#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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#TBLTChat 6 – Special – Misconceptions 

Hello again. It has been a while, hasn’t it?

The next #TBLTChat on Twitter is scheduled for Tuesday 13th December from 0:00 GMT until 0:00 GMT on the 14th. 

This topic was suggested by Mura Nava, and there is a bit of pre-reading, too. 

What are some misconceptions about TBLT you have encountered? Do you think you have misconceptions? 

See you next Tuesday! 

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#TBLTChat 5: Practical ways to Focus on Form during the task cycle – Summary

What a corker this chat was. Myles kicked us off with a spot of pre-reading by Michael Long on Focus on Form (and FormS, and the difference).

You should basically know that a Focus on Form is: a focus on the form of language that is troublesome, it is not predetermined, though teachers might have a good idea at what is likely to be focused on because some tasks cause certain types of language to be more probable than others. It is done either during the task or after the task. Focus on FormS is a predetermined focus on teaching aspects of language before tasks.

Marc noted that it was not just grammar, though this is often mistaken in research literature: it could be pronunciation, vocabulary, pragmatics, discourse management, and more. Helen said this was important as there is a tendency to associate ‘form’ with grammar.

Marc said that he sometimes draw sagittal diagrams (cutaway diagrams of the mouth) on the board to show minimal pairs or confused sounds.

Helen said she highlights prefix-meaning relationship and synonyms relevant to the task, which is good for standardised tests. Myles asked if this was done post-task or reactively, and Helen said post-task due to class size. Myles said that perhaps recasting reactively and then post-task form focus might be good practice.

Marc also said he asks learners to make requests longer so that they resemble requests and not commands.

Myles quoted or paraphrased Long with:

 FonF is not carried out as a separate activity, as an end in itself, but during (and if necessary after, but not before) task.

Maite said she wanted to know how FonF could be more real and communicative. She said she preferred having students invent grammar rules based upon evidence as opposed to just giving a rule (i.e.inductive vs. deductive grammar teaching). Marc said this was authentic because in real-world situations he analyses what went wrong, or not well, in his own L2 use. Mura said it was often recommended to be contingent on the type of error produced. Marc then gave links to Steve Brown’s blog on ‘preflection’ and Cult of Pedagogy on ‘dogfooding’ or doing your task yourself.

Myles went on to give an example of correcting an error (missing to in an infinitive) by teacher response, on topic with the correct form. Mura wondered if it would be considered an error rather than a slip of the tongue. Marc said he would let it slide first time and focus on it if it came up again. Myles then found a great quote by Mike Long (2015) “A student’s attempt to produce a form is not always, but often, an indication of his or her developmental readiness to acquire it.”

Liam went on to say that there are different ways to go about FonF, “text-based, guided discovery, upgrades, student presentation, etc.” Myles linked to Scott Thornbury and asked “Retrieve (for post-task), Recast (on the spot), Report (by the Ss themselves). 3 R’s here apply to TBLT?”

We then basically tailed off and Maite told us that her presentation at the TBLT Conference in Barcelona 2017 has been accepted. If you can go, you should. I would love to but short of a lottery win I don’t have a cat in hell’s chance!

Till next time!




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#TBLTChat 5: Practical ways to Focus on Form during the task cycle

It was decided! We are going with Focus on Form (what learners are trying to communicate) not Focus on FormS (pre-planned teaching of discrete language points, usually prescriptive grammar).
See you 18th October, midnight till 18:00 GMT. 

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#TBLTChat 5: Number 5 is alive

Wow, after a lively comments section to suggest a topic this time, we have an shower of goodies to choose from.

The chat is 18th October from 0:00 GMT until 18:00 GMT.

Choose your favourite.

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#TBLTChat 5: the momentum is building! 

Hi #TBLTChat-ers and ride soon to be. What would you like to talk about next Tuesday 18th October from 0:00 GMT until 18:00 GMT?

Leave a comment below. Remember, it’s your #TBLTChat, too. 

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#TBLTChat 4: Problems and Strategies

There were a few more people involved in this #TBLTChat than last time, possibly because this was a case of addressing problems in the TBLT classroom (and TSLT classroom). This is what a lot of people want out of CPD, I would imagine.

Anyway, thanks to Helen for suggesting this chat topic.

Marc (me) lives in Asia so am up with the Twitter chat larks and kicked off by talking about L1 use and overuse and getting learners to avoid the latter. I suggested that Dörnyei’s Motivational Self system [PDF] might work for this. Helen said she would try it. Maite said L1 use can be difficult to manage at times, specially with less proficient learners. A key vocabulary list handed before the task could help them use the target language when there is a language gap. Marc said it could help, but I think if there is a lot of vocabulary that prevents task completion, the plan should change.

Helen also said that teens get so enthused by tasks that they focus too much on the task and use L1 to do it. She gives points for L2 use and loads of functional language. Marc said that this should be made clear in the task rubric. Helen said that her young learners’ emergent language needs functional and irrelevance filtering  and asked if anyone had any tips. Peter said that he feeds a lot of process language but rarely works to reduce L1 (over)use.  He added that context (especially monolingual classes) and intrinsic motivation are factors. Sarah suggested having one student in a group observing and checking when functional language is used. They can then repeat a similar task and change roles. She said they can also make audio recordings of themselves performing the task and then self-assess using English. Giulia said that with teens it can be very difficult to do this due to not wanting to look bad in the eyes of their classmates so they don’t take the role seriously. Marc said that having learners give success criteria should activate schema. He also stated that going in silent and trying to have learners understand non-verbal instructions  and eliciting process language this way may work. Peter agreed that learners need clear success criteria and that they should play a part in defining them. Maite said that asking for meaning is OK but remarked that tasks have real communication so learners should be able to get meaning from context.

Helen said that on her Task-Supported course (which Peter also teaches) that there is a lot of input through key texts. There is a lot of asking for definitions of lexis. The learners tend to see/hear these texts before they attempt their tasks. I said that this could be given after the learners do their tasks and then they can see what was the same or different. Peter then added that the task should be repeated so learners can improve performance.  Myles said if he repeats tasks sometimes learners get bored so he tweaks the task for the repetition, for example the first task may be ordering a meal but the second is ordering as a vegetarian. Marc said that if he doesn’t tweak the task for repetition he tweaks his expectations, such as requiring more complexity. Maite said she would never repeat a task the exact same way. She would switch partners, add difficulty, etc. Marc said he would repeat a task exactly if it was beneficial or if there had been a lot of Focus on Form.

Marc’s asked about how to get learners to work through difficulties other than simply feeding them language without negotiation of meaning. Liam said that if he doesn’t tell them his learners go straight to Google Translate so he asks leading questions. Myles said feeding students language at the point of need sounds logical if it assists task completion. Marc said yes, if it is blocking them but that students sometimes think there is only one way to complete a task but they already have language that they can put to use to do it. Liam said it depends how memorable the language is and how effective the intervention is. Myles then replied that he likes to see his students try to use the fed form later in the lesson and stretch out its possible uses, then expand a post task during a mini form focus, for example to hire a venue/car/bike (for the day/night/week). Marc said he does if they can manage it. You need to know your learners. Maite said that you could give points for guessing  unknown words or search it as homework for next class. Marc said that in similar/related languages with lots of cognates contextual guessing is easy but that with different languages (for example Japanese and English) it can be difficult.

Marc said that something that was a hassle for him when he started teaching was learners doing the bare minimum with ‘broken English’ just to be first finished. He said that a rationale in rubrics is needed, something like “You’re not incapable of speaking with correct grammar so try not to sound like it” as part of the rubric for task completion. Nakiya said that her students often compete to be first to complete, too, without looking to understand points to take away. Marc said that there he tells his learners there is such a thing as too fast. Maite said she sets a secondary task more difficult than the previous one if learners finish too early. Marc said he did too or got learners to summarise their conversation in writing. Sarah said to set the bar high and share aims/outcomes with learners and learning will be greater. Marc then said that teachers think students understand teacher expectations but actually don’t, although this lack of understanding is sometimes faked in order to avoid doing work with some students.

And that was our fourth! Thanks to all the chatters and the lurkers. Don’t be afraid to join in next time.

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