Doing action research in English ...
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Doing Action Research in English Language Teaching ���. . . Fills a significant gap���this book is original in approach, engaging in style, and per- suasive in terms of its content and structure. The writing is admirably clear, making complex concepts, distinctions, and debates accessible to the non-expert reader and providing helpful overviews of key areas. The author���s voice emerges clearly and the reader is addressed directly in a way that I find encouraging and engaging.��� Keith Richards, University of Warwick ���. . . Provides teacher trainees and inservice teachers with much-needed guidance, whether they are working in teams or individually.��� Kathleen M. Bailey, Monterey Institute of International Studies This hands-on, practical guide for ESL/EFL teachers and teacher educators outlines, for those who are new to doing action research, what it is and how it works. Straightforward and reader friendly, it introduces the concepts and offers a step-by-step guide to the action research process, including illustrations drawn widely from international contexts. Specific- ally, the text addresses: ��� action research and how it differs from other forms of research ��� the steps involved in developing an action research project ��� ways of developing a research focus ��� methods of data collection ��� approaches to data analysis ��� making sense of action research for further classroom action Each chapter includes a variety of pedagogical activities: ��� Pre-reading questions ask readers to consider what they already know about the topic ��� Reflection points invite readers to think about/discuss what they have read ��� Action points ask readers to carry out action research tasks based on what they have read ��� Classroom voices illustrate aspects of action research from teachers internationally ��� Summary points provide a synopsis of the main points in the chapter Bringing the how-to and the what together, Doing Action Research in English Language Teaching is the perfect text for BATESOL and MATESOL courses focused on action research or in which it is a required component. Anne Burns is Professor in the Department of Linguistics, Macquarie University, Australia, and former Dean of the Division of Linguistics and Psychology.
ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series Eli Hinkel, Series Editor Burns �� Doing Action Research in English Language Teaching: A Guide for Practitioners Nation/Macalister �� Language Curriculum Design Birch �� The English Language Teacher and Global Civil Society Johnson �� Second Language Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspective Nation �� Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing Nation/Newton �� Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking Kachru/Smith �� Cultures, Contexts, and World Englishes McKay/Bokhosrt-Heng �� International English in its Sociolinguistic Contexts: Towards a Socially Sensitive EIL Pedagogy Christison/Murray, Eds. �� Leadership in English Language Education: Theoretical Foundations and Practical Skills for Changing Times McCafferty/Stam, Eds. �� Gesture: Second Language Acquisition and Classroom Research Liu �� Idioms: Description, Comprehension, Acquisition, and Pedagogy Chapelle/Enright/Jamison, Eds. �� Building a Validity Argument for the Text of English as a Foreign Language��� Kondo-Brown/Brown, Eds. �� Teaching Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Heritage Students: Curriculum Needs, Materials, and Assessments Youmans �� Chicano-Anglo Conversations: Truth, Honesty, and Politeness Birch �� English L2 Reading: Getting to the Bottom, Second Edition Luk/Lin �� Classroom Interactions as Cross-cultural Encounters: Native Speakers in EFL Lessons Levy/Stockwell �� CALL Dimensions: Issues and Options in Computer Assisted Language Learning Nero, Ed. �� Dialects, Englishes, Creoles, and Education Basturkmen �� Ideas and Options in English for Specific Purposes Kumaravadivelu �� Understanding Language Teaching: From Method to Postmethod McKay �� Researching Second Language Classrooms Egbert/Petrie, Eds. �� CALL Research Perspectives Canagarajah, Ed. �� Reclaiming the Local in Language Policy and Practice Adamson �� Language Minority Students in American Schools: An Education in English Fotos/Browne, Eds. �� New Perspectives on CALL for Second Language Classrooms Hinkel �� Teaching Academic ESL Writing: Practical Techniques in Vocabulary and Grammar Hinkel/Fotos, Eds. �� New Perspectives on Grammar Teaching in Second Language Classrooms Hinkel �� Second Language Writers��� Text: Linguistic and Rhetorical Features Visit www.routledge/education.com for additional information on titles in the ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series
Doing Action Research in English Language Teaching A Guide for Practitioners Anne Burns
First published 2010 by Routledge 270 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016 Simultaneously published in the UK by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business �� 2010 Taylor & Francis All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Burns, Anne, 1945��� Doing action research in English language teaching : a guide for practitioners / Anne Burns. ��� 1st ed. p. cm. ��� (Esl & applied linguistics professional series) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. English language���Study and teaching���Foreign speakers. 2. Action research in education. 3. English language���Discourse analysis. I. Title. PE1128.A2B87 2010 401���.41���dc22 2009024043 ISBN10: 0���415���99144���7 (hbk) ISBN10: 0���415���99145���5 (pbk) ISBN10: 0���203���86346���1 (ebk) ISBN13: 978���0���415���99144���5 (hbk) ISBN13: 978���0���415���99145���2 (pbk) ISBN13: 978���0���203���86346���6 (ebk) This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2009. To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge���s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk. ISBN 0-203-86346-1 Master e-book ISBN
Contents Preface vii Acknowledgements ix 1 What is action research? 1 2 Plan ��� planning the action 22 3 Act ��� putting the plan into action 54 4 Observe ��� observing the results of the plan 103 5 Reflect ��� reflecting and planning for further action 141 Postscript 169 Further reading and resources 188 Index 193
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Preface In recent years, action research (AR) has become increasingly popular in second language teaching circles. Language teachers in many countries have heard about AR, either through formal courses of study, or in-service teacher education, and are interested in knowing more about it. Over the last two decades, I have worked with teachers all over the world, who are committed to their own professional develop- ment and attracted to the idea of doing AR in their classrooms. Many of these teachers have asked me challenging and insightful questions about the areas covered in this book. They have also told me they were looking for reader-friendly guidance to get themselves going along the AR pathway. So, I have written this introduction to AR for all the reflective and dedicated language teachers I have met, and for language teachers around the world who want to get started in AR and are looking for a practical, hands-on introduction. My audience is pre-service and in-service teachers who want to try doing AR or, for one reason or another, are in the process of learning about it, either for formal study or for their own interest. My book is also written to be used by academic colleagues who see their work as centrally connected to teacher education, and who are already convinced that introducing teachers to AR and supporting them in their endeavours is a worthwhile thing to do. The audience for the book is not academic researchers whose interests do not lie in working with teachers, and whose research approaches are directed elsewhere. My hope is that this book makes a real contribu- tion to the professional lives of language teachers around the world by introducing them to the excitement of doing AR in their particular teaching contexts. Anne Burns Macquarie University, Sydney May 2009
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Acknowledgements I am very grateful to friends, colleagues and students from many different parts of the world who have contributed in more ways than they will ever know to the writing of this book. At various stages in its conception, development and birth I have been most fortunate to receive their encouragement to keep going. Melba Libia C��rdenas Beltr��n, from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, who visited me at Macquarie University, in 2006 responded enthusiastically when I asked her whether she thought a basic introduction to action research would be useful to teachers in the language teaching field. I ran this idea again past Randi Reppen from North Arizona University at the TESOL Convention in 2007. Randi was kind enough to give me further encouragement. After I wrote the first two chap- ters, Melba and her colleagues in Colombia gave me valuable feedback and many useful suggestions, as did Kazuyoshi Sato, from Nagoya University of Foreign Stud- ies, who was a visiting scholar working with me in early 2008 at Macquarie. Yoshi sent me many materials and gave me access to the action research work he has conducted with many teacher colleagues in Japan. At just the right moment in May 2008 when my enthusiasm for writing was flagging, Jenny Barnett from the University of South Australia listened patiently to my description of the project and urged me to go on. Jenny shared the material with her students whose comments helped to reassure me I was on the right track. As I wrote on, Sue Garton, from Aston University in the UK, was unflagging in her reading of chapters from the book and always offered insightful suggestions. She also shared the chapters with some of her students who willingly forwarded more material and suggestions as I went along. Jill Burton from the University of South Australia and Heather Denny from Auckland University of Technology were also kind enough to read and make suggestions about early chapters. I���m grateful also to Diane Malcolm in Bahrain, Heliana Mello in Brazil, Sarah Springer in Costa Rica, Graham Crookes in Hawai���i, Rita Balbi, Philip O���Gara and Graziella Pozzo in Italy, Andrew Gladman, Simon Humphries, Tim Marchand and Jerry Talandis Jr in Japan, Robert Dickey in Korea, Maria del Carmen Sanchez Chavez in Mexico, Antonia Chandrasegaran in Singapore, Frances Wilson in Syd- ney, Derin Atay in Turkey, Simon Borg and Steve Mann in the UK, and Jamie Gurkin in the USA for sharing their own work, or that of their students with me. I have been privileged to have contact with many teachers who were brave enough to try action research in their classrooms and schools and to open up their explor- ations and discoveries to their colleagues. Some of the work they have done is included in this volume. My particular thanks go to them, as well as to my doctoral
students in Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, the Middle East, the UK, and the USA from whom I have learned much about doing qualitative and action research. But this book would never have seen the light of day without the determination and enthusiasm of Naomi Silverman from Routledge and Eli Hinkel, the Series Editor. Whenever we met, they continued to insist that an introductory book on action research was needed. They fired my enthusiasm for this project and I am grateful that they kept it burning. My thanks also to Sophie Cox, who proved to be such a marvellous and careful copy-editor. Of course, none of it would have happened without the continuing support of my family and I thank Ross, Douglas, and Catherine for their confidence in me over all the years. x Acknowledgements
What is action research? Pre-reading questions Before you read this chapter, think about the following questions. If possible discuss them with a colleague or write some brief responses to each one. ��� What is action research? ��� What do you already know about doing action research? ��� What steps are involved in doing action research? We will explore these questions in this chapter. Language teachers all around the world want to be effective teachers who provide the best learning opportunities for their students. Action research (AR) can be a very valuable way to extend our teaching skills and gain more understanding of ourselves as teachers, our classrooms and our students. In this first chapter, we begin by looking at some of the key concepts in AR ��� what it is, what characterises it, how it relates to other types of research, and what basic steps are followed when we do it. We will consider what is different about doing AR from doing what all good teachers do ��� thinking about what is happening in our classrooms. But we will also explore a question you may have already asked yourself ��� why should teachers bother to do research when, after all, they are employed and paid to be teachers and not researchers? Reflection point What are your views about teachers doing research? In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a teacher researcher? We will come back to these issues later in the chapter. Action research (AR) is something that many language teachers seem to have heard about, but often they have only a hazy idea of what it actually is and what doing it involves. So, one of the first questions teachers new to AR usually ask is: What is action research? Chapter 1
What is action research? AR is part of a broad movement that has been going on in education generally for some time. It is related to the ideas of ���reflective practice��� and ���the teacher as researcher���. AR involves taking a self-reflective, critical, and systematic approach to exploring your own teaching contexts. By critical, I don���t mean being negative and derogatory about the way you teach, but taking a questioning and ���problematising��� stance towards your teaching. My term, problematising, doesn���t imply looking at your teaching as if it is ineffective and full of problems. Rather, it means taking an area you feel could be done better, subjecting it to questioning, and then developing new ideas and alternatives. So, in AR, a teacher becomes an ���investigator��� or ���explorer��� of his or her personal teaching context, while at the same time being one of the participants in it. So, one of the main aims of AR is to identify a ���problematic��� situation or issue that the participants ��� who may include teachers, students, managers, administrators, or even parents ��� consider worth looking into more deeply and systematically. Again, the term problematic does not mean that the teacher is an incompetent teacher. The point is that, as teachers, we often see gaps between what is actually happening in our teaching situation and what we would ideally like to see happening. The central idea of the action part of AR is to intervene in a deliberate way in the problematic situation in order to bring about changes and, even better, improve- ments in practice. Importantly, the improvements that happen in AR are ones based on information (or to use the research term, data) that an action researcher collects systematically. (Incidentally, data is the plural from the Latin word ���datum��� meaning ���something known���, so you will find me using it in the plural.) So, the changes made in the teaching situation arise from solid information rather than from our hunches or assumptions about the way we think things are. To understand what this means in more concrete terms, let���s consider an actual classroom situation in Italy where a language teacher identified a problematic area in her teaching. Classroom voices Isabella Bruschi is a teacher of English language and literature in an upper secondary school in Turin, Italy. Isabella���s starting point for AR was her negative feelings about the oral tests (interrogazione oral) she used in class. She had a whole cluster of questions and doubts about this aspect of her teaching and she was concerned to find out how she could improve things for herself and her students. What makes me feel so uncomfortable when I have to assess students��� oral English? Do I know what happens during an oral test? Am I aware of the nature of the questions I ask and of their different weight? How do I react when students give me the wrong answers? When I intend to help students do I in fact help them? What do my students think of my way of conducting an oral test? What are their preferences? To understand the nature of her problem, she collected this information: 2 What is action research?
��� She kept a diary to explore her feelings of uneasiness. ��� She gave students a questionnaire to investigate their preferences and difficulties in oral tests. ��� She recorded a number of oral tests. ��� She asked students for written feedback after the test. ��� She asked a facilitator to interview students after the oral test. The recordings gave her back an image very far from the ideal she had of herself as a teacher. There was a mismatch between her intention to facilitate students��� responses during the test and what was actually happening. She saw a set of behaviours that did not please her. She became aware of her ���disturbing interventions���. These were the interrup- tions she made that were distracting students from searching their minds or following their trains of thought. These are the patterns she found in the way she was questioning students: 1. Frequent interruptions while students were looking for the answer or for the right word. 2. Questions posed in a sequence, which often changed the original focus and resulted in students feeling embarrassed as they don���t know which question to answer first. 3. Questions which suggested how students should answer. 4. Use of questions formulated as open questions, but treated by the teacher as if they were closed questions. 5. Subsequent use of negative reinforcement in spite of the intention to be helpful. 6. Use of feedback of the type, ���no, I actually wanted you to tell me . . .��� When she looked at the students��� responses to the open questions in the questionnaire, she found that they confirmed these patterns, as these examples show: I don���t like being interrupted all the time without having the possibility of carrying forward what I want to say. Being passive. When the teacher talks too much. The questions ���in bursts���, without being given the time to answer. As a result of this information, she set up three strategies to improve her teaching: 1. Giving students the questions for the oral test five minutes before answering so that they could have time to think and organise their ideas. 2. Restricting her interventions to a minimum. 3. When interviewing, paraphrasing what students say to help them keep the thread of their thoughts, search their memory or trigger off new ideas. Her students��� comments after the test show that these changes made a big difference: What I liked in the oral test was the fact that you didn���t interrupt me while I was speaking. (Mara) I appreciate the fact that you didn���t interrupt me while I was talking and that you tried to help when I had difficulties, and the fact that you were listening attentively to what I was saying, while encouraging me to go on. (Sabrina) What is action research? 3
I felt helped when the teacher repeated what I had said. This helped me reformulate my thoughts more clearly. (Francesca) This is what Isabella writes at the end of the AR cycle. When she considers what it has all meant for her teaching: I have a neat perception of the changes I���ve been through, which doesn���t mean that I have solved all my problems. I have certainly acquired new tools, and, above all, a greater awareness of my being a teacher. Observing and analysing . . . have made me see more clearly the asymmetric nature of classroom communication. As a result I now feel more in control of what happens during an oral test. She adds this comment on how the research will continue to have an impact on her teaching and how she intends to continue her investigations: I don���t think my research ends here. I think the way I formulate and ask the [test] questions is open to further enquiry and reflection. The research on my ���questioning��� of students has opened up new perspectives to my teaching. Now I know that the cycle of explanation���oral test���assessment is inadequate. What I need to investigate now are the opportunities I give my students to pose questions themselves and the space I give them to discuss ideas among themselves. In other words, what opportun- ities do I give them to practise such skills as selecting, ordering and organising infor- mation into a coherent speech before taking the oral test? Do I give them enough time to understand and learn in the first place? My new research will be on alternative ways to do assessment, keeping in mind that as a teacher I am not just a transmitter of knowledge, but a facilitator of processes so as to make students autonomous in the construction of their knowledge. (Data translated and supplied by Graziella Pozzo) Isabella���s situation illustrates how AR can throw a light on our teaching practices and improve an unsatisfactory situation. It shows how she identified and improved a classroom dilemma by using a reflective research cycle of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. Reflection point Look back at the pre-reading notes you made for this chapter. Would you add anything to your statements about AR? If possible, discuss your ideas with a colleague. Here are some descriptions of AR that were suggested by three of my teacher researcher students located in different parts of Mexico. At this point, you may want to compare what you think with their ideas about AR. 4 What is action research?