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….

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2 responses

14 05 2014
merlyn sanjai

Just great sir.Very useful

1 09 2015
Jitendra vasava

very useful in TBLT

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