Abstracts from China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching at Guyuan Teachers College, Ningxia Province, P. R. Republic.


June 2004


Before showing you our Action Research report abstracts, we need to explain a little about the context of their development.


China is facing enormous changes at the moment in terms of economic growth, industrial, social, educational and political development and cultural influences from international sources. It school population reached 185,000,000 in 2003. Its development rate in the above areas is phenomenal and has been quoted by experts[1] as second to none in the world over the last ten years. Added to this set of enormous changes, China is implementing a New Curriculum for the teaching of English, which is nothing short of revolutionary. It turns on its head centuries-old traditional teacher-centred methodologies and requires teachers and students to become more autonomous, creative and personally accountable for learning.[2] This innovation is seen to be one of the greatest educational challenges in the last two decades.[3] Its principal concern is to help students of English move ‘from competence to performance.’ The NC itself is detailed, clear, inspiring and comprehensive. What is problematic is how it is going to be implemented. And this is where Action Research comes in.


Action Research has a recent history in China, particularly in relation to education, social change and administration. Academics like Professor Wang Qiang, with her post-graduate students at Beijing Normal University, have led the way towards the adoption of action research processes in education and management. Crucial work has been done in the last ten years on consolidating and amalgamating international and Chinese educational theories, particularly in relation to developing more communicative methodologies in teaching[4]. Studies[5] have been undertaken to show how Action Research can be influential in developing courses and educational processes in schools, colleges and universities. In keeping with Chinese theoretical and methodological tradition, Chinese Action Research has concentrated on the theories of teaching rather than the practice of it, with many articles recommending the use-value of AR rather than showing the authors’ own practically-grounded epistemologies. There has also been a rise in the numbers of articles published in prominent University-based national journals about Action Research with a few case-studies in the last few years[6].


In China’s Action Research Centre, based in Guyuan, Ningxia, we have been developing a different form of AR than is currently in use elsewhere in the country. It has been developed from the individually-oriented and living theory approaches of Jack Whitehead and others at the University of Bath in Great Britain. At present there is a group of over twenty teacher-researchers at the Centre currently engaged in research enquiries into such aspects of education as motivation, students’ confidence, ability to speak, and the development of critical thinking skills etc.. The group is led by Dean Tian Fengjun, and is currently overseen by a volunteer with Voluntary Services Overseas, Dr. Moira Laidlaw, who introduced the process in February, 2002. Over the last two years, we have been researching our teaching and producing case-studies. Our AR has taken the form of individuals working on self-chosen enquiries through action planning, collecting of data, reading theoretical literature, drawing conclusions and creating our own living educational theories. We have held weekly meetings, observed classes, collaborated and offered each other critical friendship. We have hosted seminars, workshops, and lectures on current AR thinking, literature and enquiries. We have also produced newsletters and diverse information for local middle schools about our work, as well as acting as a training centre for a local Middle School, whose English department has ten members undertaking their own AR enquiries. We aim to extend our influence in the future through the publishing of a book about the connections between the New Curriculum and Action Research, writing articles for national and international journals, inviting international experts in AR to come to the Centre, making contact with local, provincial and national leaders in educational management, and also publicizing our work through the internet.


Our approaches to teaching and learning and research at the Centre, and the consequent living educational theories, have given rise to a potentially distinctive epistemology in which we are developing Educational Action Research with Chinese characteristics. Although early days as yet, we are conscious of witnessing the emergence of a new form of educational action research, which we believe has profound implications for the future of education in China.


The abstracts you are about to read are groundbreakers! It is our pleasure to present them to you. We hope you will enjoy them and be interested enough to turn to the case-studies themselves.


Warmest regards,


Colleagues at China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching, Guyuan Teachers College.


Abstracts for recent reports at China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching, Guyuan Teachers College


Cao Yong: How can I Improve the Pronunciation and Intonation of the first-year English Majors to meet the demands of the New English Curriculum? In my report, I present my AR work on how I used Action Research in teaching pronunciation and intonation for the first-English majors. My concern reveals itself to be closely associated with the bases of the four language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing. I put forward a case that the effort to master the sound system and to pronounce correctly, are key aspects of learning a second language. As clarification I give some technical details on aspects of sounds of speech, including articulation, vowel formation, accent, inflection, and intonation, with reference to the correctness or acceptability of the speech sounds. I also provide some descriptions of new classroom teaching-methods for pronunciation and intonation. I include comments from students, reveal statistics of their scores, quote from expert sources in linguistics, and show the results of a questionnaire. I conclude that by researching my practice in terms of targets for the New Curriculum for the teaching of English in China, there is the potential for my work and similar enquiries to be of educational benefit for schools and other colleges in China. 


Gong Lixia: How Can I Improve Two Young English Majors’ Confidence In English Learning? In my report, I describe the whole process
of my research, with the use of such devices as praise and encouragement, and methods
to encourage students in helping each other and activities such as competitions.
I show how I have helped two of the poorest students to improve their confidence
in my class and also what I have learnt from choosing them as the subjects of my
research. The results show that these two students have become more confident.
However, in my next cycle of AR I would like to research the question, 'How can
I help to improve the students’ listening and speaking, particularly in regards
to the lowest achievers? This has developed from my research findings, which
revealed weaknesses in these areas.


Laidlaw, Moira: How can I help to enable sustainable educational development in our AR Centre at Guyuan Teachers College?

My paper represents an interim report of a five-year action plan currently in its third year. In the report I discuss my present concerns as an educational Volunteer about how I can promote sustainable educational development with some colleagues and students in GTC and what actions I have taken to move towards our negotiated imagined solutions. I show how, through collaboration with leaders, colleagues, VSO Beijing and a British University Department of Education, I have helped to facilitate a change of learning-climate within the department and its multiple effects on subsequent teaching and learning. I outline my negotiated plans with the department for the coming eighteen months and draw conclusions about the possible significance of developing AR with Chinese characteristics in wider contexts.


Li Jun: How can I help the non-English students improve their reading ability? In the process of teaching, I have found that most students who are non-English majors in grade 1 at this teachers college could not read effectively, which prevented them from making progress and gaining high scores in the examinations. Reading constitutes a large part of their course, and their failure in it has made them lose interest in reading English documents outside the class, and even in learning English altogether. In response to this, I developed a 10-week plan to improve the students’ reading ability. During the procedure, I made some changes in teaching methodology, after reading some magazines and some papers about English language teaching and learning from the New Curriculum for the teaching of English in China. I was able to improve my methodology in order to facilitate my students’ learning.


Li Peidong: How can I improve my students’ self-confidence in their class work? This paper is an account of what I have done in my educational action research, which lasted about one year. It has brought about great struggle and exploration within myself as I researched how I could improve my students’ self-confidence in their class-work. I perceive their confidence as an extrinsic cause influencing conversational performance and communicative motivation. The article records how I came to my present AR question with interweaving inquiry and evaluations of my imagined solutions, all of this in conjunction with humanistic approaches and educational values based on my insights and learning about the New English Curriculum for the teaching of English in China. I use questionnaires, interviews and my own observations to triangulate and from which to draw conclusions.


Ling Yiwen: How Can I Improve the Students' Self-Confidence in our Classroom Activities in order to enhance their learning? This action research enquiry shows how I have helped my students to become more confident in their learning of English. Not only do I show the processes of this development with the students, but also how I completely changed my thinking about teaching and learning. I discover the importance of building a bridge between the content of a lesson and the methodologies used to communicate with my students. I enable them to develop their own methodologies in order to reinforce their linguistic and methodological learning as future teachers. I conclude that harnessing students’ creativity is the best way I have yet found to motivate my students, enhance their confidence, consolidate their learning and open their eyes to possible methodologies.


Liu Binyou: How Can I Cultivate My Non-English Students’ Interest in English? In my case-study I reveal how I changed my methods to enable students to take a more active part in lessons. I found new ways to attract their interest and helped to motivate them. These methods consisted of introducing issues of personal interest to the students, and paying attention to the learning needs of individuals. I also describe in detail the responses of one student to a new method of teaching, in which his own talents as a poet are harnessed to motivate him to study English.


Liu Fengyun: How can I create constructive and developmental activities in my English  Listening Teaching in order to help my students learn more effectively? This article shows my investigation of some students whose pronunciation, intonation, speaking and listening are poor. The listening, teaching and learning environments for both teachers and students are currently problematic, especially at the very beginning of a programme of listening-comprehension for first-year students at the college. Thus, creating a favourable learning environment for students and teacher seems crucial. This study reveals how interesting and enjoyable materials constitute a necessary part of the teaching of listening-comprehension and how a living and developmental teaching system was inaugurated. In addition, this article presents descriptions of some activities which resulted from constructivist theories, and which were adapted for the students who were not self-confident enough to participate in the class. By creating this new system, the students have been enabled to study developmentally in their listening class at the beginning of their professional learning.

Key words: constructivism; developmental activities; learning environment; listening comprehension.


Liu Hui: How can I encourage my students to become more active in class? After conducting a poll with my students, I decide to tackle the problems of self-doubt in my students by following their suggestions about my teaching and their learning. This two-year study shows how I, with help from my students, researched our own learning through action research and how we came to specific practical solutions to the problems we faced. I integrate my own insights with the recommendations of our New Curriculum for the teaching of English in China and through my emerging insights about the purpose of life-long learning. Through observations by colleagues, my own observations of their classes, comments from students, reading and discussions, we achieve some of our goals in our learning. As a teacher-researcher, however, I end my research with new questions, which principally focus on extending students’ ability to take more responsibility for their own learning.


Liu Xia: How can I help my students improve their learning through respect and encouragement?

This action research enquiry shows the educational development in some students, members of my own family and myself, through my attempts to promote learning through respect and encouragement. It follows one class of Medical Major students, whose English level is perceived by the college as poor, as they develop confidence in learning. I show how I help them to believe in themselves as learners and how I take this new pedagogical knowledge into my family to help my nephews and my own son in their English learning. I discover some contradictions in this process of encouragement, and recognise the necessity of making constructively critical comments to learners. My new educational knowledge enables me to make recommendations about conditions for teaching and learning a foreign language.


Lu Yingping:

How can I understand the links between AR and the New Curriculum? In this article, I discuss my understanding of Action Research, and the main focuses of the New Curriculum for the Teaching of English. I describe how we first learnt the key points of AR, and how they have helped me to develop my teaching methods. I illustrate the importance of innovation in English teaching and learning, and its great influence on our teaching theory in language teaching. I point the way towards methods, which are appropriate in language learning. I also show Action Research’s potential application to a variety of aspects in education.


Ma Hong:

How can I help students who are comparatively poor at learning English? In this paper I explain what I mean by ‘comparatively poor’ and outline the problems that this creates in teaching such students. I explore the three reasons for choosing my question. First, it was for the development of the class, which at the very beginning was at a mess. Secondly it was because of my teaching methods, which rendered the classroom tedious for all of us. Thirdly my own experience as a poor student gave me insights into teaching these students. During the process of research I collaborate with colleagues and discuss imagined solutions with them. By helping the comparatively poor students I also try to create a friendly, well-disciplined and united class atmosphere, to help these students become more confident and take more initiative as well as responsibility for their study. A variety of methods is employed and evaluated, and these constitute the remainder of my study. Results show there was an improvement in learning both on the students’ part as well my own. My claims to knowledge for this paper have been validated through meetings, journal entries and students’ actions and self-evaluations. Unexpectedly, my research-actions resulted in some de-motivation in the more high-achieving students, and thus my new question is: How can I differentiate in ways, which will help each student to reach his or her potential for learning?


Ma Xia: How Can I help students improve their vocabulary learning? An English Vocabulary Teaching Strategy for College students.

Strategising-ability is an important part of English students in acquiring vocabulary. This report reveals how a vocabulary-teaching strategy has improved some college-students’ vocabulary-learning ability. The ten-week study shows how classroom vocabulary teaching can increase students’ ability and can improve learning. Several vocabulary-learning strategies were developed for students, including specific training exercises, mnemonics, word cards and guessing from the context. Motivation was increased through the inclusion of special exercises and games, which focused on more active memory techniques. The results show that the chosen research subjects’ abilities increased. The study concludes that vocabulary strategy-teaching has not only aroused students’ interest in learning English but also their interest in language itself. Most importantly, students have developed their own rigorous vocabulary learning approaches and better English learning habits, which may influence their future lives.


Ma Xiaoxia: How can I combine an improvement in motivation with students taking more responsibility for their own learning in grade two, class one?

Starting from the premise that caring about education is a way of caring about the whole nation, I have tried to develop teaching-strategies to deal with my students’ inability to take responsibility for their own learning and to raise their motivation in English lessons. My report shows how the students and I develop a more collaborative approach to learning and how some students’ learning levels were increased. I show the links between my own processes of teaching and the recommendations in the New Curriculum for the teaching of English in China. I have discovered that it is a teacher’s own relationship with the students, which motivates students most directly  and raises their motivation to achieve more. In addition, through this process I have developed more knowledge about the practical usefulness of Action Research in the classroom.

Key words: motivation, responsibility, learning-strategies, New Curriculum.


Tao Rui: How can I improve my students’ motivation so they can improve their learning? A case study of Action Research into the Integrated Skills of English. This paper is the result of a two-year study into motivation. My initial question was the result of my previous teacher-centered teaching experience, students' low motivation and the tedious learning atmosphere. A variety of imagined teaching methods was put into practice to improve students' motivation, and at the same time improve their learning. For instance, micro-teaching, experiential learning and a new questioning-method. The results show that students' motivation has been improved because of my present research practice. In addition I show how the processes of this research have developed my own living educational theory as well as improving my professionality as an English teacher.   


Tian Fengjun (Dean of Department): How can I manage a process of educational innovation so that the professionality of colleagues and the learning of students are enhanced? In my report I show how as a Dean I have led a process of change and with others introduced Action Research as the main tool of professional development into the department over two years. I outline my actions and new insights and show how I have tried to influence colleagues and students to develop more critical thinking capacities and evaluative abilities. Interim results show a marked degree of success in terms of changing the departmental climate and offering new hope to colleagues and students in terms of their pedagogical learning. I then outline our departmental hopes for the future.


Wang Shuqin: ‘How can I Help the Students Improve their Speaking Ability in the Speaking and Listening Part in the Class of Integrated Skills of English?’ 

This study focuses on the improvement of students’ speaking abilities in the class of ‘Integrated Skills of English’. This enquiry put me in an awkward position, as I encountered my own "living contradiction" (Whitehead, 1989), which consisted of wanting to build the students' professional ability but not creating chances for them to speak. My students changed their passive learning-style to one of the active use of language. Not allowing myself to be restricted by the dialogues in the textbook, I provide more topics and chances for them to work in pairs, in groups, and to do individual or group presentation, to show likes or dislikes, share joys or worries, solve problems and take heart. I found that they were much encouraged to learn the language by using and participating in activities. As a result of more varied methods, the students' ability of speaking along with their active engagement with vocabulary, interest, confidence, thinking ability, etc, were all improved. In doing action research I have varied my teaching-methods and improved the situation.


Wang Ying:

How can I improve the students’ learning by increasing their interest and confidence in learning English? This report shows how I changed my teaching methods in order to help my students learn more effectively. As the New Curriculum in China for the teaching of English demands, I had to change from didactic lecturer to facilitator and organizer. I show how my imagined solutions to improving the living situation played a big role in helping my students learn better. The results are encouraging, as students begin more and more to play an active role in their classroom learning. The most significant achievement is the students’ new ability to learn by, and think for, themselves, which I think will benefit them all their lives. At the same time, I learn a lot and develop new methodologies for teaching. My paper reveals how I have used the connections between my research process and the New Curriculum values like students’ interest, motivation and attitudes, to enhance the learning process.


Yu Lili: How can I help my students to be more active in speaking? My research shows how I help my students to take more responsibility for their learning in speaking class through the inauguration of methods designed to capture their interest and sense of purpose. I choose six students in order to display various problems with learning and with their help devise more communicative methods to inspire them. I develop closer relationships with my students in order to understand their learning needs better, and this alone makes a big difference to their willingness to learn. Humour, encouragement and praise are also deployed to make a better class-atmosphere. The results of my research show that improvements are made to differing degrees by many of the students.


Zhang Lina: How can I help my non-major students have more confidence in learning English? My one-year study shows what I have done to enable my students to become more confident in their learning of English. They have been accustomed to heavily teacher-centred methods, which seem to prevent them from being active in my class. I employ many methods to help them, including creating an atmosphere in which they are encouraged to learn from their mistakes instead of trying to avoid making them. I learn that teaching is a complex and difficult activity and that sensitivity to students’ learning needs is an important determinant of success. I recognise the significance of creating theory out of practice and my report ends with some recommendations about teaching and learning.


Zhao Xiaohong: The present paper consists of an AR case-study and report, which point out the links between educational action research and the rationale for the New Curriculum for the teaching of English in China. This NC will be implemented across China in 2005, which makes the links significant. This paper explores the connections between the values in both Action Research and the New Curriculum, and demonstrates how I promoted aspects of the NC in teaching my class, using Action Research. I describe and explain the ways in which students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning and how this impacts on their development as learners and future teachers.







[1] Please see "Population of China at the Turn of the Century: Ningxia", China Statistical Press, 1998.

[2] Guiyue Song, Ying Jin Ying Yu Ke Cheng Biao Zhun Jiao Shi Du Ben, ‘The New Curriculum’,  (Huazhong Normal University Press, 2002).

[3] Chen Xiaotang, (Beijing Normal University), associate of the think-tank for the New Curriculum, 2002, Speech given in Yinchuan for Chinese teachers and international educational volunteers.

[4] See Tian Fengjun, (2003), ‘Action Research and Creativity in Foreign Languages Teaching’, Journal of Foreign Language Education, Nov./Dec. ISSN 1000 5544

[5] Wang Qiang, (2002), ‘Action Research for English Teachers’, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing.

[6] See for example, journals published by foreign language presses in major universities – Beijing, Wuhan, Xi’an etc..