#ELTchat summary: Academic Research and ELT (07.02.2018)

A #ELTchat discussion on Academic Research and ELT took place on twitter in February 2018. The topic was suggested by @SueAnnan and @mr_kuo. This article is a summary of the chat, and you can read a complete transcript here.

@Marisa_C introduced the topic on the ELT chat blog (editor’s note: this is just an extract, full intro here):

There have been quite a few recent blog posts about the lack of filtering of research to teachers and the poor mediation, or even lack of mediation, between researchers and classroom teachers found in certain publications consumed by foreign language teachers (known as ‘methodology books’).

Teachers are often accused of operating on the basis of partial or no evidence at all. Teachers feel somewhat defensive about these accusations, while the ‘knowers’ (often in universities) feel that teachers don’t do much to educate ourselves.

The Problems

From the perspective of some #ELTchat teachers, there is a worry about not always being up to speed on what’s changing in our profession and journals are expensive, which was widely felt to be a problem.

In this summary I’ve grouped the comments on research into main threads.

Accessibility of Research to Teachers

Cost and Availability

Given their expense, @fionaljp thinks journals should be in staff rooms but others felt that was unfortunately unlikely. Outside of a university setting, many teachers don’t have much access to research, lamented by @naomishema.

There was a call for more open-access research (there is some – see links at the end) but it was acknowledged that research needs to be funded. Researchers are under a lot of career pressure to publish. What they publish may not have a 1:1 relationship with what teachers would like to read.

@SueAnnan voiced frustration about not being able to find accessible research to support her point of view on learning styles, back when it first became controversial. @RobertTaylorELT suggested research reviews are helpful.

Understanding and Evaluating Research

Many teachers don’t have the background to fully engage critically with research. @Marisa_C says teachers she’s spoken to recently have not been taught experimental design, which includes how to evaluate research. @RobertTaylorELT thinks teachers need to be trained to understanding research. But are teacher training courses the place for this? @hartle thinks research may come later.

Tweeters expressed concerns about the quality of research, for example, what is the minimum sample size (@hartle says “a sample of 25 for an action research study is fine”) and whether “badly conducted research slips through the net” (@SueAnnan) and consequently their own ability to judge the quality of research.

There is no single solution, but it’s felt that teachers need to learn how to read and evaluate research.

Language

Various tweeters complained that research is written with other researchers in mind and as such, the language can be inaccessible to #ELTchat teachers (both natives and non-natives, teachers, teacher trainers and more), nevermind some NNESTs in state schools whose English may only be B1 or B2.

Even methodology books, which can be much more accessible in terms of language and physically getting hold of them, can vary in how user-friendly they are. @11thhourspecial suggested starting with Lightbrown and Spada’s How Languages Are Learned. Also, ELT Journal is an attempt to bring research to teachers, according to @hartle.

Teachers and Researchers Understanding Each Other

  • It was felt that dialogue between the two would be good, but we often operate in different spheres and attend different conferences.
  • @este_moscow asked if these two roles were always compatible.
  • @RobertTaylorELT asked “Is there much room for teachers to move towards research?”. Or, put another way, is there scope for us to meet in the middle?
  • Mediators exist – methodology writers and webinars put on my Cambridge ELT for example. However, @RobertTaylotELT cautioned that sometimes “seemingly learned people interpret research to suit their beliefs”.
  • @hartle provided her interesting perspective as both a researcher and educator. One example she gave was a facebook group on Corpora to involve more teachers.
  • @naomishema recently collaborated with a researcher to publish an article, fully admitting this joint effort helped it to actually get published.
  • Even if teachers read research, see how it’s relevant to their classrooms and “teachers need calls to action” (@LinguaBishes).

The Ideas

Selecting What To Read and Cascading Information

@fionaljp reads what she’s interested in, while @GlenysHanson chooses research that fits with her feelings. @MoreMsJackson and @LinguaBishes like the idea of teachers focusing on specialisms or interests and remaining up to date with those. This also feeds into the idea of cascading information to each other (not having to read about everything firsthand), as this lessens the workload on each teacher.

However teachers do still need to be up-to-date with other developments in ELT, as @SueAnnan added “we need to know about findings that challenge what we are doing in class”.

She also questioned how long it takes for research to make it into classroom practice. “If we aren’t made aware of it, we can’t change much.”

Cascading

  • ELT chat teachers are probably more engaged than the average teacher. What can we do to pass on what we learn? (@MoreMsJackson and @SueAnnan)
  • We need to be passing information on in training. (@fionaljp)
  • Many teachers are already busy, so any solution has got to be cheap, quick and very relevant to the classroom. (@MoreMsJackson)

What Else Teachers Can Do

There were more questions than answers in this part of the discussion, but that’s a starting point!

  • A “How to Read and Do Research” MOOC was suggested, though it was felt it might not be the best solution.
  • Teachers “can develop their own brand of reflection, action research and publication channels” (@hartle)
  • 11thhourspecial pointed out “not all research has to be hard science” and we can start with investigating our own classrooms and our own teaching.
  • @Marisa_C has blogged advice on “How to start your own small scale research investigations”.

Useful Links and Further Reading

Over to you: What do you think about Academic Research? How can we be better informed as teachers?

(PS. This is my first #ELTchat summary, feedback on the format of this post is welcome! Also let me know if there are more links to add or missing links. Thanks!)