In an interesting article in the Guardian Weekly of October 16, 2012 (“How Useful is TESOL Academic Research?“), Penny Ur asks an important question about TESOL academic research for classroom teachers. She acknowledges the gap between classroom practice and research, stating that the source of professional learning for most teachers is from their classroom experience and interaction with students as well as discussions with their colleagues. Teachers are busy people and have little time to read research. She notes that a lot of the research focuses on language acquisition and rarely deals with pedagogical issues such as effectiveness of different types of exercises or classroom management. Ur also adds that many researchers are not practitioners and, therefore, the pedagogical implications of their research may not be really relevant to teachers. However, at the very end of the article, she notes that research is important for effective classroom practice and concludes with the following sentence:
“Most teachers will be unable to enjoy the benefits of learning from the research until and unless their job descriptions include the provision of time and funding to attend conferences and study professional literature.”
I agree that teachers are very busy, and time constraints do affect their motivation to read and study research. There is no doubt that teachers need to have useful and practical knowledge about how students learn and how to help them learn better. However, I believe that the main source of the problem is the way relevant research is presented. Researchers are required to present their work in a specific format, which is not easy to read and takes time for teachers to digest, and the pedagogical implications may be difficult for a teacher to find in an article or study.
Teachers need this research-based information presented to them in an effective and efficient format. Perhaps it is time for someone or a team of teachers to start a project to bridge this gap. It would be great if we had a team to scan the latest research and summarize the findings relevant to teachers and classroom practice. These findings then could be translated into research-based practical pedagogical tips which would then be published and made accessible to all teachers to apply and use in their contexts. Finally, I also think that researchers should be encouraged to change some of the questions they ask to help teachers meet the challenge of improving student learning. This kind of research would then be directly relevant and useful.
I have to say I agree with all of you. Andrew is right about the importance of being reflective practitioners and focus on developing our mental model or framework of language learning. I like Lee’s point about the relevance of published research to teachers and how his own qualitative research as a teacher would be more useful. Finally, I agree with Huw that access to research may not be easy. I can vouch for this in my country, Egypt, teachers do have a hard time getting high quality publications.
My humble contribution is to ask researchers or “academics” to talk about their published peer-reviewed findings. Many practitioners around the globe don’t have access to key publications such as TESOL Quarterly or ELTJ. Check out 51 YouTube based talks from http://WWW.TESOLacademic.org including the latest keynote by Prof Spada on CLT and form focused instruction. Part of this debate has to be about access to research.
It’s a really good observation made by Penny Ur. I don’t really think though that the solution proposed here will do a great deal. The reality is that each person comes to their craft with their own inclinations, personalities and beliefs. We all see the world through our own unique prism. Taking on different practices may make a small difference. But the reality is that what is needed for us to make significant steps forward is for us to become more reflective, more vulnerable, more sensitive and more open to other ideas.
We need to develop a better understanding and more coherent view of language learning, not be given more practices which we just add to our arsenal. For that to happen we need to have input that makes us think and inspires us to be better than we think we can be. When we can do all this for our teachers then there will be real movement in outcomes in classes across the planet.
Couldn’t agree more with Andrew. The problem I have with research is that 1) there’s so much of it out there to assimilate reasonably and 2) the most comprehensive exemplars of it are done by those with the time, the dispensation, and yes – the tenure – to carry it out to the full in a form that is likely to get published in organs that really count in the eyes of the overseers in departments and programs.
I find that when I look at my classroom experiences as well, I can see a number of threads going on that might make for good projects, but when I match them against the rigor of the research that is most likely to get published, it seems mealy. I know it might not be – but realistically, it may seem hard to convince the gatekeepers of journals to publish any write-up of any of it. On top of that, there’s a push for hard number data to an extent that misrepresents what happens in the classroom events that might otherwise make for interesting and provocative research. Frankly, I’m not interested in number-crunching and I find that even with the talk about qualitative research and the importance of it, it still more often than not is talk and nothing else.
In my own research efforts now, I’m really getting interested in the qualitative, and teasing out of that what might be of use to my own practice and the practice of others, and to stick as much as possible to groups and organs that engage and promote qualitative research.