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TBLT in Virtual L2 Classroom: Challenges, Actions and Insights

Task-based language teaching (TBLT) has attracted a great deal of interest since its inception, as reflected in a large body of relevant literature; most of the literature deals with TBLT in in-person (IP) settings and a small number of TBLT applications in online settings. The shift from the traditional IP mode to the virtual classroom caused by COVID-19 has made the effective application of TBLT a concern. However, most of the past studies have been conducted from the researcher’s perspective, which cannot meet the urgent needs of language teachers from a practical standpoint. This study examined TBLT in virtual Chinese classroom from the perspectives of teachers and students. The action research was conducted to observe the challenges students encountered in online TBLT sessions. Surveys and interviews were conducted to collect data from participants to understand the students’ viewpoints towards online TBLT. The data were analyzed to determine how teachers made actions to improve the TBLT learning and whether these actions were effective. After six weeks of research, the data from the participants revealed that students encountered many problems in online TBLT session, such as difficulties of applying online TBLT including student’s lack of media literacy and the limitedness of Zoom affordance; the challenges of designing tasks for online L2 TBLT class such as teacher’s lack of attention on taking students’ task preferences, grouping methods and targeted prompts into consideration; as well as the challenges of peer collaboration in virtual TBLT for example the dis-connectivity, peer communication, and response distribution issues. In response to challenges that I observed in my study, I integrated and analyzed the following teacher actions to help improve students’ performance and the effectiveness of online TBLT sessions. I rewrote the prompts to provide students with multiple perspectives on the context and appropriate vocabulary in terms of the pre-task materials. Also, I selected relevant grouping patterns for each task type and grouped them appropriately. Moreover, I reduced the power imbalance between the teacher and students, intervened in the in-task discussions appropriately, provided students with guidance on specific Zoom classroom functions, and effectively managed the time spent on each cycle of the TBLT. Last but not least, I enhanced student meta-cognition, provided students with complete information about the TBLT process, explained the benefits and purpose of the assignment, encouraged interaction and collaboration among the students, and attempted to provide a safe and comfortable learning environment for students. To conclude, both students and teachers encounter challenges in this new online learning model environment; thus, we all need to adapt and learn how to learn and teach in this new situation. In this study, I tried different approaches to improve the observed problems and promote the effectiveness of teaching and the learning experience of students through a teacher action research approach. Feedback from participants indicated that the actions were effective. The study revealed that teacher should take the students’ needs into consideration when designing and implementing online TBLT in the future and make a difference through teacher actions. It is hoped that this study can offer some implications on applying TBLT in the virtual setting.