Rod Ellis (University of Auckland)
Teachers evaluating tasks
Pica (1997) suggested that ‘task’ is a construct that affords a ‘relationship of compatibility’ between researchers and teachers. This is disputable, however. While researchers research tasks, teachers teach them. With the exception of Edwards and Willis (2005) there are no published reports of teachers researching tasks. The purpose of this talk is to explore one way in which teachers can become involved in investigating tasks in their own classrooms. I have called this ‘evaluating tasks’ rather than ‘researching tasks’, however. While ‘evaluation’ is an integral part of teaching, ‘research’ isn’t. Evaluating a task involves asking whether a task ‘works’ and how it can be made to work better. I first examine what it means to ask whether a task ‘works’. Then, drawing on Ellis (19987), I propose that a micro-evaluation of a task can be conducted by means of a student-based evaluation, a response-based evaluation, and a learning-based evaluation and report on a number of micro-evaluations of tasks that have made use of this framework. These were conducted as part of master level courses on task-based language teaching. The trainee-teachers were required to design their own task in groups, plan a micro-evaluation of the task, teach the task and collect the data needed for the evaluation, analyze the data collected, present their findings to whole class, and finally write a report of the micro-evaluation. The usefulness of such micro-evaluations will be considered from three perspectives: (1) the contribution they make to our understanding of how tasks function in classrooms, (2) the role they play in promoting teachers’ interest in and reflection on task-based teaching and (3) their value for teacher-education.