Hi everyone - I've enjoyed reading your comments at the end of my biography and look forward to getting more comments and queries.

- especially some based on my first article (about identifying tasks).

Albert - you asked five useful questions and I'll start with your last two:

4. What are the best ways to evaluate the tasks given in the class?

5. Should the tasks be evaluated by teachers or learners?

Everything you do in the classroom should be evaluated - not just tasks. And both by teachers and learners.

In fact you as a teacher are probably evaluating all the time (and so are learners...) You can tell - often by the way learners are sitting - whether they are engaged or bored or worried or having fun... And when you walk out of a class you are often thinking about how the lesson went - 'That felt like a good lesson'... or reflecting on what you might change the next time....

But it is a good idea to sometimes make the process of evaluation a little more formal and to ask learners what they thought of a particular activity - you get great insights from learners'comments and suggestions. You can do this directly after the task or first thing next lesson, when they have had time to reflect and digest...

So here are some ideas on how to involve learners in evaluation:

- give individual learners slips of paper or post-it notes and ask each person to write 2 things they liked and one thing they didn't like much about the task or activity (in L1 if they are beginners) No need for them to put their names - it is best if its anonymous. Collect them in and read them after class and analyse the data... Take especial note of what is said by more than one or two learners.

- ask learners to do this in twos, then fours, then agree on and give in their final comments. (this makes a good task!)

- or you can write a frame for them to fill in:

What I liked about the task was ....

Next time, can't we.... / I would prefer to ....

I'd like to do more ... / less ...

Other comments...

 

A further answer to Question 4 can be found at the start of my first article - apply that list of questions.

For example - question 1 is about learner engagement...

If you see that all learners are engaged and are busy doing the task using mainly English and meaning what they say - then it's a good task. If they finish in one minute, using minimal language - then less good. And you will need to think about adding a stage to get them all talking more...

If they achieve the outcome and feel reasonably successful (questions 3 and 4) - then that too is positive.

If they realise how this activity prepares them for a real life situation - again positive.

 

I hope this is helpful - please post other ways you have got your learners' feedback on tasks!

Jane

 

Jane's blog is now closed - see our Guest Writer's page to find out who our current blogger is.

 

Comments

 

Hello Jane

Thank you very much for your responses to my previous set of
questions.  You ended your reply with the
sentence: “I hope this is helpful -
please post other ways you have got your learners' feedback on tasks!”  Let me respond to you with a long reply.

I teach the course Engineering
English at an engineering college in Chennai,
India.  I can say I specialize in English for Science
and Technology (EST) as I have been teaching EST courses since 1997 and my PhD
research is on English for Engineering. 

I give a number of tasks to students of engineering. Here
I’d like to share with you one of the tasks that I had given to my first-year
undergraduate students of engineering a few months ago and the effectiveness of
the task in achieving the objectives set. 
Before that let me explain the context and in brief mention the area of
my research.

Background

Engineering English
is a compulsory course for all the first-year students of engineering and
technology studying at colleges affiliated to Anna
University, Tamil Nadu, India.  At the end of the third-year or at the
beginning of the fourth-year, IT companies visit campuses to recruit candidates
to their companies. Candidates with good communication skills and soft skills
taste success and those who lack such skills become depressed and get
frustrated. Very often recruiters complain that about 50 % of students do not
have employability skills.  When they
mention the word ‘employability skills’ what actually they mean is ‘communication
skills’.   A number of educationists and
HR managers have highlighted the importance of taking steps to enhance
students’ communication skills.   In this context, I started carrying out a
research on evaluating the course and suggesting steps to modify the course
based on the engineering students’ present and future language needs.

 

Task:

Visit an IT company and meet a HR manager or a few IT
professionals.  Talk to them about their
job responsibilities and ask them who they talk to in English at the workplace
and what language skills are important for them at work? 

Your task is to identify their language needs, write a
report to the teacher suggesting ways to modify the English language course to
suit their present and future language needs.

 

Objectives:

The objectives of the task were:

-        
to enhance students’ speaking (interviewing) skills

-        
to develop their writing skills

-        
to expose them to the real world communication

-        
to identify the language needs of IT professionals

-        
to enable students to suggest activities and tasks to
make the Engineering English course more effective

-        
to involve learners in the course design

List of language
skills identified

The students identified a number of language skills IT
professionals need to carry out their responsibilities effectively at the
workplace.

-        
speaking politely

-        
using positive language

-        
distinguishing between formal and informal speech

-        
speaking convincingly

-        
reporting

-        
breaking the ice before trying to talk to strangers

-        
delegating

-        
asking questions and handling questions

-        
suggesting

-        
recommending

-        
clarifying

-        
persuading

-        
active listening

-        
writing reports

-        
giving an oral presentation

-        
speaking to a group

-        
etc.

Evaluation

The effectiveness of the task was evaluated and during the
evaluation session students gave their feedback about the task.

-        
Most students found the task very meaningful and
enjoyable though some of them had difficulty meeting people and interviewing
them.

-        
They found the task meaningful.

-        
It said it instilled confidence in them. 

-        
The task created awareness among students about the
language needs of students.

-        
They identified the language needs of IT professionals
and it motivated them to prepare themselves to the workplace.

-        
They gave some valuable suggestions to modify the
course.

My questions:

Jane, I’d like to ask you to respond to these questions:

  1. What
    is your reaction to the task? 
  2. How
    will you modify the task to involve maximum number of students?

 

Albert P'Rayan

Editor, ELTeCS ISL

Email: rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

Mobile:  +91 9884380861

Dear Jane,

I am coming in rather late but would like to raise an issue that often
becomes a hot topic for ELT professionals here in Kathmandu. (Outside
Kathmandu, methodological discussions take place only during the training.) In
principle, a task is defined by the colleagues here with the same criteria as
you have listed. In training sessions, discussions on tasks take a good amount
of time but when the teaching takes, tasks and activities become blurred.
Lately, due to some new inputs, language projects have become something
teachers appreciate. In some urban schools, teachers never miss to set a
language project for vacation homework. Students carry out the projects and
return to school after the vacation with some product as a report. This applies
to children from age 11 to 16.

From my training sessions I discovered that the same thing is defined as a
task by some teachers and others call it a project. Let me present two cases.

A teacher set the following as a project for age 14 students.

Go to a nearby college and talk to 20 students studying there asking
them why they want to learn English. Then prepare a report. In the report,
describe how you undertook the project, what the respondents said and what the
actual findings were. Also include a paragraph writing about your feelings
during the project and the lessons you learnt.

Another teacher set a task for 15 year olds as follows:

Go to 10 restaurants in your area and see their menus. Find out the
common items the restaurants serve and what different items each of the have.
Present your findings as a report which includes the procedure, findings and
your experiences of undertaking the task.

In their nature, the two are not different. Whether you call them
projects or tasks makes no difference as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”
However, sometimes there comes a time when you have to give a verdict because a
difference of opinion has arisen. 

So Jane, how would you, if at all you did, differentiate tasks from
projects? I would appreciate your kind response.

How about Albert and others?

Laxman

 

Dear Laxman

Your question is whether the project given to 14-yea-old students should be called a project or a task.  

I have a few questions.  What are the objectives of the project?  Does the teacher aim at developing the
students' speaking (interviewing) and writing (describing, reporting,
etc.) skills?   Is it possible for 14-year-old students to interview college students who are much older than  the 14-year old students?

In my view, a project may require students to perform multi-tasks. In the example you have given, the students are required to perform two tasks.  The first task is to talk to 20 college students (to which age group?), and the second one is to  write a report. 

Can we simplify the definition of the term 'task'?  A task is an activity that reflects the language needs of the learner and which enables the learner to practise and learn certain language skills in the English class.  

Jane, your response please. 

 

Albert P'Rayan

Editor, ELTeCS ISL

Email: rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

 

Mobile:  +91 988438

Dear Laxman,

The two examples of Project and Task you gave were interesting, thank you for coming in!

What these two have in common is that students are doing some kind of research outside class, on their own. But I feel that the first is far richer in potential language use than the second. 

Basically I would say a project usually consists of several tasks, at least one or two involving some individual research or action, and one or two subsequent reporting phases. The content should be of interest to  others who would learn something useful  from it...  So projects are generally more complex and time-consuming than one-off tasks.

The first example - 14 year olds asking college students why they were doing English - I would definitely say is a project, because, if done properly, it requires a fair amount of research and analysis of results - data from 20 people could be a lot!  So, to generate maximum interaction and language use,  it could be broken down thus into a set of tasks with an in class Pre-task stage:

In class: Plan interview questions and discuss interview techniques. 
Decide how to record data - audio record ? notes after each interview? questionaires? Photos? etc. (The process must be explicit and it might be better for learners to do this in twos, for mutual support.) 

Decide on format and medium for Report (paper? poster? flip-chart? Powerpoint?) .

Out of class - carry out interviews and make draft notes/summaries in English

Analyse results and draft a report; decide what quotes to put in and how to present it.

In class: Report findings - present report and compare findings with others. 

 Final survey results - combine all report findings from whole class. Decide how to write these up (poster? school newspaper?) and how to make it public.

Evaluation - their feelings during the task and how useful they found it.

 So this - as Albert says - is a multi-stage (4 or 5 stage) process and could generate some good interaction and interesting findings. 

The second example - as it stands -  to me looks like a simple numerical comparison task, done out of class, by looking at menus in restaurant / cafe windows and counting dishes in common. In fact it could be done as a reading task - it is not clear what - if any - interaction it would generate apart from at the Report stage. And the question must be - what useful language input are the learners getting?  And how much language will they be using other than quoting names of dishes - and will these be in English?  Will the rest of the class be interested in the results? 

It could be enriched by adding a real-life kind of goal - which restaurant/eating place  would you recommend for a tourist new to the area, taking into account variety of dishes and price, and setting?  and  asking for a short description of the best three eating places so that others in the class  could vote on the most popular place. If students were also asked to design and produce a leaflet or poster advertising the top three eating places in town,  for public display, this could possibly become a mini-project.

There are some good books on Projects in ELT, but the word 'project' has been overused and sometimes what is called a 'project' is simply a 1 or 2 stage task done mainly out of class.  

Please look at my latest blog entry for another example of a project.  

Jane