Over the years, I have stumbled upon a professional practice that is like an irresistible pack of chocolates. When you unwrap it, you find yourself with a range of delectable fare, each item more fulfilling than the other. Unlike chocolates, however, this professional practice does not leave you with extra calories. And yes, I’m talking about taking up an action research project.
What is it about action research that motivates me so much and may have the effect on other ELT professionals ? One thing I like about action research is that it is not an add-on activity; you do not need to stress your eyes reading up on an impressive list of serious academic articles, nor do you need time out to go and do ‘field work’ outside your comfort zone. Action research involves investigating your own practice, in your own classroom, with your own students. Together with colleagues, students and mentors, you begin a systematic exploration, a journey in which the route is as exciting as the destination.
There are added benefits. When you systematically investigate your practice, you teach yourself to notice more and notice deeper, you develop a greater sense of purpose, and you can’t wait to share what you have discovered. And this is not all. You can publish your findings in standard journals that are always looking for fresh voices. But if you choose not to, you do not need to write about your findings in a very academic language. You do not need to generalize your results and you do not need to propose/confirm/refute a theory. There are other ways of sharing your research– you can present at a conference or a meeting, you can make a poster and talk about it, you can give an oral account of your journey, or you can publish it over the internet.
If you are the kind that is really interested in being published in academic journals, you will want to go beyond the basic purpose of action research, which is understanding and improving your practice. Even though I have mentioned above that you do not need to generalize your findings or theorise them, nothing stops you from taking that extra step. Since action research is more than an intuitive activity, and it is conducted using a systematic series of steps and tools, the intervention may well be replicable in other contexts, and theorization can begin from there.
Some of the most respected journals carry articles on action research journeys that traverse a wide spectrum of experiences. I have, for example, read interesting articles on developing a course module (Burmeister. &Eilks, 2013), implementing or analysing a new programme (Burns & Westmacott, 2018), reporting on your own or your participant’s perspective (Gilliland, 2018; Kasula, 2015), implications of action research on pedagogy (Price, 2001), mentoring the action research process (Spencer & Molina, 2018), conducting action research (Walker, 1995), and collaborative potentials of action research (Yuan & Lee, 2015)
In short, action research paves the way for professionals to find meaning in their work. It allows us to pause and take stock of ideas we have held sacrosanct, beliefs we have nurtured, cultural cues we may have overlooked, or theories that may have run their course. Action research can be an intensely personal journey, or it may take place in a more collaborative space. The journey never fails to stimulate and excite; the engagement never disappoints. For professionals constantly looking for meaning in the work we do, action research offers endless possibilities.
So the next time you are confronted with a problem in your pedagogical context, you have seen success at a new experiment or have found yourself excitedly trying out a new idea or theory, you know what to do. Turn your experience into an action research project. I guarantee you – you will never regret taking this new route to discovery and self-discovery!
Burmeister, M. &Eilks, I. (2013) Using Participatory Action Research to Develop a Course Module on Education for Sustainable Development in Pre-Service Chemistry Teacher Education. CEPS Journal, 3 (1), 59-78.
Burns, A. & Westmacott, A. (2018) Teacher to Researcher: Reflections on a New Action Research Program for University EFL Teachers. Profile: Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development, 20 (1), 15-23.
Gilliland, B. (2018) Teacher research during an international practicum., ELT Journal, 72 (3),260–273ccx054. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccx054
Kasula, A. (2015) Conducting action research in a practicum: a student-teacher’s perspective. The CATESOL Journal, 27 (2), 229-237.
Price, J. N. (2001) Action research, pedagogy and change: The transformative potential of action research in pre-service teacher education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 33 (1), 43-74., DOI: 10.1080/00220270118039
Spencer, J.A. & Molina, S.R. (2018) Mentoring graduate students through the action research journey using guiding principles. Educational Action Research, 26 (1), 144-165.https://doi.org/10.1080/09650792.2017.1284013
Walker, M. (1995) Context, Critique and Change: doing action research in South Africa. Educational Action Research, 3 (1), 9-27. DOI: 10.1080/0965079950030102
Yuan, R. & Lee, I. (2015) Action research facilitated by university–school collaboration. ELT Journal, 69 (1), DOI:10.1093/elt/ccu031.. http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org Accessed on 10 May, 2018
Padmini Bhuyan Boruah is presently Professor and Head of the Department of English Language Teaching at Gauhati University, India, where she teaches Masters and Ph D programs in ELT and Applied Linguistics. Her research interests include action research for teacher professional development, language pedagogy in multilingual contexts and materials development. She is also a Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence (FNAPE) fellow for 2019-20 affiliated to the University of San Diego, California, where she will be investigating and teaching courses relating to action research in practicum in pre-service teacher education (PSTE).