ELT needs more creativity, and coursebooks are failing to deliver. So when did things like task-based learning fall off ELT publishing's desks? Image: maven
Well, perhaps TBL and TBLT (Task-based Language Teaching) never really arrived on ELT publishing's desk to start with, or it did and was misunderstood, or disregarded on account of a perception that it couldn't play nicely with the need for all things to be scripted and scultped into the all-pervasive present--practice--produce model publishers assume teachers worldwide are craving.
There is also, in my opinion, a limited understanding or perception of TBL/TBLT based on what I call the "classic" model mostly seen through Jane Willis' publications on the topic. The process or "cycle" generally advocated by Willis, however pedagogically sound, strikes me as being too limited and too (un)predictable. But I don't think it was/is Willis' intention to portray TBL/TBLT as a single or strict sequence, a sort of "set piece" around which the approach could only genuinely be interpreted as being viable or valid. We can focus more on the central idea of tasks -- actually doing and making things -- and adapt the delivery model in a variety of ways.
In any case, publishers and their authors tell us that times are changing (albeit slowly) and there is more room now for more innovation in coursebook approaches. I'm not convinced. Yet.
Task-based Learning/Language Teaching has been around for a long time now. It's hardly a "new" innovation. There have of course been the doubters, but for the most part our high profile movers and shakers are generally willing to sing its praises.
So where the heck are the coursebooks??? Task-based Learning coursebooks?
The brilliant Widgets, published in 2007, was -- to my knowledge -- the only genuinely task-based coursebook produced by any of the major ELT publishers. It suffered, however, from extremely limp-wristed marketing efforts, and uptake was also no doubt inhibited by the fact that only one book, supposedly covering everything from Intermediate upwards, was actually produced and distributed. The publisher's marketing people informed me at various points (when I got on their cases about what I felt was a genuinely ground-breaking and phenomenally useful coursebook) that Widgets was "ahead of its time" (uttered in that tone that has echoes of "it's too hard to market with minimal effort" behind it).
Well, fair enough, perhaps Widgets (and any other genuinely Task-based coursebook approach) was a little too ahead of its time in the mid-noughties.
We're not in the noughties now. It's 2011, folks.
Is Task-based Learning still too ahead of its time now, or has it been (in my opinion, grossly unfairly) left on a scrap heap of "couldabeens" beside ELT publishing's relentless march of control over the methodologies used in classrooms?
A high-profile person in ELT has recently been encouraging me to think about task-based learning in a much more thorough sense. Part of those deliberations has also brought me around to a particular view -- and one that I happen to share with Marcos Benevides (co-author of Widgets) -- that among the criteria for good task-based lessons, thematic sequences of tasks are not only desirable, but perhaps even essential (see Marcos' excellent article on Lindsay Clandfield's Six Things blog: Six Things all language teachers should know about tasks).
My point here, I guess, is to say that beyond the "ahead of its time" issue, when you view, gather and deliver tasks in particular ways, they not only suit coursebook delivery -- they make for excellent coursebooks!
Coursebooks that even manage to include most of those market-friendly applications like topics, units, texts, a pre-set grammar syllabus (albeit one mainly for reference and comparative application alongside learners' emergent language), and clearly defined skills within an integrated framework...
So I ask you again, ELT publishers (nicely, of course, but perhaps you could jot this down as a challenge to think about for a new year or even new decade):
Where are our task-based coursebooks?
Some of us who were (told we were) ahead of our time think now is the time to give this another round of (more serious) consideration.