When we think of research we might mistakenly believe that it is something left to the academics, or indeed the poor PhD students like yours truly. But research in the classroom doesn’t need to begin with months of analysis of empirical studies, it needn’t be framed by complex conceptual frameworks, it needn’t require the knowledge of statistical analysis, it needn’t be a burden on time and energy, it needn’t be written in academic writing for publication in journals (although I would recommend it), and it certainly needn’t be on an abstract topic with little benefit beyond the academic world.
One approach to research that teachers can take in the classroom is action research. It’s about acknowledging a problem in our classroom, seeking possible solutions, implementing one or multiple solutions, and assessing the effectiveness of that strategy.
This is something that many of us do as we continually strive to improve our teaching, try new approaches to teaching, and look for the best ways to bring about improved earning outcomes for our students.
Action research is generally seen as a “means of improvement and advancement of practice” (Carr & Kemmis, 1986). It basically puts the research in the hands of the teacher, to find solutions to problems that they are encountering, and that will directly benefit their students. It’s something that can be done by a teacher on their own, but true action research should also call on the feedback of students, and a trusted colleague.
Here is an outline of an Action Research project I completed a few years ago while teaching senior primary school students, and some guiding questions that might help you conduct your own action research project.
What’s the problem?
The Japanese writing system is notoriously complex, and is an aspect of learning that many beginning students found challenging.
What’s your aim?
My aim was to develop a program to decrease the level of anxiety students had surrounding the use of script, and increase students understanding of script, and ability to manipulate texts in the target language.
What preparation will you do?
In preparing for my action research, I read widely the current literature on teaching scripted languages, utilised my network of colleagues to gather the advice and experiences of other teachers, and joined the school literacy team to look at approaches to teaching reading in the general classroom.
What action will you take?
Introduce big books to model reading and reading strategies
Introduce mini-books to guide students through reading using a range of learning activities
expose students to more authentic texts
give students skills and strategies for decoding texts
What was the result?
In one semester, average student report results were improved, and attitudes toward learning script improved markedly. Since that time, I have used and refined the approach to lay the foundations for reading and comprehending Japanese texts, and are also skills which lay the foundations for success in writing.
The great thing about action research is that it doesn’t require knowledge of research methodology, and it doesn’t need to conform to strict rules about organisation as generally applies to academic research. However, I would certainly recommend to anyone taking action to improve their students’ learning outcomes, to consider sharing your ideas. Publication in a refereed journal is a great way to add to the common knowledge about language teaching and learning (even sharing things that don’t work is an important contribution). It’s also a pathway to building a professional profile if you are considering a leadership role within your school or district. But, if you’re not up for that, sharing your stories in a blog or at your local network meeting is a great way to be involved in the teaching community, and will surely bring benefits to students beyond your own.
*Have you ever conducted your own Action Research?
*What was the problem you investigated? How was the process? What were your findings?
*What would you like to improve this term in your teaching, or your students’ learning?
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