Aspects of Task-Based Syllabus Design
Introduction and overview
Syllabus design is concerned with the selection, sequencing and justification of the content of the curriculum. Traditional approaches to syllabus development were concerned with selecting lists of linguistic features such as grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary as well as experiential content such as topics and themes. These sequenced and integrated lists were then presented to the methodologist, whose task was to develop learning activities to facilitate the learning of the pre-specified content. In the last twenty years or so a range of alternative syllabus models have been proposed, including a task-based approach. In this piece I want to look at some of the elements that a syllabus designer needs to take into consideration when he or she embraces a task-based approach to creating syllabuses and pedagogical materials. Questions that I want to explore include: What are tasks? What is the role of a focus on form in language learning tasks? Where do tasks come from? What is the relationship between communicative tasks in the world outside the classroom and pedagogical tasks? What is the relationship between tasks and language focused exercises? Task-based syllabuses represent a particular realization of communicative language teaching. Instead of beginning the design process with lists of grammatical, functional-notional, and other items, the designer conducts a needs analysis which yields a list of the target tasks that the targeted learners will need to carry out in the ‘real-world’ outside the classroom. Examples of target tasks include: Taking part in a job interview.
Completing a credit card application.
Finding one’s way from a hotel to a subway station.
Checking into an hotel. Any approach to language pedagogy will need to concern itself with three essential elements: language data, information, and opportunities for practice;
By language data, I mean samples of spoken and written language. I take it as axiomatic that, without access to data, it is impossible to learn a language. Minimally, all that is needed to acquire a language is access to appropriate samples of aural language in contexts that make transparent the relationship between form, function and use. In language teaching, a contrast is drawn between “authentic” and “non-authentic” data. Authentic data are samples of spoken or written language that have not been specifically written for the purposes of language teaching. “Non-authentic” data are dialogues and reading passages that HAVE been specially written. Here are two conversations that illustrate the similarities and differences between authentic and non-authentic data. Both are concerned with the functions of asking for and giving directions. I needn’t spell out which is which, because it is obvious.
A: Excuse me please. Do you know where the nearest bank is?
B: Well, the city bank isn’t far from here. Do you know where the main post office is? A: No, not really. I’m just passing through.
B: Well, first go down this street to the traffic light.
B: Then turn left and go west on Sunset Boulevard for about two blocks. The bank is on your right, just past the post office. A: All right. Thank you.
B: You’re welcome.
A: How do I get to Kensington Road?
B: Well, you go down Fullarton Road …
A: … what, down Old Belair Road and around …?
B: Yeah. And then you go straight …
A: past the hospital?
B: Yeah, keep going straight, past the racecourse to the roundabout. You know the big roundabout? A: Yeah.
B: And Kensington Road’s off to the right.
A: What, off the roundabout?
Proponents of task-based language teaching have argued for the importance of incorporating authentic data into the classroom, although much has been made of the fact that authenticity is a relative matter, and that as...
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