Using task based language teaching with TCI/TPRS

Yay! Acronyms! TBLT, or Task Based Language Teaching is quickly becoming an obsession of mine.  At the beginning of the summer I was introduced to TBLT through the SLA course I took at MSU. I had to create a research proposal that used data from a task based activity. My proposal was about interaction with vocabulary and interactions affects on long term retention of vocabulary. What is a task? Ellis (2003) says that a task resembles a real world activity, has a primary focus on meaning, has a non-linguistic outcome, and learners are expected to use their own linguistic resources.

When creating a task there are some questions that we need to answer to make sure it's truly TBLT. (from Dr. Amanda Lanier, MSU)

What is the authentic task? What is the real world application of the task? Is it something that people REALLY, ACTUALLY do?

What are the teacher's goals for the activity? What CAN students do to complete the activity? (Look at ACTFL can-do statements.)

What are students aiming to accomplish? What is the outcome of the task? What happens when they complete the task? e.g. If the task is ordering food, they will know they are successful if they receive the food they ordered.

What do students need to know? Basically, what do students already know, and how can they build on that to complete the task?

What terms and phrases do they need? These could be language chunks, meaning based chunks of words that students don't need to know the grammar for, but will help express what they want to express for task completion.

What is the task? What is the activity that students are actually doing? What is the evidence of completion?

How can you extend the task to other modes of communication? If it's a speaking task, how can we make that to an interpretive task, etc.?

What I absolutely LOVE about TBLT is that there is no required grammar, the only requirement is that students complete the task by any means necessary, and by any means available to them.

The reason I'm trying to use more TBLT in my TCI class room is that there is  ONE thing that I just can't get into. I like funny and interesting stories, but I can't get into how bizarre some people get. There's nothing wrong with it at all, if it works for you in your classroom it is not wrong. It works great for some people, but it’s not quite my style. I do like to stretch reality with my stories, but I tend to not ever really arrive in BIZARRE story land. Something came up on a Facebook group that, sarcastically, mentioned “when will students talk about purple dancing cows?!”  Yea, I get it.  When do we do that? We don't, but we use a lot of high frequency vocabulary that students will acquire and be able to reconstruct into their own thoughts as their journey through proficiency goes on.

Like I said, I’ve been dabbling in TBLT for a little bit, but I had a great idea for a task today and I’m just thinking about how I can implement it. It does take some backwards planning, and it may work better in a Targeted classroom (if you think Untargeted works with TBLT as well please let me know!). But that doesn't mean that each story you do has to be about the same topic.

Right now I'm doing some TPRS/TCI with routines. (Basically I'm just doing some PQA and extending that into mini stories) In a couple weeks my students should be ready for a task involving their daily routines. But we can get to that point using the vocabulary that we've already started to acquire, and we can add vocabulary that we are working on acquiring now through stories and other TCI activities! If I do more stories does that mean I have to teach thematic vocabulary in a list? No. Do I have to focus JUST on reflexive verbs because a lot of routine verbs are reflexive? No. If I'm talking about my routine I also need to be able to say when I leave, when I get to a place, I can talk about eating lunch... There are a lot of things that go into talking about routines. I'm not simply telling stories about people doing mundane activities.

I believe, and I would need to collect some surveys on this, that students will feel more successful in a TCI/TPRS classroom if we involve tasks. It's like "YES we do talk about silly things, now here’s how you can apply what we’ve been doing to real world".