Action research as a tool for ELT

Lights, Camera, Action!
Nina MK, PhD.

The title of this topic is irresistible, it immediately brings to mind the standard command which I heard many times when working as a translator at a movie set. With the fast development of the internet and all the technology connected to it, it is next to impossible to do no research. A lot of that of course is plain old search for information, the kind that we used to perform using reference books, encyclopedias and dictionaries. Kurt Lewin, an MIT professor, is credited with coining the term “action research” in 1944. In today’s education it means “a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions”. Or so Wikipedia tells me. It is important to realise that the same person conducts the research and uses the findings in their future work. When do we EL teachers feel the need to surf the web and find some solutions to the problems we face?

• The most common cause for extensive search and find process on any theme is the lack or absence of necessary data.

• Our textbooks may be obsolete, or not enough for the class’s needs and interests.

• The materials we already have may not answer the requirements of the current class or group. In other words our students may be bored or overwhelmed, and we may wish to change the
approach to the topic at hand.

• We may wish to add audio and video aids, to make our lesson(s) more attractive and productive.

• Any extra-curricular activity like an international project, a school conference or contest, a holiday or end of the year performance may involve additional research.

• Our own open lessons, education authority’s visits, the process of applying for a higher grade or category may stimulate us to search for some new, more impressive ways and means for
effective ELT.

All of these reasons are connected to the educational process per se, to the daily lessons, to the methodological issues. The list naturally may be added to ad infinitum. There are other reasons for us to embark on action research which are also connected to our daily challenges though not directly to ELT.

• Disruptive behaviour is the most common challenge we teachers face today. It is not connected specifically to any one school subject but rather to the psychological problems a pupil or pupils
have. We may try to solve the current problem ourselves by conducting an in-depth research, which most probably will tell us to consult a specialist and ask the school administration for help.

• Discipline is another big problem which is constantly discussed on many teacher forums, at conferences and workshops. Reading up on it, learning that many other specialists face the same
difficulties is a help in itself. Children would remain children; teenagers would act out; geniuses would get bored. We need to learn how to cope with all kinds that make the class.

• Motivation is a never-ending discussion topic. I have been communicating with colleagues around the globe for a quarter century, and I have managed to cull one important technique from our
joint experience. If you find your own subject fascinating and exciting, you may translate your attitude to students of any age and level. Whether we can do it is of course another matter.

• The high level of anxiety in modern children. I would add adults into the equation. The reasons are many and numerous. Probably the speed with which we learn about every sad bad event on the
planet, the migration which changes the face of the whole continent, the ceaseless warfare and terrorism is the one single factor which creates the ever-mounting tension in the whole society. We
teachers find ourselves at the front. Children would bring all their worries, their troubles and misunderstandings into our class, and we are the ones who would have to deal with that time and time
again.

A very important part of conducting action research is action. Once we gather some new materials on a new theme, we need to think up the ways to introduce them into our traditional lesson, and gauge the impact they may have on the results. When we surf through the news prior to going to school for our classes, if we see some distressing disruptive scary news, we need to be prepared to explain, to alleviate the fears and worries, to stop the outbursts. In a nut shell, we need to act.

Finding the people who think and act alike, who are ready to listen to the new ideas, who are not afraid of using the new knowledge in their work is also part and parcel of action research. Younger colleagues may need our expertise without realising it; specialists of our own age and experience level may need support. All of us need encouragement both from our peers and from the authorities. Sharing one’s own findings and the positive results of using some new techniques is an integral part of a teacher’s work.

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