In his first post as Modern English Teacher resident blogger, David Dodgson considers how we can make use of research as part of our development. He looks at barriers to using research, how to overcome them and how to make research part of our CPD.
Welcome to the newest section of the Modern English Teacher website – our official blog. As you will recall, a competition was held earlier this year to find a resident blogger and I was fortunate enough to win. First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to once again thank the MET panel and everyone who voted for me – it is an honour to be here!
So, where shall we start? As MET has a new cover strapline starting from the October 2017 issue of MET which is “Bringing the Latest Research to your Classroom”, this post will focus on what some of the perceived barriers to accessing research are for ELT practitioners, and how to overcome them.
For the first several years of my teaching career, I never made use of any research to inform my teaching practice. To be honest, I never even considered it. There had been some basic theory in my Trinity Cert TESOL course and that was about it as far as academic input was concerned.
Even if I had wanted to use research, I wouldn’t have been sure where to start and I expect many teachers feel the same. During conversations with colleagues and fellow ELT practitioners, three reasons for not generally using research come up: access, relevance, and time.
The first one is a key barrier. If we simply don’t have access to a well-stocked library of journals, what can we do? I only began to read research once I started an MA and gained access to the university’s library archives but not everyone takes courses of further study and even those that do don’t remain students forever.
Even when we can access research, we may question the relevance. A lot of academic articles are highly specific in their main focal points, methods, and contexts. Open the current issue of any particular journal and you may only find one or two articles applicable to your teaching situation or matching your own interests (of course, this is where magazines like MET come in, but more on that in a moment!)
And then, of course, is that persistent barrier for busy teachers the world over – time. With a full teaching load, planning, marking, meetings, and training to attend, who has the time to sift through swathes of academic papers?
There are benefits to reading research though. It can help us stay up-to-date with current theories and best practice. It can also aid in the reflective process as we rationalise and review what we do in the classroom.
Here are my tips for overcoming the barriers and bringing research into the classroom:
Access – If you are reading this post, you are already in the right place to begin overcoming this first barrier! Modern English Teacher offers a lot of relevant and accessible research within its pages. These have a special advantage for ELT practitioners in that they are written specifically for language teachers by language teachers. The majority of our articles are written by language teaching professionals with current classroom experience and are based on their own action research and studies undertaken for professional courses and qualifications. Indeed, when I took the Trinity DipTESOL, several articles from MET and our sister magazine ETp were included on the reading lists.
A subscription to MET and/or ETp also brings access to their online archives, which contain digital versions of every article published over the last several years. Don’t forget that you can also get discounted subscriptions if you are a member of IATEFL (with an extra discount available if you are eligible for an Early Career teacher membership).
Associations like IATEFL also offer their own magazines, which include articles based on teachers’ own research. Special Interest Group (SIG) publications and newsletters add further depth to the already easily accessible options outlined so far and have the added advantage of being targeted towards specific focal areas within the world of ELT.
In addition to these magazines and newsletters, there are also several research publications that are open-access. Here are five that I use regularly:
- Language Learning & Technology
- Humanising Language Teaching
- The Reading Matrix
- The Asian EFL Journal
Each of these offers their current issue and an archive of past volumes for free. There are many more open access journals out there, of course – you just have to look for them!
Finally, there is Google Scholar (https://scholar.google.com), a search engine dedicated to academic papers. It is easy to search for specific articles here. For example, I have recently used this to find articles about using mobile devices in the classroom which have helped me greatly when setting up and first using class sets of iPads in my teaching centre. This is a quick and easy way to find single articles rather than whole journal issues. It is, however, always a good idea to check where the research has come from and whether or not the electronic copy has been uploaded and shared legally.
Relevance – in such a wide-ranging field as TESOL, the sheer volume of research can seem overwhelming. As mentioned above, publications like MET, ETp, and IATEFL SIG newsletters offer more focused articles which present current research through the lens of classroom practice. Nevertheless, it is still important to select an area of interest before going looking for articles and reports.
By focusing on your context and a particular area you are interested in (using authentic materials with teenage learners, for example, or best practices for promoting vocabulary learning with elementary adults), it is possible to conduct a targeted search through the MET archive, for example, or the above-mentioned Google Scholar.
Another tip is to take a close look at the title and abstract/introduction before reading. These contain summaries of the context of the research and the findings and can help determine whether or not the article will be of use. While reading, it is important to reflect and think about how the findings might apply to your own context.
Again, this is a strength of MET for ELT professionals. We offer access to research and findings reported from the classroom. The authors are teachers or teacher trainers and their contexts are easy to relate to. Having said that, I would always recommend adapting the ideas presented to ensure they offer the maximum benefit to your own students and your own teaching style.
Time – so, finally, where can we find the time for reading, reflecting and acting upon research. In short, we have to make time! In a little more detail, I recommend making the process of identifying an area of focus, reading relevant articles, and reflecting on practice a regular part of your CPD. I am lucky enough to work in a school where we have time allotted in our working week for development and reading research is one way I use that time.
One approach that can help amplify the process (and save time!) is to form reading groups with colleagues. There are a couple of ways these can be organised. An article can be selected for the group to read and then come together and discuss, or members of the group can read different articles and summarise what they learned for the others. By collaborating in this way, we can not only gain ideas from the research but we can also share, question, compare, and deepen our reflections.
Do you read research as part of your CPD? Do you find it relevant and useful?
Are there any other open source journals or magazines that you use to find research articles?
Have you tried reading groups or sharing your reflections with colleagues?
Or perhaps you have some other advice about accessing research and using it in the classroom.
If so, please share your comments below!