#TBLTChat 6 – Misconceptions – Summary

This was a special chat and the original premise was suggested by Mura. There was a bit of pre-reading, too.

Before the chat started, Marc as The Voice of #TBLTChat tweeted “There’s no grammar teaching, you can’t do it with beginners and it takes ages to write lesson plans. Hmmm.”

Maite then questioned that writing a TBLT lesson plan takes her longer, perhaps due to lack of materials.

I (Marc) think this is another issue itself and could easily take up another chat and could be collective homework for our #TBLTChat community. But, I digress.

Sarah agreed with Maite and Helen said that if you have a task and Language knowledge you have a plan, essentially. Helen says she thinks planning TBLT lessons takes less time to ‘do’ but more thought pre-lesson. Myles said finding the input source took more time than actually planning (in a Mike Long model of TBLT). He also linked to his excellent blog post about how a materials bank can help save time in planning. Maite said that her school had grammar requirements.

Helen said she deals with the misconception that students don’t learn much. Teachers need different perspective on measuring progress no longer measured in grammatical units but in wider, more meaningful communicative task achievement. Sarah added that stakeholders need to shift their mindsets away from the structural syllabus (i.e. grammar or lexical syllabi).

Leading on from this, Sarah said that teachers lack confidence and support in using TBLT and then asked (rhetorically?) how many ELT organizations offer training and support in this area. Helen questioned how many go beyond PPP (Present-Practice-Produce, or the default CELTA/Cert TESOL method). Maite added that some primary schools are giving importance to collaborative learning and offering courses, as well as companies promoting communicative approaches and methodologies, though TBLT is still unexplored. Sarah said this means the onus is on (individual) teachers to explore and experiment, and wondered when teacher-training certificates would catch up. Myles said they wouldn’t because teachers are not linguistically prepared for recasting or incidental Focus on Form after one month of training. He wondered whether having trainee teachers teaching TBLT off the bat to the students who are usually there for free would be possible, saying that experimentation should happen. Marc said it would be undesirable (and I meant for the institution and maybe students but not sure about the latter) for the to be students to be more knowledgeable about grammar than the teacher. Helen said perhaps the teacher could provide just the parts of language students were missing in the task, and Myles agreed, with pre and post-task stages being the easiest for new teachers to teach language in.

There was a bit of to and from about not being able to teach strong communications approaches in Diploma-level training (Myles and Marc regarding TBLT and Dogme). Gerard said this has changed on the DELTA he runs.

Sarah said that her misconception (one that many of us shared) was that we thought we were doing Task-Based Language Teaching but were actually doing Task-Supported Language Teaching, essentially something advocated by many scholars who talk about integrating language items into the syllabus instead of approaching them as a reactive Focus on Form. In a similar note, Shona said that a misconception she sees is that “any classroom activity counts as a task, since they’re all just a pretext for teaching rules or vocab”. Helen said that TSLT is a good bridge toward TBLT and that most of her school materials are TSLT-based. Shona further added that TBLT is not TBLT if teachers are adding parameters such as ‘include five examples of present perfect”.

Shona mentioned that another misconception was that TBLT is not suitable for young learners. She posted this blog post with video of young beginners doing a story retelling task. This shows it can be done. 

Marc said that one of the misconceptions that bugs him is Focus on Form is just grammar. It is a focus on language that can result in more successful task completion. It can cover grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, discourse management, pragmatics, semantics and probably more. He gave a couple of examples of “talk about your holiday and keep the small talk going” being a task, and “talk about your holiday using three phrasal verbs”. Chris and Ben couldn’t see why the former was a task, saying that it needs clearer purpose. Marc said that phatic communion is often difficult for learners, as is changing the subject when an initial topic runs out of steam.

And then, that was that. Thank you everyone for your contributions and Happy New Year!

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About Marc

I teach in Tokyo.
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