Category Archives: task-based

Life Skills-based Education in the EFL Classroom: Cornerstone of a Challenging Vision

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University (JLU) Giessen, Germany

Life skills-based education: a (very) brief outline
In its landmark report to UNESCO on the role of education in the future, the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century (Delors et al.1996) underlined the growing importance of learning throughout life and the need to focus on four pillars of education, in particular: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be – ‘learning to be’ including ‘learning to learn’. In accordance with this vision, the United Nations Educational Framework for Action (UNESCO 2000: 36) obliged governments to ensure “that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes” within the first decade of the twenty-first century.

However, even though the main goals of life skills-based education are largely agreed upon world-wide (i.e. enabling young people to lead a fulfilling and healthful life and to take control of their destiny, as well as empowering them to fully, responsibly and creatively participate in their societies, which increasingly entails being familiar with and tolerant of other societies and cultures), a generally accepted definition as to what exactly is meant by ‘life skills’ is still missing. In view of the diverse and continuously changing cultural contexts in which children and adolescents are growing up today and the changing demands of life they need to be able to cope with, this is completely understandable. In her background paper for the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2003/4, Singh drew the following important conclusion: “It is not enough to ask how life skills are defined in general; rather it is essential to ask how they exist in diverse life situations and how they affect the empowerment of people.” (UIE 2003a: 2). This needs to be kept in mind when taking life-skills based education into the foreign language classroom.

Nevertheless, in order to capture the essence of what life skills-based education is and to outline the scope of it roughly, two general, largely complementary definitions are particularly interesting in this context. According to UNICEF (2007), life skills-based education refers to a number of psycho-social and interpersonal skills which can help people make informed decisions, communicate effectively, and develop coping and self-management skills. The overall focus is on empowering young people to deal with challenging life situations and critical incidents successfully and, ultimately, to lead healthy and productive lives. As such, life skills-based education is associated with relevant and engaging learning content as well as with contextualized interactive and participatory learning and teaching aimed at enabling all learners to acquire knowledge and to develop skills and attitudes which allow them to cope with a wide range of intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts and challenges.

Likewise, the World Health Organization (WHO 1999) points out: “Life skills education is designed to facilitate the practice and reinforcement of psychosocial skills in a culturally and developmentally appropriate way; it contributes to the promotion of personal and social development, the prevention of health and social problems, and the protection of human rights.” More concretely, the following life skills are considered to be the most essential: the capacity to think creatively and critically, the ability to make decisions and to solve problems, the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to establish and maintain interpersonal relations, knowledge of self and others, the capacity to feel empathy, and the ability to handle emotions, including the ability to handle tension and stress (see PAHO 2000; 2001: 29-32).

Taking both of these definitions together, life-skills based education calls attention to a continuum of intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of coping with life in the global media, information and knowledge society, seeking to develop an action-oriented competence in relevant life contexts in an integrated way. As Singh points out, the overall approach implies success in private as well as in professional life, which means that “the idea of success is not only the accomplishment of a happy working life, but also the creation of a self-fulfilling life outside the world of work and wealth creation.” (UIE 2003a: 4).

In sum, the international discussion of life-skills based education with its focus on human independence and interdependence, on knowledge, skills and understanding, as well as on beliefs, attitudes and values clearly indicates that current standards-driven reforms of foreign language education, in their unfortunate combination of simplistic and bureaucratic views of accountability and accountability assessment, and their tendency to exclude long-term sustainable aspects of education and educational assessment, have to be reconsidered. It is time to counteract the continuing withdrawal from general educational objectives and human needs in foreign language classrooms, without of course losing sight of the essence of foreign language teaching, i.e. of ensuring that learners achieve a good command of the target language.

Taking life skills based-education into the EFL classroom
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) (Council of Europe 2001) is based on a holistic concept of foreign language learning which is slightly but decisively different from that underlying life skills-based education. ‘Existential competence’, to begin with, is considered to be the “sum of individual characteristics, personality traits and attitudes which concern, for example, self-image and one’s view of others and willingness to engage with other people in social interaction” (2001: 11-12). Furthermore, personal identity is described in terms of “selfhood factors” referring to attitudes, motivations, values, beliefs, cognitive styles, etc. (2001: 105-106). However, by explicitly stating that existential competence and personal identity are thought of as the sum of various parts, the CEFR has, probably unintentionally, opened up a Pandora’s box of theoretical and practical problems and contributed to the growing obsession with assessment and accountability which we are witnessing in educational politics in many countries today. One fundamental insight of Gestalt theory should have been given more careful attention in this context: the whole is not simply the sum of its parts, and not just more than the sum of its parts, but significantly different in quality from the sum of its parts (see Wertheimer 1922, 1923). In all probability, the educational whole in terms of existential competence and personal identity which is meant here will be almost impossible to measure and fully account for in standardized tests. But this does not automatically mean that is it less precious and important for life in the twenty-first century – on the contrary.

In order to meet the growing challenges and demands of childhood and youth in foreign language instruction, the selfhood factors referred to in the CEFR, which are thought of as being mutable through learning need to be seen as far more than just “parameters which have to be taken into account in foreign language learning and teaching” (2001: 11-12). Since these factors or parameters are of utmost importance in improving individual chances in life, pushing forward social change and bringing about more integrated and participatory societies (see UIE 2003b: 7), foreign language learning in secondary schools should more directly address the educational questions and challenges that arise out of these, and, consequently, provide appropriate content- and context-based learning environments.

From this perspective, shaping what is taught in foreign language classrooms in terms of thematic content and outlining some of the key issues for communication is as important as the promotion of “methods of modern language teaching which will strengthen independence of thought, judgement and action, combined with social skills and responsibility” (Council of Europe 2001: 4). It needs to be remembered that foreign language learners will hardly engage in message-oriented and ‘form-sensitive’ classroom activities geared at mobilizing and improving their target language as well as their personal (intellectual, emotional and social) skills and abilities, as long as the thematic contents offered and the situational contexts created are felt to be uninteresting or irrelevant to them. Foreign language instruction based on thematic content which is unrealistically and artificially ‘designed away’ from everyday problems of growing up today contributes too little to helping learners become “thinking social actors” (Breen 1985: 144), even if learning is embedded in experience-, task- and activity-based communicative classroom environments. It rather leads to what Legutke & Thomas (1999) have appositely referred to as ‘dead bodies and talking heads’ in the foreign language classroom, with the learners more or less simply working out how to say correctly what they are told or expected to say by the teacher (see also Thompson 1996).

As has already been indicated above, four fundamental, highly interrelated thematic areas are currently of particular interest and importance to education in secondary schools from a life skills-based educational perspective – not only in Germany: health, ecology, citizenship and peace. However, since these thematic categories are far too abstract and too distant from the learners’ personal experiences to deal with them in the foreign language classroom as such, they need to be broken down to more specific thematic and contextual units which are flexible enough to spontaneously address concrete problems of life and respond to critical incidents as they come up almost naturally day by day. Distinguishing between macro-, meso- and micro-thematic content level considerations is one way of approaching this problem in theory, but in any case, more empirical research will be required to ferret out and understand contemporary learners’ needs in more detail in the coming years. Only on the basis of this will it ultimately be possible to make foreign language learning in secondary schools more authentic and meaningful – in particular with regard to the purposes for which the learners are expected to acquire the target language, the anticipated communicative settings in which the target language will probably be used by them, the intercultural events in which they will be required and willing to participate, the content topics they will be exchanging views about, the language functions involved in these events, the grammatical structures and lexical material that will be needed, etc.

Focussing on foreign language learning and teaching as an educational enterprise, i.e. as a cognitively, affectively and socially challenging long-term process of intercultural initiation, some suggestions for infusing life skills-based education into secondary school foreign language classrooms are given below:

Macro-level (concerning goal-setting and the selection of thematic content):
• Bring together the key elements of life skills-based education, of global education (see Cates 2002) and of intercultural education (see Byram 1997; Byram & Fleming 1998; Alred, Byram & Fleming 2002, 2006) with current approaches to content-based instruction (see Met 2002; Stoller 2004) and communicative language teaching in foreign language classrooms (see Richards 2005), including, but not overestimating the potential of task-based instruction in institutionalized secondary school settings.
• Step up systematic, empirically grounded foreign language and intercultural communicative needs analysis (see Long 2005) to identify thematic learning content and communicative substance which is of relevance to growing up and living in the twenty-first century.
• In order to avoid oversimplification and trivialization and to make foreign language education more learner-centred, authentic, and motivating, place more emphasis on the (cross-culturally pervasive) tensions, contradictions and pressures children and youth are confronted with in their daily lives (e.g. the surface-Westernization of juvenile lifestyles in terms of fashion, music, behavioural patterns, etc.).

Meso-level (concerning curriculum development and design):
• Integrate real-life thematic content into existing foreign language curricula; be aware of the possible mismatch between views of what is existentially important as seen by those who are growing up and as seen by researchers, curriculum advisors, coursebook designers and teachers.
• More specifically, try to identify thematic content areas and topics which can trigger lively classroom interaction in the target language, and can help to increase the learners’ willingness to communicate in the classroom and beyond.
• To facilitate better cross-curricular education, look for complementarity and interface between schools subjects.
• Example: ‘youth at risk’ (as a macro-level curriculum unit); meso-level topics: (a) ‘drug prevention’ (e.g. consuming premixed alcoholic beverages and/or over-the-counter drugs; smoking habits), (b) ‘healthy nutrition’ (e.g. food and eating habits inside and outside school; school meals; fast food), (c) ‘sexuality and sexual health’ (e.g. the emotional dimension of sex for men and women; Internet pornography; sexism; HIV/AIDS prevention), (d) ‘social and civic responsibility’ (e.g. vandalism and violence inside and outside schools; political or religious extremism or fundamentalism; racial discrimination), (e) ‘consumer behaviour and use of mass media’ (e.g. telemarketing; online shopping; phone-in television; mobile phone addiction and juvenile debt), (f) ‘sustainability’ (e.g. energy efficiency inside and outside schools; reduction of waste; recycling), etc. Central objectives: enhance target language communicative ability, explore/modify attitudes and values, increase knowledge, raise intercultural awareness, develop core skills towards effective use of knowledge in intra- and intercultural encounters (especially: critical thinking skills, negotiation skills, empathy skills, advocacy skills, refusal skills, decision-making skills, self-monitoring skills, counselling skills, skills for managing stress).

Micro-level (concerning learning environments and classroom practices):
• Upscale language and content integrated learning in regular foreign language classrooms by providing appropriate learning materials, by creating relevant and stimulating contexts and scenarios, by encouraging learners to share their everyday life experiences and to speak about critical life incidents, etc.
• Create experience-based, decision-oriented classroom environments in which learners can exchange ideas and views with children and youth from other cultures (e.g. in virtual communities in which learners collaborate trans-culturally and discuss their own values and attitudes towards concrete issues).

Alred, Geof; Byram, Michael & Fleming, Michael (Eds.) (2002), Intercultural Experience and Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Alred, Geof; Byram, Michael and Fleming, Micheal (Eds.) (2006), Education for Intercultural Citizenship. Concepts and Comparisons. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Breen, Michael P. (1985), “The social context for language learning – a ne­glected situ­a­tion?” Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 7 (2), 135-158.
Byram, Michael & Fleming, Michael (Eds.) (1998), Language Learning in Intercultural Perspective. Approaches through Drama and Ethnography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cates, Kip (2002), “Global Education.” In: Byram, Michael (Ed.) (2002), The Routledge Encyclopledia of Language Learning and Teaching. Routledge, 241-243.
Council of Europe (2001), Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Delors, Jacques et al. (1996), Learning: The Treasure Within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.
Legutke, Michael & Thomas, Howard (1999), Process and Experience in the Language Classroom. London: Longman.
Long, Michael (Ed.) (2005), Second Language Needs Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Met, Myriam (2002), “Content-based instruction.” In: Carter, Ronald & Nunan, David (Eds.), The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Language, 137-140.
PAHO (2000), Tobacco-free Youth: A ‘Life Skills’ Primer. Washington: Pan American Health Organization (PAHO Scientific and Technical Publications No. 579).
PAHO (2001), Life Skills Approach to Child and Adolescent Healthy Human Development. Available here.
Stoller, Fredericka L. (2004), “Content-based instruction: perspectives on curriculum planning.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 24, 261-283.
Thompson, Geoff (1996), “Some misconceptions about communicative lan­guage teaching.” English Language Teaching Journal, 50 (1), 9-15.
UNESCO (2000), World Education Forum. Final Report. Available here.
UIE (UNESCO Institute for Education) (2003a), “Understanding life skills.” Background paper for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2003/4: Gender and Education for All, the Leap to Equality; prepared by Madhu Singh. Available here.
UIE (UNESCO Institute for Education) (2003b), Nurturing the Treasure. Vision and Strategy 2002-2007. Available here.
UNICEF (2007), Life Skills. Online. please click here.
WHO (1999), Partners in Life Skills Education. Conclusions from a United Nations inter-agency meeting. Geneva: Department of Mental Health. Available here.
Wertheimer, Max (1922), „Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt. Reihe I.“ Psychologische Forschung 1, 47-58.
Wertheimer, Max (1923), „Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt. Reihe II.“ Psychologische Forschung 2, 301-350.

The post is based on:
Kurtz, Jürgen (2008), Life Skills-based Education in Secondary School Foreign Language Classrooms – Cornerstone of a Challenging Vision. In: Doff, Sabine; Hüllen, Werner & Klippel, Friederike (Hrsg.) (2008). Visions of Languages in Education. München: Langenscheidt ELT, 87-100.

Researching Textbook Development and Use in FL/SL and Multilingual Classrooms

by Jürgen Kurtz, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany

About a year ago,  I launched a research project on textbook use in German EFL classrooms. I was astounded to see how relatively little attention this fundamental aspect of everyday teaching and learning practice has received in German TEFL research in recent years. Up to date, systematic, especially large-scale empirical studies on this are virtually non-existent (not only in Germany). In other words, this is a ‘grey’ area world-wide, dominated by the assumption that introducing and using innovative textbooks is conducive to enhancing the ‘quality’ (i.e. the efficiency and effectiveness) of teaching and learning foreign languages in schools.

For a brief overview of research in the three most important areas of EFL textbook research (i.e. textbook analysis/critique, textbook use and textbook development), see my most recent publication (written in German) – in combination, perhaps, with my views on the role of the textbook in the EFL classroom, published in an eight-part series of posts on this blog:

Kurtz, Jürgen (2010): „Zum Umgang mit dem Lehrwerk im Englischunterricht“. In: Fuchs, Eckhardt / Kahlert, Joachim / Sandfuchs, Uwe (Hrsg.) (2010): Schulbuch konkret. Kontexte. Produktion. Unterricht. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt, 149-163.

Coming up in a few weeks is a special issue on textbook analysis, development and actual classroom use in the German FL/SL journal “Fremdsprachen Lehren und Lernen” (FLuL), guest edited by me. Here, the focus is on current textbooks, their analysis and use in English, French, Spanish, and Russian as a Foreign language classrooms as well as on research dealing with multilingual approaches to FL teaching, learning and materials/media. The contributors to this issue are Engelbert Thaler (University of Augsburg, Germany); Members of The English Academy, Andreas Grünewald (University of Bremen, Germany), Britta Hufeisen (University of Darmstadt, Germany), Grit Mehlhorn (University of Leipzig, Germany) & Heike Wapenhans (Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany), Hélène Martinez (University of Kassel, Germany), and Markus Bohnensteffen (Carolus-Magnus-Gymnasium Marsberg, Germany, an academic high school leading to the Abitur, the central German university entrance qualification).

English abstracts of the papers (which are written in German):

Engelbert Thaler addresses important issues concerning ‘the future of the textbook’ as well the as ‘the textbook of the future’ in the EFL classroom. Beginning with a brief outline of what is presently known about textbook use in EFL classrooms in the current ‘Internet Age’, he goes on to present findings from two case studies that point to emerging trends in textbook development. Pulling these strands together, the paper concludes with some useful insights into the development and use of textbooks and their supplementary materials in the future.

Members of The English Academy look at the current state and the future of foreign language textbook development and research, focusing on major achievements as well as new challenges. In this context, the authors problematize the opportunities and interactive potential that electronic media have added to textbook development and use, particularly those of interest for foreign language teaching in schools.

Andreas Grünewald argues that promoting intercultural competence has gained considerable momentum since the introduction of Foreign Language Education Standards in Germany in 2004. So what does today’s foreign language classroom look like with respect to cultural and intercultural learning? Few
empirical studies have addressed this question, as the cognitive-affective processes involved are exceedingly complex and nearly impossible to depict fully in an objective way. However, the content of textbooks can give a good indication of what could be learned from them. Accordingly, he analyzes recently published school textbooks for French and Spanish for their promotion of intercultural competence. The paper presents his findings, highlighting the degree to which these recent textbooks now incorporate promotion of intercultural competence as an actual objective.

Grit Mehlhorn & Heike Wapenhans point out that the year 2008 saw the introduction of a new generation of textbooks for Russian as a second or third foreign language. From a methodological standpoint, these new textbooks are comparable to many being used for the instruction of other foreign languages. In their article, they take a look at how these textbooks are designed to support teachers in the difficult task of developing communicative and intercultural competence, in addition to language skills. They extend their discussion to approaches that have been recommended for tertiary language learning, suggestions for self-reflection and self-assessment by learners, and
considerations of authenticity and media in textbooks. Finally, they identify the
strengths of these new textbooks and note those areas that still need

Hélène Martinez states that in the course of the implementation of the Common
European Framework of Reference (CEFR), the definition of the term ‘competence’ in  foreign language teaching and learning and the issue of its measurability have  been controversially discussed. In her paper she questions to what extent the development of the different types of competence and skills required by the  CEFR, e.g. intercultural communicative competence, is embedded in current French and Spanish textbooks and how exemplary units reflect this underlying  principle. Her paper emphasizes the importance of process-oriented and  learner-centered textbook and task design and also calls attention to the high demands competence-oriented approaches put on teachers and learners.

Markus Bohnensteffen argues that textbooks are undoubtedly the most widely-used classroom materials in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language. However, research on English textbooks focuses almost exclusively on examining their potential. The question of how students and teachers actually
use the materials is rarely addressed. His article begins with an overview of
the advantages and disadvantages of using textbooks in the EFL classroom
and suggests reasons for their popularity as a teaching medium. It then looks
at the attitudes of German learners of English and their teachers towards the
textbooks they use and goes on to report on an informal study, conducted in two
German grammar schools, on what students and teachers thought about their
English textbooks and supplementary materials. The findings serve as input for
a more empirically-based discussion of what future English textbooks should
look like.

Stay tuned for more …

Improvisation in the Foreign Language Classroom

by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

In April 2010, I was invited to give a talk on the role of improvisation in second/foreign language (SL/FL) education at UC San Diego. My focus was on learning and teaching English as a foreign language in German secondary schools, but I think the overall approach is of great importance to teaching languages in institutional contexts in general. The following keyword summary is indended to briefly outline what improvisation is (or amounts to) and to give you an idea of how it can contribute to the development of a more flexible infrastructure and culture of SL/FL classroom interaction and instruction – one that is sensitive to the here-and-now characteristics and realities of everyday communicative interaction. All this is, of course, highly theoretical, and it is perfectly clear that much more top-down (theory-driven) as well as bottom-up (practice-driven) research is necesssary to  develop a theoretically sound and practically feasable, effective and efficient framework of improvisational instruction and learning. As laid out on this blog earlier on, improvisation seems to run counter  to current standards- and outcome-oriented thinking and policy-making (at least in parts: immediacy, spontaneity, unpredictability in the Age of Accountability?), but its overall potential should not be underestimated.

What do you personally think about this? More specifically, perhaps, how do you (try to/manage to) balance out the expected and the unexptected in the classroom? How much immediacy, spontaneity and unpredictablitly are you prepared or willing to allow in your FL /SL classroom?

Getting Students to Stick to the Target Language in an EFL Lesson

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

In this interesting and thought-provoking video, Herbert Puchta addresses the important issue of monolingual communicative language teaching in (secondary school) foreign language classrooms.  As is well-known, many foreign language learners tend to switch to their mother tongue ‘whenever’ (this is an overgeneralization, of course) they are asked to work in pairs or in groups, especially when they are engaged in more demanding, increasingly self-regulated communicative activities.  In consequence, very often only the resulting products are presented in the target language in class (often by those students who are more confident – and competent – in the specific target language). This is a huge problem in German EFL classrooms, and perhaps, in foreign language classrooms around the world.

Herbert Puchta suggests that EFL  teachers should think about offering some additional incentives,, e.g. by appealing to the competitive spirit of teenage learners, and, more generally, by creating a classroom atmosphere that is not (or at least less) detrimental to the students’ willingness to speak English. This is plausible,  but in order to get down to the core of the problem (i.e. code-switching), teachers need to think more deeply about the basic design of the activities and tasks they wish to use in the EFL / foreign language classroom in the first place.

Tasks and activities which allow (or even force!) learners to resort to the mother tongue are questionable, mainly because they are not sufficiently tuned to the learners’  target language level of productive competence. Embedding competetive, game-like elements may help, but this is just one way of circumventing the problem.

Theoretically, this largely corresponds with Krashen’s I+ 1 , but O + 1 (O = output; with the improvised +1) is equally important in foreign language education.

On this blog, you can find an activity that softly ‘pushes’ EFL learners to speak English, to use their target language resources spontaneously, i.e. the improvisation ‘Bus Stop’. Try it out and let me know how it worked for you and your learners.

Focus on Form in the Foreign Language Classroom: Planned, Incidental, Improvised?

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

In this presentation, Danijela Trenkic and Michael Sharwood Smith (2001) raise some fundamental questions concerning ‘form-focused instruction’ (more precisely, they focus on learners’ attention to formal aspects of the target language in communicative SLA environments). Does it make sense to focus on form (FonF) in the classroom? Trenkic and Sharwoold Smith come to the conclusion that “there is a place for FonF instruction and feedback in [the; JK] language classroom” and “that there is a possibility that it can ultimately influence ‘knowledge of language’” – “a question to be theoretically and empirically addressed by future FonF research.” This is vague, but due to the paucity of FonF research carried out in actual secondary school foreign language classrooms, it is almost impossible to come up with further (research-based) recommendations, appropriate and suitable to the needs of all language learners. Here are, nevertheless, some additional thoughts on this subject:

As two thousand years (and perhaps more) of foreign language learning and teaching show, focusing on the form of the target language is indespensable. However, since (intercultural) communicative competence is the ultimate goal of instruction today,  ‘form-focused instruction’ needs to be placed in the wider context of developing accuracy, complexity, fluency and appropriateness as a whole.

At present, ‘message before accuracy’ seems to be the best guideline for orchestrating everyday classroom discourse and interaction in secondary schools, but – in the age of standards-based instruction and increased orientation toward measurable, skills-oriented outcome – balancing out form-focused and message-oriented communication has (arguably) become more difficult. How can learners be prepared best for the annual assessment and testing marathon (largely focused on skills, on accuracy and on discrete-point testing)? How is it possible to develop communicative complexity, fluency and situational appropriateness under these  circumstances?

Task-based instruction appears to be a promising strategy, but as research in this area shows, it is still unclear when and how a focus of form should come (before or after the task?). At any rate, mixing up form-focused and message-oriented discouse should be avoided as far as possible (see, for instance, Doff & Klippel 2007: 198-204). – ‘As far as possible’ means that learners should only be interrupted by the teacher if their utterances are unintelligable, inappropriate, etc. Otherwise, teachers run the risk of demotivating learners to use the target language productively and spontaneously.

Spontaneity (in general) should not be underestimated in this context. Since instruction always takes place in the here-and-now of the classroom situation, planning a focus on form is possible, and – whenever new grammatical structures are introduced – necessary and advisable, but in everyday classroom discourse and interaction, reacting flexibly to what learners say on the spur of the moment is equally important (i.e. treating errors spontaneously,  expanding learner utterances immediately, etc.). Future FonF research should therefore be directed at developing a more comprehensive pedagogical framework which takes into account the discrepancies of planned and unplanned (incidental), scripted and unscripted (improvised). process- and product-oriented  instruction and learning.


Doff, Sabine & Klippel, Friederike (2007). Englischdidaktik. Praxishandbuch für die Sekundarstufe I und II. Berlin: Cornelsen.

Task-based Instruction in the EFL Classroom

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

About a year ago, Andreas Müller-Hartmann (Heidelberg University of Education, Germany) gave a keynote speech at a regional DGFF-conference at the University of Wuppertal, Germany (November 28, 2008) in which he focused on the role of tasks in target language skills development and in promoting intercultural communicative competence. The audio podcast (in German) is available here.

The Cognitive-Social Debate in International SLA Research

posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

As an accumulating body of scholarship shows, traditional input-interaction-output theories of foreign language instruction and learning have come under critique for being too narrow over the past ten years, in particular for portraying the foreign language learner primarily as a mental being and a largely independent self, thus failing to adequately account for the social and cultural nature of language acquisition and/or learning and, ultimately, for the learner as a social being and a fundamentally interdependent self.

As Markee & Seo (2009: 40) point out in this context, “cognitive metaphors of SLA have obviously been productive during the last 30 years. However, […], their intellectual scope is unnecessarily narrow. […] Cognition and learning are constructs that go beyond the individual. […] Individuals are members of larger ecosystems of contributing agents and technologies. This position contrasts sharply with the individualistic version of cognitive science that is still the norm in cognitive SLA. […] This individualistic perspective is excessively restrictive or, worse still, simply out of date.”

A similar argument can be found in Young (2007: 263):

“The view of learning as changing participation is radically different from theories of second language acquisition that frame language learning as a cognitive process residing in the mind-brain of an individual learner […]. The view […] I wish to argue here for is, instead, of second language acquisition as a situated, co-constructed process, distributed among participants. This is a learning theory that takes social and ecological interaction as its starting point and develops detailed analyses of patterns of interaction in context. In this perspective, language learning is manifested as participants’ progress along trajectories of changing engagement in discursive practices, changes which lead from peripheral to fuller participation and growth of self-identity.”

I couldn’t agree more, but in my view, all this is neither new nor controversial. Theoretically, it reminds me of what John Dewey wrote in My Pedagogic Creed (published in 1897):

“I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself […]. I believe that this educational process has two sides – one psychological and one sociological; and that neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results following […]. I believe that the psychological and social sides are organically related and that education cannot be regarded as a compromise between the two, or a superimposition of one upon the other […]. In sum, I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals. If we eliminate the social from the child we are left only with an abstraction; if we eliminate the individual factor from society, we are left only with an inert and lifeless mass.”

In terms of classroom practice, the current cognitive-social debate is very difficult to relate to some of the fundamental questions my students (future EFL teachers in Germany) are particularly interested in, for instance:

Is PPP (presentation, practice, production) less effective or efficient than, for instance, TBI (task-based instruction)? What role do teacher-led imitation and reproduction play, especially in primary EFL classrooms? Since learning and teaching a foreign language at school is a highly complex endeavor which is influenced by a large spectrum of factors, should I, perhaps, try to find a mix that works best under the given circumstances?

Any comments / suggestions?


Dewey, John (1897). “My pedagogic creed.” School Journal, 54 (3), 77-80.

Markee, Numa & Seo, Mi-Suk (2009). Learning Talk Analysis. IRAL 47 (1), 37-63.

Young, Richard F. (2007). Language learning and teaching as discursive practice. In: Hua, Zhu; Seedhouse, Paul; Wei, Li & Cook, Vivian (eds.) (2007). Language Learning and Teaching as Social Inter-Action. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 251-271.