For most language teachers, research often begins with noticing patterns, anomalies, differences and working ideas in their classrooms. Such ideas lead to reading books, and discussions with other teachers. Sometimes, no formal research takes place, but informally ideas take shape during teacher-interactions. Some such ideas are applied in classrooms to test their validity. For teachers like me, teaching involves discovering new ideas every day. For example, some students find it easy to learn vocabulary when etymology is given, while others find applying them in everyday language more useful. A teacher with research aptitude will then explore more approaches to teaching vocabulary and use many such approaches in their vocabulary classes to identify the best classroom practice that maximizes learning.
While I was teaching at a rural engineering university in Andhra Pradesh, India, the members of our department used to interact regularly with each other and share insights on various aspects of teaching and learning. One of our teachers was extremely good at classroom management techniques, and made the students write assignments on a daily basis, and found time to correct them all. Another teacher used supplementary materials to bring variety and interest to the classroom. A third teacher used music to promote fluency. All of us then tried to use these strategies to improve our learning environment. Some attempts failed, but some others were extremely successful. Once we experimented with new approaches, we always reported back to the department. This gave all of us a meaningful practical experience of many techniques and methods of teaching various aspects of language. When I moved to another university, a range of techniques and approaches were readily available to teach different aspects of language. After initial assessment of learners’ proficiency levels, these techniques were devised to maximize learning, which worked in most cases.
What I have learned from these experiences is that teachers can conduct research with varying degrees of formality. Very informal research, and sharing of experiences with other teachers are as useful as formal research involving theory, data collection, analysis and derivation of conclusions. In short, when teachers experiment with their teaching techniques based on the classroom reality, and share the outcome with other teachers, research is already in place. We need more such teacher-initiatives in both experimentation and wider sharing of experiences so that cumulative effect of such efforts will help us maximize learning outcome.