Research in class – doing and using it to improve your teaching

#eltchat Wednesday March 20th 2013

Unfortunately I only made it to the second half of the chat on Wednesday evening so the first half will be purely an interpretation of what I read in the transcript. The second half will no doubt have some more opinionated text as I myself got involved in the chat.

Dear Reader,

Please take into account that my interpretation of the chat may be totally different from your own, so if you want a totally unbiased view of the chat, then I suggest you simply read the transcript rather than my idle gossip! To quote the great John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley:

Joe and I flew home to America in the same plane, and on the way he told me about Prague, and his Prague had no relation to the city I had seen and heard.  It just wasn’t the same place, and yet each of us was honest, neither one a liar, both pretty good observers by any standard, and we brought home two cities, two truths.  

Kick off

The evening seemed to kick off fairly slowly but, as is often the case, with the question of definitions. @Marisa_C asked whether we were talking about large scale statistical research or small scale class investigations. @naomishema wondered if it was possible to carry out a class observation whilst in the thick of it yourself. The suggestion was that it’s helpful to have some sort of third party involved (independent observer, film) in order to be objective and accurate.

Florentina__T pointed out that as a teacher herself she did lots of small-scale research before moving onto ‘real’ research at university where she discovered that she’d actually been doing it at school just by following ‘gut feeling’.  @the secretdos popped up to say that research doesn’t need to uncover something new but needs to provide evidence for what does or doesn’t work. At this point the tennis match really kicked off (you know that Wimbledon feeling when the ball is bounced back and forth whilst the public waits for that final big hit).


flying the flag
flying the flag

Waving the flag for evidence

@the secretdos spent much of the chat waving the flag for genuine evidence-based research whereas others (me included) seemed to want to teachers to start on a small scale by consistently evaluating their own teaching. I would hope this would lead on to some teachers picking up the research ball and running with it to the goal.  The question is at what stage it can be called “research” and when it is merely “evaluation”. @thesecretdos put in a plea for some genuine research, well-designed and with a possibility of being replicated.

We then moved away from research with a capital “R” when @Marisa_C asked how a teacher can identify a problem, try out or evaluate practice. This got me thinking of a system we have at school in the Netherlands which then distracted me from the chat…..we have what is known as Academic Research Schools. These schools have to comply with various basic requirements (national standards) before they get the official label. Then a research team in the school (with support from the university) carries out research to benefit their school. Together they evaluate teaching, the curriculum, pedagogy, vision etc and determine a programme for the year which they research together. So far it seems to be working really well! Sorry, just an aside there, nothing to do with the eltchat but definitely a good movement towards improving educational standards (and, by default, teachers!).

The discussion then bounced back and forth between evaluating classroom practices (observation etc) and “real” research. @lexicojoules popped up to remind everyone that it is essential, when starting down the research path, to choose a topic that interests you personally in order to be able to keep up the motivation.

back and forth
back and forth

There wasn’t much activity in response to @shaulwilden question of “how”, however @thesecretdos did comment that it was important to write a lot, read a lot, wonder a lot, review a lot then read a lot more. Though I didn’t react quickly enough, my reply would have been along the lines of “allow yourself enough space to think”. It’s so important to have thinking time and not just plough full on into it!

How many of us?

Whether we’re talking Research or Evaluation, I wondered how many ELT teachers actually evaluate their own practice systematically and share their results with others. @marisa_c sent a link to an IATEFL talk from Penny Ur (based also on Simon Borg) about how very few ELT teachers are really busy with this. The question had come up earlier in the chat – but could this be down to the fact that ELT teachers are terribly busy, in the thick of teaching, don’t know where to start, don’t know how to start, don’t see how it’ll help them and don’t have time to actually stop and think about it. Plus, quite simply, not everyone has access to good materials (‘proper’, recent articles).  Heavily opinionated questions from Louise!

I could keep going for hours but am not going to as this won’t be a summary. What I would like to do is to finish with a comment made by @muranava which, in my opinion, is what all teachers (of all subjects at all levels!) must do (and then leave the “real research” to those who want to/are able to) and that is, and I quote “anything that helps tchrs to systematize their teaching e.g: checklists, corpora is helpful”. How about we encourage all our colleagues (starting with ourselves) to do this and set up a monthly chat (in person/digital) to share what we’ve already discovered?

We started with a Steinbeck quote so let’s finish with one too:

“Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.

The eltchat has finished, but has, I hope, sparked a continued thought-process.


Extra, suggested reading:

– Penny Ur’s talk mentioned by Marisa:

– @bengoldacre popped up and provided us with a link to a piece he wrote for the DfE

– Simon Borg (who will be talking on this at IATEFL in Liverpool) book: Teacher Research in Lang Teaching


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