The TESOL Research Agenda: By and for Teachers

This blog is part of the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC) Blog series.

As a new member of the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC), it is a great pleasure to introduce the council’s new series of communications highlighting the TESOL Research Agenda. This agenda outlines trends in English language teaching and research, serves to connect research with practice in our field, and supports teachers who are new to research. With the understanding that systematic inquiry forms the basis for action in our classrooms, we begin with a look at the agenda as a resource for teachers of English.

The Research Agenda: A Resource for Teachers

How does the Research Agenda form a resource for English language teachers? Let’s consider four aspects of the agenda:

  • Rationale and Structure
  • Expanding Parameters
  • Ethics
  • Directions

Each of these aspects affords a view into the dynamic classroom, school, and community contexts in which English language teachers generate questions about practice and policy (providing the rationale and structure for research). Teachers’ questions in turn create avenues for diverse researchers and methodologies (expanding parameters of research) to benefit students, families, communities, and the teaching profession (ethical research). Language teachers are positioned to examine questions as they surface amid currents of demographic change, new technologies, and policy environments (directions for research in changing contexts for teaching). Ultimately, the research agenda is a resource for English language teachers, whose research potentially advances equity and inclusion in education.

Research Design: Begin With Your Questions

English language teachers are uniquely positioned to examine both policy and practice firsthand in a variety of school contexts. The recent TESOL 2019 RPC Research Mentoring Workshop brought together a dedicated and diverse group of teachers at the cusp of their research in Pre-K, elementary, and high schools. In small-group discussions with RPC members, these teachers asked, for instance:

  • How can I include students who are new to English in my classroom, where English is the language of instruction, and I do not speak students’ languages?
  • What are the impacts of school and district practices, such as “pull-out” ESL classes, on student access to the language of instruction and on student learning outcomes?
  • How can I assess students’ vocabulary to understand students’ gains in English?
  • How can language education facilitate intercultural communication and support family bilingualism?

Questions like these are reflective of teacher leadership in language education—across the globe, most children are educated (at least for some part of their formal education) in a second or third language—within changing social and political contexts. Examples from recent research illustrate a few approaches:

  • How one elementary school in Arizona created a community-based bilingual program in response to restrictive legislation that effectively ended its Spanish-English dual language program (Newcomer & Puzio, 2016).
  • How an additive approach to scoring first- and second-language vocabulary of immigrant students, ages 6–13, from varied language backgrounds in Norway, provides a nuanced assessment of vocabulary knowledge (Monsrud, Rydland, Geva, Thurmann-Moe, & Halaas Lyster, 2019).
  • How critical global literacies, a relatively new instructional framework, was implemented in a “pull-out” ESL class in a New York middle school composed of diverse students, including students from the Ukraine, Thailand, and Pakistan (Yol & Yoon, 2019).

The Research Mentoring Workshop at TESOL 2019 provided a forum and a supportive community for teachers pursuing research in varied classroom contexts. What questions about your language teaching practice might you consider researching? We invite you to share your questions, along with your context, in the comments section below.

Find more examples of practitioner research in TESOL Journal, free to TESOL members. And, to learn about issues and policy areas that TESOL strongly supports, check out TESOL’s Policy Recommendations for the 116th Congress (2019).


Newcomer, S. N., & Puzio, K. (2016). Cultivando confianza: A bilingual community of practice negotiates restrictive language policies. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 19(4), 347–369.

Monsrud, M. -B., Rydland, V., Geva, E., Thurmann-Moe, A. C., & Halaas Lyster, S. –A. (2019). The advantages of jointly considering first and second language vocabulary skills among emergent bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/13670050.2019.1624685

Yol, O., & Yoon, B. (2019). Engaging English language learners with critical global literacies during the pull‐out: Instructional framework. Advance online publication. TESOL Journal. doi:10.1002/tesj.470

About Jessie Curtis

Jessie Curtis
Jessie Hutchison Curtis, PhD, is a part-time lecturer in the Program in American Language Studies and special projects research fellow in the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service at Rutgers University. Her research includes teacher education in multilingual contexts and public access to language education through bi/multilingual communities of practice. Her work includes development of a community-based language education course that became part of the Graduate School of Education social justice portfolio at Rutgers.
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