Foreign Language Educators’ Exposure to Research

Most language teachers agree that understanding the theoretical underpinnings of our pedagogical practices is important, but not so many seem to directly engage with research publications to achieve this. In this article, Marsden and Kasprowicz (2017) report on two studies which they use to highlight how limited educators’ exposure to primary research is, why this might be, and how teacher trainers and other interfaces can help.

PART 1: LANGUAGE EDUCATORS’ EXPOSURE TO RESEARCH FINDINGS

This part of the article reports results of surveys conducted among UK-based langauge teaching professionals regarding their access to research-based materials.

Respondents all worked in the area of language teaching in UK secondary schools: 183 took a longer survey (focussing on whole teaching career) and 391 a shortened version (focussing on last 12 months). These respondents were grouped into 2 categories according to whether they were mainly classroom practitioners or not based in a school (e.g. teacher trainers at universities, consultants, advisors).

Survey questions asked participants to indicate their (1) frequency of accessing research, and (2) attitudes on barriers to engaging with research.

(1) Accessing Research Key Findings :

  • Classroom-based practitioners reported attending significantly fewer events providing ‘access’ to research findings. They most often reported attending events by teaching associations, rather than research conferences. One third of this group reported never having heard about research at a conference.
  • The non-school-based respondents reported reading about research and reading primary research reports significantly more often than the classroom teachers. Over half of the classroom teachers and around a quarter of the non-school-based practitioners reported never having read an original research report.
  • The publications reportedly read most often by all participants were magazines or newsletters, or practitioner-focused/non-Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) journals. High numbers of respondents reported reading about research on the internet. Only 5 respondents mentioned books.

(2) Barriers to Access Key Findings:

  • Responses could be categorised into: negative perceptions of research; practical constraints (funding, time, local regulation); and access and understanding.
  • All respondents reported ‘Practical constraints’ as the strongest hindrance to engaging with research, followed by ‘Access and understanding’ and lastly ‘Negative perceptions of research’This corroborates findings from similar studies in the field of ELT (e.g. Borg, 2007; Ellis, 2010)
  • Classroom teachers generally perceived all barriers to have a stronger influence on their behaviour than non-school-based participants.

PART 2: REFERENCES TO ACADEMIC JOURNALS FROM PRACTITIONER JOURNALS IN THREE ANGLOPHONE CONTEXTS

Though Part 1’s results showed limited direct engagement with research publications, especially to SSCI journals, the researchers assumed that language teaching practitioners may be exposed to this research in an indirect, ‘digested’ manner in other resources they have access to. To check whether this assumption holds true, they conducted a systematic review of citations in selected publications to which practitioners were deemed likely to have access.

The publications selected were: The Language Learning Journal (2011-15), Francophonie, Deutsch: Lehren und Lernen, and Vida Hispánica, produced by the ALL in the UK. From Australia, Babel, the journal of the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Association (2010-14) was chosen, and from the USA the NECTFL Review, the journal of the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (2011-16).

Twenty-nine SSCI-listed academic journals were selected for the comparison, whose aims stated a focus on language learning/acquisition, pedagogy/teaching practice, or applied linguistics.

Key Findings

  • Citations in professional publications referred to SSCI-listed academic journals just 12.43% of the time. The most frequently cited were articles in Foreign Language Annals (FLA) and The Modern Language Journal (MLJ).
  • Over one third of the professional publications’ articles included no reference to an SSCI-listed academic journal.
  • Just 3% of the professional publications’ articles contained 50% or more references to an SSCI-listed journal.
  • On average, a reference to any of the 29 SSCI-listed journals selected for this study was made in around 1/6 of professional publications’ articles.
  • Academic journals linked to professional associations were referenced more often.

DISCUSSION

It would seem, then, that there are practical difficulties which need to be overcome, such as practitioners not knowing where to find relevant research reports, not being able to afford a journal subscription, or not having the time to access research publications. These may also be confounded by difficulty in understanding the language used to describe concepts in the research literature and in evaluating the applicability of the research to their local context. The authors of the article see this as evidence that a lot of often high-quality resarch is not achieving the exposure it has the potential for.

So what can be done? The authors believe more effort needs to be put into developing research–practice interfaces useful to teachers, for example facilitating access by providing jargon-free summaries of research findings, perhaps with links to the full articles. The survey results suggest teaching associations’ newsletters and journals, as well as online platforms can be helpful here. Anyone who writes for teaching magazines could (should?) thus make a conscious effort to include some reference to primary research. Perhaps including research literacy in teacher-training programmes and CPD events would also empower language teaching professionals to access and apply research results to their contexts.

My final thought: ELT Research Bites aims to distill research findings and make them accessible to all ELT professionals – fulfilling a role that is called for in this article. What other platforms do you know which help teachers to access research? Please share them in the comments below!

References

Marsden, E. & R. Kasprowicz. (2017). ‘Foreign Language Educators’ Exposure to Research: Reported Experiences, Exposure Via Citations, and a Proposal for Action.’ The Modern Language Journal. 101/4. 613-42.

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Clare Maas
Lecturer in EFL and EAP at Trier University (Germany)
Clare holds post-graduate qualifications from the University of Wales and Trinity College London. Before moving into tertiary education, she taught English at German grammar schools, and English for Specific Purposes at several language academies in the UK and Germany. Her professional interests include EAP materials development and CPD for teachers. She also blogs at ClaresELTCompendium.wordpress.com.

6 thoughts on “Foreign Language Educators’ Exposure to Research”

  1. Thank you for this summary, and for bringing this article to my attention. I agree that ELT Research Bites helps to connect teachers with research. The Musicuentos Black Box series (http://musicuentos.com/blackbox/) did similar research summaries, but in video format. I work for the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon, and I edit InterCom (http://caslsintercom.uoregon.edu/), a free customizable email digest for language teachers that includes a short (~400-word) feature article that frequently cites primary research articles (and sometimes is guest-authored by the researchers!). Here are a couple of examples: http://caslsintercom.uoregon.edu/content/17517 and http://caslsintercom.uoregon.edu/content/17761.

  2. Hi Clare,

    Thanks for the post – this article also caught my eye and I checked out the publications cited, both practitioner journals and academic research. I put the links here if anyone is interested https://wp.me/p28EmH-15L.

    I agree that ELT research bites is providing a much-needed response to one part of the general problem, but probably something more universal is required and I like the authors’ suggestion of open access lay summaries to be implemented by journals.

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