action research in the language classroom

AR+_logoA driving force behind the launch of the Deans’ Seminar initiative at MIIS has been a provocation crafted by Kent and Alfredo around the role that action research can play in (a) helping international development practitioners live up to their ideals and (b) to likewise challenge those who educate such practitioners to reflect critically on their own work.

Their provocation is closely tied to their roles as editors of a special issue of the Action Research Journal (ARJ), the contents of which will soon be appearing on this site (spring, 2016).

Language learning

As someone who came up through the language side of the Institute — language teacher education, the training of interpreters and translators, and the core business of adding deep content-based expertise in languages other than English for business, policy and development professionals — I am reminded of the role that action research has played in these fields as well.

TESOL-2014-panel_Anne-Burns_Kathi-Bailey_Sarah-Springer

Dr Anne Burns with Kathi and Sarah, TESOL 2014 panel presentation

The most recent example to cross my desk is an article co-authored by Dr. Anne Burns, a contemporary of long-time faculty member at MIIS, Dr. Kathi Bailey. In addition to an impressive record of scholarly publications, Anne has a decades-long track record of working to bring action research into the lives and classrooms of language practitioners as a tool for improving their practice, both in her native Australia as well as around the world. It’s a process, she says, which begins with “perceiving a critical gap or dilemma between current practice and their more ideal view of practice.”

In ‘Action research to support teachers’ classroom materials development‘ (2016) Anne and first author Emily Edwards investigate the practical implications of the premise that “teachers themselves, as opposed to managers or course book writers, are best placed to develop context-specific materials” for learners in their language classrooms. They illustrate how action research can successfully support materials development by providing a systematic approach, one in which learners are active participants throughout the process.

Our own Language Studies faculty at the Institute are tasked with developing timely and compelling content-based materials for foreign language courses each and every semester.  They face the relatively unique challenge of crafting an engaging and relevant language learning experience for graduate students who represent a wide range of professional interests — from international development to social entrepreneurship, from environmental policy to nonproliferation and weapons of mass destruction.

Content-Based-Instruction-1-CammarataContent-Based-Instruction-3-Brinton-Snow-Wesche

Content-Based-Instruction-2-Stryker-Leaver

How might action research principles and practices inform their work in engaging and ‘training’ the business, policy, and development professionals with whom they work?

An invitation: Practitioner Inquiry

If you’d like to bring the voices of practitioners from your own area of expertise into the Deans’ Seminar, exploring burning questions of your own that parallel those of Alfredo and Kent, please consider joining our growing cohort of faculty from across the Institute who are engaged in our Practitioner Inquiry project.  And even if you aren’t currently able to engage in your own first hand research into practitioner perspectives, be sure to join us at our culminating May 20th event during which this research will be shared and discussed.

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