PPP No Longer Works: Use TBL Instead
Nov 6, 2013 English as a Second Language (ESL) 3986 Views
Believe it or not, teaching hasn't changed much in the last couple of hundred years.
The standard approach to teaching, relatively unchanged over the years, has been dubbed PPP or 'Presentation, Practice and Production'.
This is where I first show you what to do, so that you can see the skill being done competently. Then I'll slowly walk you through it while you do it, so that you can get some physical practice of the skill, while having me there to guide.
Then you'll practice the skill, and come back to me for feedback, and eventually, with enough practice, you'll move into production, where you're fully competent with the skill being learned.
Now I don't know about you, but if you said that sounds pretty good, and what's the problem, you'd be right!
Well, kinda right, but kinda wrong too.
You see, just like some foods just don't go together very well (haggis and ice cream for instance), also some teaching methods don't go together with some skills.
If I'm teaching you a physical activity, say like a sport, or a trade like carpentry, or cooking, then PPP is the optimal way to teach you, because the body/brain is has evolved to learn by repetition and mimicry.
That means that more times your body repeats a movement, the more accustomed to the movement you become, and the easier the skill gets.
When we get to teaching "brain based" skills however, it gets a little murkier.
Yes, your brain learns by repetition. But what does it learn?
Let's take learning English as our example.
Let's go back to lesson 1, and say that I'm going to teach somebody greet another by saying "Hello, how are you?".
Using PPP methodology, I first say the phrase a couple of times so that the students get to hear the phrase being spoken competently by a native speaker.
Then I work with my students to slowly say the phrase until I feel that they have a decent grasp of it, and then I get them to practice saying hello to each other until they've got it down pat.
But what have they really learned?
Science shows that really your students have learned very little, and are not much more than parrots who have been trained by Pavlovian response to say "Hello, how are you?" every time somebody greets them. This gives the ILLUSION that your students are competent in the skill of greeting another person.
But your students haven't actually learned how to use the language, instead just to repeat it. In this case, because the skill being learned isn't physical or repetition based, PPP hasn't been the right tool for the job and we need to find something better.
So what to do? How else could you possibly teach someone to greet another person?
Enter Task Based Learning.
Ever watched a toddler trying to figure out which hole to put a square block in?
At first they try the triangle hole and fail, then the circle, with another failure, and eventually they come to the square hole.
But then they run into another obstacle. The square hole looks right, but the corners keep getting stuck, and the block won't go in easily. This is frustrating and confusing, and you can see the child is puzzled.
It is also however, wholly engaged in the activity (remember this for later).
After a while, the child figures out for itself how to get the block into the square hole and figures out the puzzle.
Science shows that some interesting stuff has just happened. The child hasn't just learned by repetition that a square block goes into a square hole, as they would have if you'd taught them using the PPP methodology.
If you could see the child's brain by MRI you'd be amazed at the explosions of activity that are occurring.
You see the child is learning far more than just putting a block into a square hole. It's learning about all shapes: triangles, circles and squares, how they relate to each other, and how they relate to the child.
And that lesson will stick for the rest of his or her life, depending on the child.
You see a lot is going on. And this is evident by the clear, strong satisfaction that the child gets when it solves the puzzle. A smart parent at this stage will hold until the child has solved the puzzle, and give the child lots of positive feedback once it has figured it out.
And that, in a nutshell, is how Task Based Learning works.
Instead of teaching your students to be parrots, learning small chunks of text by wrote, we need to give your students a task that they can do in pairs, or in a group, where they have to actually communicate in the target language to in order to complete.
When you use TBL in your classes you'll see an instant change in your students. The room will get a little louder and more chaotic as students have to really stretch their skills to communicate with each other using the little skills that they have.
Student engagement will go through the roof.
They'll mangle and stretch syntax to breaking point (just like trying to put a square block into a round hole) as they discover what works and what doesn't, and just like our block puzzle, when they figure it out and complete the task, the satisfaction that your students will get is guaranteed to get a smile out of you too.
There really is no comparison.
I share information about this and many other topics in my English teaching blog. I also make an effort to post useful English language teaching resources for fellow teachers to use with their classes.
In my blog I post about my experience as a teacher as well as activities, worksheets and resources that you can download and use with your students.