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Review: Find your way into research

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Language teachers are the target for a book which seeks to demystify action research, writes Wayne Trotman.

A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research,
By Richard Smith and Paula Rebolledo. British Council Publications,
ISBN: 978-0-86355-885-6
Download from https://tinyurl.com/ycpjqumh 

For most foreign language teachers, the notion of ‘research’ calls to mind people in white coats sat in poorly-lit rooms on university campuses analysing huge amounts of numerical data.

This freely available e-book from the British Council should once and for all lay this myth to rest, as it takes the uninitiated through the required steps towards undertaking a useful research project.

The book’s title comes from the idea that using exploratory practice to understand a particular classroom puzzle might well lead onto action research which provides a possible solution.

This is a practical handbook, written in a non-academic tone, which aims to encourage teachers to engage in continuing professional development for the benefit of their learners. Throughout, there are references to a successful project recently carried out in Chile with so-called ‘Champion Teachers’ who engaged in a variety of self-initiated studies. This is available at: http://bit.ly/champion-teachers.

Since most titles on research in ELT seem to be aimed at the higher education sector, this one is unique in that it is written primarily for teachers in primary and secondary schools, particularly those working in less well-resourced conditions around the world.

As the introduction points out, engaging in research is one way of discovering ways to tackle difficulties such as as large classes and heavy teaching loads. As the authors state: ‘Exploratory action research is both desirable and feasible.’

This title begins and ends with the same fifteen-point diagnostic test, which asks teachers to measure their research competencies at the outset and then once they have worked through the material.

This includes statements such as on the extent to which ‘I can decide how to gather information to answer my research questions.’

The end of each chapter provides a very helpful summary, plus follow-up tasks that aim to stimulate thought processes for the following chapter.

The authors also seek to demystify negative notions of research, such as that it involves lots of in-depth reading and an academic paper as an outcome.

Inevitably, teachers fresh to research find it immensely difficult to select a suitable topic for investigation.

The book outlines the experiences of Leyla and Andrea, who overcame this issue by composing and asking suitable exploratory questions.

The authors go on to look at a variety of data collection methods, such as making notes from interviews and observed lessons, along with responses from questionnaires. Potential pitfalls are also listed, including delays in gaining acceptance from the school authorities to carry out the research.

Chapter six outlines how to make sense of the data, and seven and eight chapters explain how, if the teacher wishes, to develop the study into action research projects.

The final chapter outlines how to share research findings with others and the issues of consideration for participants’ rights such as providing anonymity.

The authors are to be roundly applauded. This book is highly recommended for language teachers anxious about taking the first steps towards exploring their own teaching contexts.

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.