METHODOLOGY and ACTION RESEARCH
METHODOLOGY - UNIT 1
By the end of this unit you should be able to;
· Establish a link between your personal methodology and action research possibilities.
· Differentiate between key terms, especially method and methodology.
· Compare different models of Action Research and have a clear idea of possible steps and stages.
Core Reading (Provided)
· Holliday A. 1994. Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: CUP. pp9-18.
· Edge J and Richards K. 1993. Teachers Develop Teachers Research. Oxford: Heinemann
(esp. Somekh, Nunan & Allwright)
· Holliday A. 1994. Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: CUP
(Chapter 10 &11)
· Hutchinson T & Waters A 1987. English for Specific Purposes, Cambridge: CUP
· McDonough, S. 1995. Strategy and Skill in Learning a Foreign Language. London: Edward Arnold.
· Nunan, D. 1991 Language Teaching Methodology London: Prentice-Hall.
(Chapter 1 &12)
· Prabhu, N. 1990. There is no best method - Why? TESOL Quarterly 24/2:161-176.
· Ozdeniz D. 1996. Introducing innovations into your teaching. In Willis J and Willis D (eds.) 1996 Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Oxford: Heinemann.
· Richards J & Rodgers T. 1986. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching Cambridge: CUP.
· Widdowson, H.G. 1990 Aspects of Language Teaching Oxford: OUP.
Unit 1 and Unit 2 form a pair as they both concern methodology and the classroom. Unit 1 concentrates on an exploration of the term methodology, partly by contrasting it with the term method. This opening unit suggests that action research offers an engagement with methodology that is ongoing, empowering and productive. Unit 2 looks more closely at what we mean by communication and communicative. This second unit discusses the nature and value of classroom interaction and the role of action research as an appropriate tool to conduct an investigation into the relationship between communication and methodology.
Unit 1 is the longest unit in the Methodology module. This is partly because we feel that a view of action research is so crucial to an understanding of methodology that it is worth making the connection explicit by treating them together. Through an understanding of what is involved in action research, we can begin to define methodology.
The unit encourages you to think about and account for what you are currently doing in the language classroom. This is the best place to start. We believe this is true for a number of reasons. The most important of which is that it is empowering, in the sense that this view of methodology places great importance on you starting to articulate your current and personal methodology. In other words start with the view that there is a great deal to be discovered right under you nose.
Investigate and Read
You will understand from the Foundation Module that a process of investigation and reflection needs to go hand in hand with reading. It is important to reconsider this relationship between the experience we 'name' by reflection on practice and the knowledge we might gain from a process of reading.
Wallace (1991: 14) makes a distinction between received knowledge and experiential knowledge.
Received knowledge - This is close to what Schon calls 'research-based theories and techniques' (1983:58). This might include the key terms and lexis of TESOL, concepts, research findings and related theories.
Experiential knowledge - This involves the development of knowledge-in-action. This includes the opportunity to reflect on this action or practice. Wallace includes in this category the 'observation of practice' but also suggests that this knowledge is of a different order from knowledge-in-action.
If you accept that there is this distinction, perhaps the beginning of the methodology course is a particularly apt time to stop, think, and consider what you expect from this folder. Do you expect this module to supply with you with products (theories, methods and techniques) which will help you to see certain errors in your ways? Or, do you expect this module to outline a process in which you can better investigate, understand and articulate your practice? Metaphorically, you might see this choice as module as transmitter or module as catalyst.
Compare the three model below in terms of how you see this Masters course.
If you have access to Wallace (1991) you might read pages 2-17 at this point.
From: Wallace 1991 p5-15 1.
1. The Craft Model
Study with 'master'practioner:
Professional demonstration/ competence instruction
2. The applied science model
Application of scientific knowledge/ refinement by experimentation
Results conveyed to trainees
Periodic up-dating (in-service)
3. A model of 'reflective' practice'.
Trainees existing conceptual schemata or mental constructs
Professional development and education
which in turn lead to
Cycles of Practice and Reflection
which lead to
the GOAL of
Whether this module becomes more of a catalyst than a transmitter is going to be determined by the degree you consume the ideas, models and theories of other writers, and, the degree to which you develop your thinking on your practice.
The researcher and the teacher
It is important for the TESOL/TEFL profession that we avoid what Wallace sees as 'the almost complete separation between research on the one hand and practice on the other'. There has been a gap between theory and practice which has caused a negative response to 'theory' from teachers (see van Lier C1 page 3). In a scenario where applied linguists provide the theory and teachers apply the theories in their practice (the applied-science model) we run the danger of creating what Schon (1983: 36) sees as a division of labour which reflects 'a hierarchy of kinds of knowledge' which is also a 'ladder of status'. In terms of the relative standing in the relation between theory and practice, Somekh states that
On the whole, in Britain, the more abstract and theoretical
your work, the higher your status in the academic hierarchy; and the more useful
and applicable to practice, the lower your status in the academic hierarchy.
This perceived distinction is exacerbated by the apparent gulf between the lexicon of terms and concepts belonging in the sphere of applied linguistics and the terms and concepts widely used by teachers to refer to the world of language classrooms. There is often a perceptible gap between an `academic' view of what happens in the classroom and a teacher's own. This process of academic distortion is described by Elliot(1991)
We take an idea which underpins teachers' practices, distort
it through translation into `academic jargon', and thereby `hijack' it from
its practical context and the web of interlocking ideas which operate within
There are two problems here. The first is one of a difference
in language. The second is a question of ownership.
In terms of talking about language itself, Bloor and Bloor (1995:14) address this dilemma and argue that it necessary to use labels in order to achieve a precise understanding of what language is and how it works. What about language to describe what we do when we teach? Most teachers have probably used terms like drill and elicit. However, trainee teachers may not yet know these terms. Similarly teachers may not use the label teacher-elicit exchange. For the classroom researcher, terms like this can help describe classroom interaction. We could use a bit of classroom talk where the teacher tries to get some information from the student instead of teacher-elicit exchange. However, you would soon use up your word quota in a 4,000 word assignment or article. Terms and concepts do help us to talk with precision.
The question of ownership is more problematic. Elliot's words imply that the only way forward is for teachers themselves to find terms for articulating 'an idea' from within the 'practical context'. The teacher is a participant in this 'practical context and so in the best position to comment on the 'web of interlocking ideas'. Clearly we need a shared language in talking about language teaching but these terms and concepts need to be developed by and with teachers, if they are to have any relevance.
Increasingly, there is a recognition that we need to look more carefully at this web of interlocking ideas and that this participant based inquiry has more potential than the development of abstract and contextless models and methods;
Slowly the profession as a whole is realising that, no matter
how much intellectual energy is put into the invention of new methods (or of
new approaches to syllabus design, and so on), what really matters is what happens
when teachers and learners get together in the classroom...This shift in emphasis
from concentrating on planning decisions...to concentrating on looking at what
actually happens in the classroom, has led researchers to have much greater
respect for classroom teaching. The more we look, the more we find, and the
more we realise how complex the teacher's job is.
(Allwright and Bailey 1991)
It is worth saying that teachers themselves may not realise or be able to describe this complexity until they have begun a process of reflection and reading. One reason is that a great number of actions are unconscious and routinised. Indeed it would not be possible to do all the things that a teacher does in the classroom if all the actions were conscious.
Routinised teacher behaviour is clearly revealed and detailed by Altrichter et al (1993). Clearly, routinisation is a necessary aspect of handling the complexity of teaching. If a great number of actions and decisions undertaken in the classroom are unconscious, it means that a full understanding of the teaching process may involve both of the following;
1. Rediscovering what was once conscious but has now become routine;
2. Seeing (for the first time) aspects of your teaching which you have never considered consciously.
You might reflect further on this distinction in terms of your classroom practice. Certainly, in terms of the division proposed by Wallace, as well as received knowledge and experiential knowledge we need to reveal the 'invisible knowledge' that Barnes outlines, in order to form appropriate research questions;
...to frame the questions and answer them, we must grope
towards our invisible knowledge and bring it into sight. Only in this way can
we see the classroom with an outsider's eye but an insider's knowledge, by seeing
it as if it were the behaviour of people from an alien culture.
This is where your research and observations are of value and why it is suggested that you keep a diary while you do this module. This will help in what Allwright and Bailey (1991) call the description of what has become instinctive. This unconscious competence and its description and analysis is the major challenge for our profession;
Being a good classroom teacher means being alive to what
goes on in the classroom, alive to the problems of sorting out what matters,
moment by moment, from what does not. And that is what classroom research is
all about: gaining a better understanding of what good teachers (and learners)
do instinctively as a matter of course, so that ultimately all can benefit.
Listen to the tape Teachers Develop Teachers' Research (Interview 2, Side B) before reading the rest of this unit.
Before you listen:
1. What distinction do you think there is to be made between classroom research and action research (and exploratory teaching)?
Nunan sees the important defining aspect of action research (AR) as the controlling role of the teacher:
For me the salient distinction between AR and other forms
of research is that in AR the research process is initiated and carried out
by the practitioner.
The term action research originates with the social psychologist
Kurt Lewin (1952). A model of action research proposed by Lewin and developed
by others (e.g. Carr & Kemmis, 1986 and Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988) has had a
great influence on the development of current teacher research. The key elements
are action, planning and reflection. The action can involve teaching interventions
and observation and collection of data.
AR is seen as a way to integrate theory and practice. It is possible to consider received knowledge as derived from theory. Wallace sees received knowledge as
the vocabulary of the subject and the matching concepts,
research findings, theories and skills which are widely accepted as being part
of the necessary intellectual content of the profession.
It is worth pointing out that research findings might include
large scale second language acquisition studies and smaller scale qualitative
accounts of classroom experience. If this is the case, then experiential knowledge
has the capacity to form a major part of our professions received knowledge.
This is what needs to happen if we want to properly integrate theory and practice.
Typically AR starts with an idea, observation, puzzle or focus and is a cyclic series of steps or actions which provide the basis for personal reflection (perhaps as well as planning and reading) on the process and its outcomes. There are then further steps and reflection as the action research 'cycle' is repeated.
Chapter 6 of Elliot (1991) is a useful practical guide to AR. AR is not an area which has hard and fast models of `how to do it'. However, you may find Elliot (1991) Kemmis et al (1981) Nunan (1993) and Allwright (1991, 1993) useful starting points for clarifying what might be involved.
Look at these stages of an AR project.
In which order to do think they should be done?
· identification of an idea or focus
· reconnaissance (observation) and data collection
· reflection on classroom experience
· construction of a plan (series of steps or cycles)
The stages listed above are the core elements. It is likely that,
in conducting AR, these elements will be present. However there is no necessary
or correct order. There will be action steps and (at the same time, before or
in-between) planning, reflection and observation/data collection. All units
in the methodology folder have at least one example of a real AR investigation.
These examples demonstrate that there is no one way to conduct action research.
At the risk of repeating myself, then, I am not advising that you adopt any model of AR and stick with it. `Models' of AR are here, at this stage, to clarify what might be involved and to highlight possible choices.
Strickland (1988: 76) outlines the following steps in an AR cycle:
1. identify an issue, interest or problem
2. seek knowledge
3. plan an action
4. implement the action
5. observe the action
6. reflect on your observations
7. revise the plan
In terms of step 2, we have already identified three forms of
knowledge (received, experiential and invisible) which might all have a legitimate
place in this cycle. It would be worth looking at these categories again to
consider sources from where we may 'seek knowledge'.
We have said that the use of the term 'invisible' knowledge suggests that when we tap our experiential knowledge we need to bear in mind that some of our teaching behaviours may be unconscious. Video taping a class or peer observation are powerful ways to reveal this invisible knowledge. This is one obvious way of getting a perspective on practice.
Locally situated action research is probably the only hope of keeping theory and practice connected. However, not all of our profession are optimistic about the growing currency of action research, particularly those more used to working in a quantitative paradigm. McDonough (1995:15) speculates that education change through locally conducted research 'may be a pipe dream'. This is, perhaps, unduly pessimistic and in our continuing discussion of methodology and methods it will become clear that this puts too much of a focus on change rather than a first stage of description. Naidu et al (1992), in an article included in the FND module, talk of recovering experience in order to improve practice. They also affirm that as teachers we
...possess a vast repository of classroom experience, which
when shared with other teachers can lead to a body of theoretical insights and
Interestingly, although pessimistic, McDonough does go on to say, of action research, that
...given the general perception of other kinds of language-learning
and teaching research as irrelevant, inaccessible, and often too late, it may
be the only way forward.
Values , beliefs and Action Research
Somehk (1993) sees AR as an essential tool in increasing a teacher's understanding of his or her capacity to routinize action and, furthermore, that this process may reveal the strong ties between a teacher's actions and his or her values and beliefs.
Do you think it is easier to articulate your actions in the classroom than the values and beliefs that lie behind them?
There is probably only a personal and individual response to this one. In the sense that you can at least video tape a class and make a fairly detailed account of your actions, the first is probably easier for me. Somekh sees the difficulty being that our values and beliefs are only partly conscious and explicit;
Our explanations of what we think we do and say, and why,
rarely tally exactly with what an observer sees who observes what we actually
do and say. Much of what we do and say is guided by either half-known (what
Elliot calls `tacit') or sub-conscious values and beliefs.
In addition to routinisation, then, there are related values and
beliefs. They are mutually creating. One of the benefits of a Masters is that
it enables us to look closely at some of the things we do as a matter of routine.
We are then in a better position to 'understand our tacit and sub-conscious
theories and beliefs' and 'develop our value system'.
Edge (1996) argues that we are all engaged in the development of TESOL culture 'which also reflexively encultures us' and through which our values are expressed. This is an article that is worth reading in full, as it reflects on the degree that we recognise and value diversity, inquiry, cooperation and respect;
...these are not merely abstractions: these values are made
operational in the TESOL class every time a teacher says, "I want you to get
into groups." Or, to put that more carefully, the strategic and contextually
sensitive use of groupwork is one way in which a teacher can communicate a respect
for diversity of learning process and learning outcome, while encouraging co-
This module aims to provide input and tasks to help in this process of increased awareness. It is likely that you have incorporated techniques and classroom procedures and adopted ideas and concepts in ELT that have helped shape your values and beliefs. At the same time you have chosen classroom procedures in accordance with your values and beliefs. Obviously, there is a chicken and egg relationship here.
Action research and your Masters
How you view the importance of creating opportunities and means of reflecting on your practice, uncovering your invisible knowledge and conducting AR is vital to how you go about this course (your course methodology). It will have an obvious effect on the quality of the assignment by which you are assessed. In this assignment, we expect to see evidence from the world of your practice (what you do in your teaching context). This needs to relate and connect to your reading. You have to find a focus for AR and read relevant articles and accounts of others' practice.
There is a danger in beginning this process of reading (articles and books etc.) and losing sight of the parallel aim of reflection and gaining insight into your personal methodology. Other writers' examples, models and approaches can best be evaluated for their significance for what you might do, while you are thinking and reflecting on what you actually do do.
It is certainly worth thinking about beginning a piece of AR now, if you have not already done so. This may form the basis of your assignment or you may end up choosing an entirely different focus. It is usual for MSc participants to choose a pedagogic problem or focus (an element of practice) and then articulate the underlying and connected issues (elements of theory). However it is also the case that MSc participants sometimes start with a concept, read widely about it, and then think about the implications for the classroom. There are dangers in both and this is taken further in a later section of this unit (Getting started).
Linking action research with the
study companion (criteria for assignments)
1. Look at the example of action research from Nunan 1993 below and read over the Study Companion pages
The Action Research Cycle: A Foreign Language Example
1. Problem Identification - A teacher identifies a problem in her classroom. 'My students aren't using the target language ' (German)
2. Preliminary Investigation - What's going on? Recording and observing class over several days.
3. Hypothesis - Teacher uses too much English. The important stuff is done in English
4. Plan intervention - Teacher increases target language use. Teacher uses German for classroom management etc.
5. Outcome - Dramatic increase in use of German by students.
6. Reporting - Article in teachers' newsletter.
Nunan D. 1993. Action research in language education. In Edge J and Richards K. 1993. Teachers Develop Teachers Research. Oxford: Heinemann.
2. Now, see how the criteria listed below might relate to this example of research.
Although we have already established that there is no necessary
linear progression through these six steps (or even that there must be six steps),
looking closely at this example has probably demonstrated to you that the criteria
for the assessment of the Methodology assignment are very similar. This reflects
the Aston MSc 's commitment to the importance of classroom based research.
The following list makes direct comparisons between Nunan's AR example and the MSc Assignment Assessment Criteria;
· Relevant contextual details are necessary so that the reader can gain an insight into your teaching situation.
· Problem identification represents a focus.
· Your argument and explanation makes your ideas, steps or stages of your investigation clear and justifies you procedures and interventions.
· Procedures make clear how you investigated the focus/problem and also detail the 'intervention' or change.
· Evaluation is an essential factor in fully reporting outcomes. Evaluating outcomes might include discussion about the way you collected data (research methodology) and the effectiveness of any interventions/changes you have made to your practice (classroom methodology).
Your personal methodology
Having discussed the importance of AR to this methodology course, it is necessary to work towards a greater understanding of the scope and nature of the term methodology itself. In this section you are asked to reflect on your personal methodology.
If you have not yet looked at section B. This would be a good moment to work through the personal methodology tasks below.
Your Personal methodology
1. Individually, work quickly through the following questions.
Make a quick note against those which seem important or interesting.
2. When you have finished working through the questions, go back
and discuss the differences.
Do the differences seem important?
In other words, do they reveal any fundamental differences in the way you teach or do you think they are insignificant differences?
3. Read chapter 1 of Richards and Rodgers (1986) and think about the origins of some of your classroom procedures.
Do you ...?
1. employ substitution tables to demonstrate sentence patterns and choices?
2. use materials to raise issues of cross-cultural significance?
3. allow students to use L1 in class? If so when?
4. use materials which include a variety of world Englishes?
5. give students a group of similar sentences and ask them to supply a rule?
6. ask students to correct each others' writing?
7. correct students when they make mistakes in a role play?
8. concentrate on the development of students fluency rather than accuracy?
9. choral drill to practice an important structure?
10. explain grammar rules and devise exercise to practise the rule?
11. use information gap activities?
12. have students do improvisations, promoting spontaneous interaction?
13. encourage students to talk about their experiences and lives?
14. point out cohesive elements of text ( ...spider...these web builders ... they ...spiders...creepy crawlies.) ?
15. use tape recordings of native speakers talking on the radio?
16. undertake project work which runs over a series of lessons?
17. encourage group work in most classes?
18. point out words and phrases which link and signal in text?
19. regularly ask students to brainstorm a quick list?
20. ask students to translate from L1 to L2?
21. ask students for feedback on a lesson?
22. give students choices and a role in planning classes?
23. ask students to read texts aloud in class?
24. respond to the content of students' written work?
25. ask student to sort a jumbled dialogue?
26. devote a class to teach a certain function (e.g. making a complaint)?
27. discuss with students how they store and recycle new vocabulary?
28. ask student to repeat from your prompts?
29. follow the course-book very closely?
30. give groups a lateral thinking activity?
31. ask student to make up sentences using a given structure?
32. explain a point of grammar or vocabulary in the students' L1?
33. correct all errors or mistakes in students essay writing?
34. get student to try different reading techniques?
35. audio-tape written feedback?
36. put together a booklet of student poems?
37. use extracts form television and film?
38. point out cross-cultural differences?
39. encourage the use of L1/L1 dictionaries?
40. ask students to solve a given problem?
41. start a lesson with a production activity and pick out interesting features of students language?
42. point out different registers in written and spoken dialogue (e.g. formal/academic/written or spoken/conversational/familiar)?
43. conduct quizzes with competing teams?
44. focus on vocabulary rather than grammar?
45. get students to give a short presentation to the rest of the class?
It is suggested that there is a tension in exploring your teaching context between finding out (looking in) and reading (looking out). To further highlight the relation between your classroom practice, your reading of other ELT writers and the nature of action research, two possibilities are outlined below.
Discuss them in terms of
1. possible success in finding a focus for action research;
2. possible dangers
3. usefulness in writing an assignment
1. Chris decides, after reading part of the methodology module, that he is interested in top down strategies. Going to a resource centre, he selects three books and three articles and spends a weekend reading them. He develops a definition and generates several pages of useful notes, including key quotations.
2. Marion has been dissatisfied with the way she gives feedback on writing assignments. She believes that students may not be taking much notice of her corrections and wants to try something different. She decides to select a sample of students and talk to them individually about what they do with their feedback. She also drafts a questionnaire for all the students she teaches to find out what kind of correction/feedback they find useful.
If methodology is regarded as something which can only be "experienced" but not actually studied, there still remains the problem of explaining why teachers choose one approach rather than another. A relatively straightforward way of dealing with this is to regard classroom practices, or techniques, as somehow derived from a set of principles. This is the line which Hutchinson and Waters take.
Study the two lists which they present below and consider the usefulness of this approach from the point of view of justification. You might like to consider the following aspects:
a) The status of the principles themselves. Can they stand alone, or do they themselves require justification?
b) On what basis would they be defended if challenged? Do they all have the same status or do they demand different sorts of justification?
c) How are the techniques derived from the principles? How is the connection established?
d) Are the techniques themselves a fairly homogeneous collection?
e) Taken together, do the techniques represent a reasonably complete picture of a particular approach?
Hutchinson & Waters' Principles and Techniques 1987: 128-143
Learning is . . . . a developmental process an active process a decision-making process an emotional experience to a large extent incidental
Learning is not . . . . simply a matter of linguistic knowledge (there is a mismatch between the learner's conceptual and cognitive knowledge and his linguistic level) systematic (in the case of a foreign language) the learner's first experience with language
10. Integrated Methodology
You might reflect on the previous section on values and beliefs.
You may find it difficult to articulate your influences. It may also be difficult to describe, at least in detail, what you currently do in the classroom. As we have said, it is probably the case that a great deal of what we do in the classroom has become a matter of routine. If this is the case, then there are a great number of decisions and choices in the classroom that need to be revisited; not necessarily because you will end up changing the way you do things, but because you might understand more about why you do them.
It is likely that in a number of years of training and teaching we move through the following cycles.
Consider the four cycles below and think of examples from your own development as a teacher that confirm or disconfirm these stages.
Note - I first heard this cycle in a British Council Skills Through English training course from Helen Hawari. Apparently Underhill and other others at IH use it too.
These cycles probably make more sense when you look at particular aspects of your teaching. For example, the first few times I taught a EFL class I was told, by a teacher trainer, that I needed to work harder at starting the lessons. They were apparently 'flat' and 'de-motivating' (funny how long you remember negative criticism!). Peer observation confirmed this problem and I became conscious of this aspect of starting lessons (conscious incompetence). Suggestions from tutors and ideas from other teachers provided a number of ways to get students more involved and interested right from the start. Practice and implementation of these took me into a stage of conscious competence. I have not thought about this aspect of my teaching for a great number of years now and probably this `number of ways' has become unconscious. I hope this skill (managing the first few minutes of a language class) is still in the competent category.
It is interesting that, while you are doing this course, you will be involved in at least two methodological worlds. In one world (the more familiar one) you are a teacher. In the other, you are a student. This is the world of distance learning. Distance learning has its own theories and concepts and you will be in a position to make comment and give us useful feedback on your experience.
As a student, learning at distance, you will probably experience some of the following;
· working through the tasks in module folders
· collecting data
· taking notes from journal articles
· reading assignment feedback
· analysing texts and discussing them with other Master participants.
Your experience in each type of activity is a methodological one and a further point is that there are possibilities that this experience of these two worlds may throw out useful insights and comparisons. In other words your experiences as an MSc participant may inform some of you thinking about your teaching. To give a couple of anecdotal examples;
Beverley told me that her experience in getting assignment feedback had changed her views on how she should respond to student writing.
Neil told me that doing the Cooperative Development module, which encourages a different way of talking between teachers, had made him more aware of the way he listened to and responded to students in the classroom.
Methodology and the Course
As we have seen from the previous section, you are currently living in two methodological worlds. In fact, though, we now need to extend the distinction because it will be clear by now that when we talk about methodology, we can talk about three different areas in which you are a participant. These areas will hopefully connect and be mutually insightful as your Masters course progresses.
1. Your classroom methodology (Teacher)
2. Your research methodology (Researcher)
3. The methodology of distance learning (MSc participant)
So far we have talked mostly about methodology in terms of your future experience of this course and the value of AR. We now need to turn to consider the difference between method and methodology.
Take a few minutes to see if you can make a distinction between the term methodology and method.
It will be clear by now that method does not equate with methodology. Indeed, Nunan (1990: 66) talks about designer methods which can be 'bought off the applied linguistics shelf' and which contain in-built assumptions and beliefs about language and how it is learned. He goes on to say that these beliefs reflect the dominant psychological and linguistic orthodoxies of the particular period of time when the methods emerged. As we saw earlier, there are dangers in allowing theory to have a dominant role over observations from classroom practice and, as Nunan goes on to say, methods are based on assumptions drawn from 'logico-deductive speculation' rather than 'the close observation and analysis' of the classroom.
1. Read Richards and Rodgers T (1986) if you are unfamiliar with the most well known of the `methods' that have gained varying degrees of currency in the second half of this century.
How do they define the terms method approach, design and procedure?
Their book Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching contains an overview and analysis and comparison of major language learning methods:
the Oral Approach,
Situational Language Teaching,
Communicative Language Teaching,
Total Physical Response,
The Silent Way,
Community Language Learning,
The Natural Approach
An alternative is to read Nunan (1991 pp 228-248)
2. This would be a good moment to re-read the FND module key article - Prabhu (1990).
Prabhu (1990) and Clarke (1994) question the idea that there exists
a best method which can be articulated in the form of theory (by outsiders)
and applied in practice (by insiders). It is recommended that you read both
these articles, especially if you did not do so in the foundation module.
Although we might dismiss the search for a 'best method' for TESOL and TESP in terms of a priori procedures and principles, we need to remain committed to a concept of best practice on a principled individual basis. This commitment necessitates a clear distinction between method and methodology, especially when language teaching is claimed to be a 'post-method condition' (Kumaravadivelu 1994: 29). Perhaps the term methodology is best seen as an inclusive and neutral umbrella term. It is essentially a general term and Richards (et al) provide a wide enough definition to raise no objections; they define methodology as
...the study of the practices and procedures used in teaching,
and the principles and beliefs that underlie them.
However, there are possible objections to their fuller definition
(see 'A few final quotes' at the end of this page) and it is worth looking at
it closely. For the reasons above this course is not concerned with the 'evaluation
of teaching methods'. Neither, on this course, is methodology 'the preparation
of materials and textbooks'; these issues are included in the MAP module.
Having made the distinction above, it is important to recognise that many writers (e.g. Breen 1984:52, Nunan 1991: 2) see a great deal of overlap between methodology and course design. Holliday(1994) sees one aspect of methodology as the designing and managing of English Language Education. There remains one important distinction, though. This is that syllabus design and course writing are not always part of a teacher's experience, whereas classroom practice (e.g. classroom management) is common to all teachers.
There is by no means agreement on what we mean by appropriate methodology. The very notion of appropriacy implies a principled or theoretical justification of one methodological choice rather than another. Widdowson and Bowers provide two very different stances on the relationship between theory and practice.
Consider the two positions (Bowers & Widdowson) below with regard to Stern (1983: 23-52) who distinguishes three ways of looking at theory:
T1 - This, the widest sense, is "the systematic study of the thought related to a topic or activity".
T2 - A theory might also be regarded as a school of thought, as in the "direct method".
T3 - Finally, and in its most rigorous sense, a theory is a hypothesis or set of hypotheses which have been verified by experiment or observation.
1. Theory is context free; but teachers face a number of important constraints in their work.
2. "Language is irrelevant. What we needto understand is teachers, students, administrators, and how they react to change."
3. "There is nothing demeaning about being practitioners impatient of theory"
4. "There is nothing 'mere' about expediency"
5. We need blueprints, not maps.
1. "The concern of Applied Linguistics is to provide a theoretical perspective for practical and applicable courses of action."
2. We obviously need to understand language because that is precisely what we are teaching.
3. "it is demeaning for teachers to deny the importance of theory, for in doing so they deny themselves opportunities for development"
4. "There definitely is something 'mere'about expediency; it is not informed or supported by principle."
5. We don't need blueprints: they're "fixed, unchangeable, inflexible". We need maps.
Bowers R & Widdowson H 1986: 6-10
The approach which Stern identifies is one which begins with T3
and ends with T1. Is it possible, perhaps, that what lies behind Bowers' arguments
is the suspicion that Widdowson's approach to issues depends too heavily upon
T1, unsupported by adequate evidence from T3? It is an argument you might bear
in mind when reading Widdowson.
If you reject the idea of a best method for all teaching contexts and you also reject indiscriminate eclecticism, you are left with articulating an appropriate methodology for your teaching context. Conscious choice and decision making, concerning what is appropriate to a given teaching context, means principled pragmatism. It is the development of this context-orientated understanding that Prabhu calls a sense of plausibility. This is teachers'
...subjective understanding of the teaching they do. Teachers
need to operate with some personal conceptualisation of how their teaching leads
to desired learning - with a notion of causation that has a measure of credibility
Holliday (1994) is probably the clearest and most persuasive argument for the importance of keeping methodology appropriate to social context. This is recommended reading and we will return to his views in the next unit.
Read Holliday A. 1994. Appropriate Methodology and Social Context.. Cambridge: CUP. pp9-18
For now, Holliday distinguishes three basic types of methodology, `all of which or later effect what happens in the classroom'.
The methodology for carrying out the work of teaching English,
which includes what the teacher does in the classroom - what we normally think
of as 'methods and approaches'.
The methodology of designing and managing English language education.
The methodology of collecting the information about the particular social context in question, which teachers and curriculum developers need to make the other two methodologies appropriate
Do you see yourself equally involved in all three views of methodology?
In this section we will discuss how to get started in a process of AR and reflection. The first step is usually identifying an idea. This may start out as a general idea. `My students don't seem very motivated' is fairly general, for example. The movement to a focus, for example, on increasing the proportion of referential questions rather than display questions provides a much narrower `idea' or focus.
It is also worth saying that you may like to start small in terms of classroom research. You do not have to be too ambitious at first. Allwright suggests that a good place to start may be explored simply by getting students to discuss it in class `rather than by conducting a questionnaire survey in the traditional academic way'.
As far as action research is concerned there is often no need for a radical change in what you do in the classroom. Becoming a researcher does not mean stopping being a teacher. Elliot (1991) stresses the need for AR to be seen in terms of the continual interrelation between practice and research.
If you have not already compared and thought about the differing approaches adopted by Chris and Marion, it might be good at this point to return to them.
These are familiar characterisations. The first (Chris) starts
with reading and theory and he will be left with mapping this onto classroom
practice. Anecdotal evidence from previous MSc participants suggests that this
is the most common way to spend that first period of thinking and getting started.
This may be, especially for graduates, a familiar way of working. There are
1. This may lead to a `state-of-the-art' type piece of writing. In other words it can lead to a trawl through major positions and concepts in this field.
2. It is, at least in part, a result of a view of learning and development that the truth lies 'out there'.
The second (Marion) starts with considerations of practice and
is left with placing this local investigation into a wider theoretical context.
The danger here is that;
1. It may be initially difficult to find reading that is immediately relevant to your chosen focus from general methodology books. You may have to track down a few journal articles.
2. It may be tempting to continue to collect more and more data and not leave much time for interpretation, evaluation and the development of pragmatic theory from practice. Observations that are unconnected to the writings and experience of others are limited in 'resonance'.
This is, perhaps, a crude comparison, however it is worth thinking
about now if you are going to make the most of this module.
You are being encouraged to undertake a planned piece of AR. Whether this piece of AR takes place before, at the same time or after a period (or periods) of reading and reflection, is less important. However, this still leaves you with making a start.
Allwright and Bailey in a chapter called 'Getting Started' give the following advice;
...it would probably be best for you as a new classroom researcher,
to start with a general issue you want to investigate and to use your thinking
about that issue to help you decide what sorts of data you will need.
As I have said, it is important to consider how a 'general issue' can be made more manageable and also to suggest possible techniques for this kind of thinking and decision making.
Read Mann (1997) and, in the next few weeks, try to develop possible starting points, using focusing circles and mind mapping. You may have already read this article in FND.
Mann (1997) suggests the complementary use of focusing circles
(Edge 1992) and mind mapping (Buzan 1996). The article discusses how these two
thinking techniques may be helpful for teachers in establishing a focus for
One final comment, connected with establishing a focus for your assignment comes in the form of an anecdote. When I started the Masters course at Aston, my tutor told me that this focus 'should be something small enough to grow'. This is simple but powerful advice and, at the risk of stretching an obvious metaphor, a seed may seem small (and not able to fuel a 3000-4000 word assignment) but it soon flourishes and you will be engaged in a pruning job.
Of problems, puzzles and exploration
In the early nineties, Aston encouraged the following pattern as a template for an account of methodological inquiry. It suggested that a successful account would articulate the teaching context, focus on one problem, develop a response to that problem and then evaluate the implementation of that response.
Can you predict what change was made to this template?
This template helped encourage and frame some interesting research but it was felt that the word `problem' needed to be changed (or at least modified) with the term focus or purpose. This is more inclusive and does not imply that the only problems can become the topic of an assignment.
Similarly, Allwright's view of the action research is not so much centred on the idea of revealing problems;
The term 'puzzle' is deliberately chosen in preference to
the more usual 'problem' to avoid the potential threat to self-esteem that admitting
to having 'problems' might represent, and to capture the important possibility
that productive investigations might well start from poorly- understood successes
just as much as from poorly-understood failures.
Changing something in what you do is not necessarily the same as concentrating on a problem. Allwright and Bailey (1991) calls this process exploratory teaching and sees this as a productive way of integrating research and pedagogy. Allwright's (1993) use of the term puzzle, then, appears more inclusive of positive, as well as negative, classroom outcomes.
It would be good idea to read Ozdeniz (1996) at this point. Her account details a simple framework which helps in-service teachers to explore and investigate what they are doing in class. She illustrates how she applied Allwright's (1993) model of Exploratory Teaching in order to investigate her class's reactions to task-based learning.
As an alternative, look at the two versions of exploratory teaching below.
10 steps and exploratory questions.
Identify what it is you wish to explore.
Checklist of Exploratory Questions on Starting an Innovatory Puzzle
1. What do I know about the innovation at present?
2. Where can I find more information about the innovation?
3. Is the innovation new to the students or new to the teacher, or both?
4. In which ways might the innovation differ from my present teaching practice?
5. What possible effects could implementing the innovation have on my students, the learning situation etc.?
6. Is there any aspect of the innovation or my present practice that I can foresee having to alter in any way so that the integration of the two is successful?
Identify what you hope to discover in exploring this puzzle.
Identify the type of information needed to enable you to come to informed conclusions about whatever you wish to discover in answer to the step two question " what am I trying to do in exploring this innovation?" Identify how you will gather this information.
Draw up lesson plans incorporating the innovation and information gathering methods. Carry out the explorations.
Examine the information gathered to discover more about what exactly took place during the teaching/learning event and to find out how students reacted to it.
On the basis of your findings from step five decide which areas of the innovatory puzzle require further investigation.
Repeat steps three to six where appropriate as many times as is necessary for you to gain a clear picture of the innovation operating within your specific teaching context.
Reflect on all of the information you have gathered and the conclusions you have drawn from it. What is your overall assessment of the innovation in relation to your teaching style and your students learning preferences?
According to your overall assessment of how the innovation operates within your classroom decide whether or not you will incorporate it into your teaching repertoire and if so, whether either the innovation or your teaching needs to be modified in any way so that they concord with one another.
You may wish to write up your teaching puzzle and circulate it among colleagues or have it published in a teaching journal so that other members of the profession can profit from your explorations. This is in fact what I have done here by writing this paper and sharing my exploratory teaching with you.
The basic concept of 'exploratory' teaching (and learning)
· is a practical way of bringing the research perspective properly into the classroom
· does not add 'significantly and unacceptably' to teachers' workloads
· can contribute both to professional development and to theory-building within and across the profession'.
· help investigate teacher and learner 'puzzles'.
Identify a puzzle area
Refine your thinking about that puzzle area
Select a particular topic to focus upon
Find appropriate classroom procedures to explore it
Adapt them to the particular puzzle you want to explore
Use them in class
Interpret the outcomes
Decide on their implications and plan accordingly
Classroom procedures for exploring puzzles
1. Groupwork discussions.
2. Pair work discussions.
9. Dialogue journal writing.
11. Poster sessions.
12. Learner to learner correspondance
See Allwright 1993 for more detail.
Do you think there are any significant differences between these two versions of exploratory teaching?
Problems with Action Research
Nunan(1993), whilst being very positive about the possible benefits of AR, takes account of the principle problems that teachers face when conducting this research. For example, one of them is the fear of being revealed as an incompetent teacher. The possible problems are included below as well as solutions.
Action Research - Problems and Solutions Nunan 1993
1. Lack of time
2. Lack of expertise
3. Lack of ongoing support
4. Fear of being revealed as an incompetent teacher
5. Fear of producing a public account of their research for a wider (unknown) audience
o Someone 'on the ground' to 'own' the project.
o Individuals with training in research methods available to provide assistance and support to teachers.
o Release time from face-to-face teaching during the course of their action research.
o Collaborative focus teams are established so that teachers involved in similar areas of inquiry can support one another.
o Adequate training in methods and techniques for identifying issues, collecting data, analysing and interpreting data, and presenting the outcomes of their research.
The MSc course itself provides (potentially) four of the five
solutions. The other (lack of time) is forever a challenge!
Allwright (1993) notes that good classroom research is much easier when there is significant `learner involvement'. This, in turn, relies on learners having a well-established command of the target language. In classes with low levels of English if you have access to the learners' L1, you may consider conducting discussion sessions, getting feedback and interviewing them in their L1.
Despite the possible problems listed above, almost all MSc participants find action research stimulating and rewarding. At the end of many subsequent units there will be an example of an MSc participant's action research. These examples will provide further exemplification and clarification. However, there is no theoretical or practical substitute for getting started.
A few final quotes
An example of the difficulty of 'hard and fast' key terms
Anthony's model was summarized in his article which is called "Approach, Method and Technique" (Anthony 1963). We liked Method as the umbrella term for our model and found it convenient - convenient for us if nobody else - to modify Anthony's terminology...Anthony's Method became our Design. So Anthony, and Richards and Rodgers both use the term Method but with different scope and intention...When we got round to doing the book, the publisher urged us to do a chapter on Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) as one of the methods analyzed in the book. However, most of the major spokespersons for CLT were unhappy in our referring to CLT as a Method. They saw CLT as an Approach rather than a Method. Unfortunately, we had already chosen to use Approach in a different sense in the book. We decided to finesse the issue by including CLT in our analysis and using as a book title Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. We also retained Approach in the model designation "Method: Approach, Design and Procedure". So we used Approach in the title and Approach in the model in quite dramatically different senses. We felt it might confuse the reader to highlight this, so we decided not to mention it at all.
(This is included as a rather bizarre example of how writers use terms for convenience sometimes without much consistency - still I suppose they can check their royalty statements and pour another drink!)
Gap between theory and practice
Those of us who work in teacher education know that one of the most difficult things to balance in a course is the tension between theoretical and practical aspects of the profession. ... theory and practice are not perceived as integral parts of a teacher's practical professional life. ... This situation is the result of communication gaps caused by an increasingly opaque research technocracy, restrictive practices in educational institutions and bureaucracies (e.g. not validating research time, or not granting sabbaticals to teachers for professional renovation), and overburdening teachers who cannot conceive of ways of theorizing and researching that come out of daily work and facilitate that daily work.
van Lier (1992:3)
Views of methodology
Brumfit C 1982: 1-22
(a) Brumfit "The role of methodology is to describe and explore the range of possible options available to teachers in as principled a way as possible."
(b) Brumfit "If we conceive of methodological study as being the investigation of the total process of language teaching and learning in relation to existing institutions and practices, then we shall be forced to look upon it as an interdisciplinary study."
Widdowson H G l984 201-212
(c) Widdowson "the methodology of English teaching designed to service the specialist needs of students must be congruent with the methodology of their specialization: it means, indeed, that it will be difficult to distinguish between them." (p210)
(d) Widdowson "ESP has in the past been centrally concerned with the specific selection of language to be taught. The argument I have been pursuing in this paper leads to the conclusion that student needs for English can only be met by appropriate methodology." (p211)
Richards J, Platt J & Weber H. 1985.
(1)...the study of the practices and procedures used in teaching, and the principles and beliefs that underlie them. Methodology includes;
(a) study of the nature of LANGUAGE SKILLS (e.g. reading, writing, speaking, listening) and procedures for teaching them
(b) study of the preparation of LESSON PLANS, materials, and textbooks for teaching language skills
(c) the evaluation and comparison of language teaching METHODS (e.g. the AUDIOLINGUAL METHOD)
(2) such practices, procedures, principles, and beliefs themselves .
Allwright D and Bailey K M. 1991. Focus on the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.
Allwright D. 1993. Integrating 'research ' and 'pedagogy: appropriate criteria and practical possibilities. In Edge J and Richards K. 1993. Teachers Develop Teachers Research. Oxford: Heinemann.
Altrichter H, Posch P and Somekh B. 1993. Teachers Investigate Their Work: an introduction to the methods of action research. London: Routledge
Barnes D. 1975. From Communication to Curriculum. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Bloor T & Bloor M. 1995. The Functional Analysis of English: A Hallidayan Approach. New York: Arnold.
Bowers R & Widdowson H. 1986. Debate on Appropriate Methodology. Dunford House Seminar on Appropriate Methodology . pp6-10. London: British Council.
Breen M. 1984. Process syllabuses for the language classroom. In Brumfit C. (Ed.) General English Syllabus Design. ELT Docs. 118. London: Modern English Publications/British Council.
Buzan T., & Buzan B. 1996. The Mind Map Book : How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximise Your Brain's Untapped Potential . Plume.
Carr W and Kemmis S. 1986. Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge and Action Research. London: The Falmer Press/Taylor and Francis.
Edge J and Richards K. 1993. Teachers Develop Teachers Research. Oxford: Heinemann Edge J. 1996. Cross-cultural paradoxes in a profession of values. TESOL Quarterly 30 (1) 9-30.
Edge J. 1992. Cooperative Development. Harlow: Longman.
Elliot J. 1991. Action Research for Educational Change. Milton Keynes: Open University Press (esp. Chapter 6).
Holliday A. 1994. Appropriate Methodology and Social Context.. Cambridge: CUP.
Hutchinson T & Waters A . 1987. English for Specific Purposes,. Cambridge: CUP (esp. pp128-143)
Kemmis S and McTaggart 1988 The Action Research Planner. Third Edition. Geelong, Victoria: Deakin University Press.
Kumaravadivelu B. 1994. The postmethod condition: (E)merging strategies for second/foreign language teaching. TESOL Quarterly 28/1 27-48.
Lewin K. 1952. Field Theory in Social Science. London: Tavistock
Mann S. 1997. `Focusing circles and mind mapping. IATEFL Newsletter 136 18-19.
McDonough, S. 1995. Strategy and Skill in Learning a Foreign Language. London: Edward Arnold.
Naidu, B., Neeraja, K., Ramani, E.,Shivakumar J & Viswanatha, V. (1992) `Researching heterogeneity; an account of teacher-initiated research into large classes.' ELT Journal 46/3: 252-263
Nunan D 1990 An empirically based methodology for the Nineties. In Anivan S. Language Teaching Methodology for the Nineties. Singapore: SEAMEO(RELC)
Nunan D. 1993. Action research in language education. In Edge J and Richards K. 1993. Teachers Develop Teachers Research. Oxford: Heinemann.
Ozdeniz D. 1996. Introducing innovations into your teaching. In Willis J and Willis D (eds.) 1996 Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Oxford: Heinemann
Prabhu, N. 1990. There is no best method - Why? TESOL Quarterly 24/2:161-176.
Richards J & Rodgers T. 1986. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching: A Description and Analysis. Cambridge: CUP.
Richards J, Platt J & Weber H. 1985. Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics. London: Longman.
Rodgers T. 1990 After Methods, What? In Anivan S. Language Teaching Methodology for the Nineties. Singapore: SEAMEO(RELC)
Schon D A. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Somekh B. 1993. Quality in educational research - the contribution of classroom teachers. In Edge J and Richards K. 1993. Teachers Develop Teachers Research. Oxford: Heinemann.
Stern H H. 1983 Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching, Oxford: OUP (pp23-52)
Strickland D. 1988. The teacher as researcher: towards the extended professional. Language Arts . 65: 754-64.
van Lier, L., 1988. The Classroom and the Language Learner: Ethnography and Second Language Classroom Research London: Longman
Wallace M. 1991. Training Foreign Language Teachers; A Reflective Approach. Cambridge: CUP.
White R. 1988. The ELT Curriculum: Design, Innovation and Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Widdowson H G. l984. Explorations in Applied Linguistics 2, Oxford: OUP (esp. pp201-212)