Doing Your Action Research (AR): A Brief Guide,

by Dr. Moira Laidlaw and Dean Tian Fengjun, at

ChinaÕs Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching,

Guyuan Teachers College,  Guyuan, Ningxia Province, P.R. China.

 

The following document is divided into six sections:

 

A Guide to the Action Plan: the First Step in AR.

In facing the action plan, donÕt do it alone! You should have a colleague you trust to help you through it. Even if they havenÕt done it before, they can help you to clarify your ideas, to ask questions, to check inconsistencies in your logic. It is the beginnings of collaboration, in fact. Put the date at the top of your action plan because you will then be able to refer back to it and see how far your research has come and what time it has taken. What follows is a question-by-question guide. Good luck!

 

1) What do I want to improve? Choosing a Concern: This can be difficult and has to be done carefully. First have a detailed read through the five questions on the action plan. They are all connected to the first question. What you want to improve will drive all the research, so you have to choose carefully. Think of one thing, small, in your daily teaching with one class that troubles you. It must be one small thing in one class, not a huge thing in many classes. For example, you might want to improve the confidence of some poor students in a class. Once you have decided on the area of your concern, then try to phrase the answer to the first question on the action plan like this: ÔHow can I improve/help to improve/help the students to improveÉ?

 

2) What are the reasons for my concern? Uncovering the Reasons for your Concern: Some people try to avoid this question, but itÕs really important because the reasons constitute your educational and life-values. If we can uncover them and understand our values better, itÕs much easier to work more effectively. The reasons can be anything that is true for you. You might want to improve studentsÕ speaking. Why? Because, perhaps, you worry they wonÕt be able to increase their knowledge, or confidence, or examination-ability. You might worry that if they donÕt make progress they will fail their examinations and if they fail, then they might not get jobs. You might also be concerned that poor studentship means a poor country. Talk through these concerns with your learning partner. Write in detail on your action plan what conclusions you come to.

 

3) How can I improve it? How you can start your actions: Make a list of all the ways you might help the students improve the particular aspect you are focussing on. Talk them through with your learning partner and with other colleagues. Listen to their advice. List their suggestions. Arrange them in priority – which ones must you do first? Which ones might you do later? And which activities will you only use if you have to? Doing this will clarify your thinking. (Remember, however, that your plans might change. This is normal and you shouldnÕt worry about it. ThatÕs how we learn – by adapting to new circumstances.) Write in detail on your action plan what conclusions you come to about this question.

4) Who can help me and how? Collaboration with colleagues and students: The fourth question on the action plan is designed for collaboration. No action enquiry can be done in isolation from its context and the people who make up your daily professional life. So, who can help you and HOW? Talk your ideas through with your learning partner and also with the people you want to help you. Talk to students, if you feel itÕs appropriate, about what you are trying to do for them. Experience shows us that such discussions with students really help the learning atmosphere, because the students realise how much you care about their learning. And donÕt for this question just say who can help you. Remember to say how they can help you. Write in detail on your action plan what conclusions you come to.

 

5) How will I know it has improved? The standards of judgement for your research: Question Five on the action plan is a form of prior evaluation, to set yourself and the work, standards that you want to meet in your research with your students. In other words, in this question you need to write in detail what success in your research would look like. If you are concerned in Question One about students taking more responsibility for their learning, you would need to list all the ways in which students might show greater qualities of responsibility in their own learning. For example, they might not need reminding about homework. They might come and ask questions about something without being told to. Ask your learning partner to give you some ideas about what success might look like. Ask other colleagues. Ask your students! They will really know what success looks like for them. And their ideas might spark off your ideas. ItÕs a kind of partnership between teacher and students. Yet another kind of collaboration.

 

Right, having completed the writing and thinking about your action plan, youÕre ready to take it into the classroom now and try it out. So letÕs look now at how you can collect data about your research-question.

 

Collecting Data: the Second Step.

This is a difficult stage, but it doesnÕt need to be too complicated. First thing to remember: every single bit of data should be directly related to what it is you are trying to find out. If you are trying to improve the studentsÕ vocabulary, then donÕt collect data about reading, or methods of studentsÕ homework. Collect data, which relates to your methods of trying to improve the studentsÕ vocabulary. DonÕt waste your time collecting everything. YouÕll die of data-overload!

 

Diary/Journal: The main way you will collect data, particularly at first, will be through a diary or journal. After each lesson with your chosen class, or during the lesson if there is ever time, you will make notes in a special AR notebook, about what is happening.

 

LetÕs imagine you are trying to improve studentsÕ confidence. Your question is: ÔHow can I help my students to improve their confidence so that they will be able to learn more effectively?Õ You decide in Question Three on the Action Plan that one of the ways will be to talk to the students directly about your concern, because you believe this will help them trust you.

 

After the lesson you might write something like this (and put the date on it):

I introduced my AR to them today. They seemed interested – I say this because they smiled a lot and their eyes were shining. Every student appeared to listen carefully. Ma Jie asked me, Ôhow long will it take?Õ I said I didnÕt know, but perhaps when I saw that their confidence had improved, then this AR cycle would be over. Perhaps they could tell me when my research is over! I am delighted that Ma Jie asked this question because usually she is shy. This means that there is already a little evidence that perhaps my introduction actually helped her with her confidence. I will need to keep an eye on her. I asked the students to keep their own learning journals, in which they will write to me about how they feel about their studies. I think this will be useful for me in finding out what is really happening with my studentsÉ

 

And so on. Every time you write in a journal, you must write the date and put in as much detail as you can, telling yourself what has happened in relation to your research question. It is out of your diary-entries that much of the evidence of your final AR report will emerge. In a journal you should try to note relevant comments from students and teachers and your learning partner. You should keep a reading log of all the reading you are doing to support your insights about education. Every time you try something new, or something from your action plan, you should write about the effects of your actions on your students and on your own learning as a teacher. If you discover something new that you didnÕt know before, write it down! With the date!

 

StudentsÕ Comments: Students often say and do important things, which help you to understand your classroom better. Talk to your students. Write down their comments in your diary. Interview them if itÕs appropriate. Tape-record your interviews (only with their permission) because this will be a rich source of data for your research when you are trying to show that the learning has improved. Take down relevant questions they ask (relevant means if the comments are related to your research-question, i.e. improving something).

 

Discussions with Colleagues: Remember to keep your learning partner involved in your ongoing research. Tell him/her whatÕs happening all the time and ask for feedback. Talk freely about your research in the teachers-office and outside. Ask for advice and follow it if it seems right for you, but donÕt follow it if it doesnÕt seem right. Sometimes observers and colleagues wonÕt know how to help you. They are not you. They are not your students. They donÕt live inside your head and your practice and your life. Sometimes you have to take the risk of not listening to advice. This is difficult, but sometimes itÕs necessary. Your knowledge of your class, your students, and the learning atmosphere is probably superior to your colleaguesÕ, so they wonÕt always be able to help you. DonÕt worry about that. When it first happens, youÕll assume youÕre wrong, but something might push you to go your own way. Learning to listen to your own inner voice is an important stage of development in AR. Your voice might also be wrong, but listening to it is important. Remember, the AR question is: ÔHow can I help/ improveÉ?Õ

 

Questionnaires: These are difficult to plan well. DonÕt just give a questionnaire to your students or colleagues without having it checked first. Questionnaires are slippery, like snakes! They sometimes donÕt get the information you want, because they are not phrased precisely enough. Ask a senior, experienced colleague to help you with this kind of data-gathering. DonÕt do it by yourself. One way to begin using this form of data-collection is to do a semi-structured questionnaire, in which you phrase questions, which require more than a ÔyesÕ or ÔnoÕ answer, but which donÕt get the students to write too much (which could make them answer imprecisely). For example, if you are trying to improve your studentsÕ speaking ability you might write: Which activities in speaking do you find useful and why? I would stress, though, that you always ask for help when designing questionnaires from someone with experience in this method.

 

Classroom Observations: In your AR, you should ask colleagues to watch your AR class. Tell the observer what your AR question is. S/he should then specifically look for the kind of data and evidence you are trying to find. So, if youÕre trying to improve reading, your observer should make notes about how the reading in your classroom is being conducted, and whether it is working or not. The observer shouldnÕt make generalisations, s/he should be specific: Ma Jie didnÕt seem to understand because when asked, she hesitated a lot. An observer will be able to tell you if your methods are suitable or not. Discussion after the class is vital. Ask your observer to make written notes.

 

The notes an observer makes can be manifold. They can include comments about studentsÕ behaviour. They can show, for example, how many times a particular student speaks, or how much time a teacher is speaking and directing a class. An observer might want to make an observation sheet (in collaboration with the classroom teacher) about exactly what kind of actions (teacherÕs and studentsÕ) s/he should note down. Again, ask more experienced colleagues to help you with this grid.

 

These can then be used in your final report, if they are useful. Again, you should take your observerÕs comments seriously, but you mustnÕt absolutely assume they are right. They are opinions. They may be based on greater experience than you have, but that doesnÕt mean they are 100% right. Part of your job as an action researcher is to learn when to be guided by others – like leaders, colleagues, friends and family - when to be guided by your students, and when to be guided by yourself. ItÕs not always an easy decision to make. You will find it easier and easier as time goes on. Any decision you make in your research has to have the aim of improving the learning of the students and your own methodology. It shouldnÕt be made for any other reason.

 

Reading Books to inform your learning:

At this stage, as I mentioned before, you should also be reading books about methodology, Action Research and Language Teaching about your specific area of interest – i.e. speaking, or listening, for example. The theories in these books will help you to clarify your own thinking and make your final living educational theory more academic and scholarly. No Action Research process is complete without some insights into other peopleÕs ideas.

 

Just remember, though, at the data-collection stage you should always talk to your learning partner, your colleagues, your students and more experienced action researchers about how you are doing your research. DonÕt try to do it all by yourself. Remember, itÕs collaborative!

 

Finding Evidence: the Third Step

Evidence and data are different (see Glossary). After a few weeks you are likely to collect a lot of data. Remember that each aspect of data must be connected to your research question. So must your evidence as well. Once you feel you have got to a critical stage in your research (and you can ask more experienced researchers about this) you need to sit down, preferably with your learning partner, and sift/go through all your notes, interviews, observations sheets and so on, and pick out those aspects, which show that you really have made a difference to your research question. You can mark them with a special pen. Particular things a student has said, or a colleague has noticed. Something special you now realise that you didnÕt before you started your research. You should also make a note of those things, which show your research hasnÕt been successful as well. This makes the research more scientific and reliable. If you only write a report (see next section) on the successes, you will give a false understanding of what you have achieved to your audience.

 

LetÕs give an example here. LetÕs imagine that your question is: ÔHow can I help the motivation of my students to speak voluntarily in class?Õ You collect data about this through your diary, their feedback, other teachersÕ observations, through comments in AR meetings and so on. You write them down with the date and then after a few weeks, when the time feels right, you check them through with your learning partner. LetÕs imagine you find the following entry:

 

Ô2004.10.14. Today three students, He Xiaoxia, Ma Fuqin and Tian Baoqing spoke voluntarily. I asked anyone if they had any questions and these three students stood up at the same time. It was funny because they have never done this before. I asked them in turn to raise their questions and they spoke fluently. Ma Fuqin even stayed standing after he had raised his question because he had another one too! I was so happy. Everyone clapped him!

 

This is both data and evidence. ItÕs data because it is information about your class. It is evidence, however, that on that occasion three students were probably behaving more educationally because of your research. You canÕt prove that itÕs absolutely because of your research, but it seems likely. It also isnÕt enough to prove that your research is successful, because itÕs only one incident. However, if you add to this other forms of evidence about these students, or about other studentsÕ willingness to talk, then it becomes more likely that your research is the cause. This is why we insist on triangulation (see Glossary). It makes the evidence more trustworthy and reliable. He Lena in her research report (2004), writes this:

 

I cannot prove that the students did it because of me, but I can tell you that they did it with me!

 

And thatÕs what your evidence can show: that you have influenced your students to improve their learning with you. Remember, in AR, the aim of teaching is learning.

 

Keep Reading Books:

At this stage as well as at the data-collection stage, you should keep reading other peopleÕs theories (in Chinese and English) to help you understand the educational significance of your own findings and developing theory. You will need to integrate the ideas of others into your final report, otherwise it will lack rigour and be less educationally valid. Living Educational Theory is a combination of your new ideas and some ideas from others. It cannot ever be just your own ideas.

 

Writing an AR Report/Case Study: The Fourth Step

There are many ways to write a report/case-study in AR. There are as many different ways as there are action researchers. Below are some tips about structure, however, which might be useful.

 

á             Introduction, in which you write something about your educational/family background, and also about your question and why you are concerned about it - in detail.

á             Middle Section, in which you write a description of your research-story, what happened, what you did, what the students did and what happened. You will include details of colleaguesÕ classroom-observations, your own reflections, and any other relevant details. You might include details of relevant reading you have done.

á             Conclusion, in which you draw conclusions about what has happened, what has gone well, what has gone badly, how you might improve the research in the future, how the students have improved (or not), and what your new knowledge and theory look like, now that your AR cycle is completed.

 

In addition, in case-study or report writing, there are some standard requirements, which must be emphasised in any valid written account. An academic reader will ask him/herself the following questions:

 

For high-quality examples of case-studies and AR reports take a trip to the website: http://www.actionresearch.net/moira.shtml where you will see how colleagues have already created their own living educational theories. The important thing to remember is that you should not try to copy the style/content/structure of other peopleÕs reports/case-studies. You should present your research in the way that suits you. Again, talking to experienced ARers will help you to come to your own conclusions.

 

What do you do if the research isnÕt running smoothly? Some Tips.

First, donÕt panic! AR isnÕt very smooth. It doesnÕt mean youÕre doing something wrong. Quite often it can mean you are doing something right. The above comments might suggest that everything happens in a logical sequence every time. It doesnÕt because people are people, and situations are unique. One of the chief qualities you will need as an ARer is flexibility and the ability to collaborate!

 

Below is a list of the most common problems people come up against when they are doing their research, and some suggestions about how you might solve them:

 

á             After a short while you realise your research question isnÕt the right one. This is very common, and in fact often shows that you are learning very quickly about your classroom. If you are realising your question needs to change, talk with your learning partner, with other colleagues, and change it! You havenÕt wasted time because you have learnt that your original concern hides a deeper concern. This is how we learn and itÕs a good sign in your AR.

á             Sometimes, your students appear to make a lot of progress because of your research and then suddenly, they donÕt anymore! This can feel very disappointing, but it often happens this way. If it does, again talk to colleagues and most importantly, talk to your students to find out why this might be the case. DonÕt tell them theyÕre failing, of course, but tell them you want to know how you can help them more with the research question.

á             Once your research has got going, it is common for a feeling of great optimism and hope to arise around the research. YouÕre excited and so are the students. And then, suddenly, you might have a bad lesson, or youÕre tired, or the research doesn't seem to be working anymore and you lose heart. DonÕt panic. This often happens. Research often goes through stages. Sometimes, everything seems to be pulling in the same direction, and then for no reason you can see, you become discouraged. It is important when you feel like that to TALK to someone about your fears. DonÕt worry about it on your own. Talking is the chief way of finding a practical solution to your worries.

á             Losing face is often the reason why the research doesnÕt proceed smoothly. If a teacher is worried that mistakes will look bad, s/he may decide not to talk to someone about what is happening. This is the only mistake you can really make in action research. Mistakes in research, in your teaching and leaning are not really mistakes, actually. They are opportunities for learning. If you share your worries, it is likely you will gain a lot of inspiration from your colleagues and students. ÔFaceÕ has no place in language-learning, in research or in our AR meetings. We are all here to learn so that we can teach better.

á             Putting together all your new knowledge in the form of a report may seem like an impossible task. DonÕt let it worry you. Again, get advice. Study other peopleÕs writing. Keep reading your notes and data all the time when you have a moment. This way, you will become more familiar with it.

 

Final note! AR is not a solitary activity. It is a collaborative activity. When researchers forget this fact, their AR cannot succeed. At every stage of an AR enquiry, collaboration is the key. Keep talking and asking and learning and reading and thinking and disagreeing and concluding.

 

Good luck. And if you have questions to ask about this writing, then ASK!

 

Glossary:

Action Planning: This is the main way in which action researchers research their practice. An action plan has five questions: ÔWhat do I want to improve?Õ, ÔWhy am I concerned about it?Õ, ÔWhat can I do to improve it?Õ, ÔWho can help me and how?Õ and ÔHow will I know it has improved?Õ An action plan guides the practice of the teacher and helps her/him to make judgements about progress. (N.B. Action Plan is not a Lesson Plan. A Lesson Plan is a way of thinking about one lesson. An Action Plan is a way of thinking about the whole of your teaching methodology and your studentsÕ learning.) Action Planning promotes developmental learning, and helps people to make progress.

 

Action Research: the name given to a form of research in which individuals and groups take systematic actions to improve their practice, and then create a research-report in which they show the evidence of development. It is a form of research in which practice precedes the theory of it.

 

Assessment: this is the term used to mean the judgements which can measure a studentÕs or a teacherÕs performance. These usually have a numerical/grade component, like 6 out of 10, or A-, or 65%. An I.Q. test is a kind of assessment. The trouble with assessment on its own is that it doesnÕt give a broad enough picture of the studentsÕ learning, and doesnÕt enable teachers to diagnose a single studentÕs learning problems in sufficient detail.

 

Case-study: is a written account about your classroom, or some studentsÕ or one studentÕs learning, and tells the story of your and their educational development. It doesnÕt try to generalise about education everywhere, but it explains your educational development and the studentsÕ learning.

 

Collaboration: the skill of working together. In AR, especially in China, it may become a new form of knowledge and theory – collaborative living educational theory!

 

Criteria: another name for Ôstandards of judgementÕ.

 

Critical Friend: (see Learning Partner below)

 

Cycle: This is the name given to the structure of an action research enquiry. The structure consists of choosing a question, putting it into action, collecting data, creating evidence and writing a report. Recognising when it is right to finish the research, in other words, when the cycle has been completed, is different for every researcher. This is yet another occasion when you need to liaise with other colleagues, whose experience is greater than yours.

 

Data: This is the information you collect during the process of research. (See Evidence) All the data should be related to your action research question: ÔHow can I improveÉ?Õ It may take many forms. It might be conversations with your students. It could be notes from your journal. It could be an observation-schedule from your dean, or from other colleagues. It could be test-scores. It might even be your feelings about the class. If your question is about helping the students to improve their reading comprehension, for example, then you should collect data about your studentsÕ reading comprehension.

 

Dialectical Knowledge: This is the name given to knowledge gained from a process of question and answer. It is developmental knowledge, which depends on the people finding it out, creating it and developing it. It is NOT the static knowledge you can find in a book, for example. Dialectical knowledge changes as individualsÕ and groupÕs understanding develops. It is closely linked to the values of the person/people creating and developing the knowledge. For example, in Action Research the knowledge you create through your enquiry hasnÕt just come from your own viewpoint, or from books. It has been developed through multiple sources – your ideas, your studentsÕ ideas, your colleaguesÕ ideas, ideas from books and journals, ideas from friends and family. Dialectical knowledge is essentially developmental. Action Research knowledge is dialectical knowledge. Your ideas are not final. They are growing everyday.

 

Dialogical Knowledge: not to be confused with dialectical knowledge (see above). Dialogical knowledge is the form of knowledge, which you get from conversations. For example, if you ask students a question and they answer it, you can work out what you have learnt from this question and answer session. This is dialogical knowledge. Dialogical knowledge often forms a part of dialectical knowledge.

 

Diary: This is a useful tool in AR, in which teachers can write about the class they are researching. All comments in the diary should have a date, and write in detail about the collection of data, how the class feels to the teacher that day, what the teacher thinks about his/her new methodology, what the students have said perhaps, and so on. All details related to the AR question are relevant to be noted down in the diary. Another word for diary is Journal.

 

Educational Development: takes place when the processes enable educational conclusions, educational theory and better educational processes to occur. In an AR view, education isnÕt static but develops from day-to-day, from month-to-month and from year-to-year. Indeed, if your teaching doesnÕt change and grow and get better, you are wasting your time and the time of your students as well!

 

Epistemology: this means the theory of knowledge. In AR, our epistemology is based on a living contradiction, on the logic of action planning, the idea that practice precedes theory, and that individuals and group can create their own living educational theories.

 

Evaluation: (see Assessment.) This is an educational judgement, which tries to understand the educational quality or the educational value of something. It is not reducible to numbers, grades or percentages. For example, ÔVery Good!Õ is an evaluation. ItÕs not a very helpful one, though, because it doesnÕt tell the student or the teacher what ÔgoodÕ means in a particular instance. Lesson observations are a form of evaluation. An Action Plan, carried through systematically can become a form of evaluation (especially question 5 – ÔHow will I know it has improved?Õ Your journal for your AR can become a source of evaluation. Your comments on studentsÕ homework and in class orally are a kind of evaluation. Their feedback on your teaching is also a kind of evaluation. Evaluation is much more complicated to do than assessment, but is often more revealing of individual differences in studentsÕ abilities and learning strategies.

 

Evidence: This arises as the result of reflections on your data, as you try to find out if the information you have collected actually shows some improvement has taken place in your teaching and the studentsÕ learning. It is always related to the question you have asked in your action plan: ÔHow can I improveÉ?Õ For example, if your question is about helping students to improve their speaking, then your evidence must show if your students have improved their speaking and in what ways they have improved their speaking and you have improved your methodologies to help them.

 

Experiential learning: this is learning through experience, rather than being taught. In the English classroom, students learning this way would bring their own experience into the classroom and use that as the basis of their learning experience. This is quite different from the old system in China in which the teacher provides the total conditions for learning and doesn't expect the students to be active on their own behalf. The old system gives total power to the teacher, whereas under The New Curriculum, the students have a chance to determine through negotiation with the teacher, some of the ways they will learn and be taught.

 

Formative Evaluation: (See Summative Evaluation.) This new form of evaluation is important under the New Curriculum and in AR. ÔFormativeÕ expresses the kind of educational judgements we make during the processes of education, before the process is completed. To make formative judgements about your studentsÕ learning, you might use quizzes, homework, class-reports, group and class-presentations; you might work out how many questions or answers they contribute, how often they speak, how carefully they listen, or help their learning partner; you might interview them about their own progress; you might help them to learn how to evaluate themselves during the processes of learning.

 

Generalisability: In traditional forms of research, researchers are often asked to provide proof that their results are valid for all situations with all people at all times. AR doesnÕt try to do this, because it recognises that each teacher and each student is unique. ARers generalise their work through communicating the educational values they live by and judge their work by. This communication can happen orally, through books, through the internet, through the media, at conferences and meetings and so on.

 

Group-work: This is a helpful methodology to use in classrooms and in meetings, to enable colleagues/students to speak openly about their learning. It should be encouraged in language-learning and in the processes of AR to strengthen the educational processes.

 

Journal: See Diary.

 

Learning Partner: In AR it is customary for a teacher to have a learning partner who can share the process of Action Planning (see above) and who can act as a critical friend for the process of the research. A learning partner can help the researcher make his/her ideas clearer and more practical. S/he can ask difficult questions or act as a sounding-board for difficult ideas. In addition, learning partners can be set up amongst students to help them help each other. It is a form of collaboration and really helpful for teachers and students to gather data and evidence about their processes of teaching and learning. One of the best ways of helping students improve their learning is to get them to do action plans about their own learning in pairs, so that each can act as a motivator and checker for the other.

 

Living Contradiction: This is the name given to two types of situation in practice. The first is an internal living contradiction. The other is an external one. In the internal living contradiction, a practitioner denies his/her own inner values in action. For example, s/he might want to improve studentsÕ speaking, but then speaks all the time, thus preventing the students from improving their own speaking. In the external living contradiction, a teacher might want to improve the studentsÕ self-study, but the conditions for this to happen in their dormitories, for example, might prevent the students from improving their self-study. They are both living contradictions, because they exist in real situations in real people in real places in real time, and like people, these contradictions can change and develop and grow and get better!

 

Living Educational Theory: This is the type of theory developed through one form of Action Research (Whitehead, 1989[1]), in which individuals ask themselves questions of the kind, ÔHow do I improve my practice?Õ and develop their own dialectical knowledge (see above) and theory from it. In this form of Action Research, practice comes before theory. A practitioner researches his/her practice and comes to conclusions about it, and explains their thinking as living educational theory. Practitioner-researchers might use the theories of others in their research report, or indeed in thinking and creating the practice, but their resultant theory is theirs. Why living? Well, because the theory isnÕt ever over. ItÕs always developing and changing. It is fuelled by values (like love, fairness, equality, trust, altruism, educational improvement), just as we are, you and I. It evolves as life itself evolves. It doesnÕt ever reach the end. It is dynamic.

 

Monitoring: means checking students' work, for example homework, or class-writing, or conversations or behaviour. We can also monitor/check the standard of AR reports through validation meetings (see below).

 

New Curriculum: this is the name given to ChinaÕs innovations in the teaching of English in all classrooms across China by September, 2005. This curriculum is a revolution in education, because instead of using the old teacher-centred ways, it expects more active involvement from students. It has been said that through the New Curriculum, Ôstudents must move from competence to performanceÕ.[2]

 

Obervation-sheet:  a document prepared by an observer to record precise information in a class. It can consist of tick-boxes to record studentsÕ participation, teacherÕs actions, number of times students ask/answer questions. It can record examples of proven learning by students (did they make their own sentences using new knowledge, for example?) or the number of different methods used in a classroom. Such a document needs careful preparation before the class in consultation with the researcherÕs teaching and learning needs.

 

Pair-work: this is a particularly helpful method in AR and in the classroom. Pair work can really stimulate ideas between two people and encourage them to develop their critical thinking abilities. Pair work in learning partnerships is crucial and should be encouraged in language-learning and in your own AR enquiries.

 

Practitioner: a teacher, nurse, doctor, health official, administrator, leader, dean - in fact anyone who is ÔpractisingÕ a profession and trying to make it better.

 

Professionalism: This is the name given to the skills, which individuals and groups use to further their organisationÕs power and resources.

 

Professionality: This is the name given to the mastery of the skills of putting educational values into action in ways, which enable others to learn well and benefit their future lives in society. It also refers to the rules of an organisation, which expects particular standards of behaviour and performance from members.

 

Propositional Knowledge: (See dialectical knowledge above.) This form of knowledge is the kind you get in a book. Propositional knowledge is not developing, it is static. For example, 2 plus 2 = 4. This is unchanging knowledge. It is always true. In educational action research, knowledge about the classroom and about process changes all the time. In AR we can use propositional knowledge from books and journals to help clarify our thinking, but on its own, it is a limited way of telling the truth about our unique classrooms.

 

Report: A report differs from a case-study in the sense that it is more academic or scholarly, draws more significant conclusions and pays more attention to your own Ôliving educational theoryÕ.

 

Rigour: refers to the degree of care that a researcher takes to make sure the research is valid. How carefully s/he makes notes in a journal. How much feedback she gets from the students. How often observers watch the class. And so on.

 

Student-centred Learning the learning in a student-centred classroom is dominated by the learning needs of the students. Students are given the space to develop their own learning pathways rather than having everything determined by the teacher. Student-centred classrooms are characterised by active and enthusiastic students to whom the teacher is responsive rather than always leading them. Students are encouraged to be independent learners and to take responsibility for their learning.

 

Sustainable Development: This is about encouraging the creation, development and maintenance of new ways of working, which are self-motivating and initiated from within an organisation and not from outside. VSO is concerned, for example, to enable educational development to happen without the intervention of international teachers. In other words, Chinese colleagues doing it all for themselves.

 

Summative Evaluation (sometimes called summative assessment): This is the form of judgements a teacher and administrators make about studentsÕ learning at the end of the processes of learning. For example, the most common form of summative assessment is examination results – perhaps in your college – that take place at the end of the term or year. Another form is the State Examinations for Band Four or Band Six.

 

Teacher-centred Learning: In such classrooms learning is characterised by a dominating teacher, who does most of the talking, leads the students in every activity, and does not encourage independence in his/her students. The New Curriculum wishes to see less of this in classrooms now.

 

Teacher-researchers: is the name given to teachers who research their practice and make reports about it so that others can learn more about education. You are teacher-researchers if you do AR.

 

Triangulation: the collecting of multiple data from different sources to ensure greater rigour in the research-outcome. Therefore, researchers should not only collect evidence from students, but from observers, their own insights and so on, as well as ideas from Literature about education. This increases the validity of the research and make is less vulnerable to attack by traditionalists, or indeed anyone else!

 

Validation Meeting: this refers to meetings, which are called specifically to judge the quality of an ARerÕs case-study or report. At such a meeting, colleagues will give comments on their responses to a single researcherÕs paper. It is a necessary process in the validity of the AR process. It also increases triangulation (see above).

 

Validity: refers to the degree of truth in an account of educational development. Is your research believable and does the research matter? Has it helped to improve something? A validation meeting (see above) is one of the key ways of ensuring validity in AR reports.

 



[1] Whitehead, J., (1989), ÔCreating Living Educational Theories from Asking Questions of the Kind: ÔHow can I improve my practice?Õ in Cambridge Journal of Education, Vol. 19., no.3.

[2] Chen Xiaotang, Beijing Normal University, New Curriculum Panel, said this at a conference for VSO in Yinchuan, 2002.