Can I respond to Ma Li Yuan's draft action research report on 'How can I attract my students' attention educationally?' in a way that contributes to her educational influences, in her own learning, in the learning of her colleagues and to the development of research at Ningxia Teachers University.

Jack Whitehead

Visiting Professor of Ningxia Teachers University, China.

Lecturer in Education, University of Bath, UK.

May 2006


One way in which an educator expresses his or her educational qualities is through imagining the world through the experiences and understandings of the other. In an educational relationship an educator responds to the other in ways that help to improve learning. The intention in this paper is to check the educational validity of the pedagogic device of creating a story in which I imagine that I am the other who now shares some of my understandings and mu imderstandings of the ideas of others. The original idea for this paper came out of a validation meeting at Ningxia Teachers University on the 16 May 2006. This meeting focused on Ma Li Yuan's draft action research report on 'How can I attract my students' attention educationally?'

At a lecture at Ningxia Teachers University on Living Educational Theory Action Research In China: A World View, on the 15 May 2006, Jean McNiff and Jack Whitehead stressed the importance of including the students' voices and the teachers responses to the students' voices in explaining their educational influences in learning. They also stressed the importance of engaging with the ideas of other academics in developing the international reputation of the research at Ningxia Teachers University and in China's Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching (CECEARFLT). At a lecture on the 17 May on Educational Action Research in Ningxia Teachers University: Possible Futures, they focused on: moving from methodology to theory and knowledge-creation; engaging with the literature at the forefront of the field; values as explanatory principles; the importance of contextualising country, workplace, family and self in Living Educational Theory Action Research (LETAR). This paper develops these ideas and seeks to extend their educational influence in the learning of colleagues at Ningxia Teachers University.

How can I attract my students' attention educationally? Jack Whitehead's response to Ma Li Juan's question with the pedagogic device of imagining that 'I am the Ma Li Juan who shares some of Jack Whitehead's understandings'.

My context

I live and work in China at Ningxia Teachers University in Guyuan. Until 10 months ago I was a student in the Foreign Language and Literature Department of Ningxia University. I now teach English and research my educational practice at Ningxia Teachers University. This is a new university developed from Guyuan Teachers College. Guyuan is one of the smallest cities in China and the Chinese Government is providing additional resources to Ningxia Province to help with its educational, economic and cultureal development. Ningxia Teachers University is also looking West to enhance its contribution to the development of the poorer areas of rural China. My colleagues and I specialise in English Language Teaching. We also wish to develop the research in China's Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching, with the leadership of Dean Tian Fengjun. Our Centre is hosted by Ningxia Teachers University and we wish to contribute educational knowledge to the national educational knowledge-base of China and to international research forums.

I was a student in Foreign Language and Literature Department of Ningxia University ten months ago. And now I am an English teacher in Guyuan Teacher's College. I feel very lucky that I could choose my favorite major and engage in teaching it after my graduation. When I was young I dreamed of being a teacher in the future. Teaching is such an admirable cause I thought. Therefore, with great excitement and strong enthusiasm I came to Guyuan Teacher's College, and determined to be a qualified and acceptable teacher in my students' eyes. With the transformation into Ningxia Teachers University I now need to develop my new identity as a University Academic by continuing to improve my teaching in Higher Education while at the same time developing myself as an educational researcher who is making original and significant contributions to educational knowledge and theory.  I am being helped in this development by Professor, Dr. Moira Laidlaw, a Professor For Life of Ningxia Teachers University. With the support of Dean Tian Fengun, Professor Laidlaw has, for the past five years at Guyuan Teachers College, focused her attention on helping to improve the Communicative English Methodology with an action research approach. Working with Dr. Jack Whitehead of the University of Bath (a Visiting Professor along with Professor  Dr. Jean McNiff of Ningxia Teachers University), Dr. Laidlaw made an original and significant contribution to educational knowledge in her doctoral thesis ( ) by creating her living educational theory as a story of her educational development. Professor Jean McNiff has recently explained the educational significance of such stories in a paper on My Story Is My Living Educational Theory (McNiff, 2006). I understand a living educational theory to be an explanation that an individual produces for their educational influences in their own learning, in the learning of others and in the learning of the social formation in which they live and work as they explore the implications of asking, research and answering questions of the kind, 'How do I improve what I am doing?'

In my story below I am going to focus on my question 'How do I attract my students' attention educationally?' and explain how my question became transformed into, 'How can I establish a more educational relationship with my students?' As I focus my enquiry on my action research methodology, with ideas from Moira Laidlaw, Jean McNiff and Jack Whitehead, I will integrate ideas from Elliot Eisner to show the importance of his research into extending the forms of representation for educational research in the Academy. I will also draw on ideas from Kathy Carter, Jean Clandinin and Michael Connelly and Jean McNiff to show how story/narrative has become an acceptable form for communicating educational research.

The methodology of a good teacher and the knowledge-creation of a good academic

 What is a qualified and acceptable teacher? As Moira Laidlaw said in A Handbook of Communicative English Methodology for The New Curriculum in China (2005):

The mark of a good teacher in this methodology is one who learns flexibility in managing the learning of all the students in the classroom. (p.5)

Different students have different needs of learning, and:

a good teacher should constantly adjust their methods and materials on the basis of their identification of the local needs of their students (Tarone and Yule, 2000).

So I sought a teaching style to suit the range of learners in my classroom. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to engage in AR one month after I came to Guyuan Teacher's College. AR helped me to know more about teaching and learning. According to Moira Laidlaw (2005):

'[We need to think about] some rules for the New Curriculum ... as everything you do in teaching, will be determined by what it is the students are expected to be able to do. What they are able to do will depend on your flexibility, initiative, insight, knowledge and interpersonal skills. (p.8)

More than a process of imparting knowledge to students, I realize that teaching is such a challenging endeavour, which, when coupled with enthusiasm, also requires my imagination, creativity and devotion.  In developing my new identity as a University Academic I am going to use these educational qualities of enthusiasm, imagination, creativity and devotion in creating my own living educational theory as a contribution to educational knowledge.

What is my concern?

My chosen class for my research is from the PE department. Quite a large number of students in the PE department come from the mountainous areas, and therefore, English hasn't seemed very important in their eyes. Many students gave up English when in middle school. Consequently their knowledge in English is comparatively limited. When I asked them to give a self-introduction in our first class, I found just a small number of them were able to articulate, and express themselves or pronounce anything appropriately. Nearly half of them were not even able to open their mouths and say something in English. At that moment, I felt lost: how could I give any lessons to those students? Through some subsequent individual talks with students and self-evaluation from them, which were often expressed by me as questions like "What do you think about English?" "Do you think it is useful for you?" "What would you like to obtain from English class?" I concluded from their original words as follows (exact transcriptions of which can be found in my data archive (Ma, 2006):

1.      All of my students are not English majors. In some of their eyes, English is not important, or they are not interested in it, so they will not try to involve themselves in class.

2.      They are very tired after daily physical exercises, so it is easy for them to fall asleep in classroom, esp. in an English class when they cannot understand what I am saying.

3.      Some of them have totally given up English, English means nothing to them, and they don't care about it.

After realizing all of these aspects were affecting the learning in my class, I saw a difficult project in front of me: how could I make my class improve? I concluded it would be difficult and challenging, but I wasn't going to avoid the problem. I made up my mind to try to solve the difficulties facing us. As a teacher, I shouldn't give up on my students even if they have given up on themselves. I should make them feel English is worthwhile, and accept it, be interested in it, even be eager to learn it. To fulfill my goals, I realized the very first step was to make my students in my class know there could be something more interesting in English besides dull vocabulary and grammar. Therefore, my AR question became: How can I attract my students' attention educationally?

To attract my students' attention educationally, the ways I have used the phrase here means to make my students pay attention to what I was saying and involve themselves more appropriately in the class. Four students, Zhang Yaping, Ma Zhen, Wang Xuerong and Wang Liang were my main concern in the class. There are reasons why I chose the four students to do my research with: during individual talks Zhang Yaping said he had given English up when in middle school, and did not care about English now. Wang Liang said he was not interested in English. In self-evaluations from Ma Zhen and Wang Xuerong I got to know they were interested in English but it was very difficult and frustrating for them to learn it.

I know Liu Wei (2006) emphasizes the importance of teacher-initiated questions and questioning in language classrooms. While I value teacher-initiated question, I value student-initiated questions even more because I want to respond to my students' inquiries in a way that helps them to improve their learning.

 What have I done to attract students' attention educationally in my class?

With the above aim in mind, I began to search for feasible ways to attract my students' attention educationally in class. I asked for advice from colleagues who were more experienced about their methods than me. I visited their classes and asked their students' opinions about what they were doing.  All the methods are put together as follows as I seek to live my values of encouragement, humor, friendliness and forcefulness:

1.       Encouragement, humor, friendliness and forcefulness

What the encouragement here means to encourage students to be self-confident, and make them believe in what they can do but not despair about what they cannot yet do.

In other words, a student's performance will be described in terms of what s\he can do, rather than what s/he can't. Under the old curriculum, students (and teachers) were often measured by what they couldn't do, rather than what they could do. The New Curriculum hopes to encourage teachers and learners through celebrating what it is people are capable of, rather than pointing out what they can't manage. It is a much more optimistic and practical way. (Laidlaw, 2005, 11.)

On 20th October 2005, I visited Dr. Moira Laidlaw's class, from which I learnt that encouragement was so vital in urging silent students to stand up and speak out their opinions. Quickly I put it into practice in my class. I was strongly impressed by the class when I first tried to encourage my students. When I asked: Who would like to read the paragraph? as usual, they simply kept silent. For the first time, I tried to encourage them with friendly eye- contact, smiles and facial expressions, while saying words of encouragement like, "who would be brave enough to be the first volunteer? I am waiting for you. It is a good chance for you to practice and show yourself," and then gave students time to develop their own courage. What I did next was wait carefully and patiently for their reaction. A wonderful thing happened. One student stood up, so I applauded him. Then every time after my encouragement there would be a student standing up. By the third time there were three students standing up at the same time. To my surprise, Tian Youcai stood up twice to read a paragraph, and he had always kept silent in my class before. At that time, I felt very sorry that before this class I had assumed the boy would inevitably refuse to open his mouth in my class, but I was wrong.

In another class, the text we were learning was a dialogue between a daughter and her mother. For this part, I said I needed two students to read the paragraph, one to be the daughter and the other to be the mother. Four students stood up at the same time, including two boys. After the two boys had read the conversation, I said:

'You two made it difficult for us to imagine it is a conversation between a daughter and mother, but a son and dad.'

Everybody was laughing at that moment and I felt the air in the classroom was very comfortable for I know my sense of humor reinforced their relaxation and careful confidence especially for the two boys. After that class, I asked my students to write something impressed to me. Wang Liang wrote this:

老师,当我回答完你的问题,不管是好是坏,你都会笑着说 Good! Wonderful! 知道吗?这对我是非常大的鼓励,所以我就更有勇气起来回答问题了.

(My dear teacher, every time when I answered your question, whether it was good or not, you always smiled: Good! Wonderful! You know this is a powerful encouragement to me. I will be braver to stand up and answer your question.)

I was so surprised that such a few encouraging words could mean so much to my students and that this alone might build up their self-confidence and gradually help them to open their mouths. Furthermore, I affirmed the importance of encouragement and the necessity of humor for improving the atmosphere in my class.

19th October, 2005, Moira Laidlaw observed my class, and in her notes she wrote:

I like your manner with the students. It is humorous, friendly and interesting.

In every class, I placed stress on creating a comfortable atmosphere for my students. I took music to class very often, especially on sleepy days when it was dark and gloomy. Pop and rock music are very effective in cheering students up I find. When there was music with a strong rhythm I asked them to beat time or dance. On one occasion, I was deeply impressed that many students were dancing in class following Xie Tao.

 It is very common for some students not to work very well in the class. Sometimes if they were sleepy, distracted, chatting with desk mates, reading novels, or something like this, when I noticed such behaviour, I wouldn't be angry with them, but try to use a communicative way to recall their attention. Once Zhang Yaping was reading a novel during my class, so I stepped up to his desk to hint to him several times, but it seemed that he was not aware of the chance I was giving him to put the book away without my commenting on it. At last, at the time when all the other students were discussing something with their desk-mates I took the book out from his drawer without the others noticing, looked through it and returned it without saying anything. It worked! He concentrated his attention on the class again and I made eye-contact with him to suggest that I was not angry with him but content with his later action. To my pleasure, Zhang tried his best to cooperate with me, when I asked someone to read the paragraph, in fact he put his hand up, instead.

In her notes Moira also pointed out:

Stop standing at the blackboard all the time, and walk around. This is the most efficient way of getting to know students.

This made me think more about my actions. From that day on, many times during class, I stood at the back of the class to show I did care about the students on the back rows. Yu Feilong sat at the back every class, and quite often I stood beside him, so I was able to hear he was trying to say something more to show his efforts to me.

Another means I adopted was that when I found someone was distracted, I would call their name to force them to answer my question in order to recall their attention, which was repeatedly useful in my class.

As I seek to live my values as fully as I can in my practice I connect with Zhang Jing's (2006) ideas on the importance of humanistic spirit cultivation in English education. I accept that the development of the humanistic spirit in English education is a requirement of our Party's education policy and our country's quality education principle. The following photograph to two girls in a Guyuan Kindergarden communicates to me the life-affirming energy and hope in this humanistic spirit:

However, I want to question Zhang Jing's point that the humanistic spirit cultivation in the English education should be process of progressive assimilation which is covered unconsciously without deliberate sense of teaching. My own view is that educational research can help to develop an explicit conscious awareness of the significance of the educational qualities that characterize the humanistic spirit in English education. Developing this public awareness of these living educational qualities and using them in our stories of our living educational theories could be a most significant contribution to the educational knowledge-base of education in China and world wide.

3.    Making myself easily understood

From the notes some students wrote to me, I learnt that a large number of them believed that because of their poor basis in English, it would be difficult for them to catch my meaning in class. Therefore, they would fall asleep sometimes. When talking together, colleagues who were teaching college English reflected this problem, too. They said their students frequently complained to them that they could not understand the teacher's words. This is a critical and common problem for students who are not majoring in English.

Consciously, I slowed down my speaking speed, and repeated as often as possible in class. From my perspective, some Chinese is necessary in an English class. When listening to English, students have to concentrate their minds in order to catch the words and seek for the meaning in their minds. For a long time, it really can make them tired and even frustrated. From my observations, I found when I suddenly spoke in Chinese after a long period of English, all eyes would look up and focus on me, especially when I said something that had occurred outside class. I could see more relaxed expressions on their faces. From this I have concluded when managing classroom activities, Chinese is sometimes needed to make students clear about the rules and purposes. Referring to language points, such as grammar, Chinese is efficient to facilitate students' understanding.

I also work at making sure that I am responding appropriately to my students' needs. It is only by seeing the evidence of my students' learning that I can understanding my educational influence in development their understandings of English. Branko Bognar an  educator in Croatia has shown how to integrate the voices and learning of students into a teachers account of educational influence. Professor Laidlaw has the video-clips and visual narrative, provided by Branko Bognar, that show how students in schools can become action researchers of their own learning and can provide evidence of their learning and of their teachers' influence in their learning.

4.  Saying something more outside class

I got to know that my students were eager to acquire knowledge of English countries, so I tried to spice my class with cultural information. For instance, when teaching a new word culture, I related stories to show cultural differences in different countries. On this point, Zhang Yaping who had asserted he does not care anything about English, raised a question: is there any difference in showing love between China and America? Others were laughing at the question, but it was obvious that they were quite interested in it, so I related stories of a couple that were my teachers when I was at university. I was quite sure, at that time, everybody was listening to me and no one was sleeping!

I love what I do in teaching and researching my teaching of English. Thinking about the educational qualities that motivate what I do, I think of my love for China, my love for my workplace, my family and my self. If the world were organized with such love it would be a better place to be. It may be that like Dr. Eleanor Lohr, in her thesis on 'Love at Work' I could help to bring the educational quality of love into the Academy as a living standard of judgement. I know that talk of love can be embarrassing in an Academic context because love is usually not seen as Academic!

Sometimes I also talked about my experiences in learning and daily life, and my students seemed very willing to share theirs. Something else arose about a new word, 'embarrass'. When teaching it I told them about my embarrassing experience and my friends' too. Some of the students were trying to have the floor before the others in a rush to share their embarrassing stories! When they had difficulties in relating in English, I encouraged them to use a combination of English and Chinese. Wang Xuerong and Gao Xia achieved it very well. Wang Xuerong described the story like this::

'When we have a PE class, a boy 扯了他trousers ( a boy's trousers were torn in an PE class.)

Gao Xia said:

'Yesterday when I go shopping, I shouted to a man, when he looked at me I found我认错人了. (I went shopping yesterday. I shouted to a man but when he turned back and looked at me, I realized I mistook him for one of my old friends.)

Differences in cultural expectations are often of interest to students of Foreign Languages. I like Gao Fengjiang's and Wang Ping's (2006) points about the practical and theoretical significance of Chinese culture in Foreign Language. In developing action research and living educational theories with Chinese characteristics it is most important to contexualise our living theories within Chinese culture.

5.       Games, Competitions among groups

(1)   Writing words on blackboard by turns

To do this activity, I would divide the whole class into 3 or 4 groups by their seats, and divide the blackboard into parts for every group. The rules were that every group came to the blackboard at the same time and wrote any words they knew, one by one. Then we checked the group had written the most and the most correct after a set time would be the winner.

(2)   Passing words from ear to ear

Similarly, to do this activity, I did not need to arrange the furniture. Seats from each row could become a group. First I would show a word on paper to the first student, and then the word was passed on from ear to ear. The winner should be the group that had finished it in the shortest time and the word the last member received should be exactly the same as the one shown on the slip of paper.

These kinds of classroom activities were apparently easily accepted by students. Everyone was able to do it whether or not they were good at pronunciation or expression. In order to win the competition, I saw everyone became very active and tried his or her best to run to the blackboard and write the words in as short a time as possible. To my satisfaction, Zhang Yaping and Wang Liang were so excited, they ran to the blackboard very quickly and wrote several words. Zhang wrote the words I you my, Wang wrote the words one he. The words they write were simple but I saw excited smiles on their faces.

6.       Pair work or Group work

After Moira's observation of my class, she pointed it out to me:

You are a very gifted teacher using teacher-centered methodologies. ­However now, the NC requires teachers to enable students to move from competence to performance. In a students-centered classroom, it is the students' learning that is at the centre. Why not ask the students to work in pairs or groups and ask you questions about the text?

Realizing this was a serious problem, I tried to divide my students into groups and asked them to discuss something on a particular topic. To my frustration, it seemed that my students were not willing to have free-talks in groups. I walked around and urged them group by group, one by one, but they just sat and stared at each other. Actually, some groups were discussing something, and when I listened to it, to my disappointment, they were talking about something else. After some encouragement and urging, the result still wasn't very encouraging. I racked my brains for a solution to this problem. One day an idea struck me. On an exercises-class, I assigned different exercises to various groups, and asked them to check the answer in groups, and then give a set answer after a specific period of time. To my satisfaction, the correct answer achieved a higher level; I even managed to get some excellent answers. For example, once students were discussing translation of a sentence in groups:

A wise man thinks all that he says, a fool says all that he thinks.

After discussion, Ran Longbo's group gave a wonderful translation, which was much better than mine: 智者说话深思熟虑,愚者说话脱口而出。

My translation: 智者说话思其所言,愚者说话言其所思。

What's more important, I found everyone was involved in checking answers with others. Some students who had finished the exercise were able to help the students who hadn't. I got to know later in an AR meeting that this is called peer-evaluation. In the New Curriculum document (Beijing, 2005), the fifth of the five basic concepts says: using different evaluative methods in order to develop learning.

In a paper on the primary of experience and the politics of method, Elliot Eisner explains how the methods we use to represent our research influences our evaluations. Eisner is a former President of the American Educational Research Association and his ideas are international recognized to be at the forefront of the field:

Human beings are, after all, sentient beings whose lives are pervaded by complex and subtle forms of affect. To try to comprehend the ways in which people function and the meanings the events in their lives have for them and to neglect either seeing or portraying those events and meanings is to distort and limit what can be known about them. The artistic treatment of forms of representation has the capacity to arouse such feelings. Such forms provide the conditions through which empathy can emerge, and generate the nachleben that gives us vicarious access to the lives of others. (Eisner, 2005, p. 116)

In his Presidential Address to the American Educational Research Association in 1993 on, Forms of Representation and the Future of Educational Research, Elliot Eisner (2003) used a multi-media approach to communicate the appropriateness of poetic and other forms of representation to communicate emotional and others meanings in human existence. By developing Huang Chengzi's ideas on the teacher-students interaction in multi-media classrooms, I think our research in the Centre is developing new living standards of judgement in educational research. These new living standards have a flow-form that connects with the real-life relationships in classrooms. Jack Whitehead has focused attention on the living flow-form of these standards in his keynote on Living Inclusional Values In Educational Standards Of Practice And Judgement to the Act, Reflect, Revise III Conference in Canada in November 2005 ( ).

In his paper on the problems and perils of alternative forms of data representation (Eisner 1997), Elliott Eisner shows that he is aware of some of the difficulties connected with the politics of educational knowledge in engaging with the power relations in the Academy and wider culture that are resistant to the recognition of the academic legitimacy of these new living flow-form standards of judgement. Extending the range of standards of judgement in the Academy is not easy. Every doctoral candidate will know just how much effort goes into the acceptance of a doctoral thesis that claims to be making original contributions to knowledge. Great persistence and courage is often needed in extending the range of standards of judgement acceptable to the Academy. One of the contributions that our Centre could make to the international reputation of  research in Ningxia Teachers University is to demonstrate how our living educational theories, with their flow-form living standards of judgement are making original and significant contributions to educational knowledge. I am thinking of contributions that are always connected to research into improving our professional practice as teachers and educators. This brings me back to my work with my students on the use of text books.

7. To the text-book    

When giving examples of sentences with a new word, to render it an easy sentence, I read it and asked my students to try their best to interpret the meaning and translate it. To make sure everyone concentrated their minds on it, I heightened my speaking tone and said: 'my boys and girls please pay attention to my next sentence, let's see who can give us a good translation.' Repetition here was necessary. For difficult sentences, I wrote them on the blackboard and gave indications and translated with them together. Sometimes we would guess a word's meaning, which was very funny. For instance:

At a snail's pace

I told them a snail is a kind of animal. What is it? Please guess. I found my students used their imaginations freely and they seemed fond of guessing. The names of many kinds of animals came out of their mouths. When I came to the next new word, first I would ask them to read the word by themselves. Not only did it attract their attention to the next word, but also it gave them a chance to practice and evaluate their pronunciation-skills. When teaching the context, I would like to ask them to read by themselves at first and then say something about the paragraph. After the reading, Ma Zhen and Gao Xia very often were able to say detailed information from the paragraph, which was helpful for others in understanding. To a paragraph beginning with these two sentences:

Soon they departed, in a borrowed car. With money loaned by the groom's brother, they could afford a honeymoon,

Ma Zhen translated the sentences very exactly, and then I asked what other information you got from the paragraph?

Wang Liang said: They are too poor.

I was very satisfied with the answer, because from it I saw he was really thinking about the meaning appropriately.

l       Results so far

1.     Here is some students' feedback

Wang Liang:

老师每节课的耐心和宽容的笑脸让我深受感染,老师放心,以后上课我一定认真听讲。(I am deeply infected by your patience and smile. Believe me, I can involve myself in your class in future.)

Luo Xiaodong: 老师的课非常有意思跟别的课完全不一样就是听不懂。(Your interesting class is so different from others but it is difficult for me to understand.)

Yu Feilong:

自从学习英语我就很少在英语课上不睡觉的,但是现在在你的课上我不睡觉了,老师的课很受欢迎希望继续努力(Rarely, I did not sleep in English class before, but now the situation has changed. We are contented with your class, keep on working hard.)


Zhang Yaping:

我对老师每节课刚开始那一部分的对课外知识的介绍非常喜欢,我开始慢慢喜欢英语了。(I like the introduction of English countries at the beginning of every class. It is gradually making me interested in English.)

2.     Some students who had affirmed they were not interested in English now began to speak and concentrate on the blackboard.

3.     Some students no longer avoid eye contact with me: they seem to see me with eagerness.

4.        No body falls asleep in my class. I am quite self-confident in claiming this.

As I work at improving the quality of evidence of my educational influence I will encourage my students to provide their action research reports of their own learning. By encouraging my students to become student-researchers I hope that they will produce their own stories of their own learning. These stories should help me to make responses to my students that help them with their learning. The stories might also provide me with more evidence on my educational influences in their learning.


After an action research on the subject I found following ways are useful in attracting students' attention.

1.       Encouragement

From my research I found if a student's action in class was praised and applauded s\he would try her\his best to be better afterwards. Besides encouragement, to make a student speak out depends on teacher's sensitive observation. Some students would not be brave enough to put up their hands or stand up themselves, but you can see they were really had own ideas in their minds. At such moment, they seemed having sense of attempting or looking at you, you can call their names.

2.       Teaching in a communicative way 

I found Moira's advice in her handbook useful when teaching my class. She wrote:

We believe that the teacher's own enthusiasm about his\her subject is what motivates students the most. ­ Your enthusiasm should not only be communicated about the subject, but also about your students, about your pleasure in spending time with them because they are worthwhile people. If you show this in the way you act with the class, they will learn to trust you and to expect fairness from you. (op.cit.)

To some extent, the teacher's mood does affect the students' interaction in class. So I try to make the air in classroom comfortable, such as playing music. A friendly air in class is also important to gain students' trust. When there were some students naughty, I have never appeared angry, even actually sometimes I restrained my anger. Because I know they are adults now, there have a strong self-respect and self-consciousness in their heart, so I mustn't compel them to take part in my class but encourage them. Just as I did in recalling Zhang Yaping's attention to my class from reading a novel, I must find ways to help all the students feel useful and valuable members of the class and be friendly with them. 'Friendly' here also means being considerate towards every person in the classroom. It seems that the students sitting at the back were the ones who were not very willing to become involved in class or had worries about learning. Usually they were simply being ignored, so I believe as teachers we should consider more about them, such as stepping away from the platform and standing amongst them. In the notes Dr. Moira gave me about my class on 19th October, 2005, she asked me questions:

The girl sitting right at the back to your left on the aisle way in white, she has got a cold. She's listening well and smiling at you. Are you smiling back? Do you see all the students in your classroom? Sometimes, teaching is about looking and thinking and feeling about your students. Try to get inside their heads and hearts in order to understand what the lesson feels like to them. Do you know how they feel? If you don't, why not?

 These questions recall me to a sense of consideration. Every student in a classroom is a unique person: they have different moods, they are at different levels of learning, so it is impossible to treat everyone the same. There is an anonymously-authored poem in English, which ends:

Before I teach you, I must first reach you.

This expresses brilliantly, in my opinion, the role of a teacher. The NC guidelines are very precise about this as well. The NC documentation, in the spring of 2005, states that teachers need to get to know their students as individuals, in order to promote independence in learning, and pay attention to the students' individual emotions and feelings as a springboard to development. It is necessary to observe students when giving class, and ask questions in your heart:

-         Is s\he bored?

-         Dose s\he find the work too difficult? (Do I need to think about the language I am using in my explanations? Should I use a little more Chinese, or a little more English? Should I be writing more\less on the board? Should I be using more pictures to help some students follow the learning better?)

-         Should I make opportunities to find out how much is this student understanding?

-         Are my teaching methods suitable for this student?

-         Could I present the material in a different way for different students, to help support individuals' particular learning styles?

-         Is student X unhappy?

-         Should I be strict or understanding with this student?

(Laidlaw, 2005)

These questions are so subtle because there is no generalisable answer. However, if I bear the above questions in my mind, this might help me work more efficiently with my students. I believe it would give my students a feeling of been considerate and discourage disruptive behaviors from starting.

What's more, sometimes being forceful is necessary to attract students' attention. When finding someone was distracted, calling them by name, and asking them questions, was really helpful in reminding them to concentrate.

3.       Color the content of class

I have heard one extremely experienced and very competent teacher of English said:

Even if I were using a text I had written myself only last year, I wouldn't use it without modification.

This means that English teachers should be observed busily developing change or creating additional material for their students. From the notes students wrote for me I learnt that they were curious about western countries. So I usually began every one of my classes with an English saying, a story from world literature or something about western culture. There is an old saying in China, that a good beginning is half the battle. So beginning the class with such things seemed a useful way to create a conducive atmosphere for learning. For example, when I showed an English saying to them, firstly, I would let them discuss it and give a good translation, which was really helpful in warming students up and assuring appropriate actions later on.

'The aims of learning a foreign language are not to be limited to mastery of the knowledge and skills in the foreign language.­ Through learning a foreign language, students can enrich their experience of life, broaden their world vision, and enhance their thinking skills. Language learning is most effective when students' interest, motivation and attitudes are taken into consideration.' (VSO, 2005).

I take this now, after my research process, to mean that to be a professional teacher is it very important for me to make my class enjoyable by my students and never a burden. Therefore, bringing something from outside classroom into my class can be helpful in attracting my students' attention and building their interest in English.

4.       Classroom activities

Careful management of classroom activities was important in making the whole-class-feel involved in the lesson. Whatever I was doing with them the activities should be varied. I believe if one always does the same thing in the same way, the students will get bored. What I always do in my class is conducted through pair or group work, games and competitions. Especially, playing games and having competitions among groups seem effective ways to relax students and cheer them up.

5.       Critical thinking

The last way of attracting students' attention I wanted to mention is I have found how important it is to keep students thinking all the time and cultivate their critical thinking capacity. Critical thinking has become an important criterion in the New Curriculum guidelines and teachers are expected to promote critical thinking in every aspect of their teaching. When teaching new words, let your students guess the meaning of some new words in your example. As to the text, ask them to read by themselves, then say what information they are able to get from the passage and raise questions by themselves. These two ways I have found to be necessary in helping me achieve a student-centered class. What's more important, if they are thinking all the time they will always concentrate on the class.

As I develop my own critical thinking in relation to the evidence on my educational influence in my students' learning I will engage with Whitehead's (2004) analysis of what counts as evidence in the self-study of teacher education practices in the International Handbook of the Study of Teaching and Teacher Education Practices (Loughran, LaBoskey and Russell, 2004).

l       My claim

It is time to end my first action research. From the process of doing the research, I gained many valuable things. I am aware that, to be a teacher one should be responsible for her/his students and oneself.

AR is worthwhile in my experience. The process of thinking out a new way of teaching and trying it out is a process to make my teaching wiser, more systematic and enjoyable. AR is a process of teacher's self-evaluation and helpful to improve teacher's professional skills. Just as Professor Jean McNiff (2005) said:

It is important to help teachers to make self-improvement in order to make students learn better.

It is a truth that no two English classes are ever the same. The process of educating requires teachers to use their own intuitive awareness that there is not one fixed methodology, which will work with all students, and that there is not one set of materials which will guarantee successful learning for all. As teachers we should never stop learning as we teach. We should be creative and imaginative. We should seek various way of teaching in order to make the class more interesting and effective.

During the process of doing the research, I have established a good relationship with my students. What a teacher also should be is considerate. The basis of the progress I have made can be summed up by the phrase 'an educative relationship between teachers and students'. This happens when you know more about your students. I have some findings about it, and this really interests me because I believe it's crucial to the development of my living educational theory, so my next AR will begin with the question: How can I establish a more educational relationship with my students?

As I explore the implications of asking and researching this question I will work at encouraging my students to become student-researchers and at producing their own stories of their own learning. As I research this process I will show how my identity as an academic research is developing as I improve my understanding of the significance of my research in relation to national and international research forums. For example, I will show how my understandings of the significance of stories in educational research is connected with the ideas of Kathy Carter (1993), Jean Clandinin and Michael Connelly (Connelly & Clandinin, 1999) and Jean McNiff (2006). Carter (1993) justifies the use of story in educational research. Connelly and Clandinin have focused the attention of educational researchers on the importance of narratives of experience that reflect a person's life history:

Increasingly, as our work progressed, we came to see teacher knowledge in terms of narrative life history, as storied life compositions, These stories, these narratives of experience, are both personal, reflecting a person's life history - and social - reflecting the milieu, the contexts in which teachers life. Keeping our eyes firmly on the question of teacher knowledge, we realized that knowledge was both formed and expressed in context. Within schools this context is immensely complex and we adopted a metaphor of a professional knowledge landscape to help us capture this complexity.   (Connelly and Clandinin, 1999, p. 4)           

Of particular significance for research in CECEARFLT and Ningxia Teachers University could be Jean McNiff's ideas in My Story Is My Living Educational Theory (McNiff, 2006). This work is in preparation for publication in the International Handbook of Narrative Inquiry, edited by Jean Clandinin. Together with Laidlaw's ideas on living standards of judgement and Whitehead's ideas of their flow-form, the living educational theories with Chinese characteristics of the practitioner-researchers at Ningxia Teachers University could quickly move to the forefront of educational research. I am looking forward to the continuing collaborations with colleagues in developing our living educational theories from our action research research with Chinese characteristics.


l       Bibliography

Breen, M. P.  & Littlejohn, A. (200), Classroom Decision-Making, Shanghai: Foreign Language Education Press


Carter, K. (1993) The place of story in research on teaching and teacher education. Educational Researcher, 22 (1), 5-12, 18.


Clandinin, J. (2006), (Ed.) International Handbook of Narrative Inquiry. Thousand Island, Sage. (In preparation).


Connolly, F. M. & Clandinin, J. (1999) (Eds.) Shaping a Professional Identity: Stories of educational practice, Ontario; Althouse Press.


Doyle, W. and Carter, K. (2003)Narrative and learning to teach; implications for teacher-education curriculum. Retrieved 21 May 2006 from


Eisner, E. (1993) Forms of Understanding and the Future of Educational Research. Educational Researcher, Vol. 22, No. 7, 5-11.


Eisner, E. (1997) The Promise and Perils of Alternative Forms of Data Representation. Educational Researcher, Vol. 26, No. 6, 4-10.

Eisner, E. (2005) Reimagining Schools: the selected works of Elliot W. Eisner. London and New York; Routledge.

Gao Fengjiang & Wang Ping (2006) Practical and Theoretical Significance of Chinese Culture in Foreign Language Teaching. English Teaching & Research in Normal Colleges and Universities, Vol. 22, No. 2,  pp.29-32.

Huang Chengzi (2006) The Teacher-students Interaction in Multi-media Classroom. English Teaching & Research in Normal Colleges and Universities, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 39-41

Liu Wei, (2006) Teacher-initiated Questions & Questioning in Language Classrooms: Taking an Evaluative Perspective, English Teaching & Research in Normal Colleges and Universities, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 15-21.

Tarone, E. & Yule, G. (2000), Focus on the Language Leaner, Shanghai: Foreign Education Press

       Laidlaw, M. (2005) A Handbook of Communicative English Methodology for The New Curriculum in China, Ningxia: Guyuan Teachers College

       Laidlaw, M. (2005), Handbook One 'From Competence to Performance: English-Teaching Methodology for The New Curriculum in China, Ningxia: Guyuan Teachers College

       Laidlaw, M. (2005), Notes from the Observation of Ma Lijuan's Class on 19th, October, 2005

       McNiff, J. (2006) My Story Is My Living Educational Theory, in Clandinin, J. (Ed) (2006) International Handbook of Narrative Inquiry. Thousand  

       McNiff, J., Lomax, P. & Whitehead, J. (2002), You and you action research project, London and New York: Hyde Publications.

       VSO, Beijing (2004), 'What's new in the New Curriculum?' VSO Newsletter, March.

Whitehead, J. (2004) What Counts As Evidence In The Self-Study of  Teacher Education Practices, in Loughran, J., LaBoskey, V. & Russell, T. (2004) (Ed.) International Handbook of Self Study in Teaching and Teacher Education Practices. Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers. Final draft before publication retrieved on 21 May 2006 from

Whitehead, J. (2005) Inclusional Values In Educational Standards Of Practice And Judgement. Keynote address to the Act, Reflect, Revise III Conference in Canada in November 2005. Retrieved 21 May 2006 from ( ).

Zhang Jing (2006) Humanistic Spirit Cultivation in English Education. English Teaching and Research in Normal Colleges and Universities, Vol. 21, No. 2. pp, 11-14.


       Ideas from Alan Rayner on flow-form and inclusionality, as a relational dynamic awareness of space and boundaries, are continuing to inform the development of living educational theories. Essays and talks on Inclusionality by Alan Rayner can be accessed from

       In an e-mail about a distinction between knowledge-enquiry and wisdom-enquiry Alan Rayner writes:

I do think that the distinction (but not absolute demarcation) that you make between 'knowledge-enquiry' and 'wisdom-enquiry' is very important, and fundamental to the aspirations of 'Friends of Wisdom'.


Now, at the great risk of appearing obsessively to 'beat my/our own drum' from my madhouse in Bath, I want to try to clarify how I think this distinction relates to and can be strengthened by/strengthen the work that I and a few others have been doing over the last several years on 'inclusionality'. I have tried on several occasions to clarify this relationship in correspondence with this forum and with yourself, but so far, it seems, failed rather miserably.


May I suggest that 'wisdom-enquiry' is to 'knowledge-enquiry' as 'inclusional enquiry' is to 'rationalistic enquiry'? 'Wisdom/inclusional-enquiry' encompasses whilst extending well beyond 'knowledge/rationalistic-enquiry'. Knowledge/rationalistic enquiry excludes wisdom enquiry and in that sense is profoundly 'unreasonable' (my preferred expression) or 'irrational' (your expression). This exclusion is indeed, I think, at the root of all kinds of social, psychological and environmental distress.


In essence, 'wisdom/inclusional' enquiry includes a vital (in all meanings of that word) aspect of reality (yes, really!) that 'knowledge/rationalistic' enquiry deliberately or unconsciously excludes.


You aptly identify what is missing from/excluded from knowledge enquiry as what is necessary to understand 'problems of living' in terms of feelings and values.


At a more physically explicit level, I identify what is missing from/excluded from rationalistic enquiry as what is necessary to understand the non-linear fluid dynamic of nature in terms of spatial/gravitational influence.


So, what does rationalistic/knowledge enquiry do in order to exclude feelings, values and spatial/gravitational influence?


It imposes discrete limits/boundaries (definitions) upon nature and human nature for the existence of which there is no contemporary scientific evidence. In other words, it excludes the indefinable implicit (invisible, intangible) aspect and so deals only with the seemingly explicit (visible, tangible) aspect of reality. In so doing, it produces the paradoxical, one-sided, adversarial view of nature that is at the heart of much human conflict between 'self' and 'other'. It is a stultifying, abstract re-presentation of nature, which inverts natural proportions.


So, how can wisdom/inclusional enquiry bring about the paradigmatic transformation that is needed? By including feelings, values and spatial/gravitational influence within its natural, dynamic framing, rather than imposing fixed Euclidean limits that exclude space from matter.


Correspondingly, I have included feelings, values and spatial/gravitational influence in my final year undergraduate course on 'life, environment and people'. The students nearly all 'get it' and express much delight and creativity in being liberated from the 'in the box' logic to which they have been subjected throughout their 'education'. Inclusionality has also now been incorporated into 3 successful PhDs in living educational theory, supervised by my colleague Jack Whitehead, at the University of Bath.

      I hope this may be clarifying and strengthening for you, me and others.

       Alan Rayner, 21 May 2006.


l       Acknowledgement

Firstly, I would like to express my deep appreciation to Dr. Moira Laidlaw, who has helped me a lot with my research. Under her guidance, I fixed my research direction and set about carrying it out. Her devotion to the cause of education in this area and warm-hearted enthusiasm urged me to go on when I was frustrated in the process of my research. Secondly, I want to refer to my lovely students whom I did the research on. Thanks for their cooperation and useful suggestions. What's more, my colleagues and members in the Beginners Group have helped me a lot through their follow-up to observations of classes and weekly communications in our AR meetings