Skip to main content

Research access for language teachers

The ResearchEd conferences organised by teacher, TES columnist and "behaviour guru" Tom Bennett and attended by prominent teachers, journalists and academics, notably from the Twitter community, have attempted to raise the status of research in teaching. "What works?" is the question. How do teachers get beyond what they perceive as Ofsted expectations or fashionable classroom approaches?

There has been considerable debate about the value of research. It is well known that empirical research in the social sciences is problematic. In terms of classroom research, the variables involved make research difficult: teacher, school, students, social factors - all of these make it hard to pin down scientifically which classroom approaches work best. Long term ("longitudinal") studies comparing different approaches are particularly hard to carry out.

In short "what works" in one context may not in another.

In our subject area research has failed to demonstrate unequivocally which language teaching method is best. The eminent linguist and teacher trainer Brian Page* once wrote that we shall never have a clear, provable model of how second language learning works best. In these circumstances, most teachers rely on their own experience, what they learned as pupils and what they were taught during their teacher training.

A further difficulty for teachers who would like to take advantage of the latest research findings is the fact that it is difficult, and sometimes costly, to access research journals. It was with this in mind that I put together a list of online research sources for second language acquisition. It can be found on my frenchteacher.net site (http://www.frenchteacher.net/research-hubs/). My own brief forays into research articles have been unproductive: articles are often esoteric, small scale, poorly conceived and of little use to the practising teacher.

A question being asked right now is whether research should be made much easier to access for teachers. I am sure this would be a good idea, but would teachers actually study research if it were more accessible?

My guess is no. My experience of language teachers is that they are generally far more interested in practical ideas and resources for lessons than in methodological issues and research. Furthermore, they are too hard pressed to spend time on reading research which may, in any case, be inconclusive and irrelevant to their particular context.

The idea of "research champions" for schools has been put forward. Each school would have a designated teacher whose job would be to keep up with latest evidence and to disseminate it across the school. This may be useful in terms of generic teaching issues, but would mainly be irrelevant to language teachers. As an example just think of what research may have taught us about questioning techniques: most of it is of little relevance to language teachers who use target language questioning in a very specific, often artificial, way to develop language skills.

There may be more mileage in each modern languages department having a teacher whose job it is to keep up with research and who could organise training sessions based on it. The role could be passed round and would make an excellent performance target for interested teachers. I might add that such a role may fit well wIthin the Head of Department's job description. If that role is partly about fostering a consistent approach across the department, then the Head of Department would do well to have the clearest ideas possible on methodological issues and the evidence of research.

* For more on Brian Page:
http://www.leeds.ac.uk/secretariat/obituaries/2007/page_brian.html

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad




Comments


  1. An interesting perspective on the complexity of language teaching relevant research which does indeed spring from many related areas including Applied Linguisitics/Computer Assisted Language Learning and Foreign or Second Language Acquisition. Psychology and Social Sciences are all relevant. Perhaps, for a practical persective a good starting point would be ALL journals http://www.all-languages.org.uk/publications/journals and ReCALL http://www.eurocall-languages.org/publications/recall
    The most important aspect of this is to get involved, and join the discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for commenting. I would stress that point that classroom teachers are really short of time. They need summaries of really useful research and may benefit less from reading original sources. They are not academics and may find the language of journals, plus the esoteric nature of much research, a bit impenetrable.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…