22. Prof. Prabhu on task-based teaching

15 08 2012

[This is an article originally submitted to articlesbase but was rejected for being overtly promotional]

Velammal Engineering College, Chennai,  recently organized the 7th International and 43rd Annual ELTAI  Conference. The first Plenary session of the conference was engaged by      Prof. N.S.Prabhu, former Deputy Head, Department of Language and Literature, National University.  He  is the legendary  Indian teacher of English who placed  India on the world Communicative Language Teaching map through the highly acclaimed ‘Bangalore Project’.

The abstract of his talk entitled Plausibility in Language Teaching  was circulated in the book of Abstracts to all the delegates, prior to  the Conference:

The classroom is not just a place for learners to learn; it is equally a place for teachers to develop a feel for the phenomenon of learning and an ability to judge what is best done with a given class of learners at a given time. Such ability can result in a greater fit between learning tasks and learners’ readiness for them at different times and a consequent enhancement of learning overall. This means that the methodology and materials made available to teachers should aim not so much to promote learners’ learning  regardless of teachers’ shortcomings but rather to encourage teachers to adapt/alter them to suit the classes they teach and gradually to acquire a sense of plausibility about what task is best for what learners at what point of time.

[P 1. Abstracts: The English Classroom-Experiments  and Experiences, 7th International and 43rd Annual ELTAI Conference. 19th to 21st July 2012]

Prof. Prabhu delivered his talk in a slow pace, sometimes repeating what was  uttered. This     helped in note making:

* There  are two problems in teaching:

1.We can plan our teaching, can observe our teaching and control our teaching.

2. We cannot plan  learning, observe learning  or control learning.

* Learning is not even perceptible at any time we are teaching.

* We can’t see the process of learning but  can see the product.

* So, what is learning…? Say,  a child or adult is  able to do something now-  which  it/he/she was unable to do yesterday… then,  there is a suggestion…  that something has been learned.

* The essence of task-based teaching is that learners have to continuously put in  an effort to learn. Progress is dependent on the effort of the learner- a reasonable effort dependent on the capacity of the learner. This could also  mean that there is  a series of unsuccessful effort in which there is no learning. If there is no real effort,  there would  not be any learning.

Problem # 1

* With reference to the Zone of Proximal Development, (ZPD) it could be said that  the learning task should be such that  there is the possibility of the learner succeeding in the task. For this, the task  must look  achievable. For learning to  be in the area of Proximal Development the task should  not be too easy nor too difficult.

Problem # 2

* We teach big/small groups of  learners. It is an acknowledged fact that siblings of the same family… learners from the same family, do not learn at the same pace. Teaching  will be uniform,  but learning will not be uniform.

* Sometimes more than half the class may have got the task wrong, or more than half the class may have performed the task correctly. Accordingly, the teacher is expected to modify the task-make it simple or complex.

* It is imperative on the part of the teacher to check learner’s response regularly and to change the task regularly. Here the teacher cannot be dependent on the Curriculum- developer. This then leads to the moot issue- curriculum has to assume progress  of learning.  But can  the teacher in the classroom judge?…some can from learner performance. Sometimes a learner may have got something wrong… The more correct  the assessment of the teacher, the more the advantage for the learner.

* The teacher has to gradually  become a curriculum setter  who makes changes that are necessary. If a teacher stops growing as a teacher, learning suffers… teaching  suffers!

* Does it mean that  there is no need for the curriculum or the syllabus…? What we need is a curriculum of a different  kind… not ones that  frustrates  teachers’ work… but promotes it.

* For  a teacher to make up a task everyday is a problem. A teacher may require a large collection of tasks … so large, that cannot be exhausted in  a year. They need to acquire the skill of adapting tasks….

21. On a teacher becoming a professional

1 08 2012


A profession according to  the Oxford Dictionary,  is a type of job that needs special training or skill especially one that needs a high level of education. Professionalism assumes that we expect from a person who is  well trained in a particular job, a high standard.

The professional responsibilities of  a teacher usually involves the following:

* Thinking about ones own teaching and being on the look out for ways of improving it.

*Keeping a clear record of  the work of ones own student.

*Communicating with the parents and the institutional authorities the performance of the students, one is assigned to teach.

*Contributing positively both  to the institution one is working and the community.

*Demonstrating professionalism includes:

a. Working  for the best interests of ones students;

b.Ensuring that all students are valued and helped in ones institution;

c. Making decisions that benefit the institution rather than oneself;

d. Maintaining  a positive and healthy relationship with the students and the staff.

During the  recently  concluded  International Conference  of ELTAI held at Chennai, one  session was devoted to  a Panel Discussion on ‘How I Became a Professional’

An erudite scholar Dr. Chellapan one of the panellists,  had this to say:

* A teacher rediscovers knowledge.

* Teaching can focus on the Universal and the Particular…on the Cognitive and the Affective…That is, it must  be sensitive to Knowledge and Art.  A teacher must be academically sound and artistically perfect  in communication.

*Beauty may be aesthetic…but Duty is ethical… The teacher ought to have a human obligation… a commitment  and  a passion for knowledge… the right kind of passion… and a commitment to inquiry and practice.

* Making others learn by teaching is actually impossible…Ideally teaching should be in the form of a dialogue… We are familiar with drilling in the Structural Approach:

This is a book

This is a book

This is a book

This is a book

This is a book

…Such drilling may help in memorising … but the moment the pattern changes:

Learner: This is a book…This is a book…This is a book..

Teacher: Why?

Now learning happens… Students begin to think…

* It is imperative for every teacher to evolve his/her own identity.

* Teachers need to draw on Literature, Language and Art. Teaching would involve:

1.Knowledge for Practice

2. Knowledge of Practice

3.Knowldege through Practice

It is worth recalling Gandhiji…Education for life…Education through life…Education throughout life…


I  particularly liked an anecdote which Dr. Chellapan  narrated: Some thirty years ago,     Dr. Faustus was  being  screened in  a  cinema theatre in Chennai. As  he was teaching the same play, he asked his  students to  see the film. A  couple of days later  when    Dr. Chellappan inquired  about the  acting in the film… his students had only one thing to say: “ Sir.. Dr. Faustus’  description of  Helen’s face “ …Is this the face that launched a thousand ships” lacked the passion  which you  showed when you enunciated the lines in the class!”  To this Dr. Chellapan had this to say to his students: “ Well… in the film, Richard Burton was addressing his wife… and in the class  I was  addressing  an imaginary Helen!”

From the note that I made  from Dr. Chellapan’s talk don’t you think he is a true professional?….Wouldn’t you like to be one too??