Conducting Action Research in the Foreign Language Classroom

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CONDUCTING ACTION RESEARCH IN THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE CLASSROOM Northeast Conference 1998
New York, NY

Anna Uhl Chamot Sarah Barnhardt Susan Dirstine Materials Contributor: Jennifer Kevorkian

National Capital Language Resource Center 2011 Eye Street NW Suite 200 Washington, DC 20006

THE NATIONAL CAPITAL LANGUAGE RESOURCE CENTER GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY/ THE CENTER FOR APPLIED LINGUISTICS/ THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY NORTHEAST CONFERENCE 1998 CONDUCTING ACTION RESEARCH Foreign language teachers develop insights into their students’ learning from observing their behavior. Reflective teachers analyze the students’ behaviors, identify potential problems, modify their teaching practices, and evaluate the results. Some ideas succeed; others fail—sometimes surprisingly. This process is called action research. Action research is classroom-based research conducted by teachers in order to reflect upon and evolve their teaching. It is a systematic, documented inquiry into one aspect of teaching and learning in a specific classroom. The purpose of teacher research is to gain understanding of teaching and learning within one’s classroom and to use that knowledge to increase teaching efficacy/student learning. Reflective teachers do this every day, only not as carefully and systematically. With training and support, you can learn how to systematize your inquiry from informal reflection and teacher story sharing to formal research. The following paragraphs give an overview of the process of teacher research. The first step is choosing a research question: it should be specific, answerable, and lead to significant information on an aspect of teaching or learning. Reflective teachers generally have questions in their minds about what they observe in the classroom; this can be a good place to start. If you don’t have a question in mind, keeping a teaching journal of observations and questions can provide potential questions. As you choose a question, be sure that it is not too general or too big to be answered given your resources. The second step is deciding what information you need in order to answer your question and how it can be collected. Data can be collected in a number of ways: by keeping a teacher journal of observations, conducting student interviews, giving out questionnaires, and testing. An instrument may already be available to collect the information; for example, if you wish to assess oral proficiency, the SOPI is a proven assessment tool. However, you may need to develop your own instrument, for example, a questionnaire specific to your classroom practices. Third, the data must be analyzed. Organized narrative data is perfectly valid in research. Basic statistical calculations are easily mastered and applied. For example, if your research involves investigating differences between male and female students, simple statistical and narrative comparisons can be made. The next step is to organize and write up the research and results. This can be done informally, for your own information and perhaps to share with colleagues, or more formally, to be shared and disseminated to a wider audience in articles or presentations. The final step is for the teacher to incorporate the results of the research into classroom practice. Your research will give you a basis for deciding to retain successful instructional practices, modify those that are less successful, or introduce new practices to address problem areas.

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Interactive Process Framework: Forming a Research Question for a Teacher Research Directions: This is a model for the process of defining your research question as the first stage of your teacher research. We are also offering a scenario of this entire process.

Choosing a Topic Area:
What are your interests? What problem would you like to address? Teacher research beings with an area of interest. It can be broad, but you shouldn’t have more than one.

Why? This is the first step of teacher research....
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