows Willis:
…by a task I mean an activity which involves the use of language but in which the focus is on the outcome of the activity rather than on the language used to achieve that outcome. (Willis 1990: 127)
Candlin presents a pedagogic task accurately: “one of a set of differentiated, sequenceable, problem-posing activities involving learners and teachers in some joint selection from a range of varied cognitive and communicative procedures applied to existing and new knowledge in the collective exploration and pursuance of foreseen or emergent goals within a social milieu” (cited in Long and Crookes 1992:38).
On the bases of the previous expound about the term “task”, a further discussion goes to “task-based syllabus.” In ERIC Digests, we could find the proposal like “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” (Reilly 1988).
Moreover, one thing needs further explanation that task-based teaching has a goal of teaching students to draw on resources to complete some piece of work. The students draw on a variety of language forms, functions, and skills to complete the tasks. Tasks that can be used for language learning are, generally, tasks that the learners actually have to perform in any case. For example: applying for a job, talking with a social worker, getting housing information over the telephone and so on.
3.The different points of view about the task-based syllabus design:
Quite a few proposals could have been concerned representatively in task-based syllabus development since over 20 years ago, Doyle was one of the first to put that the curriculum could be viewed as a collection of academic tasks. He proposes such following items:
1. The product students are to formulate
2. The operations that are required to generate the products
3. The resources available to the students to generate the product
Shavelson and Stern put forward a list that needs to be considered in planning instructional tasks:
1.The subject matter to be taught
2.Materials the learner will observe or manipulate3.The activities the teacher and learners will be carrying out
4.The goals for the task
5.The abilities, needs and interests of the students
6.The social and cultural context of instruction
Long argues that analysis be the starting point in curriculum development and offers the following procedures for developing the task-based syllabus:
1. Conduct a needs analysis to obtain an inventory of the target tasks
2. Classify the target tasks into task types
3. Derives pedagogical tasks from the task types
4. Select and sequence the pedagogical tasks to form a task syllabus
(Long 1985: 91)
4.The characteristics, advantages and disadvantages as well about the tasked-based syllabus:
However, task-based approaches are generally characterized a more flexible approach for (1) content and tasks are developed concurrently. And (2) the notion of task serves as a starting point in syllabus design, determining needs assessments, content selection, learning experiences, and evaluation. it still serves the crucial point in task-based approaches in second language teaching. (3) In addition, the most important factor in task-based syllabus is producing criteria for selection, grading and sequencing, so it is assumed that task difficulty is the key factor in determining the ordering of the items in a syllabus.
Here follows some ideas about the advantages and disadvantages in practical implementation of the task-based syllabus design:
1. Currently second language teaching methods aim at developing students’ communicative competence that will enable them to communicate effectively in “real communicating world”
2. Task based learning (TBL) requires students to engage in interaction in order to fulfill a task. So in this way the underlying language systems will be developed while students focus on the process of performing the task.
3. The most active element in the process of the task-based teaching is the learner’s creativity. By exploiting this kind of creativity, we make learning significantly more efficient and more interesting.
4. It is believed that the task-based syllabus has a richer potential for promoting successful second language learning than do other syllabus types
1.The tasks must be suitable for the language learners –not too difficult and not too simple, so in this case how to make a balance about these two tendencies comes ambiguously.
2. Aspects of task difficulty should be considered so that task implementation can have a positive effect on learning and teaching. But it is too difficult to cover all aspects thoroughly.
In making practical decisions about task-based syllabus design, one must consider all the possible factors that might affect the teachability of the syllabus. Adjusting the choice and integrating the different types according to learners’ needs, one may find a useful and practical solution to the problem of appropriateness and effectiveness in syllabus design.
To conclude, the task-based approach to syllabus design has much potential, but it has a long way to go before it can claim empirical success in the field of TEFL.
Long, M. 1985. A role for instruction in second language acquisition. In K. Hyltenstam and M. Pienemann (Eds.) Modelling and assessing second language acquisition. Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters. 77-100.
Long, M. and Crookes, G. 1992. Three Approaches to Task-Based Syllabus Design. TESOL Quarterly, vol. 26, no 1, pp. 27-56.
Long, M.H. & G. Crookes. 1993. Units of Analysis in syllabus design: The case for the task. In S. Gass & G. Crookes (Eds.), Tasks in a Pedagogical Context. (pp. 9-54). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters
Nunan, D. 1988. Syllabus Design. Oxford University Press
Nunan, D. 1989. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. New York: Cambridge University Press
Reilly, Tarey. 1988. Approaches to Foreign Language Syllabus Design. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics: Washington DC.
Shavelson, R. & P, Stern. 1981. Research on teacher's pedagogical thoughts, judgements, decisions and behaviour. Review of Educational Research 51, 4, 455-98.Willis, D. 1990. The Lexical Syllabus. London: Collins.
Brief Comments on the Task-based Syllabuses
In this article, special attention is focused on the elements of the Task-based syllabuses, analyzing the fundamental components of the construction and the practicality of the syllabuses. Having read some literatures on the topic, I will consider the following questions according to the EFL teaching and learning environment in China. 1) What are the basic elements consisting of the syllabus? 2) What are the merits and disadvantages of the syllabuses if they are used in an EFL classroom in China? 3) How to remedy the disadvantages of the syllabus, if any? Finally a summary is given of the article.
With the development of the Psychology and the researches into Second Language Acquisition, varieties of syllabuses have been proposed during the past decades of years. In 1980s, as a student, I experienced the learning process under the dominant Grammatical-based syllabuses, forming the habit of attaining the language knowledge item by item. This results in my poor language proficiency, in particular the absence of the communicative language skills. After graduation, I became an English teacher in middle schools. Although Communicative Language Teaching methods, which I thought are more appropriate if used in language teaching, were introduced into the middle school classroom then, yet the textbooks were still dominated by Grammatical-based syllabuses. The goal of schools is to provide learners with necessary knowledge of the language so that they can pass the examinations without any difficulty.
In 1990s, the English-course syllabus was modified depending on the current theories and the English teaching situations in China. More attentions were focused on the communicative language skills, for example, listening, speaking, reading and writing. But because of lacking of training courses providing the teachers with the proper theories and methodology of the relevant syllabus, few of the teachers knew about the knowledge of the communicative language teaching in details. After entering Beijing Normal University, particularly the course “TEFL Materials” is delivered to us, we are getting to know more about the theories and the relevant definitions, within which Task-based syllabuses arouse my interests. So, in this article, I’m making my best endeavors to interpret the syllabuses within my knowledge.
What is Task-based syllabus?
In order to interpret this definition, two items should be made clear, “Task” and “Syllabus”. The following definition of tasks is made by David Nunan:
A task is a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing, or interacting in the target language which their attention is particularly focuses on meaning rather than form (1989. 10).
From this one we can draw on the following features: it is a piece of meaning-focused work, a piece of work involving learners and communicative language skills, and a series of interactions which are needed to meet the learners’ ends. In other words, a task is a piece of work which is done by learners in everyday life, involving learners in processing information and using target language, then a final product is completed.
The other definition is Syllabus: refers to the selecting and grading of content (Nunan.1989. 14). So we can conclude that Task-based syllabuses are constructed with varieties of tasks as the basic blocks, focusing on using the target language in real world rather than drilling on the isolate grammatical items.
The merits of the Task-based syllabuses
Task-based syllabuses are prevailing in current English teaching in China now. The reason why they are so popular is that there must be some advantages in this kind of syllabuses. Now I will analyze the syllabuses in details.
Firstly, I will look at the components of a task illustrated in the figure below ( Nunan. 1989. 11 )
A framework for analyzing communicative tasks
Illustrated by this diagram, we can see that a task is consisted of six fundamental components, each of which has its own advantages. Discrete items will be considered according to these factors here.
“Goals” is the first factor taken account of tasks. As we know, the general goal of tasks is to attain communicative language skills, which is a most important aspect in the nature of language learning. Let’s think about this matter: what do we attain our native language for? No matter who they are, their purpose is to get information from others, expressing their own feelings, communicating with the others in the society and so on. So one of the most important aspects of language using is communication. It is the goal that task-based syllabuses are based on. Personally this kind of syllabuses is more suitable for our needs.
The second factor is “input”, which refers to the verbal and non-verbal data such as a dialogue, a reading passage, a picture or a chart etc. Apparently these materials are objective and can be used in everyday life. And this can result in a short-term achievement, leaving the learners the sense of success, which will surely enhance the learners’ interests and motivation. It is this feature that other syllabuses are short of, for example, Grammatical-based ones, because they are consisted of discrete structural items, demanding learners to drill these dull items one by one repeatedly. After some time, the learners will lose their interest in learning and even give up.
The third one is “activities”. Task-based syllabuses involve learners’ participation, including series of activities, which lead to learners’ higher interest and motivation. So the traditional classroom settings are changed because of using the syllabuses. In the activities every learner is a player. They augment their amount of knowledge and language skills by involving in different kinds of activities. It is said that learning is living and it is also playing and growing. Children begin to know this world by touching and doing. So do language learners.
“Teacher role and learner role” may be the most controvertible issues in the educational field in China these years. Which one should be paid more attention, teacher-centered or learner-centered? Now we are sure to choose the learner-centered one, because we know it is the scientific way to learn language. Teacher, as we know, is a monitor or a server in language teaching, because learning is the learner’s own developmental process, just like a baby growing up gradually by contacting the world s/he is living in. In Task-based syllabuses learner role is emphasized and the main body in learning comes out.
The disadvantages in Task-based syllabuses
Someone think that if we find a “best” syllabus, we can solve all of the problems in language learning and teaching. It is impossible for us to invent a perfect one like this, because every syllabus has its disadvantages in it, including Task-bases one. What we should do is how to use one syllabus’ merits, and at the same time, avoid the disadvantages.
The most apparent disadvantage in Task-based syllabuses is how to combine the grammatical items with the communicative skills. As David Nunan pointed out:
It now seems to be widely accepted that there is value in classroom tasks, which require learners to focus on form. It is also accepted that grammar is an essential resource in using language communicatively (1989. 13).
However, Task-based syllabuses focus on the communicative language use, which will lead to ignore the grammar learning and teaching. In my opinion both of language using and language rules are important. We should consider the two factors simultaneously. How to design a syllabus containing the two items remains problematic.
A second disadvantage is that Task-based syllabuses are lack of considering the factor that if it can be used widely. In China it is very different in economic and most of the areas are undeveloped. It is impossible to use the same syllabus efficiently as it is used in developed areas. To provide plenty of materials for choosing is a better way.
Another aspect also should be taken into consideration, teacher-training courses. I think it is a very crucial phase in designing the syllabuses, because it is related to the efficient results. Task-based syllabuses require more skillful instructors. If an instructor lacks of the communicative language skills, how s/he can direct learners to attain these skills.
So far I have talked a lot about Task-based syllabuses above. In all, it is a very good and useful one. I hope that in the near future learners can use it efficiently with the help from skillful instructors and can really enjoy learning English as a foreign language.
Dubin, Fraida. & Olshtain, Elite. 1986. Course Design --- Developing Programs and Materials for Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nunan, David. 1989. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom.Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
Syllabus types can be divided into two superordinate classes product-oriented syllabus and process-oriented syllabus. Task-based syllabus is a sub-category of the process-oriented syllabus. Nowadays task-based English learning is a hot topic and is advocated by the new English National curriculum .
Three new task-based syllabus types appeared in the 1980s:(a)the procedural syllabus, (b) the process syllabus, and (c) the task syllabus. They are different from early syllabuses, which stress the importance of analysis of language or language use while task-based syllabus derives its rationale from human learning and second language learning in particular. Task-based syllabus object to the syllabus formulation which uses analysis of the linguistic elements ,such as word structure, notion, or function as one unit. It takes one task as one unit of analysis.
What is a task? Task is “ an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language (i.e. as a response).For example , drawing a map while listening to an instruction and performing a command …A task usually requires the teacher to specify what will be regarded as successful completion of the task.(Richards ,Platt and Weber1985:289 )
Shortly speaking, task is an action, in the process of doing something ,learners are always in the active psychological state .It is a process of interaction. In order to complete the task ,learners regard ‘meaning’ as the center , drawing upon verbal and non-verbal resources to construct meanings in order to solve a certain communicative problem. In the process of completing tasks, learners actively participate in the task and interact with both teachers and classmates, building a supportive environment for language acquisition and internalization.
Though there are many definitions about the task, however ,a classroom task should consists the following aspects: (1) meaning-centered .A task is not designed to practice some less meaningful or meaningless language forms; (2) the focus of task is to solve certain communicative problem, which must have some connections with the real world. The task must be close to students real life, learning experiences and social reality ,and could arouse students interests and encourage students’ participation in the task;(3) the design of the task must emphasize the importance of task completion , that is, the settlement of the communicative problem. The result of the task is the criteria of assessing the success of the task.
Long ,who uses needs analysis as his point of departure, offers the following steps for developing a task-based syllabus:
1. Conduct a needs analysis to obtain an inventory of target tasks.
2. Classify the target tasks into task types.
3. From the task types, derive pedagogical tasks.
4. Select and sequence the pedagogical tasks to form a task syllabus.( Long 1985: 91 )
Though task-based syllabus has been introduced for about twenty years, a few programs have been reported that reflect some principles of it. Teachers are required to correlate theory with teaching practice and make our English teaching more efficiently.
1.Long, H, M and Crookes,Graham. Volume 26, 1992.Three Approaches to Task-based Syllabus Design ,TESOL Quarterly. TESOL,Inc.
2.Nunan, David. 1988. Syllabus Design. Oxford University Press
3.Nunan, David.1989. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge University Press.
5. Nunan,David.1991.The Learner-Centered Curriculum. Cambridge University Press.6.Richards,J,J.Platt,and H.Weber.1986.Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguitics. London: Longman.
Recently,the departure point of syllabus design has shifted from product or outcomes of learning to learning process because the nature of language is further explored with the development of applied linguistics ,psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics. More attention is concentrated on the learning experiences themselves. Procedural syllabuses, task-based syllabuses and content syllabuses are constructed on the basis of the theoretical view that language proficiency including communicative competence will be achieved in the process of using language.
Since the mid of 1970s,the task –based approach becomes the study focus. What is the task? It is definited in a variety of ways by linguists. Compared the definitions given by Long (1985 ) and Richards et al.(1986),distinction may exist in the terms of real-world tasks and pedagogic tasks. When real-world tasks are introduced into the classroom, they provide the learners with opportunities to rehearse the behaviours in the real world while pedagogic tasks are selected for learners to practise the skills which are needed in real communication. They both form a continuum .Breen (1987)views the task as a range of workplans facilitating language learning from the simple and brief exercise type to more complex and lengthy activities. Nunan emphasizes that “the task is a piece of meaning focused work involving learners in comprehending, producing and/or interacting in the target language, and that tasks are analysed or categorised according to their goal, input data, activities, settings and roles.”(1989).
Within the varying definitions of task in the literature, three features are obvious: task consists specific goals or outcomes, some input data and one or more related activities or procedures.
Candlin(1987)’s long list of pedagogic criteria for task selection is too vague .Doyle (1979,1983)and some other linguists suggest a comprehensive curriculum model with a little rearrangement and no assessment and evaluation components. Long (1985) raises the issue of grading or sequencing the pedagogical tasks to develop a task syllabus in the way of needs analysis. Brown and Yule (1983) suggest that listening tasks can be graded with reference to speaker, intended listener and content.
Nunan argues that factors of input ,activities and learners are main three ones which are significant in determining task difficulty and these should be considered holistically not separately. Activity with authentic materials can be at different levels of difficulty according to cognitive and performance demands the tasks make upon the learners .The learners can undertake activities moving from data comprehension to productive practice and finally interactive communication. In addition of cognitive demands ,complexity of input data and learners knowledge and affect will also influence difficulty of the task.
In addition to the tasks themselves, the order or sequence in which they are operated is more important .Systematic use of tasks should be stressed.In a number of different ways , chains of activities form a sequence in which the successful completion of prior activities can lead learners to the next.Nunan states that Activities are sequenced not only according to their complexity as determined by input, learners and activity factors ,but also by the logic of themes and learning pathways.
The task –based syllabuses contain the merits as follows:
①. Compared to grammatical syllabuses and functional-notional syllabuses, it is not the language but the tasks which are selected and graded.
②. The tasks which are designed according to input data, lesarners’current level with precise goals can be rearranged and graded in various ways.
③. Task–based approach promotes naturalistic learning and acquisitional processes, particularly when combined with group work, they provide a close fit with communicative language teaching.
The problems in task design are following:
①. It is hard to find clear criteria for the selection and grading of tasks. Just as Nunan states “determining task complexity is made difficult ,not only by the range of factors involved, but also by the interaction of these factors with each other”.
②. It is obvious the task difficulty is affected by complexity of input data. However task can be designed easy or difficult by setting activities which require different learner responses.So in designing the tasks, can we completely ignore the materials? Are authentic materials better than elaborated written texts? How can learners be exposed to the language as a system?There are no precise answers in it.
③. In task-based teaching, how can we deal with language knowledge? Should grammar be taught in it? If so, how can it be delt with by the teacher and students? The status of grammar is not clear.
Howarth, Patrick, 2001, Process Speaking ----prepare to repeat yourself, Modern English Teacher 10(1).
Nunan, D., 1989, Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nunan,D.,1988, Syllabus Design,Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willis, J., 1996, A Framework for Task-Based Learning , Longman.
As we mention task—based syllabus the first thing we need to do is decide just what we mean by the term “task”.
The term ‘task’ has been defined in a variety of ways. Both in general education including the Second Language Teaching and in other fields such as psychology there are many different definitions of tasks. “A task is a piece of work under taken for oneself or others, freely or for some reward.In other words, by ‘task’ is meant the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play, and in between.”(Long 1985:89) The first definition is a non—technical and non—linguistic one. Now here is another definition from dictionary applied linguistics, “an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language”. (Richards, Platt and Weber 1986:289) Tasks are defined in tern of what the learner will do in the classroom rather than in the outside world. The final definition is from Breen”……any structured language learning endeavor which has a particular objective, appropriate content, a specified working procedure, and a range of outcomes for those who undertake the task .’Task’ is therefore assumed to refer to a range of work plans which have the overall purpose of facilitating language learning—from the simple and brief exercise type, to more complex and lengthy activities such as group problem-solving or simulations and decision making. (Breen 1987: 23) The definitions share one thing in common: the user’s attention is focused on meaning rather than linguistic structure. I prefer Breen’s definition because of the term ‘task’ concerning about problem solving and decision making. According to Nunan the task is a piece of meaning-focused work involving learners in comprehending, producing and/or interacting in the target language.
Task contains goal which is intended outcomes, input that’s data that forms the point of departure of the task, activity specifies what the learners are asked to do with the input, roles both teacher and learner refer to the parts played in carrying out the task, setting that is the social arrangements in which the task is carried out. The diagrammatic representation of the task is just like the following.
We look at the central characteristics of tasks and a scheme is presented for analyzing tasks and designing tasks.
Task grading and sequencing are the two important factors concerning with designing tasks. The issue of grading is an extremely complex one and there are many factors at work, all of which have a bearing on task complexity, but that most of these can be categorized according to whether they relate to inputs, learners and activities. Determining task complexity is made difficult, not only by the range of factors involved, but also by the interaction of these factors with each other. In addition to the factors which we looked at, there are many factors, such as maturational level, background knowledge learning pace observed ability in language skills, linguistic knowledge, motivation and confidence, which are difficult to discuss without reference to particular learner group. It is generally assumed that difficulty is the key factor in determining the ordering of items in a syllabus. All things being equal items are presented to learners according to their degree of difficulty. Like task grading task sequencing is hard to find a certain criteria for task-based syllabus designing.
The task seeks to identity and explores the features of a good language task. It also seeks objective ways of measuring classroom tasks in order to evaluate their effectiveness as materials. The syllabus designer will consider how the tasks were introduced, what instructions were given, what monitoring took place and what round-off, report-back or resolution was involved. A good task enable learners to manipulate and practice specific features of the language, to provide an opportunity for learners to rehearse communicative skills they’ll need in the real world, to involve learners in risk-taking, to involve learners in problem-solving or resolution and offer learners’ choice.
Task based syllabus focus on communicative language teaching and authentic materials are provided for the real world communicative needs. Opposite to traditional syllabus, this one stresses learning process rather than outcomes. Thus learner-centered class will be formed in which learners have more authorities attend activities. When fully communicative behavior is being encourage isolating individual skills and abilities. I think this is the one of our purposes to spread the task-based syllabus. In my opinion, grammatical consciousness-raising activities should be incorporated into task design. Absolute grammatical syllabus or task-based syllabus tends to departure of our language educational subject.
David Nunan.1989. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ruth Wajnryb.1992. Classroom Observation Tasks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
David Nunan.1976. Notional syllabuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.David Nunan.1987 .Syllabus design. Oxford :Oxford University Press.
A Brief Introduction of Task-based Syllabus
Task-based syllabus which appeared in the 1980s, is distinguishable from most earlier syllabuses by the fact that part of its rational derives from what is known about human learning in general and/or second language learning in particular rather than, as is the case with structural, notional, functional syllabuses, primarily from analysis of language or language use.
Theoretically, it is based on the development of cognitive psychology and applied linguistics, which have a significant effect on language teaching. But what is a task? Different researchers have given different definitions from different point of views. The definitions used by Long and Crookes(1986) always focus on something that is done, not something that is said. Long defines tasks using its everyday, non-technical and non-linguistic meaning; Richards, Platt and Weber (1986)taking a pedagological perspective, defined tasks in term of what the learner will do in the classroom rather than in the outside world, as an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language (i.e. as a response). Breen(1987) regards it as: “any structured language learning endeavor which has a particular objective, appropriate content, a specified working task…” ;David Nunan defined it like this "… the task is a piece of meaning-focused work involving learners in comprehending, producing and/or interacting in the target language, and that tasks are analyzed or categorized according to their goals, input data, activities, settings and roles.” Although the definitions are divergent, they all share one thing in common, implying that tasks involved communicative language use in which all the users’ attention is focused on meaning rather than on linguistic structure. Frankly speaking, a task is a kind of process of doing or completing something. The learners are active and positive while trying to complete a task and the communicative process is an interactional one. In order to complete a task the learners have to center meaning and make as much use of different kinds of linguistic and nonlinguistic resources as possible to carry out a meaningful construction and solve a communicative problem successfully. The process of completing a task stimulates learners to use the target language meaningfully and naturally and creates a beneficial environment to promote the learners’ acquisition and internalization of the target language.
Practically the task-based syllabus is meaning-centered, opposing the mechanical pattern drills of linguistic form and advocating the task should focus on a communicative problem which is related with and close to the learners’ real life and learning experience so that it will interest and motivate them to participate actively and be involved in class. On the other hand , any syllabus cannot work alone. In a similar situation but different culture, the happenings and conversation will not be the same. A task which is available in one country/culture may not necessarily be work in another country/culture. For example, the Chinese always greet each other saying “Have you had your breakfast?” when they meet on their way to work or school in the morning, while the Westerners always say “Good morning”.
Richards, J., Platt, and J. Platt, H. 2000. Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
Nunan, D. 2000. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom . The Press of the University of Cambridge, England.
Nunan, D.1988. Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Long, Michael H. & Crookes, Graham. 1992. Three approaches to task-based syllabus design. TESOL Quarterly, 26(①) 27-56
Prabhu, N.S. 1987. Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press
ABOUT TASK-BASED SYLLABUS
Abstract: This article will introduce the definitions, merits, and problems with task-based syllabus.
Key words: task, syllabus.
Until fairly recently task has more appeared in language learning process. With the change of people’s views on language, teaching methodology, and learner contributions, task-based syllabus is to be the new focus.
Opposed with the conventional paradigm of prepositional plans, Breen (1987) proposes an alternative paradigm of process plans----task-based and process syllabuses, which move the emphasis from the language system to the learner’s cognitive processes. He stresses that the most important new insight in syllabus design relates to how we may plan for teaching and learning, especially as classroom-oriented research has shown how little direct effect teaching has. Despite some differences in practice, the principles underlying the task-based syllabus developed at Lancaster by Breen and his colleagues and the procedural type of syllabus developed by Prabhu in southern India are very similar. Both types are process plans and share a focus on the learning process, on how something is done and a consequent emphasis on task-based learning. The focus is clearly on broad pedagogical development, rather than on narrow linguistic training, and the assumption is that learning are both communicative and metacommunicative.
In Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics, task-based syllabus, along with procedural syllabus, is defined as follows:
…a SYLLABUS which is organized around TASK, rather than in terms of grammar or vocabulary. For example the syllabus may suggest a variety of different kinds of tasks which the learners are expected to obtain information; drawing maps based on oral instructions; performing actions based on commands given in the target language; giving orders and instructions to others, etc. It has been argued that this is a more effective way of learning a language since it provides a purpose for the use and learning of a language other than simply learning language items for their own sake.
(Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics (pp.469))
David Nunan (1988), also, describes them both as synonymous, “both tasked-based and procedural syllabuses share a concern with the classroom processes which stimulate learning. … In both approaches, the syllabus consists…of the specification of the tasks and activities that learners will engage in in class.”
Long and Crookes(1992) conducted their research from another aspect----the choice of the unit of analysis in syllabus design. They claim that:
Task has more recently appeared as the unit of analysis in three analytic, (primarily) alternatives: procedural, process and task syllabus. Each of these has certain limitations, too, but when the task syllabus is combined with a focus on form in task-based language teaching, the task receives more support in second language acquisition (SLA) research as a viable unit around which to organize language teaching and learning opportunities.
(Long and Crookes 1992)
From the above proposals, we can see that although there are some differences in the ways they define task-based syllabus, the effects and merits of it are agreeable and obvious. Consequently, all proposals share certain questions as: What is a task? Which one should be proposed before another? What is a good task and task performance? As we all know, the central issues for the syllabus designer concern the selection of items for the syllabus and the grading and sequencing of these items. The first question relates to the difficulty of differentiating tasks, especially tasks and subtasks nested within them, which in turn raises questions as to the finiteness of tasks (or task types) or their generative capacity (e.g. the criticism to the Bangalore Project for the selection of problems and tasks). The second question concentrates on the issue of task difficulty, that is, of determining the relevant grading and sequencing criteria. These are problems never resolved for other syllabuses either, of course, despite periodic discussion of such criteria as frequency, valency, and “difficulty”, but that does not absolve users of tasks from doing better. For example, it is generally assumed that difficulty is the key factor in determining the ordering of items in a syllabus. All things being equal, items are presented to learners according to their degree of difficulty. The problem of the task-based syllabus designer is that a variety of factors will interact to determine task difficulty. In addition, as some of these factors will be dependent on characteristics of the learner, what is difficult for Learner A may not necessarily be difficult for Learner B. The final question may be concern the evaluation of language teaching materials, which is still another difficult problem to resolve.
Clarke, D. F. (1991). The negotiated syllabus: What is it and how is it likely to work? Applied Linguistics, 12(1) 13-28.
Gray, Katie(1990). Syllabus design for the general class: what happens to theory when you apply it. ELT Journal, 44(4) 261-9.
Long, Michael H. & Crookes, Graham(1992). Three approaches to task-based syllabus design. TESOL Quarterly, 26(1) 27-56.
Nunan, David(1988). Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Richards, J. C., Platt, Jonh, & Platt, Heidi(2000). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics. 北京：外语教育与研究出版社.程晓堂. Handouts for TEFL Materials(for MA in TEFL)
Speaking of task-based syllabus, we must first make it clear what tasks are, what syllabuses are and what task-based syllabuses are. What are tasks ? By “task” is meant “the hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at play, and in between. “Tasks” are the things people will tell you they do if you ask them and they are not applied linguistics”(Long1985: 89) ...An activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language (i.e. as a response). For example, drawing a map while listening to an instruction and specify what will be regarded as successful completion of the task. (Richards, Platt, and Weger1985: 289) From the above we can see that Long’s tasks are real-world tasks. While Richards, Platt, and Weber’s tasks are pedagogic tasks. In addition, Doyle (1979; 1983) suggests academic tasks and Shavelson and Stern (1981) give instructional tasks. My opinion is we should choose tasks from real life, so that the students can learn authentic language, In a second thought, however, we must just or revise the tasks to make them easy to be performed, especially in classroom. After all our students will learn English in classrooms most of the time. What are syllabuses? “The syllabus is now seen as an instrument by which the teacher, with the help of the syllabus designer, can achieve a certain coincidence between the needs and aims of the learner, and the activities that will take place in the classroom. It is thus a necessity in terms of providing educational services to the community to which the teacher is responsible. (Yalden1987: 86). Richards, Platt and Platt said “a description of a course of instruction and the order in which they are to be taught. Language-teaching syllabuses may be based on (a) grammatical items and vocabulary (see STRUCTURAL SULLAGUS) (b) the language needs for different types of situations (see SITUATIONAL METHOD) (c) the meanings and communicative functions which the learner needs to express in the TARGET LAQNGUAGE (see NOTIONAL SYLLABUS). (Richards, Platt and Platt1992: 461-462). Comparing the two definitions, we can see Yalden’s definition is more reasonable. It emphasizes not only “needs and aims”, but also“ activities”. But it didn’t mention grading and sequencing materials. What are task-based syllabuses? “(in language teaching ) a SYLLABUS which is organized around TASKS, rather than in terms of grammar or vocabulary. For example the syllabus may suggest a variety of different kids of tasks which the learners are expected to carry out in the language, such as using the telephone to obtain information; drawing maps based on oral instructions; performing actions based on commands given in the target language; giving orders and instructions to others, etc. It has been argued that this is a more effective way of learning a language since it provides a purpose for the use and `learning of a language other than simply learning language items for their own sake “ (Richards, Platt, and Weber 1985:289). There is another name for task-based syllabus called procedural syllabus, despite some differences in practice, the principles underlying them are very similar. Both of them consider the classroom processes that stimulate learning. They therefore differ from syllabuses on which the focus is on the linguistic items that students will learn of instruction. They also differ from the communicative skills that they will be able to display as a result of instruction. They don’t emphasize linguistic analysis and the product. What they enforce is “the specification of the tasks and activities that learners will engage in class” (Nunan 1988). So the following content will only use task-based syllabuses. How to make a good task-based syllabus? After needs analysis, Long offers the following procedure for developing a task-based syllabus:
1.Conduct needs analysis to obtain an inventory of target tasks.
2.Classify the tarter tasks into task types.
3.From the task types, derive pedagogical tasks
4.Select and sequence the pedagogical tasks to form a task syllabus.
The benefits of task-based syllabuses:
1.Stricture can be learned when attention is focused on meaning.
2.They consider the process and activities of language learning.
3.They motivate the students’ interests to learn English.
4.When the students learn English, they have specific things to do.
The drawback of task-based syllabuses:
1.It’s difficult to degree tasks
2.Outcomes are not emphasized.3.It’s difficult to link classroom processes and real-world communicative goals.
ON TASK-BASED SYLLABUS
In recent 20 years the field of language teaching and learning has witnessed a profusion of evaluation of syllabuses. Probhu’s Procedural or Task-based syllabus , which is totally shifting away from and different from the traditional syllabuses is attracting many language teachers’ attention. However, can task-based syllabus be readily admitted to a wide range of language learning situations and can it be put into practice of second language teaching and learning? In order to answer this question, the paper will deal with three issues: ①. the definition and content of the task-based syllabuses, ②. the merits of the task-based syllabuses, and ③. the weaknesses of the task-based syllabuses.
Task-based syllabuses consist of a list of specification of the tasks and activities that the learners will engage it in class. However, task-based syllabus covers several divergent approaches. Applied linguists have not come into an agreement about the task-based syllabuses. Michael H. Long and Graham Crookes divided the task-based syllabus types into three ones: ①. the procedural syllabus,②.the process syllabus, and ③.the task syllabus. But in Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, task syllabus, task-based syllabus and procedural syllabus are dealt with the same concept. In turning to the concept of the “task”, it also has been defined in a variety of ways. In the field of the second language teaching, as the following definitions show, “[a task is] a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward. Thus, examples of tasks include painting a fence, dressing a child…. In other words, by ‘task’ is meant the hundred and one things people do it everyday life, at work, at play, and in between.” ( Long 1985:89) The second definition from a dictionary of applied linguistics is “ an activity or action which is carried out as the result of processing or understanding language tasks. Tasks may or may not involve the production of language. A task usually requires the teachers to specify what will be regarded as successful completion of the task. The use of a variety of different kinds of tasks in language teaching is said to make language teaching more communicative….” ( Richards, Platt and Weber 1986:289 ) The third definition is from Breen: “ ‘task’ is therefore assumed to refer to a range of workplans which have the overall purpose of facilitating language learning from the simple and brief exercise type, to more complex and lengthy activities, such as group problem-solving or simulations and decision making.”( Breen 1987:23 ) The fourth definition, according to David Nunan’s opinion, “the task is a piece of meaning-focused work involving learners in comprehending, producing and /or interacting in the target language, and that tasks are analysed or categorised according to their goals, input data, activities settings and roles.”
Generally speaking, applied linguists conceive task-based syllabuses from three points of views: first, from a linguistic perspective, that is, what linguistic elements should be taught, second, from a learner’s perspective, that is, what the learner wants to do with language, and third, form a learning perspective, that is, what activities will stimulate and promote language acquisition.
The task-based syllabus is a term, which is not very familiar to language teachers, but the amazing case in point is that teachers do indeed use these tasks in their everyday teaching activities. The characteristics and merits of a task as an activity in language teaching and learning are :
①. It centers in the principles of how language is to be used rather than taught or learned. The focus of a task is on solving a communicative problem, which has some connections with a real world of learners’ life and learning experience, and which can arouse learners’ interests and participation.
②. The completion of a task must be taken into consideration when designing and performing a task and the evaluation of a task is a significant sign of the result of completion of a task.
③. In task-based syllabus, the emphasis is on the learning process and the way in which it automatically defines the methodology is new and attractive to language teachers.
④. Task-based syllabus is more effective way of learning a language since it provides a purpose for the use and learning of a language other than simply learning language items for their own sake.
⑤. When task-based syllabus is combined with a focus on language in language teaching, the task receives more support in second language acquisition research.
⑥. During doing the tasks planned by teachers, the generative educational aim is to make learners understand and maximize, and control their cognitive powers and cognitive weaknesses.
⑦. During doing the tasks planned by teachers, learners’ differences can be easily found by teachers and teachers can be always getting ready to offer help to learners who need a hand at different settings.
⑧. There is a new and important tendency in the program of teacher development that teachers are not passive receivers, but active researchers and designers and practitioners of their own language teaching. It is high time that teachers changed their roles of providing learners with forms of language into ones of designing tasks that can stimulate their learners to response just like in a real world. It is the task-based syllabus that can loosen the bind that is tied to the language teachers.
As we know, every coin has two sides. Even though there are a lot of merits in task-based syllabus, there seems to us to be at least some problems with it.
①. The research base of task-based syllabus is, as yet, limited, and some of the second language acquisition and classroom research finally referred to may bear alternative interpretations.
②. Sometimes, it is difficult to judge whether an activity which requires learners to arrive at an outcome from given information through some process is successful or not. Sometimes the tasks are not consistent or systematic and the process of doing tasks is hard for teachers to control.
③. It is quite difficult for teachers to differentiate tasks, especially tasks and subtasks nested with them, which in turn raises questions as to the finiteness of tasks.
④. In language teaching and learning, grading task difficulty and sequencing tasks both appear to be arbitrary process.
The idea of task-based syllabus is both fascinating and stimulating in terms of what, potentially, it can contribute to language teaching and learning. Since there is more and more substantial and empirical evidence that task-based syllabus can produce better results. Language teachers are more likely to keep pace with the development of task-based syllabus in pedagogical reform in language teaching and learning.
Jack C. Richards, John Platt, Heidi Platt.2000. Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
David Nunan. 2000. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom .The Press of the University of Cambridge, England.
David Nunan.1988.Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Long, Michael H. & Crookes, Graham. 1992. Three approaches to task-based syllabus design. TESOL Quarterly, 26(①) 27-56
Prabhu, N.S. 1987. Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTIION ON TASK-BASED SYLLABUS
Abstract: In the article the author will mainly take into consideration the definition of task-based syllabus and its merits and drawbacks from different perspectives.
Key words: task, syllabus
Based on the development of cognitive psychology and applied linguistics, the task-based syllabus emerged in the 1980s and has been prevailing for nearly twenty years.. Unlike the traditional syllabuses whose focuses are on the language forms, the task-based syllabus focuses on the process of learning and the problem solving. And it is always organized around a variety of different kinds of tasks which are related to the real life and composed of chains of activities psychologically selected, graded and sequenced . Task has been defined and described in a variety of ways from different perspectives. The most recent definition comes from David Nunan: " …… the task is a piece of meaning-focused work involving learners in comprehending, producing and/or interacting in the target language, and that tasks are analyzed or categorized according to their goals, input data, activities, settings and roles." Generally speaking, task is a kind of process of interaction between learners and teachers or between the learners' mental abilities and the linguistic environment. During the process, learners, focusing on constructing the language meaning, participate the tasks actively to solve the "real-world problems" or the " pedagogic problems" with the help of linguistic or non-linguistic background resources. In this way, learners can be engaged in using the target language meaningfully and unconsciously, which can facilitate or enhance the internalization of the target language that learners are exposed to.
The merits of the task-based syllabus come from the comparison with the traditional syllabuses. It is well known that the traditional syllabuses, based on the hypotheses that there is an equation between what is taught and what is learned, always focus on the end products or results of the teaching process/learning process. So, it is always teacher-centered. And the language teaching aims to engage the learners in mastering the knowledge about the target language rather than the language itself. And the traditional syllabuses lay the emphasis on the forms of the language, so the grading and sequencing of the syllabus items are usually carried out according to grammatical (linguistic) principles. Otherwise, the task-based syllabus focuses on the process of learning and the experience in itself and is centered in the constructing and communicating of meanings rather than the forms. In addition, the tasks are always selected, graded and sequenced according to the cognitive and performance demands made upon the learners. Therefore, the language teaching of the task-based syllabus always focuses on the solving of problems connected with the learners’ real life, learning experience and society. Thus, learners are always the dominants of the language classroom. Meanwhile, some other merits can be perceived based on different language teaching or learning theories. From the psychological perspective, it can be concluded that involving learners in the problem-solving activities can stimulate, promote language learning and enhance the internalization of the target language. In some sense, learning is involving. According to the pragmatic theory, the motivation and needs the learners have for learning a foreign language shouldn’t be only to achieve language knowledge but to achieve communication. The goals to solve the problems and the strong relation with the real world owned by the task-based syllabus can highly motivate the learners to achieve their different goals. According the second language acquisition theory, linguistic knowledge can be classified into two types: learnt knowledge and acquired knowledge. ‘Acquired knowledge ‘consists of subconscious L2 rules which the learner can call upon automatically; ‘learnt knowledge’ consists of metalingual knowledge which can only be used to monitor output generated by means of ‘acquired’ knowledge. And acquisition occurs automatically when the learner engages in natural communication where the focus is on meaning and where there is comprehensible input. Learning occurs where the learner is focused on the formal properties of the target language. By carrying out enough practice, learnt knowledge can be changed into acquired knowledge automatically. It is obvious that when learners are engaged in solving the problems designed according to the task-based syllabus approach, they can go beyond the text and language knowledge to concentrate on the meaning or usage of the target language. In this way, acquisition can be fostered unconsciously. At last, because the tasks are designed with a close connection to the society and the real life, learners’ own experiences and background knowledge can be easily recalled to facilitate their learning.
Despite its merits, the task-based syllabus has got a number of problems. First of all it is very difficult for the designers to select, grade and sequence the tasks scientifically. Secondly, it neglects the importance of the knowledge of the target language. In some sense, the language knowledge is the basis for a further learning of the target language. A second language learner outside the linguistic environment which a native speaker enjoys can speak the target language fluently but can’t accurately without enough linguistic knowledge. It can be said that fluency will be meaningless and valueless without accuracy. Thirdly, the teacher’s syllabus is only a teaching syllabus but the learners have their own in-built syllabuses for learning or acquiring based on their own motivations, interests, needs, experiences, background knowledge, aptitudes, cognitive styles, and so on. Sometimes, there is a mismatch between these two syllabuses. Fourthly, it neglects the differences between different cultures. So, learners from different cultural backgrounds can have different understandings and responses in the same task.
The teacher-centered and form-focused syllabuses have been dominating the foreign language teaching in China for a long time. It is agreed that language teachers should have a thorough reflection of the language teaching at both a theoretical and practical level. It is hoped that the theory about the task-based syllabus can show them the direction to improve their teaching methods
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