Action Research and the Preparation of Foreign Language Teachers

The teaching of foreign languages at the post-secondary level increasingly reflects an interest in developing communicative proficiency, but courses for the training of instructors are slow to reflect this change. Two problems in particular present themselves: (1) The curriculum for foreign language teacher education in many places still reflects a heavy concern with literature and the structural characteristics of language, with little attention to pedagogy or provision for future faculty development, and (2) while the training of teachers should be based on research into what is effective, little is actually known about the transformation of research findings into classroom techniques and program design procedures. Generally, in the relationship between researchers and teachers, teachers are at the bottom of a top-down process, unable to provide adequate input into research operations. As a result, new techniques are rarely applied, and valuable teacher feedback necessary to continued study of topics is lost. Consequently, there is a real risk that the post-secondary level faculty who are trained today will remain static in their level of professionalism and use of pedagogy. This is a recipe for obsolescence.

A variety of solutions might be advanced to address these problems. One approach is through action research, in which teachers in training are introduced to research methods appropriate to their real classroom concerns. Research questions emerge from a teacher's immediate needs and concerns, and the findings of such research are immediately plowed back into the programs from which they stemmed.

This one year project is investigating the feasibility and effectiveness of incorporating training in action research into an existing course (carrying MA credit) required of all new foreign language teachers in the Department of European Languages and Literature at the University of Hawai‘i. This component of the course totals 16 contact hours, including instruction in the concepts and techniques of action research. These sessions will be taught jointly by Professors Graham Crookes (Department of English as a Second Language) and Paul Chandler (Spanish Division, European Languages and Literature). During the following semester, participants will begin to conduct small scale local investigations of their teaching under the guidance of the same two faculty members.

The entire process of training teachers to become action researchers rather than passive consumers (or non-consumers) of research done by others will be documented using interviews with participants, questionnaires, field notes, observation of techniques that work and those that do not. Post-project evaluations of the project will include such criteria as whether participants rate themselves as being adequately prepared, were able to carry out an action research project related to their teaching, and demonstrated improvements in teaching and the ability to access and implement research findings.

Results will be disseminated nationally in the form of a Research Note on the training of foreign language teachers to become action researchers.

TIMELINE

Spring 1997

  • Teach course on foreign language pedagogy to new graduate teaching assistants in the Department of European Languages and Literature, incorporating a new component on action research.

Fall 1997

  • Follow-up evaluation phase (qualitative data collection and analysis concerning uptake of material, utility in the institutional context, etc.)

Spring 1998

  • Produce and disseminate <AHREF=”get_projectpub.cfm?inumber=10&pub_type=NW"> Research Note on including action research training in the preparation of foreign language teachers.
Tagged as 1996-1999