Action Research in Language Learning

By Haley, Marjorie Hall | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Action Research in Language Learning


Haley, Marjorie Hall, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

For many foreign and second language teachers professional development opportunities take place at once-a-year conferences and sometimes during a one day staff development. Is it any wonder these "try it out on Monday!" workshops are limited and quickly fade from memory? The purpose of this paper is to explore the critical question: What happens when teachers apply a teacher action research (TAR) strategy for improving classroom practice? I will start with a definition and then outline a set of steps for conducting this type of research. Next, one teacher tells her own "story" and shares reflections on growth and development. Finally, I posit the importance of this kind of research in making contributions to language teaching and learning inquiry.

Introduction

In this paper I hope to provide a rationale for the use of action research in foreign and second language education. The following questions will be answered: What is action research? What are the steps for conducting this type of research? How does literature on action research in language education influence teaching and learning? Teacher action research is referred to in the literature as action research, practitioner research, teacher-as-scholar, practical inquiry, interactive research, classroom inquiry, or practice-centered research (Downhower, Melvin & Sizemore, 1990). The common denominator in the many terms used to describe teacher action research is the teacher as an "active constructor of knowledge rather than a passive consumer of it" (Miller & Pine, 1990: 57).

This type of self driven, individualized research is a tool teachers can use to develop, reflect, and improve their teaching styles and pedagogical practices. Many teachers fear that this type of work would require too much additional time that they do not have. This fear can be minimized by examining more closely exactly what TAR is and how it can be a part of one's daily routines as a teacher. In order to reveal the facility with which one can implement a TAR project, to demonstrate the crucial value of results obtained from such work, and encourage more teachers to view themselves as researchers, a foreign language in the elementary school (FLES) teacher, as a part of a graduate course I teach on Foreign Language methods, conducted a Teacher Action Research project with her third, fourth, and filth grade students. This study was subsequently presented as a poster session at the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The research findings as well as the methodologies depict the type of valuable information that teacher action research can provide to benefit teachers and their students. The name of the teacher and school identities have been changed in order to ensure anonymity.

Some of the most beneficial aspects about teacher action research are that it is small scale, contextualized, localized, and aimed at discovering, developing, or monitoring changes to practice (Wallace, 2000). The following teacher's project began with a set of guidelines that can be used in any teaching situation to open a research process. These are the guidelines typically used in teacher action research:

* identify a puzzlement/inquiry

* decide in a systematic way how to go about answering that question

* develop a timeline to carry out the project--one week, a month, a grading period or even a lull academic year.

* decide how data will be collected and analyzed

* implement study--data collection and analysis

* report and share findings

The following investigation was conducted in the fall of 2002. The individual case demonstrates how action research can be used to improve teaching instruction in the foreign language classroom. This teacher undertook the study in an effort to improve methods of classroom management, address student attitudes, and augment impact on learning. …

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