Developing Pedagogical Discourse Analysis through Project-Based Tasks.

AuthorGirault, Marie Conceptia


Discourse and discourse analysis are often absent from the language classroom, not because they remain unheard of, but because language teachers still do not know how to integrate them into their lessons (Cots, 1996; Olshtain & Celce-Murcia, 2001). Discourse and discourse analysis (Cook, 1989; Flowerdew, 2013; Johnstone, 2008; McCarthy, 1991), are the definitive processes to achieve what a large number of language teachers and students could aim for in order to effectively communicate in the target language (Cots, 1996; Erton, 2000; Hughes & McCarthy, 1998; Kurovskaya, 2016; Olshtain & Celce-Murcia, 2001; Pettela, Kandra & Palepu, 2017; Thi Hong Hai, 2004). It is by means of these processes students can understand how language is utilized in precise real-life situations taking into account its formal and functional aspects, causes of communication breakdowns as well as socio-cultural features. This understanding should lead learners to express themselves contextually and manage genuine communication that takes place outside of the classroom while closing the gap between language teaching and real analysis of discourse.

Language teachers, need to acknowledge the importance of discourse and discourse analysis, and are strongly recommended to incorporate them in their pedagogical practices. First, this is because discourse evidences authentic, instead of, artificial language use or isolated sentences (McCarthy, 1991). The following are considered discourse samples, "No, thank you, I'm not interested", a person refusing a proposal and "Yuk!, a girl expressing disgust after tasting some onion soup. Celce-Murcia and Olshtain (2014) acknowledge these samples as authentically produced language stretches and not artificially formulated ones. This is because of the existence of both, a complete sentence and an exclamation belonging to an explicit situation that influences the speaker into saying them. Hence, they are not simply part of an exercise in which people just repeat and say a series of sentences out loud. Second, discourse analysis does not only study structural characteristics of the language, but also functional ones. On one hand, structural language features allude to the grammatical rules and formal properties of language in the sentence (Erton, 2000); therefore, language is seen as an independent system. On the other hand, functional language aspects make reference to the different ways language is used serving distinct communicative purposes, the relation between language and context, and how the context itself interprets the produced language. That is to say, functional aspects are concerned with how people utilize the language in order to, for instance, make a complaint, apologize, write a summary, or to be polite, etc.

It may be claimed that both structural and functional aspects of the language have a complementary role in the classroom, but if language teachers do not pay attention to structural language features, they cannot expect their students to improve, for instance, their language accuracy. Nevertheless, this is not enough; students also need to be told about functional language characteristics. If not, for example, they will not be aware of possible bias language that can cause them problems when speaking or how to better persuade someone when making an invitation (Flowerdew, 2013).

Throughout this paper, language teachers will learn strategies for teaching through discourse and apply an actual united methodology for doing so; a strategy which combines Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) with Project Based Learning (PBL) to formulate a new approach called project-based task analysis (PBTA).

When teaching TBLT, there are five basic principles to consider. The first entails learning by doing whereby the learner has an active and dominant role in the language class and teaching time is dedicated to create opportunities for learners to actively practice the target language and to create their own knowledge (Nunan, 2004). The second is the principle of experiential learning (Nunan, 2004; Nunan, 2014) where students are immersed in the teaching and learning processes so their personal experiences are taken into account when designing tasks. Third, task authenticity alludes to the necessary connection between a task and a real-world action (Nunan, 2014). The more authentic a task is, the more outdoor the language classroom will be. To have a concise notion of how a task relates to the real-world, Willis & Willis (2007) proposes fulfilling the three levels of pedagogical tasks: 1) students should aim to produce useful and factual meaning, 2) students need to construct authentic discourse by agreeing, disagreeing, arguing, and interacting, and 3) the two previous levels need to be contextualized in an activity that happens in the real-world. The fourth is the application of authentic input that reflects naturally authentic spoken or written communication (Nunan, 2014). Finally, when applying TBLT, teachers should act like managers, motivators, facilitators and language advisers as part of their role; a process known as scaffolding (Willis & Willis, 2007). As Ellis (2012) suggests, educators are expected to scaffold their students so that they can internalize new linguistic forms in their discourse. PBL, an approach mainly associated with student collaboration and a complement to TBLT has three main focuses: input, processing, and output (Ribe & Vidal, 1993). These three elements are expected to take place throughout the whole project (Ribe & Vidal, 1993; Thi Van Lam, 2011). Moreover, PBL does not have a structured pathway to be executed but it rather requires constant feedback from diverse critique sessions in order to accomplish a final product that is to be presented publicly (Patton & Robin, 2012).

Review of literature

Discourse analysis

Despite what literature and research claim of discourse analysis, there is a certain amount of ambiguity in the term. Johnstone (2008) states that discourse can be understood as any form of written or spoken language employed as a communicative vehicle. This involves knowledge about language; background information about the context in order to conduct communicative activities that take place in the real world, for instance: entertain others, make an excuse, express feelings, etc. Cook (1989) refers to discourse as meaningful, unified, and contextualized stretches of language deployed for communication. Nonetheless, the ambiguity resides in identifying what a stretch is because discourse can actually take several forms and can be considerably dissimilar in length, particularly when spoken (Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2014). A language stretch can be a unique word, an idiomatic expression, a pair of well-constructed sentences. In fact, sentences can have grammatical mistakes as well, especially in students' discourse. Because of this dissimilarity, there is some degree of subjectivity. Taking this variation into account, any of the following stretches can be considered a piece of discourse in a hypothetical communicative interaction; "of course, I would like to order right now ", a person in a restaurant expressing he/she is ready to make his/her order, "Oh, wow!", a woman expressing surprise towards an unexpected news.

Discourse analysis also can be understood as a set of tools intended to describe and understand how language is employed according to a particular context (McCarthy, 1991). Similarly, Flowerdew (2013) defines discourse analysis as "the study of language in its contexts of use and above the level of the sentence" (p. 1). According to Cook (1989), both coherence, the language property of being meaningful, and context, "knowledge outside the language which we use to interpret it" (p.10), are necessary to understand what discourse analysis is, since it is the study of how discourse is coherent in proportion to a determined context.

Pedagogical discourse analysis (PDA)

It is important to clarify that discourse analysis is not a teaching method (McCarthy, 1991), but could be understood as a cover term that indicates how and why discourse analysis must be incorporated in our language teaching praxis. PDA does attempt to fulfill the need of connecting teaching with actual analysis of discourse. This necessity has been pointed out by authors such as (Cots, 1996; Olsten & Celce-Murcia, 2001). Cots (1996) argues that the main reason why discourse analysis is absent from the language class is because educators do not possess a systematic description for adapting pedagogical samples to these types of tools. Olshtain and Celce-Murcia (2001) state that although discourse analysis is well-known, a large number of language educators lack training in both theoretical and practical foundations in this area. Therefore, PDA can certainly represent the departure point to teach through discourse because it occurs in language teaching settings. Evidently, this type of discourse analysis aims to analyze oral interactions that reflect contextualized and authentic communication between native and non-native speakers or just between non-native speakers in order to identify communicative problems that can occur. Therefore, teachers can design and apply pedagogical strategies and activities to help their learners to overcome possible communication breakdowns (See Table 1).

Even though oral interactions play a crucial role as a source of input, they are not the only instruments that language teachers can utilize to incorporate PDA into their lessons. Textbooks may be considered also a suitable source for discourse analysis. PDA can focus on diverse aspects of speech within a textbook such as: linguistic language features, participants' personalities, social roles, the communicative situation itself, genre of the source, cultural aspects, etc. Kurovskaya (2016) noted in her study that textbooks are seen as didactic tools for pedagogical discourse that...

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