Television in TESOL – The research agenda
Part three in the three part series
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:
2.1 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.
3. Modes of transportation
To continue the journey metaphor, we can understand modes of transportation as research strategies, which refer to both research design and data collection and analysis factors. An overview of the options here are set out in Table 1 below.
3.1 Intervention-based and Naturalistic approaches
Research design includes two broad approaches: intervention-based, and naturalistic. Interventionist approaches involve designing and implementing a particular teaching task or strategy and then investigating its effects. Naturalistic approaches are those where the researcher (or teacher) does not intervene in the choice of teaching activity: rather she or he investigates what happens in the classroom. The data types for intervention-based and naturalistic approaches seem similar on the surface: key differences derive from the essentially positivistic, quantitative orientation of research into interventions, and the generally more qualitative, interpretive approaches to naturalistic enquiry in TESOL contexts. These differences are reflected in the use of tests in the study of interventions and the attention to documents and other aspects of practice which reflect local and wider cultural influences in naturalistic research.
3.2 Behaviour and Attitudes
Data in research by English teachers (as indeed for researchers across the social sciences) is likely to involve accounts of behaviour (what people do), or attitudes (what people think), or a combination of the two. The methods for data collection listed in Table 1 represent broad categories of instrument types: normally a researcher will design an instrument from analysis of the research purpose and context (see Table 2). General guidelines to this task can be found in the range of handbooks on research which have particular relevance in the TESOL/Applied Linguistics field, such as: Brown (1990), Cohen, Mannion & Morrison (2000), Johnson (1992), McDonough & McDonough (1997), Nunan (1992), Richard (2003), Wallace (1998).
Table 1 Research strategies – Design and method matrix (adapted from Kiely and Rea-Dickins 2005)
Very often these research strategies (routes and modes of transportation) are established before a specific enquiry is engaged. Teachers through reading, attending conferences or talks, or studying for a postgraduate or research qualification may identify a specific strategy as suited to their personality, individual view of the social, or the set of resources and constraints they are working with. In the next section I consider some of the ways in which research strategy and personal orientation to knowledge-construction might engage with explorations of the benefits of television data in the TESOL classroom.
4. Journeys & destinations
It may be a weakness of the journey metaphor here that the decision about destination is made after consideration of route and mode of transportation. In the real world (as teachers know well) planning and decision-making are never linear in the way that such models suggest. And a final course of action rarely conforms neatly or rigidly to a pre-ordained model of enquiry. Given these limitations, teachers can use the above framework to research the contribution of television to their language teaching programme. Table 2 sets out some ways in which teachers can plan enquiries into these resources. The matrix is intended to be indicative rather than exhaustive; to initiate thinking into teacher research in this are, rather than provide plans ready to implement.
5. Concluding comments
We can reduce the challenges facing the language teacher to two opposing discourses in current views of communicative language teaching:
Teachers typically in their planning and practices will bridge these discourses. This may involve leading learners in activities which dissect, analyse and manipulate language in ways which do not reflect patterns of language use in other contexts of communication, while at the same time explaining the relevance of such activities in terms of knowledge and skills for later effective and authentic communication. The latter task – explaining the relevance – may involve strategies to inspire, motivate, engage, and contribute to forming extended identities as language users. Television can connect these different elements of the language curriculum. Teachers can take slice of social life, readily-packaged in video or digital format with language and visual elements, subject it to the dissecting and manipulating that characterise language classrooms, and the same time tap directly into the ways in which our knowledge of cultural and communicative practices contributes to comprehension.
When this virtuous conjunction of learning dynamics occurs, it merits celebration, and also further enquiry. Teachers will understand the WHAT and HOW of pedagogical success in the classroom: determining WHY in a way which can be shared with others, and which fully reflects the quality of that teacher’s work, reflect the perspective that only a systematic enquiry perspective can provide.
Adelman, C. 1993 Kurt Lewin and the origins of action research. Educational Action Research Vol 1 No 1 pp. 7-24
Brown, J. D. 1990. Understanding Research in Second Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brumfit, C. & Mitchell, R. 1989. Research in the Language Classroom. Devon: Modern English Publications in association with The British Council.
Cohen, L., Mannion, L. & Morrison, K. 2000 Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge
Crookes, G. 1993 Action Research for second language teachers: going beyond teacher research. Applied Linguistics Vol 14 No 2 pp. 130-144
Johnson, D. 1992. Approaches to Research in Second Language Learning. New York: Longman
Kemmis, S. & R. McTaggart 1981 The Action Research Planner. Victoria: Deakin University Press
Kiely, R. & P. Rea-Dickins 2005 Programme Evaluation in Language Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
McDonough, J. & S. McDonough 1997. Research Methods for Language Teachers. London: Arnold.
McNiff, J. 1988 Action Research: Principles and Practice. Basingstoke: Macmillan Educational.
Nunan, D. 1992. Research Methods in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. & C. Lockhart 1994 Reflective teaching in second language classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Richards, K. 2003 Qualitative Inquiry in TESOL. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Wallace, M. 1998 Action Research for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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