I believe the purpose of this blog is to help connect research and practice in TESOL. It is my understanding that most people contributing to this blog are practitioners, who are working toward this goal. As an education researcher, I feel a sense of duty or obligation to have my work and similar works benefit the teaching profession, which ultimately benefits the learners. I am currently working on a research project that looks into the research-practice connection, and Tavakoli (2015) study has been one of the more recent inspiring papers I have read.
- What are ELTs’ views on the relationship between teaching and research?
- What factors do they hold responsible for contributing to the divide between research and practice?
- What do they suggest can be done to help bridge the divide?
- What role do they consider for teacher education in promoting research engagement?
Tavakoli brings up the research questions because her literature review revealed that there was little evidence to demonstrate that ELTs engage as part of their regular routine. However this phenomenon is not unique to ELTs. She also states that there is not enough evidence to examine and highlight this problem. One quote that jumped out at me was Simon Borg’s: “Teacher research remains largely a minority activity in the field of teaching” (2010, p. 391). Further on in the literature review, the author described four efforts to bridge the research and practice divide:
- Stenhouse’s Curriculum project (1975)
- Allwright’s Exploratory Practice (2003, 2005)
- Burns’ action research advocacy (1999, 2005)
- Responsibility of teacher education (Freeman & Johnson, 1998)
Wenger’s (1998) Community of Practice theory is used as the framework for this study. It has been widely used for qualitative research on teacher groups for professional development.
She interviewed 20 ELTs in the United Kingdom in various contexts, including university language centers, state-funded further education (FE) colleges, and private language schools. They were recruited through emails sent to their respective institutions. The interviews were semi-structured and conducted face-to-face. The three sections of the interview were as follows:
- Their “views on the relationship between teaching and research, the divide between the two, and the main reasons for the persistence of the divide” (p. 44)
- Suggestions for bridging the gap
- The role of teacher education
Interviews were transcribed, coded, and themed. The themes were compared with the aspects from the communities of practice theoretical framework. A third-party expert in the theoretical framework analyzed the data separately. Differences in analysis were then resolved between the author and the third party.
Findings: Answers to the research questions
#1 – Her participants’ views on the relationship between teaching and research showed an interdependence of learning, practice, and identity. They reported developing identity through practice and experience in their community of practice. Furthermore, ownership of knowledge was the key factor for their professional identity.
#2 – The biggest factor they held responsible for contributing to the divide between research and practice was that they perceived researchers and teachers as two different communities of practice.
#3 – They suggest participating in mediatory organizations (e.g., the British Council and the UK’s National Research and Development Centre) can help bridge the divide.
#4 – They imply that teacher education take on the sociocultural perspective in promoting research engagement. Most of the participants found experience more valuable than education in terms of professional development, but their views were divided on how essential research is to teachers.
Discussion & Conclusion
These findings help the author to claim that interacting with others in a community of practice, in addition to teaching, helps teachers form and develop their identity. Two areas which bridged the theory-practice gap were the participants’ commitment to the principles of Reflective Teaching (Schon, 1983; Wallace, 1991) and Exploratory Practice (Allwright, 2005). Tavakoli recommends future research to investigate how these principles remain embedded in their professional learning practices. She also suggests that the research community should acknowledge and value more intensely teachers’ knowledge and experience, which can be observed in their communities of practice. Finally she argues that there is a strong need for researchers and teachers to create joint enterprises bridging research and practice and encourages the enhancement of a research environment in teacher education programs.
Although the findings are interesting and the conclusion strongly supports the purpose of ELT Research Bites, I argue readers who are not so familiar with research to be cautious in interpreting this toward practical purposes. I believe it is a step in the right direction, but this is only one study. Furthermore, it had a low number of participants (20) in a specific context: primarily teaching adult students in one country (UK). Research like this needs to be reproduced in several contexts and with a larger number of English language teachers to produce more generalizable or transferable results. In the spirit of this paper, I would encourage researchers to find willing teachers and teachers to find interested researchers to team up and expand upon studies like these.
Allwright, D. (2003). Exploratory practice: Rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 7(2), 113-141.
Allwright, D. (2005). From teaching points to learning opportunities. TESOL Quarterly, 39(1), 9-31.
Borg, S. (2010). Language teacher research engagement. Language Teaching, 43(4), 391-429.
Burns, A. (1999). Collaborative action research for English language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Burns, A. (2005). Action research: An evolving paradigm? Language Teaching, 38(2), 57–74.
Freeman, D., & Johnson, K. (1998). Reconceptualizing the knowledge-base of language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 32(3), 397-417.
Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith.
Stenhouse, L. (1975). An introduction to curriculum research and development. London: Heinemann.
Wallace, M. (1991). Training foreign language teachers: A reflective approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.