I’ve spoken about Action Research at various workshops this year and it has been a wonderful experience seeing some people take the idea and run with it.
The great thing about people taking ideas and running with them speaks a little about the power of the idea and a lot more about how much the idea resonates at the right time. Good ideas are abundant but when they reach inside you and make you want to get into action, you become what shapes the ideas further, and so the abundance flows…
I wonder if there isn’t a wave of wanting to re-engage with our practice through the lens of research in ELT, regardless of academic affiliations, without fretting about getting published, or presenting it in an ‘appropriately’ formal context. I see this as a timely healing of the ‘publish or perish’ plague that I see so many academic colleagues wear their hearts out over.
So here is some of the juice from my workshops:
-I believe Action Research is better represented through the metaphor a spiral of steps (Lewin, 1946) compared to its well-known cycle of Plan-Act-Observe-Reflect. Our understanding of our practice doesn’t go round and round, it gets bigger and bigger. After the first round of Action Research we don’t go back to planning again we move onto planning again.
-There’s an important difference between the notions of “a problem” and “to problematize”. Action Research isn’t a problem solving mode of practice. You don’t look for things that are going wrong and try to set them right through research. You can look at something that’s going really well and see how to build on it. You can look at something non-descript that exists and try to make it come alive.
-When we problematize something we create the necessary mental space (meta-cognitive space if you like) to allow a better understanding to happen as opposed to make it to happen. This is the beauty of research, we create the environment that allows a new understanding to emerge, by stepping back from our own expectations and prejudices. This is also the beauty of academic language and rhetoric. When academic language is used well, it allows ideas to breathe more freely and gives a lot of room for interpretation and understanding.
-Action Research allows us to look at what is in front of us and engage with it differently. It’s simply a question of choosing to delve into an aspect of our practice and allow ourselves to be transformed by it. And this, I feel is so empowering for teachers and students alike. A colleague of mine recently described her action research project as turning her students into her own “learning partners” which is a beautiful statement of how empowering research is.
-This kind of research feeds back to the participants really quickly. Students benefit directly and immediately from the research, without having to wait for research to creep its way through the more traditional mills of external validation, publication, presentation before yielding benefit to context under study.
-And finally, Action Research is for me the child of Critical Pedagogy. Imagine a ruddy, robust child who speaks her mind and who isn’t afraid of the bullies in the playground, or rather when she is, knows how to rise above it.
Like its Freirean-Frankfurt School–Marxist ancestors, Action Research questions the received framework and turns the lens onto the inside of the process. When teachers are transformed within their own practice, professional development and pedagogy gets a very special kind of fuel.
So, this was some of the juice, I’ll blog a ‘juice: part 2’ in a week or so with more of the historical and theoretical perspectives that informed my work. To end, and to give you a flavour of what’s brewing:
I describe Critical Pedagogy as a ‘3,6,9’.
in 3 words: Nothing is neutral.
in 6 words: Education is a consciousness-raising undertaking.
in 9 words: Reshaping the power structures in our classrooms remodels everything.
Thanks for reading :)
Lewin, K (1946) Action research and minority problems. J Soc. Issues 2(4):34-46