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Evaluating the effectiveness of a task-based syllabus for teaching speaking to advanced learners of English Melanie Ellis Foreign Language Teacher Training.

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Presentation on theme: "Evaluating the effectiveness of a task-based syllabus for teaching speaking to advanced learners of English Melanie Ellis Foreign Language Teacher Training."— Presentation transcript:

1 Evaluating the effectiveness of a task-based syllabus for teaching speaking to advanced learners of English Melanie Ellis Foreign Language Teacher Training College, Zabrze, Poland melanie@ellis.pol.pl

2 Defining terms Evaluation: the process of determining how a program worked in practice, by collecting varied informative data from a variety of sources Why? When? Whom? What? How? For whom? (Alderson 1986) Evaluation: the process of determining how a program worked in practice, by collecting varied informative data from a variety of sources Why? When? Whom? What? How? For whom? (Alderson 1986)

3 Task-based syllabus Process merging ‘what’ is to be learnt and ‘how’ this is to take place (Nunan 1989) Specification of tasks: type, topic Specification of performance conditions: support, planning time, rehearsal, interaction Sequencing criteria: progession from easy to more difficult (after Ellis, R. 2003:206) Plus syllabus design principles based on Stenhouse (1975)

4 Stenhouse (1975:4) An attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to scutiny and capable of effective translation into practice *Seen as key, as little research available on TB syllabuses in practice

5 Definition of task Activity where communication of meaning is of first importance Successful completion of the task is one of the main aims Usually involves some communicative challenge to solve Is open in terms of language (‘unfocused’) (based on Skehan 1998:95)

6 Why evaluate? Accountability: Is the program effective? Does the syllabus meet its objectives? Is it valid? Curriculum development and betterment: Is a task-based syllabus feasible? Does it give learners a sense of progress? For purposes of teacher self-development Doctoral research conducted by the teacher as researcher (Rea-Dickens & Germaine 1992:26)

7 When? Whom? What? 3 year foreign language teacher training college in Zabrze, Poland First year undergraduates, school leavers and mature students. 3 class groups, n=39 Academic year (2002-3) one 2 hour class a week, over 30 weeks Learners at B2-C1 (CEF) Target on graduation from college is C2 ‘Conversation’ course

8 Syllabus design principles:sequencing 1. Task category Description>description/instruction>narration> opinion-giving/analysis/synthesis (Brown & Yule 1983, Bloom 1956) 2. Performance conditions-organization & support, feedback Closed pair………………………………………open forum Prompts + planning + rehearsal…………………………..spontaneous speech (Bygate 2001, Nunan 1989) 3. Task difficulty code & cognitive complexity Familiarity. No. of elements, Structure etc. ( Skehan 1998, Robinson 2001)

9 Syllabus objectives The course aims to help learners: become more confident in speaking English develop fluency increase vocabulary increase awareness of their strengths and weaknesses in speaking and how to improve these develop compensation strategies

10 How was the evaluation done ? Questionnaires after first and second semesters, closed and open questions 9 Case studies, 8 guided interviews conducted Teacher notes Quantitative evaluation of speech samples for evidence of development of fluency (MLU, words /min., % pause ) and increase in lexical complexity (type-token ratio, no. of clauses) Intact class group results compared with sub grps divided according to ability

11 Expected outcomes Learners become more confident in speaking develop greater fluency produce more complex speech, particularly richer in lexis feel that there is a progression from easier to more difficult in terms of task sequencing

12 More confident? Questionnaire 1 In what ways has your speaking improved in this class in this semester? 40% ‘more confident’, ‘more self-assured’ ‘more brave’ in speaking 35% more fluent 55% vocabulary has increased 20% better pronunciation

13 More confident? Questionnaire 2 26% more confident, particularly at speaking in front of the group Interview data: In what way has your speaking improved? 6/8 mention confidence I gained lots of confidence Now I’m more confident in my use of the language. I’m less stressed I’m not afraid now to talk in English I break the barriers. The barriers were my shyness

14 Was there a gain in fluency? Caveats Learners are in an English-medium program 24 hours a week Comparability of first and final tasks- problematic Picture description is not representatative, ‘task’ ?

15

16 Sample picture from final assessment

17 First assessment: October Picture description: repeated task Describe picture for partner to identify Describe from a prompt: new task, no preparation eg. Describe sb you know well; Describe a member of your family; Describe one of your relatives

18 October-June: Fluency Group MLU % pauses WPM A11.920.9619.0811.8370.0791.6 B8.0120.3420.6912.8763.2786.92 C10.6415.4818.1714.265.1266.36

19 October to June /Well the lady is is about I think she’s in her fifties/she’s a bit plump/she’s wearing a black pleated skirt/under a um striped coat/um:um she has:blond hair tied er in a plait/ /OK/: these are two mothers with their children/one is with a boy with a boy and the other one is with a little girl/: um the woman the mother on the left is wearing a white sweater/she’s also a necklace/: and her hair is brown/

20 Sub-groups: October to June Significant increases in fluency in all measures in Strong group and Below Average group Average group: significant gains in MLU, significant reduction in amount of pause, no gain observed in words per minute (SD = 17.17 October; 21.97 June) WPM as useful measure of fluency across a group? Very high SDs in all cases

21 Is there a sense of progression? Sample task sequence Known tasks (matura); rehearsed: describe picture of house Parallel: you visited this place last weekend, tell a friend at work about your impressions Personalise: place you often visited as a child Take your partner on a guided tour. They will later have to explain to someone else where they went and what they experienced.

22 Is there a sense of progression? Data from 2 questionnaires Learners rated tasks 1 (very difficult for you) – 5 (very easy for you) Open questions: Explain which tasks were most difficult for you and why Explain which tasks were easiest for you and why

23 Most difficult Picture story (new task, no preparation) : 52% People and places tasks with no support: 10% People task no support: 10% All unfamiliar tasks: 10% Why? Lack of vocabulary 40% Not enough preparation time 22% Didn’t know what to say 17%

24 Easiest All pictures seen before 35% Re-telling a story 35% Describing people 25% Places: pair task (describe and identify) 25% Why? I had practised and learnt vocabulary 37% Task was familiar 12% Task was interesting 10%

25 Sequencing criteria confirmed Familiarity Repeated, rehearsed tasks Describing people Minus support  Minus familiarity  Minus preparation  Minus structure 

26 Increase in vocabulary? Contradictory evidence Questionnaire 1: In what ways has your speaking improved in this class in this semester? 55% report increase in vocabulary Questionnaire 2: In what ways has your speaking improved and how much (1-5 where 5 = a lot) Vocabulary : mean value 4.67 But: No gains in Type Token Ratio although increase in number of clauses > > > More research needed

27 Complexity: October- June Group Clauses TTR A1.052.090.310.24 B0.771.890.280.22 C0.811.630.330.28

28 Conclusions Syllabus achieves objectives in the eyes of the learners Fluency increases Sense of progression perceived Design principles confirmed Vocabulary development? Other measures ? Other tests? More research needed

29 Thank you for your attention melanie@ellis.pol.pl

30 References Alderson, J.C. 1986. The nature of the beast. Trends in Language Programme evaluation. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Language Institute Bloom, B.S. (ed.) 1956 Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: David McKay Company Inc. Brown, G & Yule, G. 1984. Teaching the Spoken Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Ellis, M. 2004. Developing speaking skills in the teaching of English at the advanced level. Design, implementation and evaluation of a task-based syllabus for trainees in pre-service education. Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Warsaw, Poland Ellis, M. 2008. Design & evaluation of a task-based syllabus for developing speaking skills. In Pawlak, M. (ed.) Investigating English Language Learning & Teaching. Poznan-Kalisz: Faculty of Pedagogy & Fine Arts in Kalisz, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan Ellis, R. 2003. Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press Nunan, D. 1989. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Rea-Dickens, P & Germaine, K. 1992. Evaluation. Oxford: Oxford University Press Robinson, P. 2001. Task complexity, task difficulty and task production: exploring interactions in a componential framework. Applied Linguistics 22/1: 27-57 Skehan, P. 1998. A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press Stenhouse, L. 1975. An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann


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