The present paper is devoted to applying task-based extensive reading (ER) to young Omani learners who study English as a foreign language at Cycle 2 schools. To explore the topic, a mixed methods research was carried out, which used interviews and questionnaires to gather teachers’ opinions and experiences from Omani Cycle 2 schools on the theory and practice of applying task-based language teaching (TBLT) and ER to the case of their students.
The paper offers a comprehensive literature review, which discusses all the major notions mentioned above in detail and suggests the theoretical background that explains the possibility of merging TBLT and ER and applying the result to the case of young Omani learners aged 11-14 with certain challenges. Then, the methodology of the study is discussed, and the results are presented. A separate chapter is devoted to the implications of the study, which include the answers to the research questions and the suggestions for the methods of enhancing the effectiveness of TBLT use in the context of Omani EFL young learners.
It is evidenced that TBLT, ER, and TBLT ER are applicable to young learners and that the practice of TBLT ER should be based on employing the positive characteristics of young learners (especially their creativity) and aimed at avoiding the negative effects that these characteristics can have (especially the motivation problem). Finally, it is concluded that the effectiveness of TBLT ER depends to a great extent on the tasks and methods that a teacher employs, but some factors, including curriculum and resources, cannot be controlled by the teacher.
The present study is devoted to the topics of extensive reading (ER) and task-based language teaching (TBLT) and aims to discover if and how these two notions can be merged and applied to young learners, especially young Omani learners aged 11-14.
Background and Purpose of the Study
The case of young learners is specific since young learners exhibit a number of features that need to be taken into account when choosing appropriate teaching methods and approached for them (Al-Jardani, 2012). For example, it has been established that young learners tend to be more enthusiastic and more prone to creativity than older students. Apart from that, they are usually more open-minded, less self-conscious, want to please the teacher and are often more willing to engage in activities that they do not understand (Cameron, 2001; Halliwell, 1992). Also, Moon (2000) describes an “instinct for interpreting the sense or meaning of a situation” that helps young learners in the process of language learning (p. 5).
However, young learners also find it difficult to concentrate due to their relatively short attention span (when compared to adult students). The difficulty of the task may affect the length of the span with more complicated tasks making it shorter (Hakim, 2015). Moreover, the metalinguistic skills of children are limited and less intensive than those of adult learners, and they can demonstrate less respect to rules, using their creativity to provide alternative explanations to language phenomena that do not correspond to reality (Malihi, 2015). Finally, children are more vulnerable, which implies that they need more support and greater caution needs to be taken when teaching them (Briggs, 2016).
These characteristics indicate that the application of some teaching approaches to young learners may be less effective or impossible (Thomas & Reinders, 2015). The purpose of the study is to prove that TBLT is applicable to the work with young learners in the context of ER because TBLT-based ER (TBLT ER) provides young learners with an opportunity to effectively employ their characteristics that affect the learning process in a positive way and compensate for those that may have negative effects on the learning process.
The applicability of ER and TBLT to young learners is a debatable issue. In particular, it is acknowledged that reading skills are among the most difficult ones for young learners to develop (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015). At the same time, the skill is regarded as a significant vehicle for future language acquisition, especially for EFL students due to the extensive exposure to language that reading and especially ER can provide (Green, 2005). The positive outcomes of ER are multiple, including language-related ones (comprehension, vocabulary development, and reading speed increase) as well as others (for example, imagination and creativity development) (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Harrasi, 2012).
Also, young learners tend to enjoy ER to a greater extent when compared to intensive reading, and enjoyment improves their motivation to engage in the task (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009, pp. 384-386; Briggs, 2016; Kuhn et al., 2006). As a result, practitioners and researchers have been searching for the means of introducing ER into language teaching when working with EFL young learners (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Harrasi, 2012). Thus, the first research question can be phrased as follows:
- RQ1: Is ER applicable to working with young learners?
- TBLT is an approach that has a history of being applied to EFL young learners teaching (Carless, 2002; Butler & Zeng, 2013), which indicates that it can be appropriate for young learners. However, the specifics of TBLT (the focus on non-linguistic results or goal of an activity that does involve language use) provoke a certain amount of ambiguity in teachers and students, especially in case the approach is in the process of implementation (Law & Li, 2013; Shehadeh & Coombe, 2012). Thus, the following research question is proposed:
- RQ2: is TBLT applicable to working with young learners?
- The present paper seeks to consider the combination of the two approaches, that is, TBLT ER. It is noteworthy that the two are potentially combinable: TBLT offers the structure and guidance that ER implementation often lacks (Haider & Akhter, 2012), and the lack of structure and clear purpose typically leads to a decreased effectiveness of the method (Green, 2005). Also, TBLT offers a framework that can be used to evaluate the performance and revise the information gained from the ER (Shabani & Ghasemi, 2014). However, given the controversy around both approaches, it can be suggested that the following research question needs answering:
- RQ3: Is TBLT ER applicable to working with young learners?
- Finally, the study is going to have consideration for practical application of TBLT ER with a special focus on the questions of how to implement TBLT ER and how to improve their effectiveness and resolve the issues that are related to the methods. Thus, the third research question will be aimed at extracting the information on the respondents’ methods (approaches, procedures, devices) of applying TBLT, ER, and TBLT ER to their practice.
- H4: Are there practically tested methods of enhancing the effectiveness of TBLT, ER, and TBLT ER, which can be used when teaching Omani EFL young learners to resolve related issues and extract the most from the teaching process?
In order to answer the mentioned research questions, the following ones will be answered as well:
- How is TBLT beneficial for young learners? Can TBLT be used to promote learning in young learners?
- How is ER beneficial for young learners? Can ER be used to promote learning in young learners?
- What benefits does the merged method of TBLT ER offer to young learners teaching?
- How can ER and TBLT be merged by the teacher in the practice of working with YL, especially Arab (Omani) young learners? What are the specific examples?
- What are the challenges and barriers to TBLT ER application to the case of Arab (Omani) young learners?
- How can the curriculum be enhanced to fully incorporate TBLT ER and maximise the benefits offered by it?
Limitations of the Study
The study gathers the opinions of a limited number of people on the topic, which implies their limited generalisability. The respondents are experts in the area, but the size of the sample makes it more difficult to make definite conclusions. Apart from that, the teachers provide personal opinions and views, which introduces the possibility of bias. However, Fawzia and Salwa (2016) highlight the fact that there is no universal approach to ER, which is why specific practices, experiences and opinions of teachers are of interest for a study on the topic.
Definitions of Terms
To avoid misunderstandings, the definitions of the terms that are used in this study are provided below. The respondents will be provided with the same definitions to exclude the possibility of ambiguity.
EFL – English as a foreign language, which means teaching English to students who live in another country with another language as their mother tongue. In this paper, Arab (predominantly Omani) learners are considered.
Young learners – the learners who study a second or foreign language during the first 6-7 years of their schooling (McKay, 2006). In this study, ESL Omani students aged 11-14 years are considered.
Extensive reading – an approach to second or foreign language reading that is aimed at encouraging students to read as much as possible without paying much attention to the language while focusing on information or pleasure. Evidence suggests that this approach is favoured by students (which improves their motivation) and has a positive impact on language learning in the long run that is comparable to the effects of intensive reading (reading tasks that are focused on linguistic outcomes) (Haider & Akhter, 2012).
Task-based language teaching – an approach to language teaching; it employs tasks that can be defined as activities aimed at engaging students in language use with non-linguistic goals, which eventually results in meeting linguistic outcomes as well (Harmer, 2008). Examples of reading-related tasks include, for instance, providing a summary of a text or finishing an unfinished story in English.
Young learners are the group of learners who are “learning a foreign or second language and who are doing so during the first six or seven years of foreign schooling” (McKay, 2006, p. 1). In other words, from the point of view of Omani schooling that starts teaching children English when they are six or seven years old, the Omani Cycle 2 students who are aged 11-14 can be regarded as young learners.
The distinction between young and adult learners is required from the point of view of teaching due to the fact that young learners tend to exhibit specific characteristics which can assist or hinder their learning. These characteristics have been extensively researched. For example, Halliwell (1992) mentions the imagination and creativity of children, which apparently can help them in the management of the imperfect linguistic resources that they have for the time being.
Moon (2000) also highlights these features, pointing out that they allow children to “attach meaning to the words” (p. 5), even if young learners not familiar with these words. The imagination is also connected to the children’s “instinct for play and fun” (Halliwell, 1992, p. 6), which can be employed to engage them in the learning process and improve their motivation. McKay (2006) adds singing and other rhythmic and rhyming activities to the concept of “play and fun” and suggests employing them to make English learning more engaging.
Apart from that, Halliwell (1992) highlights the fact that children are willing to interact with other people, which is beneficial not only for language acquisition but also for their relationships with the teacher. Finally, the author suggests that children “frequently learn indirectly” (Halliwell, 1992, p. 2), which is particularly important for TBLT ER since both these approaches presuppose indirect learning.
Cameron (2001) introduces other positive features of young learners, including their open-mindedness, which allows them to try to perform tasks that they do not understand, as well as their enthusiasm. However, the author also mentions that despite this enthusiasm, the motivation of a child is difficult to support. Also, Cameron (2001) admits that the metalinguistic abilities of young learners are not typically well-developed, which makes their study of a foreign or second language more complicated.
Malihi (2015) points out that abstract thinking is generally not very well-developed in young learners and also suggests that children tend to disregard rules. This characteristic can be traced back to the ability of the children to attach meanings and use their imagination to compensate for the lack of knowledge; in this case, they may disregard the actual linguistic rules and come up with new ones, making mistakes. Finally, children are more vulnerable than adults in multiple ways, which means that they require more support and more cautious criticism.
McKay (2006) points out that harsh criticism does not only damage a child’s motivation but can actually harm their psyche, which is why the topic of feedback is particularly important in the case of young learners.
Naturally, young learners also have individual features (Willis, 1996), which should also be taken into account in particular instances. However, the mentioned characteristics allow making recommendations for the teaching strategies with respect to the group as a whole. As a result, they can be used to discuss the applicability of TBLT ER to young learners from the theoretical point of view.
English as a foreign language and young Omani learners
EFL presupposes learning a language that is different from a learner’s native one while living in a country that does not typically employ this language (Cohen, 2014). The specifics of EFL teaching include the fact that the children have very low exposure to the language and hardly apply it in any environment outside the classroom (Al-Jardani, 2012). Thus, an EFL teacher is likely to search for the means of increasing the students’ exposure to language and encourage its use. Similarly, the students do not have an urgent need for the language, which may limit their motivation (Long, 2014).
For example, Asante, Al-Mahrooqi, and Abrar-ul-Hassan (2012) point out that the motivation of Omani EFL students is typically low, even though the language is obligatory in public schools (p. 12). As pointed out by Willis (1996), it is not atypical for school students to have low motivation in the long term since they may not always understand the purpose of learning. It is also noteworthy that the reasons for low motivation may be related to factors like the excess of homework (Al-Mahrooqi & Denman, 2016), which suggests curriculum-related issues. The fact that young learners are also easily discouraged makes the aspect of motivation even more significant (Cameron, 2001).
The English language is widely used in a variety of spheres in Omani society (Al-Jardani, 2012), which should make it an interesting learning subject. However, the difficulty of English learning is correlated with the differences in languages. Mourtaga (2006) points out that Arab EFL learners experience difficulties in reading the consonant clusters in English that exceed the default two letters used by Arabic (pp. 80-86).
Also, the author mentions alphabetic differences and the different direction of texts with English texts written from left to right and Arabic ones written from right to left. Therefore, EFL learning is a difficult activity for young Omani learners, which might be able to diminish children’s motivation further. It is especially true for complex tasks like reading, which are particularly complicated for people with lower levels of proficiency (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015). As a result, the topic of scaffolding should be introduced to consider the means of helping young Omani learners in studying English.
Scaffolding is closely connected to the work of Lev Vygotsky, even though the researcher never used the term (Fisher & Frey, 2010). It refers to the “skilled help,” which is used to help a child reach the “zone of proximal development” (ZOP) (Cameron, 2001, pp. 5-7). The latter is a term introduced by Vygotsky and a product of the theory that a child’s developmental level includes the “actual developmental level” and the “potential developmental level” with ZOP located between the two (Fisher & Frey, 2010, p. 1). As a result, the aim of scaffolding is to bridge the gap of ZOP and provide the guidance and support that can help a child to move forward in their development.
According to Fisher and Frey (2010), the difficulty of scaffolding consists of finding the balance between supportive scaffolding and disabling scaffolding that takes the initiative from the child. The authors also point out that the scaffolding needs to be gradually removed; otherwise, the balance cannot be achieved. As for the term, it was introduced in 1976 by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (Fisher & Frey, 2010, p. 2), and has been used in various contexts, including EFL.
Young Omani learners: the settings of the study
In the past years (since 1998’s Basic Education Reform), the educational system of Oman has been undergoing changes that are aimed at improving the system, making it more student-centric and more relevant for the modern world, which involves providing adequate opportunities for teaching and studying English (Al-Maamari, Al-Nofli, & Al-Gharibi, 2014). The government supports the idea of English language teaching (Al-Jardani, 2012), and so are Omani teachers, who are becoming more experienced and well-trained in educating Omani learners (Malihi, 2015).
However, it is not clear if the changes have been meaningful; for example, Al-Maamari et al. (2014) report significant progress but highlight drawbacks in the curriculum integration of certain subjects (social studies) while Najar (2016) suggests that because of multiple barriers (socio-economic, demographic, political, and others), the effectiveness of the changes was diminished. Similarly, Al-Issa and Al-Bulushi (2011) demonstrate that in the field of English language teaching, the changes are not particularly significant, which the authors believe to be the result of inadequate teacher training and policy implementation.
The study of EFL is mandatory for the students of Omani public schools (Asante et al., 2012, p. 12). However, Asante et al. (2012) point out that the children are not always motivated to study it. To sum up, the topic of reviewing and improving teaching approaches is very acute for modern-day Oman, and the present study can be regarded as timely as a result.
ER is an approach to teaching that is typically described as “reading as much as possible, for the purpose of pleasure or information rather than learning particular language features” (Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009, p. 383). As such, ER is opposed to intensive reading (IR), which does not aim to ensure pleasurable reading and focuses on language features that can be learned. ER presupposes choosing the texts that are of interest for learners, which implies that they should be encouraged to choose the readings themselves, although scaffolding is not excluded from the process. In fact, scaffolding can be used to ensure that the readings are appropriate for the proficiency level (Haider & Akhter, 2012, p. 129).
As follows from the term, ER offers a more extensive exposure of the learner to the language than IR (Chalikendy, 2015). However, the texts meant for ER do not have to be large; mini-texts are also applicable if used in series (Green, 2005). As suggested by Arnold and Rixon (2014), both “real” and adapted reading materials can be used depending on the level of proficiency of the learner (p. 31).
ER has been shown to contribute to the development of language skills, including comprehension, reading speed and vocabulary-related skills (Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009, Briggs, 2016; Jafarpour, 2014; Khonamri & Roostaee, 2014; Kuhn et al., 2006). For example, Arnold and Rixon (2014) report that to assimilate a word, a learner needs to encounter it in context at least 12 times (p. 31).
In the course of ER, this effect can be achieved relatively fast, and due to the fact that ER ensures the use of the word in an appropriate context, the method appears to be more effective than drilling. However, ER’s contribution to learning progress is described as incidental: it is not the aim, and it is not generally required, which implies that it might not always occur (Song & Sardegna, 2014). Apart from that, grammar rules are not typically promoted through ER (Haider & Akhter, 2012).
Since the main aim of ER is to expose a child to a language extensively by motivating them through interesting texts (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016, p. 93), the learners tend to favour the approach over that of IR, which can be regarded as another advantage of the method (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009; Chalikendy, 2015). Also, some authors mention that the ER can help to teach children to like reading and learn good reading habits (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Krashen, 2011). The latter advantage is of importance due to the fact that reading in any language tends to have multiple positive effects, including new knowledge acquisition, general academic progress, brain capacity growth (Al-Mahrooqi & Denman, 2016, pp. 7-8), and the development of creativity (Harrasi, 2012).
In the context of the Arab world, ER can be regarded as an innovative approach (Haider & Akhter, 2012; Shabani & Ghasemi, 2014), which, however, also implies that the topic may be underresearched. Indeed, the number of recent studies on the implementation of ER to the cases of Arab young learners does appear to be relatively lacking, but there are the works of Ahmed and Rajab (2015), who consider primary school EFL students from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and demonstrate the usefulness of ER for English proficiency, and Fawzia and Salwa (2016) who investigate current ER practices at Omani public schools. Thus, the presented study can contribute to the growing bulk of literature on the topic.
Extensive reading in EFL young learners: challenges and benefits
From the information presented above, it can be concluded that ER can offer additional opportunities for EFL studies. In particular, the fact that ER is a motivational approach can be used to compensate for the motivation issues that EFL young learners tend to experience (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009; Chalikendy, 2015; Fawzia & Salwa, 2016). Similarly, the fact that EFL young learners have few opportunities for English exposure suggests that ER can offer a solution in the form of extensive exposure to texts in English (Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009; Al-Jardani, 2012). Therefore, ER can be applied to EFL contexts.
From the point of view of the context of young learners, ER can offer some benefits, but it is also connected to certain challenges. The ability to learn indirectly, which is highlighted by Halliwell (1992), makes ER more appropriate for children since it presupposes indirect learning through language exposure.
Similarly, the motivational aspect of ER, which is demonstrated by multiple authors (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009; Chalikendy, 2015; Fawzia & Salwa, 2016), is applicable to the population due to the fact that it can offer to employ the children’s love for fun and their imagination in the process of learning, which is emphasised by Halliwell (1992) and McKay (2006). However, it is noteworthy that young learners typically find it difficult to develop reading skills (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015), and ER requires a certain level of these skills to be present before the method’s application.
Similarly, there is a vocabulary problem: the younger the readers are, the less likely they are to have extensive knowledge of the English vocabulary, which makes reading more difficult and, therefore, less enjoyable. Ahmed and Rajab (2015) specifically highlight the idea that level-appropriate reading materials have a motivational value, which is important for ER (p. 32). The authors suggest using graded readers, which, in their view, are a good choice due to their adaptation to varied proficiency levels in terms of vocabulary and grammar.
A similar suggestion is made by Lin (2014), who mentions that children are known to provide some positive feedback on this type of texts (p. 55). Briggs (2016) also highlights the motivational value of graded readers (p. 4), even though the author reports that many practitioners prefer authentic texts (p. 5). Thus, there is at least one solution to the vocabulary problem.
As a result of the mentioned difficulties, the approach may be difficult to apply to the youngest learners, but it appears to be more feasible when older young learners are concerned. In particular, in Oman, the Basic Education system presupposes dividing the 12-grade learning process, which takes up 12 years, into two cycles (Al-Mahrooqi, Abrar-Ul-Hassan, & Cofie, 2016, p. 44). The Cycle One ends with the 5th grade, and Cycle Two begins with the 6th one.
The Ministry of Education suggests that ER can and should be introduced in the fifth grade (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016). Therefore, the official guidelines, which Omani teachers are supposed to adhere to, find ER appropriate to young learners aged 11-14 (that is, attending the first years of their Cycle 2 schools), who are considered in the present study.
Apart from the mentioned challenges, there are also certain barriers to ER use. Green (2005) points out that ER is difficult to incorporate in the majority of modern curricula due to the fact that its outcomes are not very predictable, and its key aims (increased exposure and pleasure) can hardly be introduced as curriculum goals. Similarly, the author mentions that due to the lack of clear aims, guidelines, and outcomes, the ER is interpreted in varied ways by schools and teachers, which does not always lead to positive outcomes.
In particular, Green (2005) observes that the ER tends to be turned into extra-curricular activity, which is paid very little attention by the teachers. All these factors make structuring ER more difficult, and Green (2005) specifically advocates for a structured approach to the method, but in the article, he does not observe such attitude in practice.
Finally, there are the issues of resources, especially time and funding. Time is a challenge for teachers (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016), but it is also a concern for students since young Omani learners tend to have a lot of homework (Al-Musalli, 2014). As for the funding, it is predominantly required for the acquisition of books to be offered to children (Haider & Akhter, 2012; Krashen, 2011). The availability of books or other reading materials for ER is a must since the opportunities of young Arabic learners are not always equal (Butler, 2014).
Apart from that, the availability of multiple books is required to ensure the variety of topics, which is typically appreciated by children (Lin, 2014, p. 55), helps to motivate them through the choice of topics of interest, and has been shown to improve the effectiveness of ER from the point of view of vocabulary acquisition (Lee & Pulido, 2017). Thus, the collection of a library of graded readers and authentic literature is desirable but problematic because of funding.
Thus, the resource aspect can also be regarded as a challenge for successful ER implementation, and the issue affects many countries (Krashen, 2011), including Oman. To sum up, the application of ER to young learners is possible, but there are nuances and challenges attached to the process. While there are solutions to some of them, not each of the problems can be resolved single-handedly by a teacher.
Task-Based Language Teaching
TBLT is a learner-centred approach to teaching (Hakim, 2015; Long, 2014), which employs tasks. A task is a “holistic activity which engages language use in order to achieve some non-linguistic outcome while meeting a linguistic challenge, with the overall aim of promoting language learning through process or product or both” (Harmer, 2008, p. 174). TBLT is typically divided into three parts: pre-and post-test activities and the activities (task) themselves.
The pre-test activities usually incorporate instruction and may also be aimed at engaging and motivating children; the post-test activities offer the opportunity for feedback, assessment, and reflection (Hakim, 2015; Shabani & Ghasemi, 2014). TBLT is a relatively new approach for the Arab world (Butler, 2014), but the results of the study by Malihi (2015) and Butler (2014) suggest that it is appreciated and supported by modern Arab teachers and can be regarded as a modern trend in the region.
TBLT has been successfully applied to young learners (Carless, 2002; Carless, 2003; Green, 2005; Butler & Zeng, 2013) as well as reading (Butler & Zeng, 2013). However, there has been a certain controversy around the term. A specific feature of TBLT consists of its focus on non-linguistic aims; in tasks, linguistic learning occurs as a result of employing language to fulfil a task, which is the primary purpose of the learning activity (Harmer, 2008).
The linguistic learning, therefore, becomes secondary to the task itself (Najjari, 2014), and the form (the language) is considered less important than the meaning (the task). Generally, the feature is positive rather than negative, especially since it allows young learners, who lack proficiency, for the time being, to achieve possible results (fulfil their tasks) despite the difficulties with the form. However, this feature may also discourage its users, especially if the approach is being implemented, and the teachers are not familiar with it yet (Law & Li, 2013).
As a result of this shift in the focus, the attitude to the use of language during TBLT differs from that during traditional language teaching. For example, in describing the practice of TBLT, Prabhu (1987) mentions that children can develop various strategies of conveying information, including the use of their mother tongue, which is not disallowed. Moreover, the author points out that children tend to employ it in “private” conversations while they prepare for the task and try to use their studied language when reporting the results, apparently, regarding it as a part of the rules of the task.
Other strategies of alternative communication involve gesturing, using the blackboard to write numbers or letters, reading and repeating parts of the task of the text (for text-based tasks), and other methods of facilitating the use of language. Also, scaffolding techniques can be employed; Prabhu (1987) states that students may solicit teachers’ help or, as the author puts it “draw on the teacher’s knowledge of the language” (p. 60).
For instance, a teacher may clarify an ambiguous sentence or gesture by verbalising it in the studied language, and the child can agree or disagree with the interpretation. As pointed out by Prabhu (1987), these strategies do not aim to undermine the students’ ability to use language; rather, they are meant to ensure understanding and enable communication. However, this shift in focus can appear disturbing and even potentially harmful to teachers and other stakeholders, including parents (Law & Li, 2013; Shehadeh & Coombe, 2012). These stakeholders may seek to prevent TBLT from being applied to young learners.
It is noteworthy that psychological barriers are not the only ones that can prevent teachers from employing TBLT. In particular, Shehadeh and Coombe (2012) mention institutional factors, (including curriculum, national examinations, and large class size). In this study, the barriers to TBLT implementation will be regarded as a factor that might contribute to a deficient use of the approach despite its applicability to EFL young learners.
Task-Based language teaching and EFL young learners: benefits and challenges
TBLT seems to be especially appropriate in the case of EFL teaching. In particular, TBLT is heavily oriented towards linguistic practice (Prabhu, 1987), which means it that offers students the opportunity to apply language that they do not have in their everyday life (Najjari, 2014). Apart from that, Willis (1996) points out that specific tasks can resolve the issue by providing short-term motivation (p. 14). In other words, TBLT can be used to improve and support the children’s motivation, which is challenging in the case of EFL young learners. As a result, TBLT can be regarded as a solution to some of the challenges of teaching EFL young learners.
TBLT can offer some opportunities to young learners, but it can also meet some barriers to its implementation. TBLT has been applied to young learners partially because of its focus on non-linguistic goals, which implies that students’ mistakes and difficulties do not prevent young learners from achieving positive results (Harmer, 2008). As stated by Prabhu (1987), linguistic issues do not presuppose failure in TBLT, which must have a positive impact on student engagement and motivation that are challenging to achieve with young learners.
Apart from that, TBLT can be regarded as a framework for scaffolding, which provides the opportunity to offer skilled help throughout the three elements of the task (Haider & Akhter, 2012). At the same time, languages are practised extensively during TBLT, which is bound to have positive effects on students’ linguistic abilities and which is especially important for EFL young learners who tend to have rather modest exposure to the language they study (Al-Jardani, 2012). Apart from that, the YL’s ability to learn indirectly enhances the results of task-based learning, which Halliwell (1992) explicitly states (p. 5).
Therefore, TBLT takes into account the specifics of young learners and offers to resolve some challenges that are related to teaching young learners, which means that there is a sound theoretical ground indicating that TBLT should be appropriate for EFL young learners. Still, the concerns about the lack of focus on the language, which has been raised since the previous century and appears to remain valid for some practitioners nowadays (Law & Li, 2013; Seedhouse, 1999), may be taken into account as a possible drawback that needs to be controlled by a teacher who wants to implement the approach.
Task-Based Extensive Reading for young learners in English as a Foreign Language Learning
The merging of TBLT and ER is apparently possible. As demonstrated above, both approaches do not focus on the lacking proficiency levels of the participants while making use of their ability to learn indirectly (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009; Green, 2005; Harmer, 2008; Prabhu, 1987), which makes them compatible on a couple of levels. Green (2005) does point out that the merging of the methods requires a careful balance, but TBLT ER is used in practice, and its effectiveness is being studied.
For example, Khonamri and Roostaee (2014) consider the effectiveness of applying comprehension-based and form-focused tasks to EFL learners, and they demonstrate that both approaches can have a positive effect on vocabulary acquisition with respect to collocations. Comparative studies of ER and TBLT ER have shown that the latter is more likely to contribute to the development of language skills than the former (Song & Sardegna, 2014). However, the studies targeted adult learners, which is why the results may be not exactly applicable to young learners. The present study seeks to prove that the merged method of TBLT ER can be used in the case of young learners and that it offers multiple benefits while needing to take into account certain limitations.
The benefits of ER and TBLT are mentioned above, and it is clear that the merger of the two might result in combined advantages. However, benefits of the whole appear to be greater those of the sum of its parts. On the one hand, TBLT ER offers to summarise the advantage of extensive exposure (ER) with extensive practice of applying the language (TBLT) (Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009; Prabhu, 1987). On the other hand, the disadvantage of ER that consists of its lack of clear goals and outcomes can be modified due to the strict framework of TBLT (Green, 2005).
Similarly, TBLT and ER have a compensatory relationship from the point of view of motivation. As it was established, motivation is typically a challenge in an EFL classroom (Asante et al., 2012), and as the information presented above demonstrates, both ER and TBLT can help to resolve the issue (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015; Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009; Willis, 1996). However, while the motivational character of ER does not appear to be debated, tasks are sometimes regarded as being capable of decreasing motivation, especially if they are considered difficult.
For example, Littlewood (2007) demonstrates that it is true for Arab young learners who are engaged in TBLT. Given the fact that reading-related tasks are typically regarded as very difficult (Ahmed & Rajab, 2015), the negative features of IR become apparent. Also, this fact can be used to explain why the ER is so favoured by learners (Al-Homoud & Schmitt, 2009). Therefore, the use of ER together with TBLT is likely to support the motivation of children, and if managed correctly, it can unite the potential motivational benefits of the two approaches by ensuring that the tasks do not demotivate young learners. To sum up, the merger of the two approaches offers to either unite their benefits or control for the respective issues of ER and TBLT.
Still, even though TBLT and ER are compatible from the point of view of their attitude to YL’s proficiency levels and other abilities, there is one conflicting feature in the potential merged approach: the aims. TBLT typically has clear goals and outcomes, even though this feature can be different for creative tasks (Willis, 1996). ER, on the other hand, does not have a clear aim other than increased exposure and pleasure (Green, 2005). As a result, some researchers suggest that the use of tasks can be antithetical to ER since ER needs to be free and voluntary, which tasks rarely are (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016). Since there is a conflict between the two approaches, misunderstandings can occur in the process of merging them.
Green (2005) regards TBLT ER as a very promising form of teaching, which, however, has suffered from inadequate implementation. The author uses the example of the Hong Kong Extensive Reading Scheme in English, which was not successful because of either unclear or restrictive aims, inefficient scheduling, ineffective or absent scaffolding, and the lack of engaging tasks and group activity. However, the fact that the implementation turned out to be ineffective also suggests that there may be some barriers to it.
In the example of Green (2005), the barriers of teacher training and knowledge are discussed; however, the issue of misunderstandings is also apparent, especially at the administrative level. In particular, the fact that the aims were either restrictive or vague suggests that the administrations of the schools were either trying to use the typical aims of TBLT or those of ER and failed to find a balance between the two.
The misunderstandings were reflected in the curriculum, which reduced the effectiveness of TBLT ER implementation. Green (2005) also highlights the fact that the implementation was top-down, and teachers were not engaged in the process (p. 308), which might have worsened the misunderstandings. Similarly, the implementation was not differentiated (even though the framework was meant to be flexible), which also could not contribute to the effectiveness of the method. In other words, the conflict between the aims of ER and TBLT may not have been the only reason for the failure, but it was still present.
Green (2005) believes that TBLT can enhance ER and make it more capable of being integrated into curricula by adding clearer purposes, aims, goals and outcomes to it. Similarly, he suggests that the existence of a purpose makes the reading more motivational and effective from the point of view of language learning. Still, the question of whether such a view allows the ER to remain ER can be debated.
Fawzia and Salwa (2016) specifically point out that the lack of tasks is more likely to correspond to the aim of ER since tasks tend to introduce pressure and reduce potential pleasure that can be gained from reading (p. 93). Similarly, as pointed out by Willis (1996), the linguistic activities that occur outside of the classroom are not always goal-driven, and the ultimate aim of the learning process is to prepare children to use language in real life. However, it is true that the goals of pleasure and extensive language exposure are difficult to introduce in the curriculum unless the hours of ER are concerned.
As highlighted by Green (2005), the lack of a clear goal tends to prevent ER from being incorporated into curricula (that are typically specific, measurable, and time-restricted), which, in turn, results in multiple misunderstandings. Willis (1996) also admits that clear goals make a task easier to manage. Fawzia and Salwa (2016) do not actively oppose the use of tasks in ER and merely suggest that they need to be used with caution to avoid negative effects (like the reduction of motivation or the loss of the meaning of ER). In other words, all the mentioned authors admit the possibility of merging the two approaches, but they recognised the related issues and challenges.
To sum up, the lack of a clear purpose is likely to prevent ER from becoming a proper teaching approach while excessively restrictive goals can result in the deconstruction of the notion of ER. In any case, the benefits of ER would be lost at both extremes, which implies that the practice of ER requires balancing between them. The introduction of tasks clearly allows avoiding the former extreme; as for the latter, it is safe to assume that it depends on the tasks, approaches, and methods that the teacher uses. The present study will aim to investigate the way Omani teachers try to resolve the issue and find their balance.
TBLT ER Lesson
The presented literature review allows making the following suggestions on the way a TBLT ER lesson can be carried out.
An important element of ER pre-task activities is choosing the reading materials. As pointed out by Fawzia and Salwa (2016), scaffolding for the process can be acceptable, but the children must have the opportunity to choose a topic of interest (Lee & Pulido, 2017). The length of the texts can depend on the specifics of the activity; long and short texts can be equally acceptable for TBLT ER (Green, 2005). The same can be said about authentic and adapted texts (Briggs, 2016), even though there are some advantages to graded readers (Lin, 2014). The types of reading materials can also vary from books to magazines (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016).
Other pre-test activities can include instructions and motivation (Hakim, 2015; Shabani & Ghasemi, 2014). Green (2005) reports that it may be reasonable to carry out placement tests to establish their level of proficiency. After the pre-test activities, the reading takes place, and the tasks should be carried out after the reading (Khonamri & Roostaee, 2014), which should help to preserve pleasure and exposure to the language as the key aims of ER (Green, 2005).
The tasks can apparently include comprehension and text analysis (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016) and vocabulary (Khonamri & Roostaee, 2014). To be TBLT-relevant, a task needs to have a non-linguistic aim (Harmer, 2008). It appears that comprehension and text analysis tasks can be developed without a focus on linguistic outcomes, but with respect to vocabulary tasks, more caution is necessary. They can be oral or written; it is also possible to combine the two and add a drawing to them (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016). Likely post-test activities include feedback, reflection, and discussions (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016; Hakim, 2015).
Children are expected to read their texts and carry out their tasks either at home or school; the feedback can be provided in the form of marks or extended oral or written discussion (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016). It is noteworthy that extended discussion is preferable, as stated by Fawzia and Salwa (2016), but it requires more time and resources. Reading at home does not appear to be incompatible with TBLT, but TBLT ER that is carried out in classrooms offers more opportunities for structuring and scaffolding (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016). Apart from that, classroom-based TBLT ER can be enhanced by the establishment of a particular reading environment that can improve reading experiences (Briggs, 2016). In the case of homes, the environment is supposed to be comfortable, which is a point in favour of home-based TBLT ER.
The idea of using TBLT to structure ER suggests that the choice of the task, as well as pre-and post-test activities, should be aimed at guiding children through the process and motivating them to perform the reading without transforming ER into IR (Green, 2005). As pointed out by Fawzia and Salwa (2016), the motivation of children depends to a great extent on the understanding of the value of ER, the nature of tasks, and the scaffolding.
Thus, the role of the teacher in successful TBLT is apparent during all the elements of TBLT ER from the planning of appropriate tasks to maintaining suitable post-test activities. As the literature review demonstrates, a teacher has a number of options with varied advantages and disadvantages, which can help him or her to customise TBLT ER to the needs of his or her class. However, it is also apparent that multiple barriers can be encountered in the process, including time and resources restrictions, the task of structuring ER with the help of TBLT without turning it into IR, and motivation challenges.
The presented literature review provides a number of important insights that can partially answer some of the research questions and offer responses to the research questions. In particular, the literature review suggests that, at least in theory, TBLT and ER can be applied to young learners, including Omani ones, and might be capable of merging. Moreover, the literature suggests that the mentioned approaches offer multiple benefits (including extensive language exposure and practice) and take into account the specifics of young learners (including the need for motivation and the ability to learn implicitly). The methods also have disadvantages, including the vague and uncertain goals and outcomes of the ER and the demotivating potential of TBLT.
The merger of the two approaches may combine their benefits and compensate for their disadvantages with their respective advantages, but there is the challenge of TBLT and ER having relatively incompatible goals. The literature review suggests that this challenge can be met by a caring teacher who finds the balance between vague and restrictive goals, and the following study will pay particular attention to the way its participants search for the solution. In case the balance is found, TBLT should turn into a framework for structuring ER, which would help to introduce it into school curricula; also, ER and TBLT would compensate for the motivational flaws that both methods can exhibit by their respective motivational value.
Methodology and Procedures
Data Collection Tools: Description and Justification
The data for the study was collected in two ways: with the help of interviews and questionnaires. Both tools were developed with the help of a preliminary literature review that allowed defining the terms and establishing the topics that seemed to require discussion. Also, the literature review provided the options for the questionnaire items. The development of the tools also included the review of the feedback provided by my instructor, and it was subjected to a limited trial run with two of my colleagues, which allowed eliminating a couple of inconsistencies.
Questionnaire: description, advantages
The advantages of a questionnaire include its ability to save the time spent on distributing and analysing the tool; interviews are more time-consuming (Creswell, 2014). The tool for the questionnaire is located in Appendix A; it contains various types of questions, including multiple-choice, Likert-scale-based, and open-ended ones. The variety of question types allows employing the strong points of each of them, which balances out their disadvantages.
For example, open-ended questions solicit the most information from the respondent, but they are less easy to answer, which reduces the return rate; also, they are more difficult to analyse when compared to closed questions (Bryman & Bell, 2015; Eriksson & Kovalainen, 2015). As a result of mixing different types of questions, the respondents, who are interested in the topic and motivated to respond, have the opportunity to express as many ideas as they have on the topic, and those who are not very motivated are more likely to quickly fill out the questionnaire and return it (rather than not return it at all).
The questionnaire was divided into four parts, depending on the information that it was supposed to solicit or provide. The first one (labelled as part 0) consisted of the description of the study and risks as well as the definitions of the terms used in the study. The latter element was introduced to avoid misunderstandings; for the same reasons, it was explicitly stated in the questionnaire that the study does not mean to undermine the importance of IR.
Also, the questionnaire invited respondents to comment on the terminology and, possibly, suggest alternatives, but no remarks were made by the participants. The second part of the questionnaire included the questions about the experience and degrees of the participants while the third and the fourth ones inquired about their opinions and practice, respectively. The questionnaires were distributed with the help of e-mails; printed copies were offered for those interested in them, but the electronic ones proved to be more popular. They can be regarded as more economically feasible and environmentally-friendly copies as well.
Interviews: Description of Advantages
The interviews were semi-structured, and they used the questions from the questionnaire as open-ended ones, following the four-part organisation described above. The interviewees were offered to read the same introductory part and sign it as a consent form; it also included the definitions that are used in the study. The interviewees did not choose to comment on the terminology, stating that they had the same understanding of the mentioned terms. One-on-one interviews are also appropriate for the study because they allow insights into the personal view of a respondent, which is one of the aims of the study (Creswell, 2014). Also, the extended answers from the interviews would be expected to provide more details, which offers more information for the study to analyse.
It may be suggested that the use of two forms of data collection procedures offered the respondents the opportunity to accommodate their wishes and resources: for example, if a respondent wished to provide more information, they could choose to be interviewed, but if they had little time or it was difficult for them to find a suitable time for the appointment, the questionnaire could be an appropriate solution. Thus, the tools were aimed at achieving the maximum response rate and accommodating the needs of the respondents and the study alike.
The survey offered the opportunity to stay anonymous, but there was no such opportunity during interviews. However, there were few ethical concerns related to the study: no personal information about the respondents was placed in the final report, and no attempts to trace them back through their answers will ever be made. All the interviewees signed a short consent form, which contained the purpose of the study and the risks, which were minimal. Similarly, the header of the questionnaire included the description of the study and the description of the related risks. Thus, the key guidelines on conducting an investigation that involves human subjects were taken into account and followed by the current study (Johnson & Christensen, 2013, p. 132).
No compensation was offered to the respondents who agreed to participate in the study for the sake of sharing the information, which implies that no pressure was exerted on them, and they could express their personal opinions. Their willingness to allocate time to the study is very much appreciated.
The Final Sample
The final sample of the study consists of 39 teachers of Cycle 2 Omani EFL young learners, which means that all of them have experience in working with children aged 11-14. Initially, 35 questionnaires were distributed, but only 31 questionnaires were returned. However, the response rate can be regarded as good since it amounts to 90%. Apart from that, eight interviews were carried out. The final sample includes participants from six different Cycle 2 schools that operate in Oman.
The sampling strategy can be described as mixed: it is a form of convenience-purposive sampling that was occasionally complemented by snowball sampling. Indeed, the participants were chosen for particular characteristics (teachers of English from Cycle 2 schools in Oman) that were necessary for the investigation of expert opinions, which makes the sampling purposive (Johnson & Christensen, 2013, p. 264).
Apart from that, the participants were recruited from six schools that the investigator had supervised at, which hints at a convenience sampling since it was indeed convenient (Johnson & Christensen, 2013, p. 263). Finally, the snowball sampling was used to engage two of the interviewees since help in recruiting was offered by one of the participants (Johnson & Christensen, 2013, p. 265). Thus, the mixed sampling strategy was employed because it suited the needs of the study, was convenient and exploited the opportunities that presented themselves in the course of the work.
Data Analysis and Presentation
The interview responses were analysed with the help of thematic analysis, which can be defined as the “identification of themes in the research findings” (Johnson & Christensen, 2013, p. 676). In other words, it is a form of analysis that singles out particular themes, which can be represented by a number of codes, from the gathered information (Creswell, 2014, p. 248).
The themes that were searched for were predominantly supplied by the options from the questionnaire, but some of them were created specifically for the unique responses when their introduction could benefit the work. An example of such a theme is scaffolding, which incorporated codes “help,” “support,” and more descriptive phrases. This approach allowed grouping most of the qualitative information from the interviews, together with the questionnaire responses. Apart from that, some of the responses are used to provide additional comments on the topic or the questions themselves.
The questionnaire introduced multiple opportunities for extending Likert-scale responses; also, “other” option was available for multiple-choice questions where appropriate. However, few respondents seized the opportunity to discuss the topic in greater detail. The extended responses were also analysed through thematic analysis and were used to continue the discussion of the information gained from the interviews. In general, the interviews proved to be more effective in extracting extensive answers, which was to be expected; the questionnaires must have provided the respondents with the opportunity to go through the task quickly.
The results of the thematic analysing of both questionnaires and interviews were quantised to determine the frequency of their occurrence. Also, the qualitative data was subjected to reduction with the help of descriptive statistics to produce summarised results, which are more convenient to display with the help of graphs that are employed in the present report (Johnson & Christensen, 2013, p. 613).
The specific feature of descriptive statistics is in being able to “describe the numerical characteristics of their data” (Johnson & Christensen, 2013, p. 550). Unlike inferential statistics, it does not attempt to infer anything beyond the information gathered, which is why it was chosen for the work. The findings of the study are not generalisable and not inferential: they represent a limited population who express their opinions and offer a glimpse into their experiences.
The findings may be used to signal the existence of certain practices and barriers, but they cannot offer any other insights (for example, in the prevalence of practices even in the limited population of Omani teachers). Therefore, the ability of the descriptive statistics to provide a summary of the data, making it easier to report, is appropriate for the data and the aims of the study.
Analysis of the Data, Presentation of Findings, and Discussion
The following chapter summarises the study’s summarised data, which is simultaneously discussed and compared with the information from the literature review. The summaries include the results of thematic analysis quantisation. Apart from that, some of the responses that are of interest for the study are incorporated in the discussion. Selected data is presented in the form of graphs. It responds to the key research questions and supplies information which can answer the research questions.
The first meaningful part of the questionnaire and interviews (that is labelled as Part I) is aimed at gathering some information about the respondents. They were not asked to state their gender, but the distribution of questionnaires was aimed at achieving roughly equal numbers of males and females. As for the interviews, they were carried out with four male teachers and four female teachers. The choice was also made specifically to achieve a relatively equal representation of the two genders.
Part I of the questionnaire aimed to determine the competency of the teachers. In particular, the respondents were asked to provide information about their experience (measured in years) and education. The results, which are presented in Figure 1, indicate that the majority of the respondents (58%) have between two and five years of experience. 27% of the participants state that they have between 5 and 10 years of experience, and 7% report over ten years of teaching.
One of the most experienced teachers (with 12 years of experience) was interviewed. The remaining respondents have less than two years of experience. Concerning their education, the majority (74%) of the respondents have Bachelor degrees, 17% have a Master’s degree, and the remaining teachers have a Doctorate degree, which can be seen in Figure 2. It can be concluded that the majority of the respondents are experienced specialists who can provide expert opinion on the topic.
The Results of the Questionnaire and Interview Analysis: Second Part
The second part of the questionnaire is theoretical, and it asks the respondents to consider the concepts of TBL and ER without applying them in practice. Basically, it searches to determine the opinions of the respondents. Since the latter can be regarded as experienced and knowledgeable teachers, their opinion should be of value for the study.
The responses to the first question demonstrate that no participants consider ER to be an unacceptable method of working with young Omani learners aged 11-14, which can be seen in Figure 3. In other words, all the teachers agree with the official guidelines of the Ministry of Education that promotes the use of ER in the fifth grade and afterwards (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016). Moreover, almost 40% of the respondents “strongly agree” that ER is appropriate for the population.
Similarly, 100% of the teachers believe that TBLT can be applied to young Omani learners aged 11-14, and almost 50% strongly agree that the method is appropriate, which is shown in Figure 4. It is noteworthy that 75% of the interviewed “strongly agree” with this method, even though only 40% of the questionnaire respondents chose the option. In the end, it can be stated that, at least theoretically, the respondents are ready to apply the methods to the population.
Among the strong features of ER, 100% of the respondents admit its motivational characteristics (with 60% strongly agreeing that ER is more motivational than IR). It is noteworthy that of the interviewees, 87% strongly agree with the idea. Three of the interviewees and two of the questionnaire respondents point out explicitly that in their experience, reading is usually difficult for young learners, which is why they tend to dislike it.
The five respondents suggest that ensuring the motivation through the use of the texts that are of interest for the young learners makes ER more attractive than IR. In other words, the opinions of the respondents correspond to the results of the literature review. Apart from that, the justification for the method that some of the respondents used is in line with the findings from the theoretical part of the paper. Also, almost 93% of the teachers agree that ER offers broad exposure to the language, which is beneficial for EFL young learners.
However, 15% of the respondents disagree with the idea that the ER is as effective as IR from the point of view of improving children’s comprehension, vocabulary acquisition, and reading speed. The remaining teachers agree that ER can be as effective as IR (with 23% “strongly agreeing” with the idea). Also, the interviewees, as well as three people who filled out questionnaires, point out that the results do not depend only on the method, which makes the choice of the response more difficult for them. The interviewees admitted that there is a potential for such a result, but they insist that it is not guaranteed. Generally, this view corresponds to the findings of the literature review: as pointed out by Song and Sardegna (2014), linguistic proficiency development is not the aim of ER, which is why it might not be achieved.
It should also be pointed out that two of the interviewees and four of the questionnaire respondents mention that reading skills can only be acquired through the practice of reading in one of the questions dedicated to ER. They point out that it is the main reason why they consider ER to be a useful method, which is applicable to students with different proficiency levels. Thus, while there no direct consensus on the properties of ER, the majority of the respondents consider it to possess at least some merits.
With respect to the qualities of TBL, only 2% of the respondents (1 teacher) do not agree with the idea that TBL improves the performance of young learners, and that one person also expanded the answer to point out once again that the method does not guarantee success. Apparently, another limitation of the questionnaire is the fact that it does not take into account the nuances of teaching. Possibly, a passage about the fact that the study does not attempt to attribute the academic success of students to only TBLT ER could improve the situation.
However, the remaining teachers agree with the statement, and 17% of them strongly agree with it. There is more dissent with respect to TBL’s motivational abilities, but only about 13% of the respondents disagree with the statement that TBL helps to motivate learners. 20% of the teachers “strongly agree” with the idea. It is noteworthy that both groups those who agree and disagree) may be considered correct in their assumptions since there is a motivational and demotivational potential in TBL as the literature review indicates.
However, 100% of the teachers consider TBL to be a flexible and convenient framework, and 23% of them “strongly agree” with the statement. In other words, the respondents seem to be mostly in favour of TBLT, but they also admit that there are some challenges and potential negative effects that are connected to the method.
To sum up, the respondents demonstrate acceptance of both TBLT and ER while also exhibiting an understanding of their limitations. No direct contradictions to the findings of the literature review can be found in this part of the dataset, and the results provide more evidence that responds to the questions number one and two in a positive way.
Results of the Questionnaire and Interview Analysis: Third Part
The third part of the questionnaire is devoted to the practice of the teachers. It is noteworthy that the interviewees occasionally moved away from the topic of their practice and discussed the applications of the approach that can potentially be used. These ideas are considered in this part as well, but their speculative nature is highlighted.
Employing ER and TBL in practice
100% of the respondents employ ER and TBL in their practice, but one of them (2%) does not employ their hybrid (that is, TBL-based ER). This teacher did not expand on the answer, which limits our ability to understand the reason for their stance. Also, this person refrained from answering some of the questions that presuppose having some experience in the TBL-based ER application, which is why some of the following questions have a smaller final sample.
Still, the findings of the study supply evidence that answers the research questions number one, two, and three in a positive way, while also indicating that not every teacher is willing to merge ER and TBLT. Given the discussion provided by Green (2005) who points out that the reality of TBLT ER implementation can be disappointing, this person can be cited as an example of the teacher who experiences difficulties and barriers that prevent the method from being effective. The figures are represented in Figure 5 (ER), Figure 6 (TBLT), and Figure 7 (TBLT ER).
ER is used very often by 30%, often by 48%, and sometimes by 20% of the respondents. IR is only slightly more popular with 30% using it very often, 51% using it often, and 18% using it sometimes. TBL is used very often by 28% of the teachers; 56% of them use it often, and slightly more than 15% of the respondents report using it sometimes.
It is noteworthy that two of the interviewees commented on the subjective nature of the time-based Likert scale (which included the statements “very often,” “often,” “sometimes,” “never”). However, the discussion with them ended in with a conclusion that they could discern between the elements in the same way as they did when choosing an “agree” or a “strongly agree” option. Apparently, the scale does gather subjective opinions, and this fact can be regarded as a limitation, which does not allow making conclusions about the frequency of use of the methods. On the other hand, it still allows gauging the attitude of the teachers to the methods, which is one of the aims of the study.
As a result, it is possible to suggest conclusions on the relative “popularity” of the methods, which, however, does not seem to differ very much. In other words, even though the objective numeric measure of the methods used by different respondents may not coincide, the popularity of the approaches can be assessed with the help of these questions. It can be implied that IR is marginally more popular among the respondents than ER and that TBLT is readily employed while TBLT-based ER is considered as much less attractive. However, these results cannot be generalised to describe the Omani teachers due to the small sample size.
A major finding of the analysis of this dataset supports the idea that ER and TBLT can be merged and indicates that the majority of teachers tend to employ it sometimes.
Texts for ER
No respondents reported choosing the texts for their young learners’ ER activities, which appears to be logical since the literature review suggests that young learners need to choose their texts on their own to ensure their engagement. However, more than 10% of the teachers choose the texts together with young learners, which can be regarded as a form of scaffolding. Here, the literature review warns against limiting children’s initiative (Fisher & Frey, 2010), which marks this approach as relatively undesirable.
57% of the teachers allow children to choose the texts themselves, but from the interviews, it becomes clear that they can make recommendations and introduce some rules to control certain aspects of the texts. These aspects include difficulty and size; also, two teachers mention that they prohibit certain topics, and one states that he does not allow newspapers and magazines to be read for ER.
It is peculiar that the teachers introduce different rules with respect to the size of the works with two of them favouring shorter texts and one requiring longer ones. The former suggests that shorter texts are easier to read and comprehend; also, they point out that it is more convenient from the point of view of assessments. One of them suggests that with short texts, the children do not have to give up boring ones, which might result in late assignments, as they can finish a short story in one or two lessons.
The teacher also points out that his learners are encouraged to express their opinions about the texts, and during their presentations or reviews they can declare the dissatisfaction with their reading in a respectful manner and attempt to reflect on it. It can be suggested that this form of tasks should be considered a self-reflection exercise.
The teacher who favours longer texts states that they provide students with the materials for the selected period of time, which he considers to be more convenient from the point of view of comprehension and assessment. The teacher thinks that children should be allowed to give up boring texts but admits that it would lead to late assignments. As for the assignments for long texts, they are focused on parts of the readings. The teacher uses a simple scheme, which presupposes inviting children to read a certain number of pages (defined by the age) and provide written or oral summaries of them during lessons.
It is questionable whether to regard the rules of the interviewees as a form of cooperative text selection, but since the teachers insist that children should be allowed to make their own choice, the current study categorises their views as the idea of children choosing the texts. It is possible that the teachers were attempting to find and demonstrate the balance between scaffolding and disempowering children by prohibiting initiative that Fisher and Frey (2010) mention, which explains their choice of words. This situation demonstrates the limitations of the study that is based on self-reported practices and perceptions; ambiguous cases like this one can pollute the results. Moreover, in the case of the questionnaires, it is impossible to check the teachers’ views of cooperative and individual text selection. Still, the opinion that the children need to be allowed to make a choice appears to prevail among the respondents.
Another 30% of the respondents adjust the method of text choosing for different cases, which implies that they might regard teacher-led text selection as a method that is applicable to the ER. However, the two interviewees who chose the option pointed out that they may or may not use scaffolding depending on the age and skills of a young learner and refused the idea of choosing the text for the child.
As for the scaffolding techniques, they suggested instructions, rules related to the size of the texts, personal checking of the difficulty of the text, and (in one case) suggestions or recommendations of the reading materials based on a child’s preferences. It can be concluded that the teachers recognise the need to provide the children with the possibility to remain autonomous, but they do not neglect their duty as teachers and offer the scaffolding depending on the needs of particular children.
Tasks and ER
Question number six is devoted to the types of tasks that can be employed to implement TBLT ER in an Omani EFL young learner classroom. The summary of the information that is extensively discussed below is presented in Figure 8.
The question allows for choosing several options and encourages expanding the questionnaire responses. No teachers choose pronunciation tasks as those that they can employ with TBLT ER. Instead, 100% of the teachers consider comprehension tasks to be appropriate for the method. The examples that they provide include various forms of summaries, book reviews, and presentations, including oral and written ones as well as PowerPoint-based. According to Fawzia and Salwa (2016), summaries and reports are the most frequently used types of ER-related tasks that Omani teachers employ, which coincides with the presented results.
Two of the interviewees also mention hand-made posters with summaries, drawings, and various objects, but they point out that these are the tasks that they do not employ very often. According to them, the modern age may call for learning to use PowerPoint and other electronic programs and applications, which are more likely to be relevant. Similar opinion on technology was expressed by the rest of the interviewees. The topic of technology being of importance for Omani education and EFL young learners is timely and relevant; for example, it is mentioned by Al-Jardani (2012), Al-Mahrooqi and Denman (2017), and Al-Awidi and Ismail (2012). Therefore, the present study reveals a trend in modern teaching to work towards employing technology in its activities, including TBLT- and ER-related ones.
Seven of the interviewees and two of the questionnaire respondents explicitly highlight the idea of following oral presentations and reports with discussions with other learners. The interviewees specify that they use the questions and answers format; one of them also points out that the format is rather restrictive and speculates that it is possible to encourage children to discuss their reports in groups. However, he admits that he does not use the suggested approach due to time restrictions. The element of the discussion appears to correspond to the group activity requirement that Green (2005) considers necessary for the success of TBLT ER.
Three of the interviewees and two of the questionnaire respondents mention the creation of reading journals or diaries, which can contain text, drawings, and various objects like leaves or stamps. These tasks are clearly aimed at encouraging a child to be creative, which is appropriate given the characteristics of young learners. Three of the interviewees and one questionnaire respondent emphasise the fact that tasks should encourage children to engage in the activities that they enjoy; for example, a child who likes to draw may choose to portray the characters of the text in the journal, show them to the class and describe them.
The interviewees suggest that the format of a journal allows children to choose their way of completing the task, which would correspond to their interests and abilities. Thus, the respondents are apparently interested in designing their tasks in a way that is motivational, which can also be explained by young learners’ characteristics.
92% of the teachers report using text analysis tasks, including eight of the interviewees. The interviewees explicitly stated that these tasks are age-adjusted and can be substituted by a summary if a child experiences difficulties in analysing the text. They did suggest that 13-14-years-olds should be encouraged to analyse rather than summarise, but two of them also pointed out that it may not always be the matter of age, which means that the expectations need to be specific for every learner.
As for the types of analysis-related tasks, they seem to mimic summary-related ones, but the topic of discussing the results with other learners is more frequently mentioned (eight interviewees and four questionnaire respondents). From the interviews, it is apparent that the teachers rightfully regard analysis as a more difficult task than summaries, which makes them search for adjustments. It can be suggested that due to the difficulty of the task, it has great potential for discouraging children from ER and preventing related enjoyment (Hakim, 2015). As a result, the teachers’ willingness to make the task easier seems to be a logical course of action, which can be interpreted in the following way.
The point of ER is to enjoy the process rather than practice important skills, and while TBLT introduces this practice in the picture, the teachers work to make sure that the practice does not become more important than enjoyment. In case the practice threatens the enjoyment, the teachers change the task. This approach can be regarded as a form of searching for the balance between the aims of ER and TBLT. Thus, this dataset provides some information on the methods that Omani teachers use to enhance the effectiveness of their TBLT ER practice.
71% of the teachers mention vocabulary tasks like the ones that they use in practice. However, all the interviewees who choose this option (6 people) point out that they discourage frequent usage of the dictionary during ER and encourage children to write the words down and check them out later.
One of the teachers emphasises that the children are not encouraged to write out every word; rather, it is an optional activity. Such an approach can be explained from the point of view of the above-discussed theory: the primary purpose of the ER is enjoyment, and the learning is supposed to be incidental. While tasks can be incorporated to increase the chances of learning (Song & Sardegna, 2014), they are not supposed to turn the ER and into IR. Thus, the balance between the goals of TBLT and ER can also be preserved by ensuring that the ER remains extensive, not intensive.
Two of the interviewees also point out that optional vocabulary tasks seem to be appreciated by the learners, which suggests that due to the lack of IR elements, the activity becomes more enjoyable. Finally, one of the interviewees mentions introducing vocabulary task as a part of the reading journal activity, where a section of the journal entry is to include several useful words, the number of which depends on the age of the student. The teacher specifically highlights that the vocabulary does not have to be new but has to be useful, and the children are encouraged to incorporate it into their speech afterwards.
Other teachers who expand on the topic (five interviewees and three respondents) focus on new words, even though six of them also mention the concept of usefulness. To sum up, the vocabulary tasks appear to be less popular among the respondents, and they all attempt to find a way of making these tasks differ from those employed by IR. It can be explained by the fact that the relevance of these tasks to TBLT is questionable since their aims can be regarded as linguistic. On the other hand, the example of a vocabulary section in a reading journal can be viewed as a task with the non-linguistic aim of developing a reading journal. Therefore, vocabulary tasks can be performed in a TBLT-relevant way, even though it appears to be a rather challenging activity.
Three of the interviewees (7% of the total number of participants) also mention self-reflection tasks, which involve making a short oral or written presentation that focuses on the process of ER, its challenges, results, and successes. One of these interviewees insists that if the task is carried out orally, it should be done without the class and take the form of a personal consultation with the teacher to help young learners be more open and less self-conscious. Thus, this approach can also be regarded as a counselling method or a form of scaffolding.
Almost 97% of the questionnaire participants (and 100% of the interviewees) employ both written and oral tasks, and one questionnaire participant reported using only written tasks. Apparently, both written and oral tasks are applicable to the case. Concerning the aspects that can limit the applicability of oral tasks, the time issue can be mentioned. Indeed, at least one of the interviewees explicitly states that the time restrictions affect his choice of approaches, and all the others mention time as a problematic resource. Written tasks do not take up the time of the lesson, which is why they may indeed appear to have some advantages over oral ones.
However, written tasks do not offer the opportunity to practice speaking, and group activity is more likely to be a part of oral tasks. At the same time, as pointed out by Green (2005), the lack of group activity tends to diminish the effectiveness of TBLT ER. Therefore, the practice of favouring written tasks may turn out to be questionable.
Similarly, the majority of the participants (76%) use both pre-and post-test activities, and the remaining respondents prefer only post-test ones as can be seen in Figure 9. The pre-test activities that the interviewees’ list include instructions and assistance in choosing texts; five of the interviewees mentioned nurturing good reading habits, which they described as the process of discussing or explaining the benefits of reading. The post-test activities are described above, and they apparently include vocabulary-related tasks as well as text comprehension and analysis that are used interchangeably depending on the proficiency level and the age of the young learners. Also, two of the interviewees point out that some scaffolding needs to be used during the ER, and they mention consultations and questions-and-answers sessions as examples. Also, the creation of specific rules and environments can be regarded as a form of scaffolding.
It should also be pointed out that six of the interviewees state that they do not always employ TBLT ER. In their view, ER can be restricted by tasks, and the need to fulfil the task may diminish the pleasure gained from reading, which effectively undermines the reasons for ER. As a result, they may avoid introducing the task altogether. However, they also expressed the belief that making the tasks engaging and creativity-based is appropriate in the case of TBLT-based ER since children tend to be more motivated when the task is perceived as fun and stimulates their imagination. These concerns correspond to the findings of the literature research and demonstrate that the respondents are well-aware of the issues and challenges of TBLT.
Also, the solutions that are suggested by the teachers correspond to our knowledge of the specific features of young learners. Moreover, three of the teachers also mention that an engaging task can produce more motivation; one provides examples from her practice when young learners appeared to be motivated by the task (the creation of a reading journal) to a greater extent than by the reading itself. Thus, the teachers are also aware of the fact that TBLT does have a motivational potential, and they try to design the tasks in an engaging way.
Finally, two teachers suggest that the form of assessment can mediate the negative effects of the task. One of them stated that she prefers to use a two-element scale (“handed in” and “not handed in” labelled by 1 and 0) combined with descriptive feedback. She specifically emphasises the importance of feedback in motivating a child and suggests using positive feedback to a greater extent than the negative one. However, the second teacher admits that he does use a usual grading rubric for the tasks, even though he supposes that another form of assessment can be used if more time is available. Thus, the constraint of time is shown to prevent teachers from employing the tasks that they consider appropriate.
Fawzia and Salwa (2016) point out that the majority of teachers in Oman do not provide descriptive feedback or recommendations to students (p. 101), and the current research does not suggest otherwise since only one of the teachers directly reports using this method. Still, it cannot be implied from the current research that the teachers do not use feedback either. At the same time, Fawzia and Salwa (2016) and Haider and Akhter (2012) emphasise the role of the teacher in ensuring the effectiveness of ER, the children’s motivation, and their love for reading, which implies that this aspect of typical ER practice in Oman might need improvement.
To sum up, the teachers prefer to use creative and open (loosely-structured) tasks for ER (Willis, 1996), and they try to manipulate types of assessment to ensure motivation, but they do not always have the time and resources for proper feedback. It is noteworthy that the sources are not entirely controlled by the teachers. Therefore, there are aspects of TBLT ER implementation that do not depend on the teachers.
Challenges to TBLT ER
In the ninth question, the respondents were allowed to choose several options to determine the challenges in the implementation of TBLT ER, as can be seen in Figure 10. The results demonstrate that 100% of the teachers regard the task design as a challenge, while 97% consider the resources and time to be one. Therefore, these two issues can be regarded as the most significant and acute as perceived by the teachers themselves.
The challenges of the task design were described above; they can be summarised as the issue of choosing the task and assessment type, ensuring the pleasure of reading, balancing the goals of TBLT and ER, and keeping ER extensive and not intensive. With respect to resources, the interviews demonstrate that the challenge is predominantly regarded from the point of view of the time allocated for the activities and the library that typically requires funding.
Three of the interviewees express concern with the fact that time restricts the opportunity for group activity-related tasks, in particular, discussions or questions-and-answers sessions for text summaries and analyses. They explained that they manage the issue by providing the students with limited time for their oral presentations and allocating no more than 5 minutes to discussions or questions and answers. All three participants find it very restrictive since they consider group activities to be a preferable and more engaging form of ER-related tasks.
Finally, two of the interviewees point out that the lack of human resources is connected to the lack of time; they suggest that EFL groups should be smaller, which should offer more time for varied activities. Therefore, the issue of understaffing, which cannot be resolved on any level but the administrative, also hinders the effectiveness of TBLT ER. These concerns coincide with the results of the literature review and can be used to illustrate the fact that not only the contradictions between the goals of TBLT and ER can decrease the effectiveness of the approach.
Apparently, time is a very significant barrier to the introduction of the methods that the respondents find effective and that they will introduce if the barrier is removed. The barriers that are pointed out by the respondents are shown in Figure 11. It is noteworthy that the barriers correspond to the challenges.
With respect to funding, the teachers appear to be particularly concerned with books acquisition. Four of the interviewees point out that they specifically encourage children to use school collections of books, which include predominantly adapted texts. They admit that it may be considered restrictive, which coincides with the view of Green (2005) who highlights the fact that the motivation of the learner depends on whether the text is regarded as engaging and relevant. Green (2005) suggests that the texts that are typically offered to children are not always viewed by them as relevant, which undermines the purpose of ER.
However, the interviewees also point out that graded readers are more likely to be easily (and, therefore, pleasantly) read and cannot contain any inappropriate topics. As a result, the children may turn out to be more motivated to read them since they are not as likely to experience the difficulties of reading a “real,” non-adapted text. Other advantages of the approach include the fact that the teacher is familiar with all the books, which makes task checking easier and offers them opportunities for discussions (should the time be available). Finally, the teachers point out that the collections are easily accessible, which implies that every school needs to have one due to varied opportunities of the children. To sum up, the teachers insist that the existence of a school library is a necessary requirement for an effective TBLT ER.
However, the establishment of the library is clearly a challenge of its own. Five of the interviewees point out that setting up a library with level-appropriate books is problematic at their schools. At the same time, two of the interviewees praise the Internet for providing relatively easy access to a wide variety of books, even though they admit that some schools might not be able to purchase the required equipment. Three of the interviewees mention buying books with their own money to offer them for ER activities. To sum up, the resources are clearly a challenge to ER at Omani schools, even though teachers manage to find the solutions to it.
The findings of Al-Mahrooqi and Denman (2017) support this result by demonstrating that children do not always have access to good libraries or the opportunity to acquire books. According to the authors, the accessibility of ER materials can be influenced not only by the availability of libraries but also by the views, literacy levels, and reading culture of the parents of young learners. The problem seems to be common for a number of countries (Krashen, 2011, p. 28).
At the same time, it is apparent that the effectiveness of ER depends on the ability of the schools to provide sufficient numbers of relevant, engaging, and age- and level-appropriate books (Haider & Akhter, 2012; Krashen, 2011). The availability of texts is crucial from the point of view of ER, and, as Krashen (2011) points out, library investments are necessary. Unfortunately, this issue cannot be resolved by the teachers single-handedly, but the modern age technologies might indeed offer a solution in the near future. Naturally, it also requires investment, but the topic of the Internet and technology as a means for exposing Omani children to the English language is developed by modern researchers and is mentioned, for example, by Al-Jardani (2012), Al-Mahrooqi and Denman (2017), and Al-Awidi and Ismail (2012).
Concerning other challenges, 25% of the respondents (including three interviewees) admit that motivation can be a difficulty. This view corresponds with the findings of the literature review, which highlights easily diminishing and often low motivation as one of the characteristics of young learners. The fact that TBLT can act as a demotivating factor suggests that motivation can be a challenge for TBLT ER indeed. In fact, the interviewees point out that tasks can result in lowered or increased motivation, and three of them, who state that motivation as a challenge, emphasise the importance of selecting appropriate, motivational tasks.
The examples of such tasks include adjustable ones (that depend on the learner’s abilities and interests) and creativity-based ones. Apparently, the adjustable tasks are developed on the premise that excessive difficulty results in reduced motivation (Hakim, 2015). In fact, the three interviewees point out that the difficulty of texts can also be demotivational both in the case of them being too easy and too difficult. As a result, they highlight the importance of text-selection scaffolding (one of the interviewees explicitly mentioned the term). As for the creativity-based tasks, they exploit the characteristics of young learners, including their imagination and interest in the fun (Halliwell, 1992).
Finally, two of the interviewees mention the fact that feedback can be used to motivate children in the future. They also suggested that the lack of the mentioned elements or their inadequacy can instead discourage children and reduce their motivation in the future. Both interviewees state that they employ descriptive feedback in their practice, which means that their recommendation is supported by their practical experience.
20% of the respondents believe that the curriculum can be a challenge, which can be seen in Figure 11, and 15% of them believe that their current curriculum does not support TBLT ER, which is shown in Figure 12. However, the number of teachers who do not want to modify anything in their curricula is two, which accounts for only 5% of the respondents.
Therefore, while the number of teachers who are generally satisfied with their curricula is large (85%), these curricula can be further improved to support TBLT ER in a more effective way. Of the things that the interviewees want to change in the curricula, resource allocation is suggested to be modified by 84% of the teachers. It is noteworthy that the percentage is smaller than that for the teachers who regard resources as a challenge, but, apparently, not all the teachers believe that the issue is challenging as a result of the inefficiency of the curriculum. Also, goals are suggested for modification by 74% of the respondents, who pointed out that they were vague or unrealistic.
This finding directly corresponds to those by Green (2005), even though the study by Green (2005) was carried out more than a decade ago and in a different country. It can be suggested that the issue of TBLT and ER goals balance does not depend on the country and remains unresolved from the point of view of theory or practice. This conclusion appears logical since the suggestions by Green (2005) or the responses of participants offer general guidelines, which are not very specific and clearly depend on the specific case. Therefore, the topic remains relevant and may require additional research in the future.
45% of the respondents suggested the changes in the outcomes for similar reasons: either vagueness or unrealistic demands. Also, several teachers suggested changes in approach (12%), which the interviewee who mentioned the issue described as the need for more student-centric guidelines for ER. Finally, 23% of the teachers imply that standards and evaluation can be modified. In particular, the interviewees who suggested this “other” option point out that the assessments and standards are too generic and do not take into account the specifics of students.
One of the teachers signalled that the evaluations typically depend on the objective difficulties of tasks, while she would prefer to combine this approach with the assessment of the students’ efforts. Hence, the teachers report with these two additional responses that the features of their curricula do not correspond to the student-centric course that the Omani educational system has taken (Al-Maamari et al., 2014). Therefore, the development of more TBLT ER-appropriate curricula might foster the use of TBLT ER and improve its effectiveness in Omani schools.
Garton, Copland, and Burns (2011) describe the special reading environment as a factor that can be used to improve children’s motivation by being comfortable and stress-free. However, the majority of the respondents (68%) do not offer any specific environment for class-based TBLT ER. Only 28% of the teachers report having a specific place for the ER. One interviewee takes his 13-14-year-old young learners to the school library for the ER lesson; younger students read in the class. Also, two of the interviewees reported having a special place in the classroom. One of them describes it as a section in the room that has comfortable chairs.
The other mentions a carpet, two sofas, and bookshelves with the collection of options for ER. Neither of these respondents specifies if a student can choose to remain in the general classroom or its part. 10% of the teachers report having special rules, but none of the questionnaire respondents expands on the topic. As for the interviewees, one of them reports allowing young learners more freedom in choosing a seat during reading; he also has a special place in the classroom, but children may choose to sit anywhere.
Also, two of the teachers point out that there are rules of behaving (for example, not distracting others), but they are the same for the ER and usual classroom activities, which is why they cannot be described as special rules. Finally, all the interviewees point out that they encourage students to take their ER outside their classrooms, and four of them state that their ER practice presupposes reading and completing tasks at home.
Three of these teachers state that they cannot allocate time to classroom-based ER, and two of them also suggest that children should be more comfortable at home, which should contribute to the pleasure of reading. This factor may account for the large percentage of the teachers who do not create any special environment for ER: if they expect children to carry out ER tasks at home, there is no need for a special reading place.
According to Fawzia and Salwa (2016), the environment for ER needs to be stress-free, which implies that creating a separate environment for it is logical. However, the notion apparently is not very popular among the respondents. Still, the idea of making special rules that are less restrictive than the ones for regular classroom activities was introduced by one teacher, and it seems to correlate with the theoretical findings on the topic.
Possibly, the home can be regarded as a form of this comfortable and stress-free environment. However, this assumption can only be made on the basis of the interviews since the questionnaire respondents did not expand on the question. Finally, the encouragement of proceeding to read outside the classroom might help the children to move towards independent reading, which is the ultimate aim of ER activities (Arnold & Rixon, 2014).
Still, one of the teachers explicitly states that the reason for shifting ER activities to children’s homes is the lack of time, not comfort considerations, which reviews the barrier of time and the potentially detrimental effects that it can have on the teachers’ practice. While in this case, the forced measure might actually bring some positive results, it still results in unwanted changes in the teacher’s methods. It is also noteworthy that Al-Musalli (2014) adds that time is a challenge for children as well since young Omani learners tend to find themselves very busy with homework. As a result, the practice of ER that is carried out in class might alleviate this issue, but in the case of the interviewee, it is not an option because of the time constraints.
Concerning scaffolding, four of the interviewees and two of the questionnaire respondents mentioned this term in their responses to different questions. As a result, it was already mentioned above several times, but the following information can still be added. In general, the results from the questionnaire that include or do not include the direct mentioning of the term suggest that TBLT ER can include scaffolding at the point of text selection (including rules, recommendations, and direct help with the choice of the text), during ER (in the form of special environments and questions and answers activities), and after it (in the form of counselling, task-related scaffolding, and questions and answers activities).
All these elements were mentioned in one way or another by the respondents, which means that they are applicable to practice and have been verified by it. Given the significance of scaffolding for children’s development, the continuous, three-phase scaffolding seems to be appropriate practice. Therefore, this finding suggests that the respondents acknowledge the need for scaffolding and perform a variety of related actions during TBLT ER work. This method can be regarded as a form of enhancing the effectiveness of TBLT ER, which contributes evidence that answers extensively the research question number four.
Summary, Implications, and Suggestions
The findings of the present study supply evidence that responds to all the major research questions. There is some clear evidence to the fact that ER, TBLT, and TBLT ER are employed by modern Omani teachers who work with EFL young learners aged 11-14, which means that the first three questions are answered positively. It is noteworthy that one of the respondents reports that they do not use TBLT ER, but this response accounts for only 2% of the participants.
Therefore, the overwhelming majority of the respondents can illustrate the fact that TBLT ER is possible and applicable to young learners. As for the fourth question, the methods that the teachers employ to enhance the effectiveness of young Omani learners are numerous and can be explained from the point of view of the existing literature on the topic.
First, findings appear to indicate that the teachers recognise the benefits and issues that are related to TBLT, ER, and TBLT ER. In particular, they seem to understand that ER does not guarantee results that can be compared to those of IR (Song & Sardegna, 2014), they appear to know that TBLT can have demotivational effects (Littlewood, 2007), and they admit that there is a certain controversy between TBLT and ER, which risks turning TBLT ER in TBLT IR (Green, 2005).
While the respondents apparently favour IR marginally more than ER and much more than TBLT ER, they seem to recognise the different aims of TBLT ER and IR, which seems to directs their activities that are aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of TBLT ER. Thus, the research questions concerning the benefits of the approaches are answered by the findings. It should be pointed out that the participants are experienced and knowledgeable teachers with the majority of them having between 2 and 5 years of experience and a Bachelor’s degree, which implies that their opinions and methods can indeed be of interest to other practitioners and researchers.
When designing a TBLT ER, the respondents face additional challenges. First of all, they need to select a task that does not undermine the positive qualities of the ER. 100% of the respondents use summaries and reports as the tasks that can provide a framework for ER, and 92% employ text analysis with the same aim. According to Fawzia and Salwa (2016), these tasks are indeed very often used in Omani schools for TBLT ER; their relevance to TBLT can be demonstrated by the fact that they correspond to the requirements of having a non-linguistic aim but employing language in the process (Harmer, 2008).
As the interviews reveal, the respondents realise that analysis is more difficult than summarising, which is why the interviewees suggest using the two tasks interchangeably with young learners of different proficiency levels. In other words, recognising the difficulty of the task, the respondents do not want the motivation of the young learners to decrease and choose to change the task rather than undermine the primary purpose of ER and discourage children from reading.
In a similar way, vocabulary tasks that are used by 71% of the teachers are designed to be as little of a burden as possible. Children are encouraged to check the words only after finishing their reading and instructed to attempt to memorise small numbers of words that are useful. The relevance of vocabulary tasks for TBLT can be questioned since it is dubious that the aims of such tasks can be described as non-linguistic. However, if vocabulary tasks are incorporated into other tasks (for example, reading journal task), they might be viewed as TBLT-relevant since, in this case, the primary aim is again non-linguistic (for example, the development of a reading journal with a vocabulary section). In general, the choice of the task appears to be guided by the principles of the ER to avoid the transformation of ER into IR.
No teachers report employing pronunciation tasks, but three of them (7%) suggest using self-reflection in the form of reports on the process of ER. This type of task is clearly TBLT-related since its primary aim is explicitly non-linguistic. 97% of the teachers use oral and written tasks, and one person uses only written ones, which suggests that both approaches are applicable to the case of Omani EFL young learners as was reported by Fawzia and Salwa (2016).
Also, pre-and post-test activities are employed by the majority of the teachers, with 23% of them using only post-test ones. The pre-test activities involve scaffolding in the forms of instructions and support; throughout the ER, children can be supported through consultations, and after the task is completed, feedback and counselling can be provided. Also, a form of support is the creation of special reading environments (Garton et al., 2011), but it appears that the majority of teachers do not build them. Possibly, they experience no need in them because they prefer using TBLT ER as a homework task, which is an acceptable approach that was mentioned in the literature review by Fawzia and Salwa (2016). Thus, the question about the technical details of merging ER and TBLT is also answered by the findings.
One of the reasons for the translation of TBLT ER to home spaces is the fact that all the respondents consider time and resources that can be allocated to TBLT ER to be constrained, which is a significant barrier to the effective implementation of the method. This issue is supported by the literature review (Al-Mahrooqi & Denman, 2017; Krashen, 2011). Apart from that, the curriculum can be a problem, and while 84% of the respondents suggest that their curricula support TBLT, only 5% do not want to change anything about them.
The majority of the respondents want to enhance the allocation of resources (84%) and goals (74%), and some of them suggest better, more specific and realistic outcomes (35%) and more student-centric approach (12%) and assessments and standards (23%). These findings correlate with those from the article by Green (2005) and respond to the question about the adjustment of curricula to TBLT ER.
The final challenge that 25% of the respondents recognise is the motivation of young learners. Given the specific characteristics of young learners (Halliwell, 1992), it is not surprising, and the teachers suggest task design (choosing creative tasks and adjusting their difficulty), instruction, and feedback as motivational activities. This opinion is also supported by the literature review (Fawzia & Salwa, 2016).
The most problematic barrier to effective ER is apparently the issue of time and other resources. It is noteworthy that the lack of time tends to force teachers to employ tasks and assessment methods that they do not consider to be most appropriate, which reduces the effectiveness of ER; the same issue was pointed out by Fawzia and Salwa (2016) with respect to Omani schools. Similarly, teachers point out that the assembling of a collection of appropriate texts (predominantly graded readers) is also problematic due to the need for funding, and the lack of easily accessible and varied reading materials is a challenge for effective ER (Haider & Akhter, 2012; Krashen, 2011).
The research also revealed that the attitudes of Omani teachers to technology are generally positive, which corresponds to the information from the works that discuss the use of technology in Arab schools (Al-Jardani, 2012; Al-Awidi & Ismail, 2012). The teachers find that technology can be employed in tasks (for example, PowerPoint presentations as a form of a report for TBLT ER). Also, they suppose that the problem of book availability can be resolved with the help of the Internet, even though they admit that it still requires a noticeable amount of resources. Thus, the questions about the challenges and barriers to TBLT ER is also answered by the findings.
To sum up, the presented research suggests that the effectiveness of TBLT ER depends on the tasks, scaffolding, and assessment techniques adopted by a teacher to a great extent. However, there are also other factors that cannot be directly influenced by the teacher, including the curriculum and available resources. The teachers search for the way to resolve these issues, but they might not manage to alleviate them single-handedly. Therefore, the implementation fo TBLT ER with Omani EFL young learners is a possibility, but it is correlated with noticeable difficulties.
Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
The present study has its limitations, which can be used as directions for future study in the area. In particular, the size of the sample does not allow making generalisations, which suggests that a greater sample can be employed in future to carry out research devoted specifically to the frequency of the use of particular methods by Omani teachers or the predominant attitudes towards TBLT, ER, and TBLT ER. In this case, the size of the sample should also coincide with the representation of various schools throughout Oman. The six schools that supplied the sample for the current study maybe not enough. However, the current study did not intend to answer these questions, which is why this limitation does not hinder the discussion of the research questions.
Apart from that, the fact that the perceptions of the teachers were gathered makes the results relatively subjective. From the point of view of future studies, it is important to establish the aim of the study pursues. If a qualitative study on the frequency of the use of the methods is carried out, it is necessary to gather objective qualitative data. However, a study that focuses on the attitudes of the teachers would require a qualitative approach that is similar to the one employed in the current study.
Apart from the mentioned suggestions, it should be pointed out that the present study does not make a conclusive statement about the methods that Omani teachers can employ within the framework of TBLT ER to EFL young learners. As a result, future research can discover more information on the topic and suggest more conclusive guidelines on balance between the goals of TBLT and ER.
The present report contains the results of a study that is devoted to the application of TBLT-based ER to the case of Arab (Omani) EFL young learners. The four hypotheses major and all the minor questions of the research are answered in the process, and it is established that ER, TBLT, and TBLT-based ER are applicable to working with young learners, which is proven by the practice of 38 professional and experienced Omani teachers. Apart from that, certain guidelines for enhancing the effectiveness of TBLT, ER, and TBLT ER can be offered based on the responses of these experienced teachers and supported by the literature review.
The literature review allows establishing that in theory, TBLT and ER are applicable to young learners since they take into account the specific characteristics of the group, especially their need for motivation and ability to learn indirectly. However, the disadvantages of the methods are also of importance, including the issue of the vague goals of ER, which may result in misunderstandings, and the demotivational potential of TBLT.
The merging of the two methods should compensate these issues in theory: indeed, TBLT can provide the goals and outcomes for ER while ER can ensure extra motivation. However, the literature review demonstrates that ER and TBLT have conflicting goals, which tends to result in TBLT transforming ER into IR. In other words, the primary goal of the ER is to ensure a pleasurable exposure of a student to English text. In case this goal is substituted with a TBLT goal, ER loses its attractiveness of free and voluntary reading and starts to resemble IR. It should be pointed out that IR is the most appropriate approach that has been proven to be very effective in developing reading skills (Haider & Akhter, 2012).
In other words, the present study does not attempt to undermine the importance of IR. However, it asserts that ER differs from IR fundamentally, predominantly in its aims, which is why the application of ER needs to be carried out in a way that distinguishes it from IR so that the two methods can be applied to young learners to ensure best results.
Apart from the fact that TBLT goals are too restrictive for ER and may substitute it with IR, the goals of ER are also not exactly beneficial for TBLT-based ER, especially in case the approach is supposed to be incorporated into the curriculum. If the curriculum attempts to incorporate the goals of ER, which are rather vague, schools administrations and teachers begin to interpret them in various ways, which leads to misunderstandings and reduces efficiency. This situation is very extensively described by Green (2005), who points out that the implementation of TBLT ER tends to be dissatisfying.
Thus, it can be suggested that to ensure the effectiveness of the framework. A teacher needs to find a balance between the goals of TBLT and ER and manage to use TBLT as a structure or framework for the ER to make it more applicable to modern curricula. The present study suggests that experienced teachers may offer guidelines on the matter. In particular, the findings seem to include the cases of conflicting goals, especially in the process task design. The respondents demonstrate the understanding of the notions of ER and TBLT, and they seem to favour ER-related goals of pleasure and creativity, adjusting the difficulty of the tasks so that they do not damage the pleasure of ER or turn it into IR. As a result, a major challenge in the implementation of TBLT ER is the design of the task.
Other challenges that the teachers mention include the issues of motivation, resources, and curriculum. It is apparent that while the motivation challenge can be addressed by the teachers (who do so through task design, scaffolding, and feedback), the two remaining issues cannot be resolved single-handedly. The problem of resources appears to be particularly dire since all the respondents choose it as a relevant one. It includes the dilemmas of time, funding, and understaffing, and it tends to change the plans of teachers, preventing them from using the approaches and methods that, in their view, could enhance the effectiveness of TBLT ER. Therefore, while the teachers find ways to improve the effectiveness of the method despite the persistent issues, the process should be facilitated by removing the mentioned barriers.
Apart from that, the study demonstrates that the respondents are knowledgeable about the specific features of young learners and employ them to improve the effectiveness of their methods while also using varied approaches to avoid the complications that are typical for young learners. Thus, knowing the need of young learners for guidance and help, the teachers employ scaffolding, sometimes throughout the process of TBLT ER.
Similarly, understanding the fact that young learners need to be motivated, the teachers seek to offer interesting, engaging tasks. Also, the teachers appear to employ the children’s need for fun and their creativity by suggesting creative and loosely-structured tasks, which also appear to be approved by the students themselves. Thus, the respondents seem to demonstrate that Omani teachers are most knowledgeable about the specifics of their job and can manage their resources and tools to promote the development of EFL young learners.
The study was carried out with the help of two tools: questionnaire and interview questions, both of which fulfilled their purposes of being either easy to fill out and analyse or insightful. The final sample of the study can be regarded as a limitation since it does not allow making generalisations about Omani teachers, but it served the purposes of the study, which included searching for the evidence of TBLT ER being applied to young learners and some relevant examples.
The study also does not offer conclusive ideas on the way the balance between the goals of TBLT and ER can be achieved, but it appears to indicate that ER goals are a priority, especially since the demotivational potential of TBLT can completely undermine ER’s purpose. As a result, future studies on the topic might introduce more information about the methods that the teachers employ to ensure the effectiveness of the TBLT ER.
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Questionnaire: Extensive Reading and Task-Based Language Teaching for Arab Young Learners
Thank you very much for agreeing to participate in this survey! It aims to solicit your expert opinion on the use of extensive reading and task-based learning in English language teaching to young Arab EFL learners. The results of the survey will be used in my dissertation. No personal information about you will be used in the final report; also, you may skip the questions that make you uncomfortable or withdraw from participating in the survey at any moment for any reason.
Please follow the instructions to answer the questions.
Part 0. Definitions
The key terms will be defined here to make sure that no misunderstandings occur.
- EFL – English as a foreign language. Teaching English to students who live in another country with another language as their mother tongue. In this questionnaire, Arab learners are considered, predominantly Omani learners.
- Young learners – the learners who study a second or foreign language during the first 7 years of their schooling (McKay, 2006). In this study, ESL Omani students aged 11-14 years are considered, but if you have experience with other young Arab learners, it is also of great interest!
- Extensive reading – an approach to second or foreign language reading that is aimed at encouraging students to read as much as possible without paying much attention to the language while focusing on information or pleasure. Evidence suggests that this approach is favoured by students (which improves their motivation) and has a positive impact on language learning in the long run that is comparable to the effects of intensive reading (reading tasks that are focused on linguistic outcomes) (Haider & Akhter, 2012).
- Task-based language teaching – an approach to language teaching; it employs tasks that can be defined as activities aimed at engaging students in language use with non-linguistic goals, which eventually results in meeting linguistic outcomes as well (Harmer, 2008). Examples of reading-related tasks include, for instance, providing a summary of a text or drawing an alternative cover for a book.
Please note that the study does not attempt to imply that intensive reading should be excluded from teaching. Similarly, it does not argue that extensive reading can substitute intensive reading for young learners. Rather, the study attempts to find out how (and if) task-based extensive reading can be applied to Omani young learners.
These are the definitions that are employed in the current research and questionnaires. Please feel free to comment on them:
The following sources were used for the definitions:
Haider, M., & Akhter, E. (2012). Extensive Reading in EFL Classroom at Secondary Schools in Bangladesh: Current Practices and Future Possibilities. International Education Studies, 5(3), 382-401. Web.
Harmer, J. (2008). Doing Task-Based Teaching. Tasks in Second Language Learning. ELT Journal, 63(2), 173-176. Web.
McKay, P. (2006). Assessing young language learners. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Part I. Your Experience
Please provide some information about yourself.
- Please specify your degree: ___________
- Please specify the age and nationality of the Arab learners that you have been working with: _________
- For how many years have you been working with young Arab learners? Please specify the number of years/months: ________
Part II. Your Opinion
Please consider the following statements and choose the option that reflects your opinion.
Extensive reading is an appropriate method of working with young Arab (Omani) EFL learners.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: ______________________
Extensive reading makes young learners more motivated than intensive reading.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: ______________________
Extensive reading is as effective as intensive reading (in comprehension, reading speed, vocabulary acquisition), at least, in the long run.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: ________________
Extensive reading is more effective than intensive reading when working with EFL students because it offers broad exposure to the language.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: ______________________
Task-based learning is an appropriate method of working with young Arab (Omani) EFL learners aged 11-14.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: ____________________
Task-based learning improves young learners’ academic performance.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: _______________________
Task-based learning helps to motivate young learners.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: _______________________
Task-based learning is a flexible and convenient framework.
|Strongly agree||Agree||Disagree||Strongly Disagree|
Please feel free to elaborate: ___________________________
Part III. Your Practice
Please answer the following questions by choosing an appropriate answer.
How often do you employ extensive reading when working with young Arab (Omani) learners?
How often do you to employ intensive reading when working with young Arab (Omani) learners aged 11-14?
How often do you employ task-based learning when working with young Arab (Omani) learners aged 11-14?
How often do you to employ task-based extensive reading when working with young Arab (Omani) learners?
How are the readings for extensive reading chosen in your practice?
- Readings chosen by yourself.
- Readings chosen with the student.
- Readings chosen by the student.
- The approach varies from student to student.
What activities do you use to promote learning in task-based extensive reading when working with young Arab (Omani) learners aged 11-14? Please feel free to choose several options.
- Pronunciation tasks. Please feel free to provide specific examples or elaborate______________________________________________________
- Comprehension tasks. Please feel free to provide specific examples or elaborate______________________________________________________
- Text analysis and evaluations tasks. Please feel free to provide specific examples or elaborate ___________________________________________
- Vocabulary tasks. Please feel free to provide specific examples or elaborate______________________________________________________
- Other tasks. Please feel free to provide specific examples or elaborate______________________________________________________
Do you employ written or oral activities for task-based extensive reading?
Do you employ pre-test or post-test activities for task-based extensive reading?
What are the challenges that you find most difficult in extensive reading tasks development? You may choose several options.
- Task design is a challenge.
- Curriculum alignment is a challenge.
- Student motivation is a challenge.
- Arranging resources and time is a challenge.
- Other ___________________________
Do you create a specific environment for extensive reading? If yes, what does it entail? You may choose several options.
- No specific environment is created.
- Yes, there is a special classroom/part of the classroom.
- Yes, there are specific rules for extensive reading tasks.
- Yes, other _____________________________________
Are there any barriers to employing task-based extensive reading in your practice? You may choose several options:
- Yes, time.
- Yes, resources.
- Yes, curriculum.
- Yes, other _____________________________________________________
Do you think that your current curriculum supports task-based extensive reading?
- The curriculum supports task-based extensive reading.
- The curriculum does not support extensive reading.
Would you like to modify the existing curriculum so that it supported task-based extensive reading better? You may choose several options:
- No need to modify the curriculum.
- Goals should be modified.
- Outcomes should be modified.
- Resources allocation should be modified.