A Study of the On-Task and Off-Task Activity Carried Out by Teenage Learners During a Content and Language Integrated Learning Task
According to Bygate (2001, p 11), ‘a task is an activity, influenced by learner choice, and susceptible to learner reinterpretation, which requires learners to use language, with emphasis on meaning, to attain an objective’. Many pieces of research showing that second language learners’ participation in oral tasks promotes (language) learning have been published. However, teachers in second language classrooms and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) classrooms are reluctant to assign oral tasks because they believe that pairs or small groups of learners will stop doing them as soon as they are left alone to control the development of the tasks. In order to explore what learners actually do when carrying out an oral task, I studied the on-task and off-task activity developed by a mixed-ability class of learners during the implementation of an oral CLIL task.
The informants were the twenty-three fourteen-year old learners that came to class the day in which the task was assigned and carried out. They were taking the third year of secondary education in a school in Barcelona; and they were learners of English as a second language. The task was part of a didactic unit on Natural Sciences in English that was implemented in the hours for English lessons. The informants were asked to do the task in pairs and to record their voices while carrying it out. Their recordings were subsequently transcribed. Next, types of on-task and off-task activity were identified in the transcripts. The time they spent in performing these activities was measured in seconds. Percentages were then calculated for the different types of activities. One of the results was that the mean on-task time was above 90% of their total recording time. Another result was that the learners used the target language between 13% and 100% of their off-task time.
Keywords: CLIL, TESOL, Communicative Language Teaching, Communication-Oriented, Interaction, Meaning-Focused, Task, On-task, Off-task, Qualitative Research
Zoraida Horrillo Godino
Research Assistant, Faculty of Education