Incorporating Task-Based Instruction Into Russian Classrooms

Betty Lou Leaver, Tech Trans International/NASA

Task-based instruction (TBI), introduced into French classrooms by Canale (1983) and into ESL classrooms by Nunan (1990), remains largely unknown to the Russian teaching population as late as 1998. However, a number of US government programs have been using TBI very successfully in Slavic language programs, including Russian, for a number of years. Foreign programs, as well, including programs in Russia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Europe, and Asia, have increasingly begun to use TBI in the classrooms of a number of different foreign languages.

This paper will briefly introduce the underlying concepts of TBI, including the definition of "task." These concepts include higher order thinking skills, schema theory, the role of the various kinds of memory in language learning, process-oriented instruction, the role of authentic materials, situated cognition, facilitative teaching (a form of learner-centered instruction), learner differences, and, to some extent and in some environments, learner-directed learning.

In greater depth this paper will show how TBI can be used with various syllabus designs, including the now-popular content-based instruction. The relationship between the development of communicative competence and the use of tasks in the classroom will be delineated, along with an explanation of how TBI develops strategic and discourse competence, both of which often suffer in more traditional classrooms.

Examples of TBI will be shared from university programs in the United States and in some foreign countries, as well as in government classrooms. The latter include programs at the State Department, Department of Defense, and NASA. Contents of sample lessons will be provided as handouts. These will include lessons from content-based programs and lessons from more generic proficiency-oriented programs.

TBI, where evaluated, has had excellent success in improving student proficiency. Statistics, where available, will be shared. These statistics, while admittedly few in number, do show a number of interesting results from programs in which TBI has been the primary method of instruction:

-Students like TBI.

-Students feel less intimidated in a TBI classroom.

-Students can judge their own progress better with TBI.

-Students reach higher proficiency levels than past students in the same institutions.

-Students gain proficiency at a higher-than-average rate (using the accepted US government progress estimates).

It is expected that members of the audience will leave with a sufficiently detailed understanding of the concepts of TBI to introduce the method in their own programs on a trial basis, where desired. They will also leave with a number of lessons for proficiency levels 0-3 that have been tested in one program or another and found to be successful with students. These lessons can be used as is or modified to meet the needs of specific groups of students and specific programs.