Teacher research during an international practicum

Teacher research during an international practicum Abstract Teacher research allows teachers to learn about their teaching and connect theory to practice through systematic self-study. This report examines eight US-based graduate students’ research projects while they were teaching EAP during a practicum in Thailand. Findings indicate that their projects took different forms, from action research to introspective analysis, which reflected the teacher-researchers’ emerging understandings of their instructional context and perspectives as teachers and researchers. This article presents profiles of three teacher-researchers’ studies to illustrate the varied forms and outcomes of their studies. Their study designs reflect the teachers’ choices of methods in response to contextual and personal factors. Introduction Teacher research (TR) provides flexible tools for teachers to understand institutional contexts, policy demands, and diverse students’ learning needs. During teaching practicums, which are a common feature of language teacher education programmes, new teachers can implement theoretical ideas learnt during their coursework. They may struggle, however, when circumstances differ from their expectations. Yet through TR, they can systematically observe, document, and reflect on their practice. Few studies have considered TR by novice teacher-researchers as they examine their practice in new instructional contexts. This report describes eight US-based graduate students’ research projects during an EAP practicum in Thailand. Findings indicate that while their projects took different forms, from action research to introspective analysis, they all allowed the teachers to make sense of their practices in the unfamiliar environment. The research process provided the teachers with lenses through which to understand their work and their students’ learning. Defining teacher research I define teacher research as research done by teachers in their own classrooms, systematically studying their practice and/or their students’ learning (Field 1997; Borg and Santiago Sanchez 2015). Allowing teachers to examine their teaching and connect theory to practice, TR takes many forms (van Lier 1988), but distinguishes itself as systematic self-study, conducted by teachers, not outside researchers, that may be shared with others (Borg and Santiago Sanchez 2015). TR varies in form depending on the degree to which teacher-researchers (i) add research-specific structures to their work (such as experimental features or surveys) and (ii) modify instructional practice as part of the research process (van Lier 1988). Thus, central to TR is teachers’ theorizing their own practice rather than outside researchers explaining it (Edge 2001: 6). Reflection allows teacher-researchers to problematize their everyday practices, identify researchable issues in their classrooms, and understand their discoveries (Edge ibid.). In action research, for example, teachers systematically observe and reflect on student learning, then test new approaches while collecting data on the outcomes (Field 1997). Teacher-researchers may also evaluate whether their perceptions must be revised in light of new discoveries (Freeman 1998). TR does not require action, however; teacher-researchers’ purpose may be deeper understanding of their current context, classroom environment, or students’ experiences (Allwright 2003). In becoming researchers, teachers manage dual and at times conflicting roles as both teacher and researcher (Borg and Santiago Sanchez 2015). Xerri (2017) notes that taking a researcher’s perspective occasionally left him with a sense of guilt for pushing forward an experimental curriculum that did not always help students to the extent he had hoped. Balancing roles meant ‘positioning myself as a teacher-researcher rather than just a teacher or a researcher’ (Xerri ibid.: 97). Teacher-researchers must also manage constraints deriving from personal qualities such as their expectations and past experiences as well as factors in their institutional environment (working conditions and class size, among others) and wider society (Humphries and Burns 2015). Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) suggest, therefore, that teacher-researchers adopt an inquiry stance, setting intentional goals of improving both student learning and social justice, while developing analytical and reflective habits of mind. Ideally, TR is a lifelong commitment. Teacher research in teacher education TR helps both new and experienced teachers, who benefit personally and professionally from the inquiry process. Athanases, Bennett, and Wahleithner suggest that ‘inquiry can disrupt a common developmental trajectory of new teachers … described as a focus first on self and teacher performance’ (2013: 149). Israeli pre-service teachers doing TR reported increased confidence, empowerment, willingness to experiment with approaches, and ability to self-reflect on teaching practice and its connections with theory (Rajuan 2015). Similarly, Alex Kasula,1 a participant on the practicum described in this article, notes that conducting action research in his classroom in Thailand gave him a ‘greater sense of autonomy in becoming [his] own researcher’ while also supporting development of his teaching philosophy (Kasula 2015: 236). As the above studies demonstrate, integrating TR into a teaching practicum supports teacher education worldwide. Given that TR allows teachers to explore contexts, problematize concepts they take for granted, and develop deeper understanding of their practice beyond their coursework, it stands to reason that language teachers learning to teach outside familiar surroundings would benefit from opportunities to research their practice. Little research, however, has examined such situations. The present study focuses on identifying how graduate student teachers working in an unfamiliar context used TR to deepen their understanding of their students, their practices, and their own teaching. Methods Participants and context Eight applied linguistics graduate students (7 MA; 1 PhD) from an American university participated in this study. Three L1 English-speaking US residents held undergraduate degrees from American universities; the others were from Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, spoke English as an L2, and held bachelor’s or master’s degrees from other countries. As Table 1 indicates, some had previous teaching experience; some joined the practicum to learn about teaching in new contexts while others wanted support in conducting TR. I call them teachers to distinguish from their Thai students. Table 1 Teacher background and teaching assignments Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science View Large Table 1 Teacher background and teaching assignments Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science View Large The eight-week practicum took place in summer 2014 at a university in north-eastern Thailand. Issan University (IU) is a regional public university preparing students for professional work in agriculture, business, and public service. The teachers taught EAP classes in five faculties. Most had one 75-minute class per day, Monday–Thursday, on topics including ‘Writing and Presentation Skills’ and ‘English for Business’; their students ranged from entering freshmen to graduate students, with novice to intermediate-mid level English proficiency. The teachers also took two seminars I taught during our time in Thailand: the teaching practicum and a TR course. The practicum focused on reflective teaching and professional development (Gilliland 2015 discusses the practicum course.) The research course, developed because teachers on previous practicum courses from our university had attempted TR without much guidance, introduced research methods and supported the teachers’ processes, from identifying a focus to collecting and analysing data, revising teaching and research, and writing and presenting their studies. They began by considering issues, drafting research questions, and developing teaching plans to address those questions. They then tested ideas, observed outcomes, and kept journals about their research while revising their questions and responding to their students’ learning. Because TR allows teachers a choice of approaches, examining the research methods teacher-researchers select can provide insights into their understandings of research. I focus here on describing their research projects: What research methods did the teachers use in analysing their practice during an international practicum? What do their study designs indicate about their developing understandings of TR? Data collection and analysis As part of a larger qualitative study, I collected audio, video, and document data including classroom observations, interviews with individual teachers, videos of their public research presentations, and all written texts, including the participants’ research journals, seminar coursework, and final papers. The analysis in this article focuses on describing participants’ reports (written papers and oral presentations) to understand what research methods the teachers chose and how they explained their research processes. Future analysis will consider the teachers’ cognition about their teaching practice and the role of research in that thinking. Having noticed that the teachers began with differing assumptions about research and modified their studies during the practicum, I sought to classify their study designs. Identifying patterns in individual teacher-researchers’ studies (including data collection choices and instructional modifications) provides insights into how they understood the teaching/research environment and their roles within it (Freeman 1998). I drew on van Lier’s (1988) typology of classroom research methodologies (Figure 1), which considers degrees of Intervention, i.e. how much teacher-researchers actively change teaching practices during their studies, and Structure, i.e. how much teacher-researchers add research-specific data collection methods such as surveys or experiments. Teachers may choose to evaluate an intervention intended to improve students’ learning (+Intervention) or continue teaching as usual (–Intervention). Some studies may implement data collection instruments to focus on areas of interest (+Structure), while others collect only data occurring naturally in the classroom, such as student work or audio recording (–Structure). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Classroom research methodologies typology. Adapted from The Classroom and the Language Learner (p. 57), by Leo van Lier, 1988, London and New York: Longman. Copyright 1988 by Longman Group UK. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Classroom research methodologies typology. Adapted from The Classroom and the Language Learner (p. 57), by Leo van Lier, 1988, London and New York: Longman. Copyright 1988 by Longman Group UK. To classify the teachers’ approaches, I first reviewed their written and oral reports and classified their research methods into van Lier’s (1988) four typologies, aligned with the teachers’ research questions and methods in Table 2. Participants’ studies in different typologies represented variations in the focuses of the teachers’ research, which emerged as they dealt with cultural, professional, and personal challenges. I then examined the studies falling primarily within each quadrant for the teachers’ explanations of their choices of methods or interventions and the benefits they identified from doing TR. This comparison led to descriptive themes reflecting commonalities among studies within a quadrant. Interviews and the teachers’ course reflections elucidated their explanations for their choices of research methods, changes they made to their study designs over time, and perspectives on how conducting TR intersected with their experiences of learning to teach in an unfamiliar context. Table 2 Classification of teachers’ research methods within van Lier’s (1988) typologies. Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Note: *xx* indicates form of data added during practicum; [xx] indicates planned form of data dropped from final study View Large Table 2 Classification of teachers’ research methods within van Lier’s (1988) typologies. Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Note: *xx* indicates form of data added during practicum; [xx] indicates planned form of data dropped from final study View Large Findings Even within one university programme and practicum, where the teachers took the same two courses and taught similar students, their TR studies differed. Findings indicate that the participants’ approaches to research took different profiles depending on their own goals for the practicum and the contextual factors they found salient. Three representative studies demonstrate common patterns in how the teachers used their own research to understand their work and respond to the unfamiliar setting. Understanding practice through action research The international context meant that the teachers had to make sense of multiple concerns that arguably would be less challenging in familiar classroom settings. Action research, Asking/Doing studies in which teacher-researchers design instructional interventions (+Intervention) and collect observational and achievement data (–Structure) (van Lier 1988), focuses teachers’ attention on their students’ learning needs, with analyses primarily of student work and perspectives. Three teachers’ research fell into this quadrant. Yukari and Alex were both new teachers (see Table 1) and used research to find approaches that suited their classrooms as they learnt how to teach. Although an experienced middle-school teacher from Korea, Hyunjung found that action research allowed her to make sense of a context and student population quite different from her previous work (An 2015). This section examines Yukari’s study as representative of how all three teachers used action research to understand and respond to their specific contexts. As a novice teacher, Yukari based her initial curriculum on assumptions drawn from living in Japan. Her research project, three action research cycles she illustrated with the slide in Figure 2, emerged from cultural and pedagogical issues in her class of incoming freshmen. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Yukari’s action research study Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Yukari’s action research study Discovering that the limited English proficiency of her Thai students prevented their engagement with her business-focused writing curriculum, she shifted to what she termed ‘basic English’, or explicit grammar instruction. Although Yukari felt the curriculum was appropriate linguistically, she observed that it bored her students. She reflected after the course: Considering the record of the first six weeks, I had been struggling how I could motivate and empower the students to participate the class autonomously. Finally I realized the question of my [research] is: What activity/content/teaching approach engages the students to participate in class and study autonomously? Through reflection while conducting TR, Yukari identified this underlying question and developed practices that responded to this concern. Her third action research cycle recognized the students’ preference for collaborative group work and friendly competition, and finally found meaningful interventions. The action research process allowed her to analyse and make sense of her classroom, where students’ responses were inconsistent with her expectations from prior experiences. Action research allowed discovery, through reflection and observation, of how best to implement her theories of practice in a new context. While Yukari’s challenges resemble those many teachers face, they stemmed from contextual factors that for her would have been less problematic teaching in her home country, Japan, where she knew the student population and how students would respond to curriculum and instruction. Like Yukari, Alex and Hyunjung also noted the value of multiple action research cycles for highlighting their teaching and their students’ learning within the specific context of north-eastern Thailand. (See Kasula 2015 and An 2015 for their perspectives.) Prioritizing the teacher in teacher research Conducting research on an international practicum can further provide experienced teachers with opportunities to understand their practice, in a sense ‘making the familiar strange’ as they confront assumptions about their work and their students’ learning. Orn, Changho, and Aran had both teaching and research experience, having taught in their home countries (Thailand and Korea; see Table 1) and conducted research during graduate courses, although none had done TR before. All three said they joined the practicum to learn more about doing TR rather than to focus solely on teaching. They found, however, that they needed to understand their classrooms from the perspective of teachers even as they conducted research. Prior to the practicum, Changho and Aran both developed Controlling (+Structure, +Intervention) (van Lier 1988) research plans that involved systematic data collection (pre- and post-tests to measure growth on experimental interventions), but modified their teaching extensively on recognizing that their students were not learning from the curriculum they had developed based on assumptions about student learning needs. Orn faced similar challenges in her research process. This section examines Orn’s research as representative of these three teacher-researchers’ realizations. The only Thai and the only PhD student in the practicum group, Orn had taught for two years at an elite university in Bangkok and had conducted assessment research in applied linguistics. Her purpose in joining the practicum was to pilot ideas for her thesis research into pragmatics and oral language competency. To collect quantifiable data documenting students’ performance, she designed a Measuring study (–Intervention, +Structure) (van Lier 1988) with paired role-play tests (illustrated with the slide in Figure 3). She faced difficulties, however, because the IU students had lower English proficiency than she had expected from prior experience. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Orn’s original data collection plan (note: LL=low-low, LM=low-medium, LH=low-high, referring to paired students’ proficiency levels; * indicates methods changed during course of practicum) Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Orn’s original data collection plan (note: LL=low-low, LM=low-medium, LH=low-high, referring to paired students’ proficiency levels; * indicates methods changed during course of practicum) Orn’s new research design developed from her growing awareness, as the students’ teacher, of their learning needs. She summarized her realization: For classroom assessment, maybe we need [to] meet students halfway … before we write the test, and it can’t be something that we design and use it just blindly [without] understanding the context, and the students and their level and ability and interest, and what they want to use outside of class. She modified her role-play cards to reflect what her students could do with English and what they needed to learn, observing their progress and continually revising the tasks. Figure 4 shows a presentation slide where Orn depicts her realizations about her students’ abilities and needs in the class she was teaching. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Orn’s realizations about her TR study design Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Orn’s realizations about her TR study design Doing TR made a difference for Orn, who needed to recognize her role as a teacher in order to conduct contextually integrated research. She reflected that the process expanded her understanding of how research and teaching inform each other: I learned from this practicum that you have to have an awareness [as] a teacher first, then a research[er] and a language tester later. This is because teachers are the ones with direct access to the students. They understand their needs, proficiencies and socio-cultural contexts. Echoing Xerri (2017), Orn here highlights how she identified teacher-researchers’ dual roles and how drawing on her knowledge as a teacher enriched her research process. Orn, Changho, and Aran all learnt the importance in TR of letting research questions and study design emerge out of their teaching. Their studies showed how TR can facilitate development of practices grounded in context-specific knowledge in ways that cannot be achieved by outside researchers. Theorizing one’s own practice TR on an international practicum can also allow teachers to explore their own actions, rather than focus solely on student learning (Allwright 2003). Two teachers conducted Watching studies, characterized primarily by non-intervention and observational methods (–Intervention, –Structure) wherein teachers examine what happens when they neither modify their practice nor organize formal data collection (van Lier 1988). With minimal previous teaching experience, Jill and Eric analysed their growth as teachers through observation of their students’ participation and analysis of their own teacher-researcher journals. Jill’s study exemplifies how inward-focused TR revealed the potential of research to foster teachers’ awareness of their own work amidst challenges. Having participated on the previous year’s Thailand practicum, Jill expected a similar experience—a single class of 15 students—and developed a curriculum with opportunities for students to write for realistic purposes within their major. Once at the university, however, she discovered that her host faculty wanted her to teach three groups of 20–30 students, each meeting once or twice a week. While such sudden administrative modifications are hardly unique to international contexts, the confluence of changes being inconsistently reported by Thai administrative staff with varying English proficiency meant that Jill faced both cultural and pedagogical challenges. The unpredictable teaching schedule and confusing administrative communication led Jill to study her own understandings of being a teacher and her growth in response to contextual factors. Her final paper addressed two research questions: How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? Jill focused on understanding how her practices resonated in students’ class experiences, documented in their reflective writing and her own teacher-researcher journal. She analysed her interpretation of and response to students’ feedback. Jill’s research allowed her to deepen her own theories of practice (Edge 2001) and identify how she could improve her responses to unexpected issues. As she discussed in her MA thesis, close observation of her responses to critical incidents in her teaching ‘helped me become flexible in a way that I was still able to teach in unexpected circumstances, and through the frustration of adapting to sudden changes’. Allwright (2003) suggests that exploratory TR may prioritize teachers’ overall well-being rather than generating concrete instructional outcomes. Jill learnt to listen to her students and to interpret their statements through recognition of the cultural differences between her American expectations and possible Thai meanings. Discussion As these analyses show, research provides teachers with a set of lenses to make sense of personal, cultural, and institutional challenges and refine their individual theories of practice. The teachers recognized that they could use TR to better understand their students’ learning (as Yukari did), their role as teacher-researchers (as Orn did), or their own perspectives as teachers (as Jill did). They chose research methods that allowed them to answer questions arising from the contexts in which they were teaching, modifying, or changing their study designs as they came to know the context better. While the teachers on this practicum had varying levels of expertise in both teaching and research, all valued how TR allowed them to deepen their understanding of the intersections between teaching and research. Analysing their work through van Lier’s (1988) framework highlights the ways the teachers’ study design choices reflected their approaches to structuring and intervening in their practice (Freeman 1998). Such understanding allows teacher educators to support novice teacher-researchers learning to do research and identify as researchers. Research gives teachers tools to expose difficulties in their teaching and systematically pause, understand, and adjust their practice in response. Unanticipated challenges such as complex administrative routines, new cultural practices, or students’ language proficiency may overwhelm new teachers. TR further promotes questioning concepts that more experienced teachers may take for granted about teaching and learning. Developing an inquiry stance (Cochran-Smith and Lytle 2009) during a supervised practicum allows novice teacher-researchers to analyse the challenges and, as the teachers in this study demonstrated, make sense of the context to improve their practice. Implications TR contributes essential support to teachers on a practicum and can inform supervisors about the teachers’ learning and challenges. Supporting novice teacher-researchers requires supervisors to emphasize that teachers cannot expect the familiar, even if they have taught in other contexts. Supervisors and teacher-researchers should be aware of factors that can interfere with intentions for changing curriculum or instructional practices, including personal, institutional, and cultural issues (Humphries and Burns 2015). Teachers can use research tools to comprehend their students’ learning and their own teaching. Understanding how novice teacher-researchers’ varied studies emerged from their individual experiences in the classroom and expectations before the practicum can help teacher-educators better support their research processes. Further research should examine how the research processes of novice and experienced teachers differ, as well as how teacher-researchers sustain an inquiry stance after the practicum ends. Note Footnotes 1 At their request, I use the teachers’ real names in reporting their research experiences. Betsy Gilliland is an Associate Professor of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa. She researches and teaches courses in second-language writing and academic literacy, language teacher education, and qualitative research methods. She has taught English as a foreign language in the United States, Uzbekistan, and Thailand and gives workshops for language teachers worldwide. 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Edge , J . 2001 . ‘ Attitude and access: building a new teaching/learning community in TESOL ’ in J. Edge (ed.). Action Research . Alexandria , VA : TESOL . Field , J . 1997 . ‘ Key concepts in ELT: classroom research ’. ELT Journal 51 / 2 : 192 – 93 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Freeman , D . 1998 . Doing Teacher Research: From Inquiry to Understanding . Pacific Grove , CA : Heinle & Heinle . Gilliland , B . 2015 . ‘ Benefits and challenges of supervising an international practicum ’. CATESOL Journal 27 / 2 : 201 – 09 . Humphries , S. and A. Burns . 2015 . ‘ “In reality it’s almost impossible”: CLT-oriented curriculum change ’. ELT Journal 69 / 3 : 239 – 48 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kasula , A . 2015 . ‘ Conducting action research in a practicum: a student teacher’s perspective ’. CATESOL Journal 27 / 2 : 229 – 37 . Rajuan , M . 2015 . ‘ Practices and principles of pre-service action research ’ in S. Borg and H. Santiago Sanchez (eds.). van Lier , L . 1988 . The Classroom and the Language Learner: Ethnography and Second Language Classroom Research . Longman : London . Xerri , D . 2017 . ‘ Split personality/unified identity: being a teacher-researcher ’. ELT Journal 71 / 1 : 96 – 8 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png ELT Journal Oxford University Press

Teacher research during an international practicum

ELT Journal , Volume Advance Article (3) – Feb 23, 2018

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.
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0951-0893
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Abstract

Abstract Teacher research allows teachers to learn about their teaching and connect theory to practice through systematic self-study. This report examines eight US-based graduate students’ research projects while they were teaching EAP during a practicum in Thailand. Findings indicate that their projects took different forms, from action research to introspective analysis, which reflected the teacher-researchers’ emerging understandings of their instructional context and perspectives as teachers and researchers. This article presents profiles of three teacher-researchers’ studies to illustrate the varied forms and outcomes of their studies. Their study designs reflect the teachers’ choices of methods in response to contextual and personal factors. Introduction Teacher research (TR) provides flexible tools for teachers to understand institutional contexts, policy demands, and diverse students’ learning needs. During teaching practicums, which are a common feature of language teacher education programmes, new teachers can implement theoretical ideas learnt during their coursework. They may struggle, however, when circumstances differ from their expectations. Yet through TR, they can systematically observe, document, and reflect on their practice. Few studies have considered TR by novice teacher-researchers as they examine their practice in new instructional contexts. This report describes eight US-based graduate students’ research projects during an EAP practicum in Thailand. Findings indicate that while their projects took different forms, from action research to introspective analysis, they all allowed the teachers to make sense of their practices in the unfamiliar environment. The research process provided the teachers with lenses through which to understand their work and their students’ learning. Defining teacher research I define teacher research as research done by teachers in their own classrooms, systematically studying their practice and/or their students’ learning (Field 1997; Borg and Santiago Sanchez 2015). Allowing teachers to examine their teaching and connect theory to practice, TR takes many forms (van Lier 1988), but distinguishes itself as systematic self-study, conducted by teachers, not outside researchers, that may be shared with others (Borg and Santiago Sanchez 2015). TR varies in form depending on the degree to which teacher-researchers (i) add research-specific structures to their work (such as experimental features or surveys) and (ii) modify instructional practice as part of the research process (van Lier 1988). Thus, central to TR is teachers’ theorizing their own practice rather than outside researchers explaining it (Edge 2001: 6). Reflection allows teacher-researchers to problematize their everyday practices, identify researchable issues in their classrooms, and understand their discoveries (Edge ibid.). In action research, for example, teachers systematically observe and reflect on student learning, then test new approaches while collecting data on the outcomes (Field 1997). Teacher-researchers may also evaluate whether their perceptions must be revised in light of new discoveries (Freeman 1998). TR does not require action, however; teacher-researchers’ purpose may be deeper understanding of their current context, classroom environment, or students’ experiences (Allwright 2003). In becoming researchers, teachers manage dual and at times conflicting roles as both teacher and researcher (Borg and Santiago Sanchez 2015). Xerri (2017) notes that taking a researcher’s perspective occasionally left him with a sense of guilt for pushing forward an experimental curriculum that did not always help students to the extent he had hoped. Balancing roles meant ‘positioning myself as a teacher-researcher rather than just a teacher or a researcher’ (Xerri ibid.: 97). Teacher-researchers must also manage constraints deriving from personal qualities such as their expectations and past experiences as well as factors in their institutional environment (working conditions and class size, among others) and wider society (Humphries and Burns 2015). Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) suggest, therefore, that teacher-researchers adopt an inquiry stance, setting intentional goals of improving both student learning and social justice, while developing analytical and reflective habits of mind. Ideally, TR is a lifelong commitment. Teacher research in teacher education TR helps both new and experienced teachers, who benefit personally and professionally from the inquiry process. Athanases, Bennett, and Wahleithner suggest that ‘inquiry can disrupt a common developmental trajectory of new teachers … described as a focus first on self and teacher performance’ (2013: 149). Israeli pre-service teachers doing TR reported increased confidence, empowerment, willingness to experiment with approaches, and ability to self-reflect on teaching practice and its connections with theory (Rajuan 2015). Similarly, Alex Kasula,1 a participant on the practicum described in this article, notes that conducting action research in his classroom in Thailand gave him a ‘greater sense of autonomy in becoming [his] own researcher’ while also supporting development of his teaching philosophy (Kasula 2015: 236). As the above studies demonstrate, integrating TR into a teaching practicum supports teacher education worldwide. Given that TR allows teachers to explore contexts, problematize concepts they take for granted, and develop deeper understanding of their practice beyond their coursework, it stands to reason that language teachers learning to teach outside familiar surroundings would benefit from opportunities to research their practice. Little research, however, has examined such situations. The present study focuses on identifying how graduate student teachers working in an unfamiliar context used TR to deepen their understanding of their students, their practices, and their own teaching. Methods Participants and context Eight applied linguistics graduate students (7 MA; 1 PhD) from an American university participated in this study. Three L1 English-speaking US residents held undergraduate degrees from American universities; the others were from Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, spoke English as an L2, and held bachelor’s or master’s degrees from other countries. As Table 1 indicates, some had previous teaching experience; some joined the practicum to learn about teaching in new contexts while others wanted support in conducting TR. I call them teachers to distinguish from their Thai students. Table 1 Teacher background and teaching assignments Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science View Large Table 1 Teacher background and teaching assignments Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science Teacher L1 Previous Teaching IU Faculty Alex English None Management Science Aran Korean 2 years: Korean private academies Agriculture Changho Korean 5 years: Korean private academies Chemistry Eric English Tutoring children & practicum: Taiwan Chemistry Hyunjung Korean 17 years: Korean middle schools Nursing Jill English 2-month university practicum: Thailand Medicine and Public Health Orn Thai 2 years university teaching: Thailand Chemistry Yukari Japanese None Management Science View Large The eight-week practicum took place in summer 2014 at a university in north-eastern Thailand. Issan University (IU) is a regional public university preparing students for professional work in agriculture, business, and public service. The teachers taught EAP classes in five faculties. Most had one 75-minute class per day, Monday–Thursday, on topics including ‘Writing and Presentation Skills’ and ‘English for Business’; their students ranged from entering freshmen to graduate students, with novice to intermediate-mid level English proficiency. The teachers also took two seminars I taught during our time in Thailand: the teaching practicum and a TR course. The practicum focused on reflective teaching and professional development (Gilliland 2015 discusses the practicum course.) The research course, developed because teachers on previous practicum courses from our university had attempted TR without much guidance, introduced research methods and supported the teachers’ processes, from identifying a focus to collecting and analysing data, revising teaching and research, and writing and presenting their studies. They began by considering issues, drafting research questions, and developing teaching plans to address those questions. They then tested ideas, observed outcomes, and kept journals about their research while revising their questions and responding to their students’ learning. Because TR allows teachers a choice of approaches, examining the research methods teacher-researchers select can provide insights into their understandings of research. I focus here on describing their research projects: What research methods did the teachers use in analysing their practice during an international practicum? What do their study designs indicate about their developing understandings of TR? Data collection and analysis As part of a larger qualitative study, I collected audio, video, and document data including classroom observations, interviews with individual teachers, videos of their public research presentations, and all written texts, including the participants’ research journals, seminar coursework, and final papers. The analysis in this article focuses on describing participants’ reports (written papers and oral presentations) to understand what research methods the teachers chose and how they explained their research processes. Future analysis will consider the teachers’ cognition about their teaching practice and the role of research in that thinking. Having noticed that the teachers began with differing assumptions about research and modified their studies during the practicum, I sought to classify their study designs. Identifying patterns in individual teacher-researchers’ studies (including data collection choices and instructional modifications) provides insights into how they understood the teaching/research environment and their roles within it (Freeman 1998). I drew on van Lier’s (1988) typology of classroom research methodologies (Figure 1), which considers degrees of Intervention, i.e. how much teacher-researchers actively change teaching practices during their studies, and Structure, i.e. how much teacher-researchers add research-specific data collection methods such as surveys or experiments. Teachers may choose to evaluate an intervention intended to improve students’ learning (+Intervention) or continue teaching as usual (–Intervention). Some studies may implement data collection instruments to focus on areas of interest (+Structure), while others collect only data occurring naturally in the classroom, such as student work or audio recording (–Structure). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Classroom research methodologies typology. Adapted from The Classroom and the Language Learner (p. 57), by Leo van Lier, 1988, London and New York: Longman. Copyright 1988 by Longman Group UK. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Classroom research methodologies typology. Adapted from The Classroom and the Language Learner (p. 57), by Leo van Lier, 1988, London and New York: Longman. Copyright 1988 by Longman Group UK. To classify the teachers’ approaches, I first reviewed their written and oral reports and classified their research methods into van Lier’s (1988) four typologies, aligned with the teachers’ research questions and methods in Table 2. Participants’ studies in different typologies represented variations in the focuses of the teachers’ research, which emerged as they dealt with cultural, professional, and personal challenges. I then examined the studies falling primarily within each quadrant for the teachers’ explanations of their choices of methods or interventions and the benefits they identified from doing TR. This comparison led to descriptive themes reflecting commonalities among studies within a quadrant. Interviews and the teachers’ course reflections elucidated their explanations for their choices of research methods, changes they made to their study designs over time, and perspectives on how conducting TR intersected with their experiences of learning to teach in an unfamiliar context. Table 2 Classification of teachers’ research methods within van Lier’s (1988) typologies. Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Note: *xx* indicates form of data added during practicum; [xx] indicates planned form of data dropped from final study View Large Table 2 Classification of teachers’ research methods within van Lier’s (1988) typologies. Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Teacher Research Questions Research Methods Measuring Controlling Watching Asking/Doing Alex 1. In what ways can a whiteboard function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 2. In what ways can PowerPoint presentations function as a tool for eliciting and exposing students to new forms of English in an ESP classroom? 3. What are the strengths and weaknesses that both PowerPoint and the whiteboard have in an ESP classroom? Teacher-researcher journal Observation *Audio recording* *Photos* Action research Student journals *Open-ended questionnaire* Aran 1. Does focused genre instruction improve students’ writing abilities on a post-test? 2. Does analyzing model texts help students compose and revise their texts more than traditional peer review activities alone? 3. How do students perceive the usefulness of explicit genre instruction, provision of model texts, and peer review activities? Background survey Final questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Teacher-researcher journal Student written work Student interviews *Student feedback* Changho 1. How do students perceive group work including collaborative writing, peer response, and group presentation? 2. Why do students use their L1 during small group discussion and how does it facilitate their learning? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Diagnostic pre-test Post-test essay Student writing Audio recording *Case study* Teacher-researcher journal Student journals Eric 1. How did the reflection process of action research affect my teaching method? 2. How did the reflection process affect my teaching philosophies and goals? [Motivation surveys] Observation Teacher-researcher journal Student work Video and audio recording Hyunjung 1. How can I find balance among the department/ faculty’s interests, the students’ actual needs, and my goals and intentions? 2. How does extensive reading influence low English proficiency level of EFL learners’ attitude toward reading in English? Pre-course questionnaire Post-course questionnaire Observation Teacher-researcher journal Action research *Student interviews* *Program administrator interviews* Student reflective journals Jill 1. How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? 2. How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? [Pre- and post-test writing] Teacher- researcher journal Open- ended feedback surveys *Student reflective writing* Action research Orn How do I implement a role play task with this particular group of students? [Quantifiable coding & trained raters] Systematic observation of role plays Pre- and post-tests Quasi-experimental design *Teacher- researcher journal * *Student Interviews* Yukari 1. What kind of teaching approach engages students to enthusiastically or autonomously participate in the class? 2. What kind of classroom activity balances the enhancement of the students’ English proficiency with fun and encouragement of class participation? Teacher- researcher journal Student writing Open- ended questionnaires Action research Students Interviews Note: *xx* indicates form of data added during practicum; [xx] indicates planned form of data dropped from final study View Large Findings Even within one university programme and practicum, where the teachers took the same two courses and taught similar students, their TR studies differed. Findings indicate that the participants’ approaches to research took different profiles depending on their own goals for the practicum and the contextual factors they found salient. Three representative studies demonstrate common patterns in how the teachers used their own research to understand their work and respond to the unfamiliar setting. Understanding practice through action research The international context meant that the teachers had to make sense of multiple concerns that arguably would be less challenging in familiar classroom settings. Action research, Asking/Doing studies in which teacher-researchers design instructional interventions (+Intervention) and collect observational and achievement data (–Structure) (van Lier 1988), focuses teachers’ attention on their students’ learning needs, with analyses primarily of student work and perspectives. Three teachers’ research fell into this quadrant. Yukari and Alex were both new teachers (see Table 1) and used research to find approaches that suited their classrooms as they learnt how to teach. Although an experienced middle-school teacher from Korea, Hyunjung found that action research allowed her to make sense of a context and student population quite different from her previous work (An 2015). This section examines Yukari’s study as representative of how all three teachers used action research to understand and respond to their specific contexts. As a novice teacher, Yukari based her initial curriculum on assumptions drawn from living in Japan. Her research project, three action research cycles she illustrated with the slide in Figure 2, emerged from cultural and pedagogical issues in her class of incoming freshmen. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Yukari’s action research study Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Yukari’s action research study Discovering that the limited English proficiency of her Thai students prevented their engagement with her business-focused writing curriculum, she shifted to what she termed ‘basic English’, or explicit grammar instruction. Although Yukari felt the curriculum was appropriate linguistically, she observed that it bored her students. She reflected after the course: Considering the record of the first six weeks, I had been struggling how I could motivate and empower the students to participate the class autonomously. Finally I realized the question of my [research] is: What activity/content/teaching approach engages the students to participate in class and study autonomously? Through reflection while conducting TR, Yukari identified this underlying question and developed practices that responded to this concern. Her third action research cycle recognized the students’ preference for collaborative group work and friendly competition, and finally found meaningful interventions. The action research process allowed her to analyse and make sense of her classroom, where students’ responses were inconsistent with her expectations from prior experiences. Action research allowed discovery, through reflection and observation, of how best to implement her theories of practice in a new context. While Yukari’s challenges resemble those many teachers face, they stemmed from contextual factors that for her would have been less problematic teaching in her home country, Japan, where she knew the student population and how students would respond to curriculum and instruction. Like Yukari, Alex and Hyunjung also noted the value of multiple action research cycles for highlighting their teaching and their students’ learning within the specific context of north-eastern Thailand. (See Kasula 2015 and An 2015 for their perspectives.) Prioritizing the teacher in teacher research Conducting research on an international practicum can further provide experienced teachers with opportunities to understand their practice, in a sense ‘making the familiar strange’ as they confront assumptions about their work and their students’ learning. Orn, Changho, and Aran had both teaching and research experience, having taught in their home countries (Thailand and Korea; see Table 1) and conducted research during graduate courses, although none had done TR before. All three said they joined the practicum to learn more about doing TR rather than to focus solely on teaching. They found, however, that they needed to understand their classrooms from the perspective of teachers even as they conducted research. Prior to the practicum, Changho and Aran both developed Controlling (+Structure, +Intervention) (van Lier 1988) research plans that involved systematic data collection (pre- and post-tests to measure growth on experimental interventions), but modified their teaching extensively on recognizing that their students were not learning from the curriculum they had developed based on assumptions about student learning needs. Orn faced similar challenges in her research process. This section examines Orn’s research as representative of these three teacher-researchers’ realizations. The only Thai and the only PhD student in the practicum group, Orn had taught for two years at an elite university in Bangkok and had conducted assessment research in applied linguistics. Her purpose in joining the practicum was to pilot ideas for her thesis research into pragmatics and oral language competency. To collect quantifiable data documenting students’ performance, she designed a Measuring study (–Intervention, +Structure) (van Lier 1988) with paired role-play tests (illustrated with the slide in Figure 3). She faced difficulties, however, because the IU students had lower English proficiency than she had expected from prior experience. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Orn’s original data collection plan (note: LL=low-low, LM=low-medium, LH=low-high, referring to paired students’ proficiency levels; * indicates methods changed during course of practicum) Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Orn’s original data collection plan (note: LL=low-low, LM=low-medium, LH=low-high, referring to paired students’ proficiency levels; * indicates methods changed during course of practicum) Orn’s new research design developed from her growing awareness, as the students’ teacher, of their learning needs. She summarized her realization: For classroom assessment, maybe we need [to] meet students halfway … before we write the test, and it can’t be something that we design and use it just blindly [without] understanding the context, and the students and their level and ability and interest, and what they want to use outside of class. She modified her role-play cards to reflect what her students could do with English and what they needed to learn, observing their progress and continually revising the tasks. Figure 4 shows a presentation slide where Orn depicts her realizations about her students’ abilities and needs in the class she was teaching. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Orn’s realizations about her TR study design Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Orn’s realizations about her TR study design Doing TR made a difference for Orn, who needed to recognize her role as a teacher in order to conduct contextually integrated research. She reflected that the process expanded her understanding of how research and teaching inform each other: I learned from this practicum that you have to have an awareness [as] a teacher first, then a research[er] and a language tester later. This is because teachers are the ones with direct access to the students. They understand their needs, proficiencies and socio-cultural contexts. Echoing Xerri (2017), Orn here highlights how she identified teacher-researchers’ dual roles and how drawing on her knowledge as a teacher enriched her research process. Orn, Changho, and Aran all learnt the importance in TR of letting research questions and study design emerge out of their teaching. Their studies showed how TR can facilitate development of practices grounded in context-specific knowledge in ways that cannot be achieved by outside researchers. Theorizing one’s own practice TR on an international practicum can also allow teachers to explore their own actions, rather than focus solely on student learning (Allwright 2003). Two teachers conducted Watching studies, characterized primarily by non-intervention and observational methods (–Intervention, –Structure) wherein teachers examine what happens when they neither modify their practice nor organize formal data collection (van Lier 1988). With minimal previous teaching experience, Jill and Eric analysed their growth as teachers through observation of their students’ participation and analysis of their own teacher-researcher journals. Jill’s study exemplifies how inward-focused TR revealed the potential of research to foster teachers’ awareness of their own work amidst challenges. Having participated on the previous year’s Thailand practicum, Jill expected a similar experience—a single class of 15 students—and developed a curriculum with opportunities for students to write for realistic purposes within their major. Once at the university, however, she discovered that her host faculty wanted her to teach three groups of 20–30 students, each meeting once or twice a week. While such sudden administrative modifications are hardly unique to international contexts, the confluence of changes being inconsistently reported by Thai administrative staff with varying English proficiency meant that Jill faced both cultural and pedagogical challenges. The unpredictable teaching schedule and confusing administrative communication led Jill to study her own understandings of being a teacher and her growth in response to contextual factors. Her final paper addressed two research questions: How do I develop as a teacher through critical incidents (e.g. administration requests, unexpected events in the classroom, and sudden schedule changes created by administration)? How do I develop as a teacher through students’ feedback (e.g. addressing challenges, drawbacks, limitations, hypothetical improvements)? Jill focused on understanding how her practices resonated in students’ class experiences, documented in their reflective writing and her own teacher-researcher journal. She analysed her interpretation of and response to students’ feedback. Jill’s research allowed her to deepen her own theories of practice (Edge 2001) and identify how she could improve her responses to unexpected issues. As she discussed in her MA thesis, close observation of her responses to critical incidents in her teaching ‘helped me become flexible in a way that I was still able to teach in unexpected circumstances, and through the frustration of adapting to sudden changes’. Allwright (2003) suggests that exploratory TR may prioritize teachers’ overall well-being rather than generating concrete instructional outcomes. Jill learnt to listen to her students and to interpret their statements through recognition of the cultural differences between her American expectations and possible Thai meanings. Discussion As these analyses show, research provides teachers with a set of lenses to make sense of personal, cultural, and institutional challenges and refine their individual theories of practice. The teachers recognized that they could use TR to better understand their students’ learning (as Yukari did), their role as teacher-researchers (as Orn did), or their own perspectives as teachers (as Jill did). They chose research methods that allowed them to answer questions arising from the contexts in which they were teaching, modifying, or changing their study designs as they came to know the context better. While the teachers on this practicum had varying levels of expertise in both teaching and research, all valued how TR allowed them to deepen their understanding of the intersections between teaching and research. Analysing their work through van Lier’s (1988) framework highlights the ways the teachers’ study design choices reflected their approaches to structuring and intervening in their practice (Freeman 1998). Such understanding allows teacher educators to support novice teacher-researchers learning to do research and identify as researchers. Research gives teachers tools to expose difficulties in their teaching and systematically pause, understand, and adjust their practice in response. Unanticipated challenges such as complex administrative routines, new cultural practices, or students’ language proficiency may overwhelm new teachers. TR further promotes questioning concepts that more experienced teachers may take for granted about teaching and learning. Developing an inquiry stance (Cochran-Smith and Lytle 2009) during a supervised practicum allows novice teacher-researchers to analyse the challenges and, as the teachers in this study demonstrated, make sense of the context to improve their practice. Implications TR contributes essential support to teachers on a practicum and can inform supervisors about the teachers’ learning and challenges. Supporting novice teacher-researchers requires supervisors to emphasize that teachers cannot expect the familiar, even if they have taught in other contexts. Supervisors and teacher-researchers should be aware of factors that can interfere with intentions for changing curriculum or instructional practices, including personal, institutional, and cultural issues (Humphries and Burns 2015). Teachers can use research tools to comprehend their students’ learning and their own teaching. Understanding how novice teacher-researchers’ varied studies emerged from their individual experiences in the classroom and expectations before the practicum can help teacher-educators better support their research processes. Further research should examine how the research processes of novice and experienced teachers differ, as well as how teacher-researchers sustain an inquiry stance after the practicum ends. Note Footnotes 1 At their request, I use the teachers’ real names in reporting their research experiences. Betsy Gilliland is an Associate Professor of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa. She researches and teaches courses in second-language writing and academic literacy, language teacher education, and qualitative research methods. She has taught English as a foreign language in the United States, Uzbekistan, and Thailand and gives workshops for language teachers worldwide. References Allwright , D . 2003 . ‘ Exploratory practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching ’. Language Teaching Research 7 / 2 : 113 – 41 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS An , H . 2015 . ‘ A teacher’s flexibility in a Thai classroom ’. The Word 24 / 2 : 16 – 17 . Athanases , S. Z. , L. H. Bennett , and J. M. Wahleithner . 2013 . ‘ Responsive teacher inquiry for learning about adolescent English learners as developing writers ’ in L.C. de Oliveira and T. Silva (eds.). L2 Writing in Secondary Classrooms: Student Experiences, Academic Issues, and Teacher Education . New York : Routledge . Borg , S. and H. Santiago Sanchez . 2015 . ‘ Key issues in doing and supporting language teacher research ’ in S. Borg and H. Santiago Sanchez (eds.). International Perspectives on Teacher Research . New York : Palgrave Macmillan . Cochran-Smith , M. and S. L. Lytle . 2009 . Inquiry as Stance: Practitioner Research for the Next Generation . New York : Teachers College Press . Edge , J . 2001 . ‘ Attitude and access: building a new teaching/learning community in TESOL ’ in J. Edge (ed.). Action Research . Alexandria , VA : TESOL . Field , J . 1997 . ‘ Key concepts in ELT: classroom research ’. ELT Journal 51 / 2 : 192 – 93 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Freeman , D . 1998 . Doing Teacher Research: From Inquiry to Understanding . Pacific Grove , CA : Heinle & Heinle . Gilliland , B . 2015 . ‘ Benefits and challenges of supervising an international practicum ’. CATESOL Journal 27 / 2 : 201 – 09 . Humphries , S. and A. Burns . 2015 . ‘ “In reality it’s almost impossible”: CLT-oriented curriculum change ’. ELT Journal 69 / 3 : 239 – 48 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kasula , A . 2015 . ‘ Conducting action research in a practicum: a student teacher’s perspective ’. CATESOL Journal 27 / 2 : 229 – 37 . Rajuan , M . 2015 . ‘ Practices and principles of pre-service action research ’ in S. Borg and H. Santiago Sanchez (eds.). van Lier , L . 1988 . The Classroom and the Language Learner: Ethnography and Second Language Classroom Research . Longman : London . Xerri , D . 2017 . ‘ Split personality/unified identity: being a teacher-researcher ’. ELT Journal 71 / 1 : 96 – 8 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)

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ELT JournalOxford University Press

Published: Feb 23, 2018

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