Action Research – Explore, Think, Learn, Cooperate

Anastasiya BezborodovaAnastasiya Bezborodova is keen on action research and she will be leading this section helping you all to get engaged in the exploration and reflection on your teaching practice.


 

I am a Fulbright alumnus and I got my MA in Teaching English as a Second Language at the Northern Arizona University. My second MA in English Linguistics comes from the Uzbek State World Languages University. I currently work at the Westminster International University as an English for Academic Purposes tutor.
I became interested in action research (AR) because I wanted to add a research element to my own teaching and to improve immediate classroom situations. Also, I wanted to teach and learn at the same time by focusing on solving immediate problems in my classroom. When I agreed to lead this section I hoped that I will find like minded people and I will help them to the best of my knowledge.

A starting point is for us to understand what action research is. It is described as teacher-conducted research directed during regular classroom time to investigate one’s own teaching. This type of research seeks to clarify and resolve practical teaching issues and problems (Richards and Farrell, 2005) and is devoted to better understanding of the teaching quality in general (Allwright, 2005). It involves a cycle of activities centered on identifying immediate problems or opportunities for improvement (Richards and Farrell, 2005).

The Action Research is beneficial because it:
• Encourages positive change
• Leads to professional development
• Increases awareness of certain teaching aspects
• Develops useful classroom investigation skills
• Shifts the responsibility for improvement from an outsider to teachers themselves

However, there are some caveats that we need to keep in mind:
• Lack of teachers’ time
• Lack of expertise in research
• Lack of support, especially from teachers’ own institution
•Threats to self-image as a teacher
• Debate over the reliability of action research
Once decided to start, there are four main steps we should take. We plan, act, observe and reflect (Graph 1 below). The initial stage involves exploring and selecting an issue of concern. Very often it can be prompted by our teaching and even by our students. When we know what you want to explore, we should choose what kind of data to collect and how to collect it. On the observation stage we collect the data about the issue, analyse it, and generate teaching implications based on the data. Finally, it is good to reflect on practice, make changes, and then observe the effects of the change. This process involves describing what was observed, reflecting on its significance, and initiating further cycles of action research as a repetitive process. Also, the final stage involves connecting with a larger audience. Teachers should consider approaches to share their findings, which can range from informal (e.g., updates and discussions) to more formal (e.g., conference presentations, journal articles, and theses).

I know that it is difficult to start and thus I want to share the following topics that may serve as an impetus for the teachers who are interested in action research and plan to conduct it in their classrooms. These topics include, but are not limited to the following:
• Teaching the four skills (changes in the way aspects of reading, writing, listening or speaking are taught)
• Classroom dynamics (interaction which occur in the language classroom)
• Learner language (language that is generated by specific activities students use when completing classroom discussions and the amount of language they produce during pair or group work)
• Grouping arrangements (different grouping arrangements such as pair, group or whole class that promote learner motivation, language use and cooperation)
• Use of materials (different ways in which materials are used)
• Grammar and vocabulary (teaching of grammar and vocabulary and the effect of using different teaching and learning strategies)
• Assessment approaches (forms of assessment currently used in classes and their outcomes)

 

Steps of Action Research

 

Graph1: Steps of Action Research
Adapted from: Richards, J. C. and Farrell, T. S., (2005). Professional development for language teachers: Strategies for teacher learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

To help you thinking I want to share some interesting examples of colleagues researching into their classroom activities.
One of the most interesting and thought provoking research questions that I came across with was the impact of the physical location of a student in the classroom on the performance during the lesson. For this, students were observed and their language abilities and involvement in the classroom activities were summarised and categorised as strong, medium and weak. Then those who seemed to be weak students were placed in different locations on a number of occasions - closer to the teacher and the board during one class period; closer to the window during another; closer to the back side of the classroom at the other time. There were also some other combinations. The students were observed and their participation and involvement into the learning process were analysed. The results of the analysis showed that not in all situations there was a great change in students performance, however there was a slight shift in their behaviour and students demonstrated different level of motivation depending on where there were seated. At a first glance, you may find this a strange topic to research, however colleagues shared that they have learnt many interesting and previously unknown to them features of effectiveness of classroom layout.
Another research that I want to share deals with the use of the board during the class. My colleague was aware that her handwriting and the use of the board was not very effective. She has decided to see how she can improve in this area. For this, she has taken many pictures of the board during several classes. All the pictures were looked at and thoroughly analysed. This allowed the teacher to clearly see her weaknesses and work out the strategies how to overcome them.
Another interesting question or better say experiment was to test how showing a 5 minute video at the beginning of the class can help to fight late comers. My peer got this idea from somewhere and was determined to see the results. So, he was playing videos for the group of learners who had been constantly late for the classes during a certain period of time and little by little students got so much interested in watching those video fragments that they started to come 5 minutes earlier. It seems as a very simple and obvious experiment - one may think. However, once you engage in doing it, you go through a very exciting experience of collecting information, taking notes, coding and counting, analysing, making sense of students action and behaviours. It is indeed very simple to organise and implement and it is indeed a great opportunity to see what is hidden.
In conclusion I wish to say that classroom research only sounds like a “big thing”, however, as you can see, it is a very enjoyable process. Yes, it does require specific skills, human and non-human resources, a lot of reading for the process to be productive. But once you engage in it you can continue exploration into teaching and learning for the whole of your professional life. What you need at the very beginning is motivation and inquisitive mind!
The rest of necessary ingredients can be obtained once you start the process.
The purpose of this article in the Active Learning and Teaching magazine is to sparkle colleagues and provide them with support.
Additionally it will be excellent if we build a network of interested people and come up with research questions that can be explored in different contexts throughout the whole country.
I will be waiting for volunteers to start their research process and I am ready to help with practical suggestions. I hope that this section will become a place for those who have conducted or will conduct research (regardless of how small it may seem to you) and are ready to share the experiences.


References

Allwright, D., (2005). Developing principles for practitioner research: The case of exploratory practice. Modern Language Journal. 89 (1), 353-366.

Richards, J. C. and Farrell, T. S., (2005). Professional development for language teachers: Strategies for teacher learning. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

Taken from ALT FL №1 2015


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