Action Research project transforms EFL teacher's career
10 November 2014

Judith Watkins, an EFL teacher from Sheffield College, is the overall winner of our first Action Research award.

Judith and five other teachers all successfully initiated and completed classroom research projects under the scheme run and supported by English UK and Cambridge English Language Assessment. Applications for the 2015 awards are opening soon.

Judith, who has been an EFL teacher for more than 20 years, was judged the overall winner and received a £500 prize and a trophy at this year's Teachers' Conference.

"It's been incredible," said Judith. "I've been teaching a long time and had wondered if it was time to give up. Colleagues were asking if the Action Research was worth doing, and why I was doing it. It brought me back to why I came into teaching in the first place, to focus on what's important - students, and how I could help them. It's been transformative."

Judith's project was to investigate whether her students were reading outside classroom comprehension exercises, and what would happen if she introduced an extensive reading programme, with students choosing books for pleasure, into the course timetable.

She said: "The project re-engaged me with the whole learning process and why I came into this profession. It's been inspiring."

Judith's idea came from students working on Ielts exams who wanted to improve their reading scores. "I'd send them off to the Learning Centre but they wouldn't necessarily borrow books. My idea was that if I forced them to read in class time, would that be effective? I found their speed improved, their vocabulary and grammar knowledge was enhanced and they enjoyed it.

"I brought them a range of graded readers, and it was an ongoing process. I got books which they were interested in from the learning centre. One is a student dentist, and I found him a dental book for instance. The whole point was for them to enjoy the reading and the majority of them are continuing to read now. It's been a revelation: they are now reading for pleasure."

Judith's classes included a regular weekly slot where the students were expected to read for pleasure, and now her colleagues are going to try the idea in their own practice.

This is part of the idea of Action Research, where teachers suggest and then test a hypothesis to improve their students' achievements in their own classrooms, and then disseminate their findings to colleagues.

Huan Japes, Deputy Chief Executive of English UK who has been working closely on the scheme, says he wanted to promote it for both its value as CPD and as part of the organisation's drive to raise quality among member schools.

"We're really delighted to be running the scheme for a second year with Cambridge English Language Assessment, and we're all pleased with the really fantastic outcomes from the first year. Our six teachers ran really interesting projects, and found the support they got invaluable.

"We'd really encourage member centres to put forward teachers to take part in this year's round of submissions. The teachers will get expert support and it really is excellent CPD which can have an impact beyond their own classroom."

Participants will be supported in their research projects by Professor Simon Borg and Fiona Barker from Cambridge English, receive expenses to attend special workshops, will present findings at next year's Teachers' Conference, and have their papers published in Cambridge English's Research Notes.

Full details on the Action Research Scheme 2015.

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