Ten tips for using a task-based learning approachfrom About.com Continuing Education, by John Iveson, education
A group of adult learners chooses a house to buy from a real estate brochure. Next, they select a mortgage from a list including fixed and variable rates with various payment schemes. Learners also calculate how much they expect to pay over the course of the mortgage given certain economic conditions.
In another classroom, groups are watching a series of video clips. In each clip, an accident takes place. Consequences include burns, bleeding, loss of consciousness, and broken bones. Student groups discuss the action they would take in each case.
Next door, a teacher tells adult groups that their boss needs a Microsoft Word document by lunchtime. The document should include a table showing the staff work schedule for the next month. The necessary staffing information is on the whiteboard. Each group attempts to create the required document by the set deadline.
These lesson snapshots are from programs in finance, emergency first-aid, and an introduction to Word. In each task, students must communicate in order to achieve a goal. Groups then report their decisions and findings to the class as a whole.
After the report stage, each teacher may give feedback on students’ task completion, give teaching input, and set focussed practice of the target skills. In future, students can draw on this feedback and input during the completion of other tasks.
All three teachers are following a task-based learning approach to their classes. Task-based learning (TBL) has emerged as a major approach to language education over the last two decades. However, its principles can easily be applied to all subjects.
TBL lessons follow a flexible cycle. The process usually includes several key stages. Firstly, a short pre-task stage sets the theme. Next, learners draw on knowledge and experience to complete a task in a group. Following the task is a feedback and practice session.
Although the onus is on learners to complete tasks successfully, the role of the teacher in remains vital.
The following ten tips can help teachers to plan and implement effective task-based learning lessons.
1) Introduce ideas in the pre-task
The pre-task stage should help students understand the coming task. Here, teachers can bring up themes, ideas and vocabulary, and discuss pictures or data. Teachers should avoid teaching new content at this point. Learners should enter the task stage feeling free to draw upon any knowledge and skills they wish.
2) Pitch the level right
Setting the task at the right level takes practice. If the task is too simplistic, learners may achieve the goal quickly with little effort. As a result, they are unlikely to develop skills. On the other hand, a difficult task can frustrate students into completing a task with minimal communication. In an effective task, students explore ideas and reach consensus after productive negotiation.
3) Gauge cognitive demands
Teachers can change the cognitive load required to suit the learners’ level. For example, a task may involve finding solutions to financial problems. Higher-level students could discuss case histories and hypothesize about similar situations. Lower-level learners could arrange a list of solutions to a financial problem in order of effectiveness. In each case, the theme remains the same, but the intellectual demands differ according to level.
4) Be flexible with task demands
Cognitive demands of a task can also be changed to manipulate task difficulty. A teacher can increase or decrease the task demands by changing the following factors: Group size, time allocation, number of operations required, and familiarity of material. Providing more or less visual support is another way to influence task demands.
5) Step back
During the task, it can be tempting for teachers to step in and correct learner errors. However, teachers should refrain from intervening. The task is a time for learners to work towards a goal using their available skills. Teachers may help learners formulate their ideas and reasoning. However, they should take care not to correct errors at this point.
6) Be a good monitor
While monitoring learners, teachers need to listen carefully. They should make unobtrusive notes. These notes will be used during the feedback and correction stage later in the lesson. It can reassure learners to know that teachers are also noting good examples. Eye contact should be avoided while monitoring unless a learner makes a direct request.
7) Give time for report preparation
After the task, learners prepare to report their findings to the whole group. This report stage gives presentation practice in a more formal setting. It is important that learners are given enough time to prepare their reports. In this way, they can pay attention to the accurate and effective organization of ideas.
8) Avoid public correction
When offering feedback to the group, teachers should avoid naming students who made specific errors during the task stage. Maintaining confidence during the task stage is especially important. Students need to feel comfortable expressing themselves. Highlighting mistakes by named individuals can erode confidence for future classes. Explaining this policy to learners often helps create a positive learning atmosphere.
9) Choose errors wisely
Providing good feedback involves choosing errors that relate to the majority of students. Learners may lose focus if they do not feel involved in the feedback stage. Also, teachers should mainly select errors that relate to the specific learning aims of the task. Having good and bad examples from learners helps to clarify aims effectively.
10) Provide a model task
Where possible, teachers should provide a task model. This can give more exposure to relevant information and ideas. The model can be given in the pre-task or feedback stages. Be careful not to provide a solution to a task during the pre-task! The model is often given after the task. This can grow learner confidence through the knowledge that they have completed a similar task to an acknowledged model.