Language Teacher Learning Through Classroom Action Research

The following is a proposal I am drafting to get funds for some summer research. Even though the course I will be teaching is face-to-face, I think it will give me some ideas for how I could craft a similar course online. We’ve been talking about making it possible for our MA students to do a teaching practicum anywhere in the world and take their courses via online means. The practicum course and the action research course could be part of this future distance learning option.

The purpose of this project is to document and analyze new language teachers’ learning to teach through conducting classroom action research projects. Action research involves a reflective cycle in which researchers (classroom teachers) identify areas of concern in their own students’ learning, “intervene in a deliberate way… in order to bring about changes” in those issues, and reflect critically on the outcomes in order to further improve the teaching and learning situation (Burns, 2010, p. 2). The proposed study is in essence a classroom action research study of teachers’ learning to conduct classroom action research.

I will be leading a group of 12-15 UH graduate students from my department (Second Language Studies) on a two-month teaching practicum during the summer of 2014. The students will be enrolled in two courses that I will teach during the summer, SLS 690 (Teaching Practicum) and SLS 680R (Classroom Action Research). Throughout the two months, the students will be individually teaching English as a Foreign Language or English for Specific Purposes classes to undergraduate students at Ubon Ratchathani University (UBU) in Thailand. The UH students will meet weekly for the two graduate courses to discuss their teaching and to design and conduct their own classroom action research projects. As the professor of the two courses, I will be observing their teaching and mentoring them as they conduct their own research.

Some of the questions that drive my interest in learning about these new teachers’ learning to conduct research are as follows:

  • How do teachers initially conceptualize their goals for teaching and their students’ learning needs? How do those goals change over the course of the practicum?
  • How do reflective practices (journals, discussion sessions, responses to peer observations) support new teachers’ learning about their teaching and their students’ learning?
  • How do teachers’ perspectives on teaching and their students’ learning change over the course of an 8-week practicum while conducting action research in their own classrooms?
  • What forms of data do new teachers consider relevant and useful to their analysis of their students’ learning?
  • How do new teachers analyze classroom data?
  • What implications for their future practice do new teachers derive from participating in classroom action research?

Because I will be conducting my research as classroom action research, the exact questions that I end up pursuing may change as I recognize new challenges in my own teaching and in my students’ learning. Adler (2003) found that in conducting action research on her own student teachers’ action research work, she learned as much about her own research practices as she did about the student teachers’ processes. I am open to discovering such opportunities in my own pedagogical practices as well.

Data collection will include a reflective journal documenting reflections on my students’ learning, video and audio recordings and observational field notes of my students’ teaching in their own classrooms and their discussions during our practicum and research classes, documents including teaching materials I create for my courses, those my students create for their classes, and their written products from the two courses, and interviews I will conduct with students during the practicum and after it has ended. I will analyze these data recursively, identifying themes that emerge from the data and triangulating various forms of data.

Data source How collected Comments
Reflective journal Daily comments in personal journal; kept as electronic document Focus on student teachers’ actions and comments during practicum course, Action Research course, and teaching observations
Teaching materials Electronic copies (Word or pdf documents) Syllabus, powerpoint slides, and other handouts from my teaching of both the action research course and the practicum
Student-created teaching materials Electronic copies (scans of materials and lesson plans) Practicum course requirements include submission of lesson plans and materials created for teaching; action research will include creation of teaching materials
Students’ reflective writing Electronic copies submitted on Laulima or via individual blogs Students will be encouraged to keep a private reflective journal that will only be shared with me (via Laulima), but they will also be encouraged to create a public blog that can be shared with teachers around the world
Interviews Audio recording Interview questions will be developed based on emergent themes from observations and course discussion
Teaching observations Video recording Video recording will be made as part of practicum course, so students can view their own teaching practice and reflect on successes and challenges

This study offers benefits both to my own practice teaching language teachers and to their development as teachers. Through the reflective inquiry cycle, the new teachers and I will all document our work and investigate ways to improve how we improve our students’ learning, whether they are English as a Foreign Language learners or English language teachers. Furthermore, I will be able to make recommendations through publication and conference presentations for how faculty supervise and support new language teachers learning to conduct research in their own classrooms.

References

Adler, S. A. (2003). Dilemmas of action research. Action in Teacher Education, 25(1), 76-82. doi: 10.1080/01626620.2003.10463295

Burns, A. (2010). Doing action research in English language teaching: A guide for practitioners. New York: Routledge.

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