Until very recently, I was not too keen on repetition. Any kind of repetition. And that was probably due to my own lack of connection with what was being discussed in the ELT community.
I had bigger fish to fry, in a sense. I was the DOS of a large language school in Toronto, I had to manage 20 academic staff members, over 150 teachers and 3 thousand students spread across 5 campuses. Saying that my plate was full was an understatement and, even though I longed to be more involved in the academic part of the academic department, a large component of my workload was to handle the business side of the learning.
It wasn’t until I left my job with the school and began – again – my own journey of self-discovery as a teacher, as an ELT professional – not just as a manager – that I was able to start learning again. And one of the things that I have learned is that task repetition IS effective.
Hear me out.
Whenever surveyed, learners of English tend to name speaking as their biggest hurdle in achieving so-called fluency – or even some level of independence when communicating English. But why is that so? Why is it that speaking remains as one of the most elusive skills to attain?
I’ve spent quite some time trying to find a possible answer to the question and, honestly, there might be tens or hundreds of different possibilities. However, what struck me was the fact that we, as teachers, might not be creating enough opportunities for our learners to use language in a ‘language-using situation’ as opposed to ‘language-learning situations’ (Bygate, 1987).
What it means is that although there are plenty of speaking opportunities in the classroom, most of this speaking is geared towards learning the language rather than using the language in a way that resembles the real-world. Granted, task repetition is generally not a feature of real life – after all, how many second chances do we get? But what if we could, at least, give learners purpose?
I’ve come across the teaching-speaking cycle (Got and Burns, 2012) and have had the chance to test it. It is, indeed, quite helpful in getting learners to test using the language, to notice the gap between what they can do and what they need to do, and to build on it to improve their own performances during task repetition.
My initial fears that repeating a task would be boring were unfounded and performance as a whole did improve from the first to the second run of the task. Not only did learners’ output become more accurate, it also became more complex and more fluent.
What I am saying is that, yes, I get it, it is not always possible to work on speaking as a stand-alone skill, but sometimes we can step outside of our comfort zone and try something new. If you do find yourself at this place, I strongly recommend giving this framework a go. It is fun, it is student-centred and it is empowering (for the students).
Bygate, M. (1987) Speaking. Oxford University Press.
Goh, C.C.M. and Burns, A. (2012) Teaching speaking: a holistic approach. Cambridge University Press.