The Indian ELT picture

Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) was made mandatory in all CBSE schools in 2009 to ensure a diagnostic focus on learning. Teachers unequipped for the prescribed corrective action, however, impair the implementation of CCE. This problem is correlated with the professional development of elementary and secondary teachers through learner-centric ‘pedagogies that develop reflective teachers with adequate skills’ (NCF, 2005, p.25), and ‘improved curriculum and materials’(NCFTE, 2009, p.6).Teacher education for CCE in Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) requires ‘critically engaging with theory’ to ‘bring practice within its perspective’ (NCFTE, 2009, p.9). The role of the teacher is envisaged as ‘...developing capacities to think with educational theories and applying concepts in concrete teaching-learning situations’ (NCFTE, 2009, p.41). Teacher Education in CLT, hence,is focused primarily on method. This emphasis on pedagogical theory to improve teaching methods as the guiding policy of teacher education, however, has not bridged the perceived hiatus between theory and its classroom application.

Perspective shift from method to materials-in-process

It is reasonable to suppose that the disconnect between theory and application exists because the ‘methods’ perspective overlooks the unilateral role of materials along with methods in teaching skills (Fig. 1). A three-page schema of ‘Teacher Education Curricular Areas’ (NCFTE, 2009, pp.43-45), for instance, mentions the ‘creation of alternative learning materials’ only once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Method overshadows materials because the latter is seen as an outcome of the former. Developing ‘textual and related materials by commissioning eminent scholars in the disciplines of knowledge’ (NCFTE, 2009, p.91) is the established policy. The continuing inefficacy of the ‘methods perspective’ in SLTE, however, opens the way for a new perspective on materials, not as the product of methodical expertise, but as a process directly correlated with it. This radical ‘materials perspective’ enables a new critical focus on lesson-planning. The traditional plan-practice-reflect focus on method is restructured to include reflection on materials, or more precisely, on method through materials-in-process, as outlined in the present paper. 

Autonomous, learner-centric teaching

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) first envisaged the ‘self-directed teacher’ who, instead of passively receiving and implementing methods, actively develops materials, classroom activities and assessment procedures (Nunan and Lamb, 1996; Bailey, Curtis and Nunan, 2001; Nunan, 2004). This self-directed approach moved away from the ‘methods concept’ as its ineffectuality became evident (Richards, 1998).

Many teachers trained in innovative pedagogical methods in workshops revert to their pre-training teaching method almost immediately afterwards. Few participants actually implement new methods and materials in their classroom practice, and with varying degrees of success. This is mainly because the generic structure of training workshops does not replicate specific classroom conditions (Richards, 1998). Instead of ‘importing ideas from elsewhere’, it is better to directly study the classroom scenario for methods and materials that work in common for good teachers everywhere (Allwright & Bailey, 1991; Nunan, 1989). The methods bias of action research in the CLT era, hence, shifted to materials with the advent of TBLT (Ellis, 2003).

Language skills for life

English language skills and life skills education may be integrated across the CBSE curriculum through TBLT focussing on self-awareness, empathy, problem-solving, decision-making, effective communication, interpersonal relations, creative thinking, critical thinking, coping with emotions and coping with stress (NCF, 2005). It should be noted, however, that the average teacher still teaches the Communicative English text through lecture method instead of focusing on language skills.

Task-framing for teacher development

In this prevalent grassroots scenario, the text-as-product could gradually be replaced with TBLT or the task-as-process in the ‘materials perspective’. This hypothesis is based on frequent teacher statements that textual syllabus (materials) decides their method. TBLT materials created by experts indicate that professional development is causatively linked with effective materials. The present paper, however, reverses this causative link from materials to professional development, by focusing on teachers framing language tasks to understand how this process can structure their teaching method and enhance their teaching skills. Innovation in method or TBLT is thus expected as an outcome of task-framing.

Case study on MI-RBT-TBLT

The basic guidelines for framing learner-centric language tasks are provided by three major theoretical sources:

TBLT (Ellis & Ellis, 2007)

Howard Gardner’s (1995) Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI)

Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (RBT) (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001)

In the present study, a group of seven primary level English teachers of a CBSE school were oriented in the application aspect of MI, RBT and TBLT. MI inputs stimulate various learner intelligences, thus catering to individual differences (Armstrong, 1994).  The five cognitive levels of RBT: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Evaluation and Creativity, set the learning objectives in language tasks (Armstrong, 1994). These teachers framed language tasks with MI-RBT inputs complementing the NCERT textual units.

One such task, framed by a participant teacher during the study, is analysed here vis-à-vis the teaching method and skills and learner strategies observed in its implementation. The implementation of TBLT in the first version of the task (Fig. 2) is compared with that in the final version of the same task (Fig 3), focussing on learning strategies observed and fulfilment of the learning objective by the task outcome.

Tasty Tiffins for Class 5 (Version 1)

  1. What’s your favourite snack for tiffin at school? Does it balance nourishment with taste and calories? Try to prepare this snack at home with help from an adult.
  2. Write out a fair copy of the recipe under the headings of Ingredients (in correct quantity) and Method.

Rubric:

  • ««« (Three Stars): The Ingredients and Method are complete, with all the steps written in correct order.  There are no spelling or grammar errors.
  • «« (Two Stars and a Wish): The Ingredients are complete and in correct amount. The Method is complete, but one or two steps are not in sequence. There are one or two spelling and grammatical errors.
  • « (One star and Two Wishes): The Ingredients are incomplete or the amount is not specified. The Method is confusing and incomplete. There are more than five spelling and grammar errors.

[MI: Logical, Verbal, Kinesthetic, Interpersonal; RBT: Application, Evaluation]

Fig. 2

An interview with the teacher who framed this task (Fig. 2) revealed four stages of task-framing:

a.  She first diagnosed the need for her learners to improve their writing skills through rough drafts, revision and editing, which they usually avoided. This formed the learning objective.

b.  She next linked writing with physical-kinesthetic Intelligence, as young learners love physical activity. The writing theme of ‘Tasty, yet healthy tiffin’ was borrowed from ‘Nutrition’ in their Environmental Science syllabus, thus linking learning with real-life and enabling vocabulary development in another subject.

c.  The initial draft of the task (Fig. 2) required learners to try out the snack and write down the recipe. The learners however, copied out the first draft of the recipe without revision or editing. Observation and reflection helped identify and correct the mismatch in RBT level between task-outcome (Application) and planned learning objective (Evaluation) in the first implementation of the task.

d.  The improved version of the task (Fig. 3) included MI-RBT inputs for note-making, revision, editing and peer-feedback.

Tasty Tiffins for Class 5 (Version 2)

1.  What’s your favourite snack for tiffin at school? Does it balance nourishment with taste and calories?

2.  Try to prepare this snack at home with help from an adult. While in the kitchen, make a few notes on ingredients, measures and method of preparation under the header, Messy Notes in the Kitchen

3.  Write out a fair copy of the recipe under the headings of Ingredients (in correct quantity) and Method. Add a few tips on Garnishing the dish for appearance. Lastly, add your own remarks under: Hot Tips from the Cook, on special touches to enhance its taste/appearance, its food value, etc.

4.  Exchange your recipe with a friend, try the new one out at home – and return it with a ‘star’ rating from one to three stars for the recipe as in the rubric.

Rubric:

  • ««« (Three Stars): The Ingredients are complete and in correct amount. The Method is complete, with all the steps written in correct order. The Garnishing adds to taste and visual effect. The Hot Tips are interesting, amusing and useful. There are no spelling or grammatical errors.
  • «« (Two Stars and a Wish): The Ingredients are complete and in correct amount. The Method is complete, but one or two steps are not in sequence. The Garnishing only adds to visual effect, not taste. The Hot Tips are interesting, amusing and useful. There are one or two spelling and grammatical errors.
  • « (One star and Two Wishes): The Ingredients are incomplete or the specified amount is incorrect. The Method is confusing, as the steps are not in sequence. The Garnishing does not add to visual effect or taste. The Hot Tips are misleading. There are more than five spelling and grammatical errors.

6.  Collect the 3-star recipes in your class to compile your own Tasty Tiffins for Class 5 book.

 

[MI: Logical, Verbal, Kinesthetic, Interpersonal; RBT: Application, Evaluation]

Fig. 3

The sections Messy Notes in the Kitchen; Ingredients; Method; Garnishing and Hot Tips from the Cook enabled note-taking, revision, redrafting and editing through the Verbal-linguistic and Logical Intelligences of learners. The ‘stars-and-a-wish’ system enabled constructive peer-feedback, as suggestions for improvement (wishes) were balanced by appreciation of effort and achievement (stars). The addition of sub-tasks like comparing and grading recipes also raised the final task-outcome to the cognitive RBT level of Evaluation. The task process thus elicited all the sub-skills of writing and the task-outcome met its learning objective.

Indirect (video) observations of the two lessons, examining the written products, administering a strategy inventory of 62 items (Oxford & Burry-Stock, 1995), and teacher and learner interviews provided quantitative and qualitative data for the comparison of strategies elicited by the two versions of task performance (Table 1).

Strategy type

Instanceof Strategy Use

Task Version 1

Task Version 2

Direct Strategies

 

 

Memory (4 items)

25

17

Cognitive (35 items)

3

36

Compensation (12 items)

15

34

Total Direct Strategies

43

87

Indirect Strategies

 

 

Metacognitive (7 items)

2

19

Affective (1 item)

0

27

Social (3 items)

0

32

Total Indirect Strategies

2

78

Total Strategies Used

45

165

 

Table 1

This comparison indicates that the incidence of strategies deployed by learners increases from 45 in the first version to 215 in the improved version of the task. Rewriting from memory led to 25 instances of memory strategies in the first version but only 17 instances in the second version of the task. Affective and Social strategies, not observed in the first version, increase to 27 and 32 respectively in the second version, due to collaborative-learning. Cognitive strategies associated with writing sub-skills increase in the second version of the task. More Metacognitive and Compensation strategies are also deployed in the second version.

In this case study, a distinct improvement in learning outcome or method results from task restructuring proving that teaching method may evolve through reflection on material. The MI-RBT-TBLT framework enables reflection on individual needs and task-outcomes to fulfil learning objectives. Accessing content from across the curriculum, moreover, can incorporate domain-specific language and life skills and motivate teacher-collaboration. MI-RBT-TBLT thus increases professional efficacy.

Conclusion: method in materials

The MI-RBT-TBLT method may be outlined in a Cycle of Noticing where teachers:

·         <!--[endif]-->Identify learner needs that decide the language-learning objective

·         <!--[endif]-->Plan MI inputs to suit the learning objective

·         <!--[endif]-->Set the RBT level of the cognitive task-outcome

·         <!--[endif]-->Observe incidences of learning skills and strategies during task implementation

·         <!--[endif]-->Reflect on observed task-outcome vis-à-vis learning objective

·         <!--[endif]-->Reformulate tasks, modifying MI-RBT inputs to fulfil learning objectives

·         <!--[endif]-->Track the affective experience of teacher and learner growth

Ongoing teacher development with positive learning outcomes thus becomes possible within the classroom in the materials to methods perspective.

References

Allwright, D. & K. Bailey. (1991). Focus on the language classroom.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Anderson, L. & D. Krathwohl. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Addison, Wesley Longman.

Armstrong, T. (1994). Multiple intelligences in the classroom. Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Bailey, K.M., A. Curtis & D. Nunan. (2001). Pursuing professional development: The self as source. Boston, Massachusetts: Heinle and Heinle.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language teaching and learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press

---& J. Ellis. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gardner, H. (1995). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books. Rpt. 2004.

NCF. (2005). National Curriculum Framework. New Delhi: Secretary, Publication Department (NCERT).

NCFTE. (2009). The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education. New Delhi: NCFTE.

Nunan, D. (1989). Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

---. (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

--- & C. Lamb. (1996). The self-directed teacher: Managing the learning process. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rpt. 2000.

Oxford, R.L. & J.A. Burry-Stock. (1995). Assessing the use of language learning strategies worldwide with the ESL/EFL version of the strategy inventory for language learning (SILL). System 23: 1-23.

Richards, J.C. (1998). Beyond training. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

*  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | Sanjukta Sivakumar is an English teacher, researcher and ELT specialist and is currently the Principal of Delhi Public School Tapi, Surat

* Article first published in FORTELL, January 2014