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Television in TESOL – The research agenda
by
Richard Kiely
- 1

Part three in the three part series

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1. Introduction

In my previous articles I presented an overview of television in TESOL, and a detailed discussion of how I used a specific piece of television data in my own teaching. These articles represent a conventional teacher’s perspective , where the goal is to furnish the programme with activities which engage, motivate and inspire the students and teacher, while focussing on aspects of language form, language and communication, and the wider cultural context of language use. The teacher’s concern is about making the classroom an effective learning environment. Teachers know from experimentation with different material types, data sources and teaching strategies what works to create the kind of classroom they are interested in. What may not be clear from teaching action alone is WHY and TO WHAT EXTENT. As practitioners, teachers have a real time sense of what is successful and what is less successful with particular groups. Where an activity is successful, they re-use and extend the idea. Where it is unsuccessful, they leave it, move on and try something else. This process constitutes valuable learning in itself, and is an essential element of that factor so appreciated in employment contexts: ‘experience’. It does not however, lead to explanation, either for the teacher or the wider professional and academic communities. A research perspective is one way of working towards explanations and thus, understandings of the links between classroom processes and learning.

There are many different perspectives on research carried out by teachers, in many ways different routes and modes of transport towards the destination of knowledge construction. We can consider the ROUTES as traditions of enquiry:

2. Routes

2.1 Action Research

Action research is a form of enquiry which involves practioners, and focuses on how professional action and specific interventions are shaped by local conditions. Kurt Lewin, widely considered as the first user of the term Action Research characterised it in a way which at the time was a radical shift for the knowledge-building process, but now seems quite tame:

Lawfulness in social as in physical science means an "if so" relation, a relation between hypothetical conditions and hypothetical effects. These laws do not tell what conditions exist locally, at a given place at a given time. In other words these laws don't do the job of diagnosis which has to be done locally. Neither do laws prescribe a strategy for change.

Lewin 1946, quoted in Adelman 1993:11

The key contribution of Lewin was the notion that practitioners can and must contribute to knowledge-building and theory-onstruction enterprise: the researchers and designers cannot do this alone. Crookes (1993) discussion the role of Action Research in Applied Linguistics and language education, sets out two types: i) research in the Lewin tradition which merges knowledge building in the local context with the more generic theory elaboration and testing of the academy, and ii) a form of enquiry which constitutes, in a tradition developed by writers such as Kemmis & McTaggart (1981) McNiff (1988), a strategy for innovation and culture change within organisations and programmes.

2.2 Reflective practice

Schön (1983) describes Reflective Practice as a form of personal learning deriving for analytic and critical engagement with automatised routine practices. The Schön perspective contributes essentially towards more effective professional problem-solving, tacit and unarticulated, although in TESOL, this form of action has also been operationalised as a conventional-research form of enquiry (Richards & Lockhart 1994).

2.3 Programme evaluation

Programme evaluation is a form of enquiry which can focus narrowly on the measurement of effectiveness (such as test) or on compliance with mandates from external organisations (such as inspections). Increasingly, programme evaluation also seeks to have a development impact, to work with all programme participants to improve the programme (Kiely & Rea-Dickins 2005). This involves a broader view, which encompasses the goals, efforts and perspectives of all programme participants, as well as scrutiny of classroom activities and learning materials.

These traditions of enquiry can involve teachers working alone, in collaboration with teacher colleagues, or as part of a whole programme/institution initiative, in understanding how learning happens in a context, and how opportunities for learning can be enhanced and more effectively accessed.

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