Focused tasks for the communicative teaching of grammar in the Afrikaans Home Language classroom: a first exploration

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According to Dragobuzhda (2020:2985), different views have been held on the teaching of grammar. Pro-grammarians believe that grammar is an important element and essential tool for using language correctly. Anti-grammarians, again, take the view that language must be mastered through communicative activities, without explicit exposure to grammar. The third group, which Dragobuzhda (2020) refers to as the average group (i.e. “moderate group”), are those who believe that grammar, on the one hand, should not be overemphasized and, on the other hand, should not be completely rejected: “Learners should learn form and meaning, both simultaneously.”

The latter view regarding grammar teaching, i.e. the integration of the form of grammatical structures and its meaning potential, is also clear from the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) for Afrikaans Home Language. This document shows that the teaching of grammar must be focused on the way in which it is used to communicate meaningfully (DBO 2011b:11; Adendorff 2017:510). It is indicated, for example, that Afrikaans Home Language teachers should link grammar to its functional uses (including the expression of thoughts or feelings, directing requests, and comparing and contrasting things) and that opportunities should be created to make learners aware of grammatical structures associated with specific types of text. The type of language teaching approach proposed for the teaching of grammar is therefore that of communicative language teaching (compare Canale and Swain 1980:2).

A drawback of the policy is the inadequate guidelines provided to Afrikaans Home Language teachers regarding communicative grammar teaching (Van der Merwe 2014:224). The research problem (the gap identified in practice that requires further investigation) concerns the identification of a workable method of teaching grammar communicatively to ensure Afrikaans Home Language teachers are provided with specific, uniform guidelines on how to approach grammar teaching.

A possible workable method for addressing the abovementioned gap is task-supported language teaching. Within this method, teachers use focused tasks, i.e. tasks which are created to guide learners to use predetermined grammatical structures (Ellis 2003a:64; Ellis 2003b:16; Ellis 2009:223; Li, Ellis and Zhu 2016:206; Ellis 2017a:4; Guvendir and Hardacre 2020:2). In addition, focused tasks are of real-world importance to learners, as they constantly attempt to achieve a non-linguistic outcome. Task-supported language teaching thus reconciles explicit grammar teaching with meaning, as provision is made for the teaching of specific grammatical structures, while at the same time creating an atmosphere for negotiating meaning (compare Silva 2006). In addition, task-supported language teaching contributes to authenticity in interaction, in other words the same natural language acquisition that is offered outside the classroom takes place inside the classroom (Ellis 2017a:2).

Despite the potential of task-supported language teaching towards realising communicative grammar teaching, most research with regard to Afrikaans as a school subject in the South African context does not deal with task-supported language teaching – also not at home language level. The research focus was mainly on the use of unfocused tasks (tasks that create the opportunity to use language communicatively and to apply any grammatical structure/structures that contribute to the conveyance of a particular meaning) associated with the strong form of task-based language teaching and restricted to the promotion of a second or foreign language (compare the research by Kruger and Poser 2007; Adendorff 2012a, 2012b, 2012c; Beukes 2017; Adendorff and Koegelenberg 2018; Beukes and Adendorff 2019; Terblanche 2020). It is not surprising that most South African researchers (also researchers outside South Africa) investigate task-basedness within a second language or foreign language context, as task-based language teaching is properly associated with second language or foreign language acquisition.

However, this does not mean that task-based language teaching (and by implication task-supported language teaching) cannot be utilised fruitfully in the (Afrikaans) home language classroom. This was shown by Kruger (2006:255) 15 years ago. The research question that we therefore want to answer in this article, is: How, if at all, can focused tasks in the Afrikaans Home Language classroom be used to teach grammar communicatively?

In order to determine the success of this method for the communicative teaching of Afrikaans grammar at home language level, qualitative, phenomenological research was undertaken, in which the phenomenon was task-supported teaching for the communicative teaching of grammar. A language teaching project for education students who major in Afrikaans teaching was launched. The project involved the following:

  1. Students acquired knowledge of the communicative language teaching approach and task-supported language teaching through video recordings uploaded to Google Drive.
  2. Students compiled task-supported lesson plans, which had to be presented during practical teaching.
  3. The researchers assessed the task-supported lesson plans.

The insights gained during the assessment of the task-supported lessons were used to suggest a task-supported grammar lesson that promotes communicative grammar teaching. This lesson adhered to the following principles of the communicative language teaching approach, among others:

  1. the promotion of actual communication
  2. the use of language to carry out meaningful assignments
  3. support of the learning process by using language that is considered meaningful.

In addition, we show that a task-supported grammar lesson can deviate from the design based on the present-practise-use style with which it is usually associated. This design consists of a presentation phase, a rehearsal phase and a production phase, which is in line with the traditional approach to grammar teaching. Samuda, Bygate and Van den Branden (2018) express concern about duplicating the proposed present-practice-use design in the context of the task-supported design, as it is not clear to them how the same design can be used if task-basedness serves as an alternative to traditional grammar teaching. We therefore propose an alternative lesson design that consists of a pre-task phase, a main task phase and a post-task phase (a task cycle). The three lesson phases are thus collectively known as a task cycle.

The research reported in the article has a number of shortcomings. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a lockdown period was established. The lockdown period restricted the movement of all South African citizens, and because the education students had to present their lessons during the lockdown period, recordings of lessons were made. If the lessons had been presented during physical contact sessions, qualitative data could have been collected from observations (by the researchers) and student teachers would have been expected to reflect on the success of task-supported language teaching. We could even compare the traditional present-practise-use design with the proposed task cycle. These shortcomings serve as research opportunities for further study.

Although the proposed task cycle is useful especially in the intermediate and senior phases where time is allocated for the formal teaching of grammar (compare section 1), Afrikaans teachers in the Further Education and Training (FET) phase could also apply it fruitfully. However, more research should be undertaken on how task-based lessons can be adapted for the FET phase specifically, as grammar teaching should be approached in a fully integrated manner (compare section 1).

Keywords: Afrikaans Home Language; communicative language teaching; focused tasks; grammar; language structures and conventions; task-supported language teaching


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