An investigation into potential mismatches between teacher intention and learner interpretation of task
Ashcroft, Mark Frank
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Recently, task-based research motivated by a Vygotskian theoretical perspective has led to studies that demonstrate how the task-as-workplan is interpreted and reshaped by learners in actual performance (Coughlan and Duff, 1994). The ability of learners to set their own ‘tasks’ suggests that researchers need to investigate how individual students react to the tasks they have been asked to perform (Ellis, 2003). To date, there have been very few systematic studies on learner and teacher perceptions in this particular field. Four studies conducted by Kumaravadivelu (1989, 1991), Slimani (1989, 1992), Block (1994, 1996), and Barkhuizhen (1998) have shed light on the learner and teacher perception of classroom events. This study has continued the investigation into how individual students react to the tasks they have been asked to perform. In particular, it has focussed on four potential mismatches between teacher intention and learners’ interpretation of task, previously identified in a study by Kumaravadivelu (2003): instructional, pedagogic, procedural and strategic. The study aimed to look at teacher and learners’ perceptions and therefore a qualitative approach was used to gather information. The study was triangulated on two levels, using a variety of data (data triangulation) and different methods (questionnaires and interviews) to collect the data (methodological triangulation). Sixteen students studying for a Certificate in English at the School of Languages and Social Sciences at Auckland University of Technology were asked to perform a task and then complete a questionnaire which was designed to elicit information regarding the four potential mismatches, between teacher intention and learner interpretation, referred to above. Four pairs of students participated in each of the two tasks. Four students, one from each pair was then interviewed in order to elicit more in-depth information regarding the four mismatches referred to above. The teacher was also interviewed after the task had been completed. The student answers from the questionnaires were compared with the data gathered from the student and teacher interviews. The findings seem to show that two mismatches between teacher intention and learners’ interpretation were evident, namely instructional and pedagogic. There was no clear evidence of a strategic or procedural mismatch. Despite the small sample size, the study seems to show that mismatches are identifiable. Given the importance of perceptual mismatches and the fact that they are part of the practice of everyday teaching, it is important that we try to identify as many mismatches as possible in future research. It is reasonable to assume that the narrower the gap between teacher intention and learner interpretation, the greater the chances of achieving learning and teaching objectives (Kumaravadivelu, 2003).