Teacher research #1 – Laura Patsko interviews JD Brown and Christine Coombe

Laura Patsko

Following their recent webinar, Cambridge’s Senior ELT Research Manager, Laura Patsko, interviews JD Brown and Christine Coombe, editors of the Cambridge Guide to Research in Language Teaching and Learning.

How did this volume come about?
[JD] The idea for this book was Christine’s. She approached me about doing it and I realized that it was a great idea because it would present a large number of short, accessible chapters on a wide variety of research topics, which would be very useful – similar to an earlier guide to assessment that Christine co-edited for Cambridge. Besides, I have known her for a long time, but we had never worked on a writing project together, so I thought this book would be a great way to do that.

[Christine] The exercise of putting together that earlier book on assessment was such a good experience, and the results were so well received, that I began thinking that a similar volume on research would be a valuable addition to the knowledge base in ELT. I looked around on the market to see if something like that already existed and I found that it didn’t. So I contacted my go-to person in all things research, JD Brown, and floated the idea to him. We immediately brainstormed a list of potential contributors and we were on our way.

There are a lot of different types of research referred to in this book: qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, action research, teacher research, corpus research, discourse analysis, ethnography… the list goes on! Where would you suggest an inexperienced researcher begin?

[JD] Readers could use several strategies. I would suggest that they either read some of the overview articles early in the book, or simply dive in and read whatever seems most interesting to them personally. To me, research is a very personal experience, so I think it is often wise to follow your own bliss, whatever that may be.

[Christine] JD is absolutely right. Interest level in a topic or field of study is so important. I think the most successful research comes from topics that we are profoundly interested in. Once you decide on a topic of interest, exploring the different types of research is the next step. When you choose a type of research or a methodology, it is important to consider the skill-set you bring to the exercise and the skill-set of the people you want to do research on. Other variables to consider include the literacy level of the people you want to study (for example, with my students in Dubai oral and aural skills are very good, so data collection techniques like semi-structured interviews, focus groups and questionnaires are very successful), as well as the time you have available to complete your research and of course the amount of funding or resources you have. We have designed the overview articles at the beginning of the book to help researchers of all levels become familiar with the many issues they’ll need to consider.

The book is aimed at “students of research”, including practising teachers. Why should busy teachers make time for research? What do you feel they can gain from reading about and engaging in their own research projects?

[JD] We are all students of research, as far as I am concerned. At 69 years old, I still find myself learning more and more every year. As for teachers, I feel that busy teachers can gain a great deal from engaging with research. Among other things, they can maintain their professionalism by keeping up with the literature; they can address questions and solve problems that they have in their own teaching situations; and they can contribute to their field by publishing any unique insights they gained from doing their research.

[Christine] Co-editing this book with JD has been a great learning experience for me and it has made me more aware of just how research and research findings inform virtually everything that I do. As a teacher, I personally feel that it has increased my professionalism in the field and it is now an important part of my own personal strategic plan. Despite the many advantages associated with teacher research, teachers are often afraid to do research or get involved in research projects. There are many reasons for this and I have discussed them in the opening chapter on research engagement. One of the goals of this book for me is to increase teachers’ research engagement by demystifying and simplifying the process.

Visit Part-2 of the interview: Teacher research #2 – Laura Patsko interviews Christine Coombe and JD Brown for more information.  

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