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Why EFL Action Research Matters

Why EFL Action Research Matters

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Why EFL Action Research Matters

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  1. 2nd Bell Staff Conference Bell Cambridge 1stDecember 2012 Why EFL Action Research Matters Richard Smith, University of Warwick

  2. What are your images of ‘research’? What are your images and / or experiences of ‘action research’?

  3. 1 3 2 Fpr‘sustainable’ action research The value of action research Why EFL research matters

  4. 1 Why EFL research matters

  5. Images of research What do you associate with the word ‘research’?

  6. Images of research

  7. Images of research

  8. Images of research

  9. Definitions of research Research is ... ‘the organized, systematic search for answers to the questions we ask’(Hatch and Lazaraton 1991: 1) ‘a process of inquiry consisting of three [...] components: (1) a question, problem, or hypothesis, (2) data, (3) analysis and interpretation of data’ (Nunan 1992) ‘systematic enquiry made public’ (Stenhouse 1975)

  10. Definitions of research For the purposes of this project, we defined ‘research’ as: “Original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding’

  11. Definitions of research ‘ELT research’ = “Any research whose data and/or findings relate directly to the teaching, learning or assessment of English as a Foreign, Second or Additional Language.”

  12. Some data about (UK ELT) research (2005-10)

  13. Types of item included in the Directory journal articles chapters in edited books papers in conference proceedings authored books ‘unpublished’ but electronically accessible items doctoral theses supervised within the institution in question externally funded research projects

  14. Institutional bases of UK ELT research 2005-10: 1,756 entries (from 66 contributing ‘units’) 9 units account for over half of total entries

  15. Topic areas of UK ELT research Descriptors with 100+ entries (2009-10): • English language (199) • Assessment (175) • Methodology (130) • Teacher education (119) • Cultural issues (113) • Writing (103) ... and ESOL/EAL?

  16. Location of UK ELT research / Learners’ country of origin Top 4 for country of research (2005-10): UK 338, ‘various’ 130, China 33, Hungary 28 Top 4 for learners’ country of origin (2005-10): ‘various’ 337, China 64, Germany 17, Hungary 17

  17. Institutional focus of UK ELT research no. of entries (2005-10) tertiary 352 adult 139 secondary 85 primary 71 pre-primary 2 (Smith and Knagg 2012)

  18. Reasons for ELT research “Research-based knowledge provides a principled basis for understanding language teaching and learning, and making decisions about policies, plans, and actions. Research has the potential to help English language teaching professionals improve the processes, outcomes and conditions for language teaching, learning and assessment.” (

  19. Reasons for ELT research “[Research] also can help the profession address urgent social and political issues around the world, improve the materials used for second language teaching in schools, institutions and workplaces, as well as clarify debates and debunk myths regarding second language acquisition. A strong commitment to research as a means of improving professional knowledge is vital to the field of teaching of English to speakers of other languages.” (

  20. Benefits for teachers of enagaging with research Where would we be withoutresearch? Possibly ... • no communicative language teaching • Teachers even more the victims of fashion, or of tradition - etc.

  21. Benefits for teachers of enagaging withresearch • allows teachers to reflect on and review their teaching • keeps teachers fresh • allows teachers to question assumptions about language learning/teaching • helps teachers understand the reasons for their practices • makes teachers more informed practitioners (Bullock 2012)

  22. Is ELT research accessible enough – to ELT practitioners? ?

  23. Types of item included in the Directory journal articles chapters in edited books papers in conference proceedings authored books ‘unpublished’ but electronically accessible items doctoral theses supervised within the institution in question externally funded research projects

  24. Directory – how to use

  25. Limitations of institutional / country focus of UK (& US) ELT research Not contributing to ‘appropriate methodology[ Shift to qualitative approaches is clear Dysfunctions of the theory-practice divide

  26. Barriers to teachers engagng with research • sheer volume is daunting • ambiguous results • often too much jargon and statistics - difficult to understand • too theoretical and unhelpful or irrelevant • researchers not writing for practitioners • research which imposes models on teaching • subscriptions and costs (Bullock 2012)

  27. from ‘Silence on Europe is deafening’ (THES 22/11/12) “Publishing an article in a journal that only a few co-specialists might ever read is valued far more highly than the ability to help the public understand the challenges of the day. . . Furthermore, as often as not researchers are focused on the narrow at the expense of the broad, writing in arcane language that places much academic work beyond the reach of the uninitiated. And many are too focused on developing and debating theories to be concerned with how they might be tested in practice. The result: scholars spend most of their time speaking only to themselves.” (McCormick 2012: 21)

  28. 2 The value of action research

  29. And is it relevant enoughto their concerns? ?

  30. Images of research What do you associate with the term ‘action research’?

  31. Action research … is a form of practitioner research involves small-scale interventions involves an iterative cycle of planning, acting, observing and reflecting can involve the collection of various data types

  32. Action research: process Planning [an improvement] Action [implementing the improvement] Observation [evaluating effects – with data] Reflection [interpreting what occurred] The process is often iterative (after 4., go ‘back’ to 1.), and ‘messy’ (not exactly ‘step-by-step’). As a form of research, it can, though, be very useful and empowering and provide insights of relevance to other practitioners.

  33. The action research cycle Plan Act Reflect Observe

  34. Action research: definitions ‘a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations 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) ‘The aim is to [...] bring about critically informed changes in practice’ (Burns 1999)

  35. Is ELT research relevantenough? ?

  36. So, is research important to you? Is ELT research needed? What for? What could support practitioners further in reading research? What should be researched? What kinds of research – and what ways of disseminating research – are needed? Who needs to do the research? What could support practitioners further in doing research themselves?

  37. ‘Dysfunctions of the theory-practice divide’? ‘The key point, I think, is the need for teachers to keep their own counsel regarding what works and what does not work and to insist on an interpretation of events and ideas that includes, implicitly or explicitly, a validation of their own experiences in the classroom’ (Clarke 1994: 23)

  38. 3 For sustainable action research

  39. A simple (?) practitioner-research plan to get started 1) What is good that can be built on / what is problematic that can be improved on in your practice? 2) Gather student feedback: ‘good points’ and ‘points to improve’ 3) Do a content analysis (group similar comments into categories) This may be a useful kind of practitioner-research (for your own improved understanding). But what more would you need to do that would turn this into: ‘systematic inquiry made public’? ‘action research’?

  40. Combining autonomy-oriented pedagogy and practitioner research via Exploratory PracticeAna InésSalvi International House John Haycraft Classroom Exploration Scholarship IATEFL Conference – 21st March 2012, Glasgow

  41. Why aren’t my students as active and engaged in lessons as I would like them to be? ?

  42. An autonomous classroom (Dam, 1995; 2009) Group work: job allocation Decision-making Well-structured: setting goals, how to do it, do it, present it, evaluate it The teacher as facilitator Posters on the wall - process Choice Accessibility to material

  43. Contexts