Teacher Marcin Lewandowski was one of the winners of our Teacher Research Programme in 2014. In this post, he shares some of his experiences conducting teacher research.
My research was driven by a very specific need that was identified within my organisation, namely, the need to create opportunities for our learners to practise English when not in class. We felt that online sessions, offered at times convenient for students to attend, would address this need by creating opportunities for them to interact with a tutor and with each other in ways that would be both meaningful and motivating.
However, before committing time and resources to any particular method or technology, we thought it prudent to test it first on a small sample of students. The methodology, structure and rigour afforded by action research made it the obvious choice to carry out this type of inquiry.
Action research can be defined as ‘a form of self-reflective inquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out.’ (Carr and Kemmis 1986: 162 in Smith, 2007). It’s an empirical process which allows practitioners to pose questions and seek answers to them. This search for answers may involve reading relevant literature, collecting and interpreting data, drawing conclusions and deciding future actions.
This, as I found out, is a very rewarding process. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a motivation theory with five hierarchically ordered stages/needs presented as a pyramid. On top of this pyramid Maslow placed ‘self-actualization’ needs (or the need to fulfil one’s full potential). The reflective and autonomous nature of action research creates opportunities for teachers to achieve this pedagogic self-actualization.
My teacher research project
My research sought to investigate the efficacy of synchronous online teaching in a lifelong learning context where the participants were third country national women. I wanted to identify and test an online delivery model which would allow my learners not only to practise their speaking skills but also to learn new language – a model that could potentially be applied in other online language teaching contexts. I also wanted to see how the participants felt about online learning.
Being able to make decisions about the design and delivery of a project like this gave me a strong sense of ownership. According to Deci (1995), choice enhances people’s intrinsic motivation. Deci suggests that ‘when people participate in decisions about what to do, they will be motivated and committed to the task – to being sure that the task gets done well.’ (1995: 146).
Action research therefore creates conditions for teachers to engage in professional development that is not only meaningful but also highly motivating.
Using relevant literature
An important element for me in my teacher research was to refer to relevant literature. Literature not only informed the research questions but also gave me a deeper understanding of the outcomes and helped me to interpret the results. I found this fusion of theory and practice particularly beneficial. I felt I was able to prove, disprove or further the current thinking which I found particularly satisfying.
Ultimately, however, it was the impact that I was most concerned with. Analysing the pre/post test data was particularly exciting. The fact that participants in both groups made progress was very encouraging and gratifying. I shared the results with the participants who were very happy about the progress they’d made.
As such I find action research to be a viable and attractive alternative to more standard Continuous Professional Development courses/training.
Deci, E. L., & Flaste, R. (1995). Why we do what we do: Understanding self-motivation. New York: Penguin.
Smith, M. K. (2007) ‘Action research’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [Retrieved: 08/03/15]