Wanted: English teachers who want to research classroom practice
26 November 2013

English language teachers who want to carry out action research but would like some practical support are encouraged to apply for a pioneering new scheme.

English UK and Cambridge English Language Assessment have joined forces to create the Action Research Award Scheme to encourage high standards and increase professional development opportunities. Organisers will choose up to six projects from individuals or pairs of teachers after the submissions deadline on Monday 6 January. Huan Japes, English UK's Deputy Chief Executive for Professional Services, said: "We're really excited about this. We're looking for teachers who want to investigate something they are really passionate about, connected with teaching or learning, and which will help develop their learners - and perhaps inspire development in others.

"We know there are people who are interested in doing action research but are wondering how to proceed. With this scheme, we'll provide support and guidance, and make sure the research gets into the public domain and the hands of other EL teachers at the end of the process."

He added: "I think this is an exciting project which will give you sense of direction and raise the professionalism and profile of our industry -- so get to it please!"

The project, which is open only to classroom teachers in English UK member centres, was formally launched at the organisation's Teachers' Conference in London. Participants will be supported in their research projects, 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.

Clare Hayward, of the Glasgow School of English, said: "I am very interested in this. I've just done the first module of an Open University Masters in education and learned about action research and it really resonated with me. It's perfect timing and I've got a couple of ideas."

Launching the scheme, Mr Japes explained that participants would get support from Professor Simon Borg and Fiona Barker from Cambridge English. "The idea is they will provide support and guidance. It's an opportunity to see this through from design ideas and enthusiasm to publication and perhaps presentation. It's good for self promotion, your institution, English UK as a whole and professional development, which is one of our core missions."

What Action Research is - and what it isn't - was the subject of a dedicated conference session by ELT specialist Simon Borg who will be helping to guide the successful participants in the scheme.

He said he had seen action research fail because of misconceptions about the reality of teachers' lives, and the Cambridge English Language Assessment/English UK scheme was being carefully designed to support participants. "We're looking for teachers working in contexts where managers are supportive. We're not asking any schools to make unrealistic concessions, but little concessions are good for teachers and organisations. Another common obstacle is lack of support and ongoing advice. Teachers will need ongoing support in how to design their research, collect and, analyse data. Very often this is not available in the school itself so within this scheme my role is as external facilitator. I am not there to tell teachers what to do."

He said there were many misconceptions about what constituted research. It was planned, systematic, purposeful, empirical, had reasons and was made public and shared in some way. Action research reflected these characteristics. However, the action research process was an inward looking one: the focus was the practitioner and their work. "The primary purpose is to understand their own work. It's about me as a practitioner wanting to learn more about my own learners, my own work, my own context and become better at what I do. It's different to general research for universal knowledge. It doesn't mean others aren't going to be interested: it's great if they are. But the starting point is understanding of ourselves.

"And it is serious work."

Professor Borg said action research involved two or three cycles of planning, action, observation and reflection.

It was important not to see it as a totally linear activity, and there was a role for reading, but not an academic literature review. It was to be integrated into teachers' daily practices, and might include collaborating with a colleague either inside or outside the school "which is a great benefit as it reduces the individual burden."

He gave examples of some action research, including one occasion where the teacher, trying to improve the self-assessment of her learners, had introduced portfolios. After three cycles of modifying the process she realised learners didn't enjoy completing them and that though some improved at self-assessment those who most needed it hadn't. "It's not a failed study. The teacher clearly learned a lot, and it was valuable for her learners."

Teachers who were researching looked upon problems as challenges to be overcome through research not hurdles to cry about. Professor Borg said such activities led to greater understanding of what learners are thinking, how they react to different activities and what they make of them. It could also lead to increased credibility with students and their parents, provide a concrete way to inform decisions and hence change the way courses are written and marketed, change assessment practices and meet customers' needs better.

"I don't like to use word selling it but that's a good way of selling it. The buy-in may not be so high if it's seen to be for teachers' use alone," he said, adding "Its primary purpose is the enhancement of teachers. If they benefit, learners benefit. If we're achieving that it's great."

"We're really hoping this will permeate the sector over time. It's not a one-off".

Click here for more information on this scheme, or contact Huan Japes, Deputy Chief Executive - Professional Services.


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