This post was written by course tutor Neil McMillan and originally published on learn.SLB. The latest iteration of our course can be found here.

At SLB we’re very much looking forward to March 2019 and the first run of our inaugural TBLT online course, Task Based Language Teaching: From theory to practice. Recently, course tutors Geoffrey Jordan and Marc Jones have blogged about their involvement (here and here, respectively), and we hope to bring you interviews with guest tutors Mike Long and Roger Gilabert in the near future. But for now I’d just like to say a little bit about my part in this exciting project.

Why create a TBLT online course?

Our TBLT online course has its beginnings back in 2015. We had invited Geoff Jordan to speak to SLB members, alongside the wider teaching community in Barcelona, during one of our public training workshops. The topics, chosen by SLB members, were first TBLT, and then learner motivation, but it was the first part that stuck with us the most. Some of us were practising or had practised some form of TBLT, in my case mainly in ESOL contexts in Scotland, but without having fully investigated its theoretical basis or critically evaluated its various modes and models.

During a fascinating and entertaining talk, which we thankfully recorded for posterity, Geoff inevitably mentioned Mike Long, whose contribution to TBLT theory and practice has been so significant. Long’s book Second Language Acquisition and Task-Based Language Teaching had just appeared, and this is what Geoff said about it then:

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Geoff had piqued out curiosity, and we duly bought a copy of Long’s book. We agreed that it was quite heavy going, but it quickly became the most requested book in our library, and as a cooperative we started pitching fully-fledged TBLT courses to clients and conducting detailed needs analysis – or at least as detailed as we could. With existing clients we were already adopting a lighter, more ‘on-the-fly’ Dogme/TBLT approach, and we began to tighten this up by re-running needs analyses, collecting samples of target tasks and, especially with the arrival of Marc Jones as an SLB member, building corpora of target discourse.

The result has been an approach that doesn’t emulate Long to the letter but is more informed by Long than by any other variety of TBLT (Willis, Nunan, Ellis etc.). The differences lie in where we’ve had to cut corners. As Long himself acknowledges, only very well-resourced institutions, with highly trained staff and stable student populations, can fully implement TBLT. But what we have done shows, I believe, that there’s a case for a “Long light” approach which can be adopted by smaller, teacher-led organisations like ourselves, as well as by smaller language schools and language training providers, with the right training and infrastructure in place.

Geoff never did come back and do a whole session with us on Mike Long’s book. Instead, he agreed to work with me, and later Marc Jones, on developing a TBLT online course which would have two main aims:

  1. To develop the knowledge and skills of teachers, teacher-trainers and course designers to implement Long’s version of TBLT, and to convey the principles of that approach in an accessible way
  2. To offer a version of Long’s TBLT that could realistically be developed and deployed in more restricted teaching and learning environments

Even better than that, Geoff was able to persuade Mike Long of the worth of our project and get him to contribute as an advisor and guest tutor.

What does your TBLT online course cover?

Our preliminary sessions lay out the case for TBLT, mainly in contrast to the dominant, coursebook-driven syllabus deployed in ELT. In Session 2 we look closer with Geoff at Long’s cognitive-interactionist theory, on which his TBLT approach is based. In session 3 I look at definitions of task and compare Long’s approach with some other iterations of TBLT, including our own “Long light” version. Session 4 looks at Long’s TBLT as a whole, with guest tutor Roger Gilabert showing us how one of his TBLT courses was designed and implemented. Then from Session 5 on we investigate each key element of this approach: identifying target tasks via needs analysis (5); analysis of discourse (6); syllabus design (7 & 8); materials (9); methodological principles (10); focus on form (11); and assessment/evaluation (12). Mike Long will be guest tutor on session 8, where we review our progress so far and look more closely at deriving pedagogic tasks from target tasks.

In each session we offer a 20-30 minute presentation or interview where we try to distill what Long’s approach entails, as well as  offer a lighter alternative where circumstances are more restricted. Following this and some carefully selected background reading, participants discuss the key issues with the session tutor(s) via forum tasks and a videoconferencing group tutorial. Finally there is a tutor-assessed output task which we’ve tried to make as practical as possible, and differentiated according to participant needs. This could involve designing part of a needs analysis, analysing a target task for discourse or developing a series of pedagogic tasks to try out in the classroom.

What do you mean by “Long light” anyway?

There are various facets to this, and much of it is context dependent. But for an overview, here’s an excerpt from my Session 3 presentation on “Which TBLT?”. Have a read of the Long quote before pressing play to get an idea of where we’re coming from here.

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Ultimately, we are not denying that ‘considerable time and effort’ will be required to implement TBLT successfully, and that this time and effort will pay off. All we are saying is where it’s not possible to do this, at least the significant legwork prior to a course beginning, there are ways of making a principled compromise without repeating the sins of the synthetic, structure-based, coursebook-driven methodology.

Who’s this course for, really?

We are acutely aware of the short shrift given to TBLT in some of the internationally recognised teacher-training courses and feel that this needs to be put right. For that reason, this course is pitched at teachers, teacher-trainers, course designers and directors of studies who have a reasonable grounding in ELT theory and practice but would like to inform themselves more thoroughly about TBLT and introduce it more firmly into their work. We are thinking of people who either have a degree in a relevant subject or who have taken their professional education to Diploma or Master’s level, with a reasonable amount (2+ years) of classroom experience to go with it.

Candidates with lower levels of qualification and/or experience than this could still find the course useful but may find it takes more of their time than the 4 hours per session we are estimating.

Ultimately, we feel that many institutions and private language academies which depend on coursebook-driven methodologies—and the concomitant deskilling of teachers—have the opportunity to effect great change. By introducing a principled version of TBLT, such schools will truly be able to say they are  student-centred and meeting student needs. This will come at price: that of investing more in teacher-training and course design. A first step towards that could be financing key staff to take our course.

For more information on our TBLT course and how to sign up, please visit the course’s store page now.

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