By Abderrahim Mamad
By Abderrahim Mamad
Rabat – The emergence of action research has been considered a key element to the development and improvement of learning and teaching in the classroom.
The word “research” in action research signifies to investigate and collect information to remedy problems within the classroom, whereas the word “action” signifies taking a practical action to resolve classroom problems. Before delving into the discussion of how action research contributes to professional development, one should be aware of how researchers define action research as well as professional development.
According to Richards and Farrell (2005), “action research refers to teacher-conducted classroom research that seeks to clarify and resolve practical teaching issues and problems” (p.171). In other words, action research is carried out within the classroom by the teacher, who takes an action to solve some issues and problems related to the learning and the teaching experiences. Another definition suggested by Harmer (2002) states that “action research is the name given to a series of procedures teachers can engage in either because they wish to improve aspects of their teaching, or because they wish to evaluate the success and/or appropriateness of certain activities and procedures” (344-345).
With regard to professional development, Mizell (2010) states that “professional development refers to many types of educational experiences related to an individual’s work” (p.7). To put it simply, many people in a wide variety of professions and businesses – law, medicine, education, and engineering – can participate in professional development to learn and apply new knowledge and skills that will improve their performance on the job. Another definition, as stated by many scholars, views professional development as an on-going process. For example, Díaz-Maggioli (2004) demonstrates that professional development serves a more future-oriented goal and seeks to help teachers understand themselves and the way they teach. It often involves examining different dimensions of a teacher’s practice as a basis for reflective review and can hence be seen as “bottom-up”. Richards and Farrell (2005) as well, argue that professional development should not be regarded as an administrative duty, but rather as a career-long endeavour aimed at disclosing the factors that contribute to the success of all students and teachers.
To answer the question “How can action research contribute to professional development?” it should be made clear that by means of action research an inside-out approach to professional development can be achieved. For instance, the problems caused by the gap between theory and practice are overcome, because teachers can act as both theorists and practitioners of their own teaching methodologies. As an indicator of this, Stenhouse states that “It is teachers who, in the end, will change the world of the school by understanding it”(cited in Rudduck, 1988). Such a statement shows how teacher-initiated research is a powerful way for language teachers to investigate their own practice and be involved in the institutional decisions and policies.
Action research requires the teacher to investigate an issue that he or she has been puzzled by for a period of time by engaging in a process of planning, action, observation, and reflection. For example, when Moroccan EFL teachers, many years ago, noticed that students encountered many problems in acquiring the target language, they decided to engage in action research to solve the problem. By doing so, Moroccan EFL teachers observed that too much incorporation of foreign cultural aspects in textbooks was the main problem and required some change. Therefore, teacher-initiated research resulted in the students’ ability to learn the language due to the integration of the native culture to Moroccan textbooks (Dr. Larouz, 2014; personal communication).
According to Elliot (1991), grouping teachers with varied abilities within a school is a form of professional development as it eliminates the repetition of material as students move from one subject to another. For example, what is taught in an English class will not be repeated in a history, geography, or religion class. To solve this problem, teachers began to draw on each other’s subject expertise, creating “integrated studies”, and worked together in cross-subject teams. According to Elliot (1991) a number of outcomes came out of this development. The small staff group of 25 teachers maximized the opportunities for each individual to have frequent interactions with everyone else. They played cricket together and collaborated in after-school activities with students. This knowledge of each other as people did much to foster free, open, and tolerant professional discourse.
Additionally, McNiff (2010) states that, “action research is used in many professional learning contexts, both formally and informally”. In other words, action enquiries can improve teachers’ work through engaging in formal learning environments such as conferences, seminars, or workshops, collaborative learning among members of a work team, or a course at a college or university. However, professional development via action research can also occur in informal contexts such as discussions between work colleagues, independent reading and research, observations of a colleague’s work, or other peer learning.
Doing action research helps teachers to grow professionally, and to show how they are extending their own professional knowledge. It does this in many ways. For instance, through undertaking action research teachers can examine their own practices and see whether they live up to their own expectations. In addition to this, teachers can identify the criteria, or standards, that they and others are using to judge the quality of what they are doing.
From all that has been said, we can say that the insights gained from undertaking an action research project enable language teachers to learn a lot about their own teaching as well as become more experienced at investigating their own practices. Teachers can also share their results with other teachers through attending conferences, seminars, workshops, courses at a college or university or publishing their work in language teaching journals. In this way, other teachers may be encouraged to explore their own teaching by replicating these action research projects or by carrying out new action research studies on topics and issues they consider important or unique to their particular contexts. Action research and professional development help to create better classrooms and teachers, which should be of great importance to both learners and the educators themselves.
Edited by Kristina Fried. Photo by Jamila Boulima
Elliot, J. (1991). Action Research for Educational Change. Philadelphia. Open University Press.
McNiff, J. (2010) Action Research for Professional Development: Concise advice for new and experienced action researchers. University of Waikato.
Mizell, H. (2010). Why Professional Development Matters. USA. Learning Forward.
Harmer, J. (2002). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Longman, London.
Richards, J.C. and Farrell, T.S.C. (2005). Professional Development for Language Teachers: Strategies for Teacher Learning. United States of America. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Rudduck, J. (1988). Changing the World of the Classroom by Understanding It: a Review of Some Aspects of the Work of Lawrence Stenhouse. Journal of Curriculum and Superision, 4/1, 30-42.
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