Challenges of Action Research Kazuyoshi Sato, PhD Yoshi@nufs.ac.jp Nagoya University of Foreign Studies Japan AILA 2008
Introduction Although action research for teacher development has gained prominence in the current literature, there has been little documentation as to how action research influences teacher learning. Moreover, little is known about how teachers have actually incorporated action research into their practice and worked with other teachers for curriculum development and school improvement in their workplaces (Bransfor, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Zeichner & Noffke, 2001).
Definition of AR “Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices and the situations in which the practices are carried out.” (Carr & Kemmis, 1986, p. 162)
A Spiral Process • Plan (2) Act (3) Observe (4) Reflect (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988)
Two Main Kinds of AR According to Crookes (1993) and Burns (2005) • Teacher-researcher aspect of AR ・encourages ‘teacher-researcher’ and ‘university-school’ partnerships. ・is hoped to ensure that teachers do research or collaborate actively with researchers. (see Crookes, p. 132)
Two Main Kinds of AR According to Crookes (1993) and Burns (2005) (2) Critical-emancipatory AR “By examining taken-for-granted habits, rituals, customs, and precedents, as well as bureaucratic control structures and constraints, the group could empower itself to realize in practice its own fundamental educational values” (Burns, p. 244).
Shift Toward Critical and Collaborative AR Burns (2005) argues for the shift from individualistic approach to critical/collaborative one to describe “how AR can be integrated into ongoing collaborative teacher development processes that can create the conditions to support and influence institutional change” (Burns, 2005, p. 247)
Research Issue “Published studies of AR in ELT are still relatively small in number” and few were reported “by teachers of AR conducted for their own professional development within a larger collaborative grouping” (Burns, 2005, p. 248)
Research Questions • How did EFL teachers learn to teach through collaborative AR? (2) What were the difficulties in implementing AR? (3) How did they share new ideas with their colleagues in their workplaces? How did AR influence the curriculum development in their workplaces?
Context: Teacher Learning Community in Japan • A local study group in a Nagoya area in 2000 (CLT Kenkyukai, see Sato 2003) (2) Summer workshop in 2001 (supported by NUFS) (3) Center for EFL Teacher Development in 2005 (AR starts!) (4) MA in TESOL in 2006
Participants • 15 teachers (1 elementary, 7 junior HS, 7 senior HS teachers) including two native English speaking teachers completed the AR project in 2007. • 10 teachers were enrolled in an MA TESOL program, while 5 were not.
AR Program at NUFS • Orientation (May) ・Introduction about AR ・Identify issues and setting up goals ・Make an AR plan and a lesson plan ・Revise a lesson plan based on an adviser’s comment ・Try it out
AR Program at NUFS (2) Monthly report (from June to Feb.) ・After a monthly workshop about a different topic, participants shared their reports and received comments from advisers and other teachers. ・The reports included a) what I did; b)what happened; c) what I learned; d) future issues.
AR Program at NUFS (3) Mid-term report (August) ・Conduct a survey (interview, etc.) at the end of the 1st term ・Report the results ・Revise a lesson plan ・Try it out
AR Program at NUFS (4) Final presentation (March) ・Conduct a survey (interview, etc.) at the end of the third term ・Report the results ・Make a booklet
Data Collection Multiple data sources were collected including ・interviews (12 questions) with 15 teachers (in March) ・a survey in May and in March (“17 popular opinions about language learning and teaching” from Lightbown & Spada, 2006) ・monthly reports, mid-term and final reports ・classroom observation (4 junior HS and 4 senior HS teachers)
Results (Interview Data): 1. How did EFL teachers learn to teach through collaborative AR? (1) All the teachers reported that AR was useful to reflect on how they taught. “In a nutshell, AR was useful. It was not easy to make a monthly report regularly. But I made a habit of reflecting on how I taught after each class and taking some notes in a staff room. I revised my lesson based on the notes.” (a SHS teacher)
1. How did EFL teachers learn to teach through collaborative AR? (2) 9 teachers reported that they received ideas from other teachers. “I was always impressed and encouraged by other teachers’ monthly reports. I learned many ideas from them. I also received advice about how to modify my lessons. Actually I incorporated some of the ideas into my lessons, imitating what they did, and found out it worked well.” ( a SHS teacher)
1. How did EFL teachers learn to teach through collaborative AR? “Several JHS teachers taught the same grade level, so their ideas were very helpful. I was surprised to find that there were many different ways of teaching the same unit. Actually, I used some of them immediately in my class.” (a JHS teacher)
1. How did EFL teachers learn to teach through collaborative AR? (3) 6 teachers said advisors’ comments were useful. “When I was at a loss, advisor’s comments were helpful to solve my problems and I was encouraged by them.” (a SHS teacher)
1. How did EFL teachers learn to teach through collaborative AR? (4) 12 teachers reported that they could improve their practices through continuous reflection through AR. ・did not give up and revised my lesson (5) ・changed my teaching style (4) ・improved my teaching based on students’ comments in surveys (2) ・developed my repertoire (1)
2. What were the difficulties in implementing AR? 9 teachers indicated some difficulties implementing AR. ・I was not sure about how to make a survey. (4) ・We had to use the same textbook and the test with other teachers. So, it was not easy to use new ideas in my class. (2) ・I had difficulty adjusting new ideas into my teaching context. (1) ・It took me a lot of time to find good materials. (1) ・I could not keep recording what I noticed in my class regularly. (1)
3. How did they share new ideas with their colleagues in their workplaces? How did AR influence the curriculum development in their workplaces? (1) 11 teachers out of 15 reported that they had almost no chances or talked with only one or two colleagues about new ideas.
3. How did they share? “I talked with only one teacher, who could understand what I was doing. But he transferred to a different school. The department does not have an atmosphere to share ideas with one another.” (a SHS teacher)
3. How did they share? “I talked with one or two teachers about this program. But I did not make a report in an English department meeting because I am a part-time teacher. So I’m not invited to the meeting.” (a native English speaking teacher).
3. How did they share? “We agreed to use my handouts with three other first-year teachers last year. I explained how to use my handouts including a post-reading writing activity. However, I found out this year that students in other teachers’ classes had never tried writing activities…I wish I had had more communication with other teachers about how to use new activities.” (a SHS teacher)
3. How did they share? (2) Only 4 teachers shared new ideas with other teachers in their schools. They invited their colleagues into their classes for observations. 1 teacher said that they had a meeting twice a week so that everyone could understand how to use the same handouts.
3. How did they share? “We had a meeting once a month and I always gave my monthly report to everyone and explained about it. Some teachers came to my classes and one teacher actually used my handout. Also, one of the ALTs could understand what I was doing and we could collaborate more about making new activities.” (a JHS teacher)
3. How did they share? “I always invited my colleagues to NUFS workshops last year and they participated at least once though they were busy. We have a meeting twice a week and talk about how to use new handouts because we use the same ones. We also talk about what happened in our classes including teaching problems.” (a SHS teacher)
Summary/Implications • AR gave teachers opportunities to make reflection a part of their daily teaching (see also Mills, 2003). (2) Teachers received new ideas and encouragement from other teachers through collaborative AR. (3) Teachers benefited from professional advice from university teachers.
Summary/Implications (4) Continuous teacher learning opportunities brought out changing their teaching style, developing their repertoire, and building their confidence. (5) They had difficulties such as making an appropriate survey, collaborating with other teachers, adjusting new ideas into their classroom contexts, and finding appropriate materials.
Summary/Implications (6) Most of the teachers had difficulties sharing their new ideas in their workplaces. (7) Only a minority of teachers shared new ideas consistently and invited other teachers for classroom observation. (8) Only one teacher could utilize AR for the curriculum development in his school.
Conclusion Collaborative AR empowers teachers to be continuous learners and AR “has a potential to be a powerful agent of educational change” (Milles, 2003, p. v). However, to make it happen, these teachers need support both from policy makers and their colleagues to make their schools collaborative learning communities (see Murphey & Sato, 2005, Sato & Kleinsasser, 2004; Sato & Takahashi, 2008)