CHENG Xiaotang (email@example.com) LUO Shaoqian (firstname.lastname@example.org )email@example.com Beijing Normal University TBLT 2009 Localizing TBLT in China: Chinas Response to TBLT
1. Background As part of Chinas recent overall educational reform, in 2001, the Chinese Ministry of Education released the new English Curriculum Standards (ECS). The ECS emphasizes students actual ability to use the language; There are 9 levels of competence-based targets, specified in can-do- statements. In order to achieve its goals, the ECS advocates language teaching approaches such as TBLT (story behind this!).
The ECS drafting group didnt agree as to whether ECS should advocate TBLT. No, because (1) a national curriculum should not single out one particular approach, given there are numerous methods and approaches out there and none of them has been proved to be really effective; (2) in the Chinese context, something officially advocated easily becomes mandatory.
Yes, because (1) TBLT is most likely to help to achieve the curriculum goals; (2) Curriculum reform should also introduce new approaches and methods to the teachers. The final result of the discussions among the ECS group was YES!
2. The TBLT shock The explicit advocating of TBLT by the ECS shocked the Chinese ELT circle because –Few classroom teachers knew what it was; Teachers felt perplexed by this new approach. –Teachers were just beginning to feel comfortable with communicative language teaching (CLT was introduced to China in the early 1990s); –Previous syllabuses had been very cautious in recommending teaching methods.
Challenges TBLT is a western thing (proposed for the ESL contexts); it may not be suitable for EFL contexts. TBLT is still being researched and its effectiveness hasnt been proven yet. Its less effective for the systematic teaching of new language (Michael Swan). Chinese students are used to knowledge-based, test-oriented teaching. The tests are not really testing students competence in using the language.
Misconceptions TBLT emphasises learning by doing (activities) and pays no attention to the learning of grammar. Students cannot do things with the language before mastering the language, thus learning by doing is not feasible. TBLT cannot be done in large classes. Chinese EFL learners do not like speaking or doing things in the class. …
3. The TBLT Fever Albeit the shock, the challenges and the misconceptions, because of the powerful influence of the ECS, TBLT soon became a fever in China. Hundreds of classroom teachers have being trying TBLT, though in different fashions; Numerous articles and reports have been published (though not all research-based); There have been success stories in more developed areas, such as Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shenzhen and Guangdong. Positive results have been widely reported (See more below).
There are also many unsuccessful stories, because: –No sufficient training; –Misunderstanding of task and task-based language teaching. –Teachers try TBLT but at the same time continue knowledge-based teaching; tasks are smuggled into the traditional models of teaching.
Students and teachers Responses Content: Related to students life and study, more knowledge beyond textbooks and make them think, more lively language; Tasks/activities: More interesting and thought- provoking; Topics: covering a wider range; Classroom: move active, more fun; Results: more gains in terms of real language competence, especially listening and speaking skills.
4. The way ahead: Localizing TBLT TBLT has achieved great impact on ELT in China; However, a pure or strong version of TBLT does not seem feasible; Localizing TBLT in China has both theoretical and practical significance: taking the Chinese ELT context into consideration.
What we could do … Redefine task in the Chinese context, making it accessible to the classroom teachers; Design or select tasks that demand fully grammaticalized language or are less demanding in terms of authentic language use; Keep a balance between focus on meaning and focus on form (language); Use small group work; Allow more planning time; provide learner training;
Develop tasks suited to large classes; Develop more communicative exams to reduce teachers worry about knowledge-based exams. Emphasize that TBLT is not the only approach …
Concluding remarks As any reform necessarily encounters disputes and resistance, it is not surprising that Chinas top-down reform of basic education faces many challenges and problems. In the case of TBLT in China, substantial changes are evident at both theoretical and practical levels. It takes time and effort for English education policy makers and researchers to prove that a theoretically sound approach would lead to changes for the better, not for worse.
The Great Wall starts from where we stand: A long way to go…