Master Teaching

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Doing Action Research

When you hear the word research what associations come first to your mind?

Something I must do for my dissertation? A requirement by my employer? A piece of work that might lead to publication? Nothing wrong with any of those motives, but for our purposes in this blog, the focus is on action research that can help your own professional development without sleepless nights.

What does a teacher get professionally from doing action research? One bonus is escape from boredom. Who wants to teach in the same old way year after year, decade after decade? Even if you don’t fear putting the students to sleep, how about yourself? Doing research helps you to think about your teaching in new ways. Why do I organize my lesson plan the way I do? Some might say, “Well it’s worked fine for me for years. Why fix what isn’t broken?” True. It may have worked well for you, but how about the students?

Another bonus of doing action research is the fresh contacts it gives you. In the course of reading, thinking and talking about your topic you may find yourself in touch with colleagues whose paths don’t usually cross with yours and also with people further afield whose work you have been reading and whom you have contacted via email. If you do cooperative research, then the process is even more social.

So much for the why question. For the rest of this post, let’s consider the how of doing action research. Step 1 is finding a topic. See whether any topics spring to mind under one of these headings:

  • Difficulties you have encountered
  • Teaching and learning situations that you would like to know more about.

Or you could skim through the titles of recent journal articles. What are people interested in writing about currently? If one topic grabs your attention, then look at the article’s conclusion. Does the author suggest questions that are still waiting to be answered? Go and observe someone else’s class to see a new idea you could experiment with.

Step 2 is to read about a topic you are interested in. Look at books published recently in our field of language learning and teaching. Return to those journal articles you skimmed through for Step 1 and see what they have to say on assessment or classroom management or giving feedback or whatever topic you are thinking of investigating. Based on the topic, you then need to pose a question or suggest a hypothesis. Write out one or two of these and pass them to colleagues for feedback. This is Step 3.

The next few steps deserve more than a brief summary here. Find a book about doing action research, especially in our field, and see what suggestions they have about choosing a research method to match the topic, about getting permission to collect data and so on. One lively and clear how to book is Doing Second Language Research by J.D. Brown and T.S. Rogers.[1] Although it’s not recent, it is readable and full of ideas.

The last step is the action part of the title. What new moves for you or for your learners come to mind as you look at your results?

Finally, I hope that as you do your research, you get that feeling of enthusiasm that comes to us when we are using our talents in ways that build up others.


[1] James Dean Brown and Theodore S. Rogers, Doing Second Language Research (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

  • What type of action research have you engaged in?
  • What do you think you could learn about your teaching from doing an action research project?

Try it out

Step 1: Choose a topic by identifying a problem in the classroom you would like to learn more about (and solve) through research.

Step 2: Find and read some articles about your topic. (Pay attention to their research questions or hypotheses. Also notice how they study the problem.)

Step 3: Devise a question you would like to find an answer to as you try to solve the problem. Share your question with some colleagues and see what they think. (You might also want to invite one or two of them to collaborate with you on your project.)

Step 4: Go back to the articles you read on your topic, and see how others researched the problem. Think about how you could follow their patterns. (You can also refer to a book on action research.)

Step 5: Research, and then take action based on what you learn.

Post Author

After retiring from her position as Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, Marilyn Lewis has continued using her gifts for glory.  She has trained teachers in various locations throughout Asia including Vietnam, India, and China.  She continues to add to a long list of publications by sharing her expertise with various co-authors around the globe. And she fulfills the role of auntie extraordinaire with young relatives.

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This entry was posted on April 26, 2017 by in action research, learning teaching, Marilyn Lewis, professional development.

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