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Selecting materials for task-based learning

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Over the years, experts in learning have conceptualized learning as a gradual, organic and cyclical process which involves the learner in actively constructing knowledge (Bruner, 1985; Vygotsky, 1978). Learning is also considered most effective when it is interactive, holistic and purposeful, and when the conceptual content is thematically interrelated, and when the process of learning is personally engaging to the learner. Nunan (1999) and Willis (1996) make similar observations about the essential conditions for effective language learning.Based on the above conceptions of learning, special issues are identified as important in the selection of instructional materials for task-based language learning, which makes learning purposeful and holistic. (Please click on the following link for an overview of the key issues)
  • Selecting materials for task-based learning
To facilitate the all-round development of students, greater emphasis has been placed on providing learning opportunities that enhance students’ progress in various dimensions, namely the Knowledge, Interpersonal, and Experience Dimensions, so that they can learn to effectively use and communicate information, ‘knowledge, ideas, values, attitudes and experience’ (CDC, 2004, p.4). To foster students’ development in the Experience Dimension, which is generally not adequately addressed in textbooks, language arts (LA) activities such as drama, and poetry writing have a major role to play in heightening students’ language sensitivity, cultural awareness, and creative thinking.
  • One very useful strategy that teachers can adopt if they wish to experiment with the use of LA activities in their English language classroom is to integrate such activities into their regular curriculum, which may be text-book based. Teachers need to discuss and identify the inadequate or neglected area in students’ learning experiences and to exercise their professional judgment and make judicious use of textbook resources flexibly, which implies that adaptation, modification, omission, replacement or enrichment strategies are required in the development of their scheme of work. Teachers must work collaboratively, through discussion and exchange of views and ideas on the evaluation of teaching units. This process will contribute to their professional development, build their pedagogical competence in the subject area, and ensure coherence and continuity in student learning. A coherent framework for integrating LA activities into a text-book based curriculum is provided below for teachers’ reference. (Please click on the following link for an overview of the framework)
  • * Framework for integrating LA into a text-book based curriculum
The following framework adapted from Estaire & Zanon, 1994) provides important guidelines for developing and selecting appropriate language arts materials for integration into a text-based unit of work:

Stage 1: Matching LA materials with the theme:

  • Do the LA materials involve students in sharing, talking about, listening to, reading, writing about, and imagining about things that are of interest and/or importance to them?

Stage 2: Planning the units and tasks

  • Are the units and tasks appropriately selected and organized to:
  • enable students to work towards the targets and objectives?
  • engage students in active, purposeful, communicative and authentic interactions leading to meaningful products?
  • involve students in practising different types of skills they will need in the real world, e.g. creative problem-solving, theorizing?
  • promote an integrated and creative use of language?
  • enable students to manipulate and practise specific features of language in an integrated and creative manner?
  • enhance the development of different kinds of knowledge on the part of the students?
  • activate psychological / psycholinguistic process of learning?
  • encourage learner independence and promote skills in learning how to learn?
  • promote positive development of attitude and dispositions?

Stage 3: Determining the targets

  • Are the goals students working towards related to different dimensions?

Stage 4: Specifying content

  • What are the thematic aspects of the unit?
  • What are the linguistic contents, which cover
    • the functional content,
    • grammatical content
    • lexical content, and
    • other aspects, e.g. phonological aspects, discourse features, skills and strategies, procedural language ?

Stage 5: Planning the process

  • Are the tasks sequenced appropriately according to their themes, levels of difficulty, and time of the year or number of hours available?
  • Which are the tasks that could be used as assessment tasks?
  • What are the other assessment methods and formats?
  • What are the teaching strategies for each selected learning task?
  • How can the task be organized to cater for learner differences?
  • Are the tasks carried out at an appropriate pace?

Stage 6: Planning evaluation instruments and procedures

  • Is the framework effective in helping students work towards the targets?
  • How far is the framework compatible with the existing materials, e.g. textbooks?
  • How far is the framework compatible with the current school syllabus?
The following textbook-based unit of work was developed to provide some purposeful, interesting and creative learning experiences for Secondary three students. (Please click on the following link for the unit plan)
  • * An example - Integrating LA activities into a textbook-based unit on ‘Superstition’
  • Curriculum Development Council (2004). English Language Curriculum Guide. (Primary 1-6). Hong Kong.
  • Estaire, S. & Zanon, J. (1994). Planning classwork: a task based approach. Oxford: Heinemann.
  • Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching and learning. Newbury House.
  • Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University.
  • Willis, J. (1996). A framework for task-based learning. Harlow: Longmans