A Help or Hinderance: Examining the Role of Curriculum in Task-based Language Teaching Innovation Plans
Pineault, Caitlyn Allen
Despite a theoretical foundation in second language acquisition research (Mackey, 2021), supportive empirical findings (Long, 2015), and growing international popularity (Bryfonski & McKay, 2017), the task-based language teaching (TBLT) approach has yet to gain traction within public K-12 language programs in the United States. Previous research recognizes both the complexity of transforming a TBLT approach into a concrete plan for teachers to follow (Ellis, 2017) and the challenges of sustaining pedagogical change (Carless, 2004; McDonough & Chaikitmongkol, 2007); however, few studies have considered how existing curricular documents can support TBLT implementation efforts. Considering the absence of TBLT in K-12 language programs in the U.S., this study investigated the values and practices of a U.S. middle school (6th – 8th grade) language program, as articulated by curricular documents and lesson plans of its Mandarin, French, and Spanish tracks, to explore implementation potential. Four common definitional frameworks of TBLT (Long’s 10 Methodological Principles, Ellis’ 2003 task criteria, Ellis’ 2017 task framework, and Pica et al.’s 1993 task typology) form the basis of a multi-stage coding scheme used to investigate the extent to which there was existing overlap between the focal program’s world language curriculum and a task-based approach to language teaching. Thematic analysis of lesson plans and supplementary resources for 18 units (two units per language per grade) revealed the frequency and nature of tasks in the curriculum. Findings suggest that introducing TBLT need not necessitate starting “from scratch” and highlight ways the existing curriculum could be leveraged to maximize the success of a programmatic change towards TBLT. Given TBLT’s reputation as a difficult approach to implement (Van den Branden, 2016), this finding is encouraging for teachers, administrators, and researchers alike. The application of task typologies across 304 tasks and activities used in this program demonstrated how research-based TBLT frameworks can be applied in real educational contexts to inform the creation of professional development workshops during TBLT implementation initiatives. The trends that emerged among curricular resources may also support departments seeking to tailor existing programmatic structures to improve student outcomes based on empirical findings on task-based instruction (Robinson, 2011; Long, 2015). The benefits and challenges of using theoretical frameworks as qualitative instruments in a document-centered analysis, as well as the obstacles to operationalizing a task-based syllabus within a secondary school model are discussed.
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