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Its all very well in theory, but… The place of research-based theory in English language teaching Penny Ur IATEFL, 2012.

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Presentation on theme: "Its all very well in theory, but… The place of research-based theory in English language teaching Penny Ur IATEFL, 2012."— Presentation transcript:

1 Its all very well in theory, but… The place of research-based theory in English language teaching Penny Ur IATEFL, 2012

2 Sources of teachers knowledge Courses (pre- and in-service) Conferences Reading (research, professional literature) Recommendations of colleagues Feedback from students Classroom experience + reflection

3 Schön: The Reflective Practitioner Professionals learn mainly by reflecting in/on action Not by applying research-based theories (Schön, 1983)

4 Research-based theory in teaching The teaching profession, as with all high-standard professions, needs the best available academic knowledge in order to fulfil its commitments to society… Teachers have to be familiar with the latest knowledge and research about the subject matter. (Niemi, 2008).

5 The research literature in teacher education The goal of this introductory course is to help practicing and prospective teachers to understand and explore the complex … world of second language acquisition. Through readings, critical analyses, inclass and online discussions, students will be able to foster their beliefs and understandings of theories of second language acquisition. Students will critically examine foundational theories and research perspectives in the field of second language acquisition (SLA)… (Second Language Acquisition, Course syllabus, University of Maryland, 2009)

6 And the teachers themselves? Most teachers do not read the research literature very often, if at all. Reasons: I dont have the time I dont have access Its not of practical help Its difficult to understand (Borg, S. 2009)

7 The teacher as researcher Lawrence Stenhouse (Hopkins & Rudduck, 1985) Research as disciplined enquiry made public Action Research But It hasnt happened

8 Interim summary Research-based theory is not seen by most practising teachers as a central or essential contributor to professional knowledge. Teachers learn mainly from reflection on experience. Teachers do not usually do research themselves. But it continues to be included in teacher courses and prominent in the professional literature.

9 Where do we go from here? 1.Research can make a substantial contribution to professional knowledge So how can it be made more accessible to teachers? 2. Selective and critical reading 3. Practical suggestions (Ellis, 2010, SIG discussion)

10 1. A substantial contribution Different types of research-based literature: 1. Original empirical research 2. Overviews / meta-analyses 3. Theory, drawing on research evidence

11 How does it contribute? Research produces evidence, that can be used to create practical principles for teaching. May provide new insights / information that hadnt occurred to us May contradict comfortable, but inaccurate, assumptions May confirm our own intuitions

12 Example 1 Incidental vocabulary acquisition from reading Overwhelming evidence that in most ELT contexts incidental learning of vocabulary on its own through reading will not lead to satisfactory levels of vocabulary knowledge. (Laufer, 2009) We need to include deliberate, focused vocabulary-learning activities in materials / lessons.

13 Example 2 Semantic sets Teaching new items in semantic sets does not result in optimal learning. (Papathanasiou, 2009) New items should be taught in syntactic rather than paradigmatic contexts.

14 Example 3: Corrective feedback: Recasts are the least effective of oral corrective feedback strategies. (Lyster, 1998) When correcting we need to involve the student (elicitation, negotiation).

15 And apart from such practical insights… A knowledge of the research enables us to argue with the experts. It empowers.

16 2. Some problems 1.Lack of clarity 2.Contradictions 3.Researcher bias 4.Practical application may be limited or inappropriate: Limited population, time-frame The Hawthorne effect Local pedagogical or practical constraints Inadequate professional experience of researcher

17 Lack of clarity Sometimes inevitable: specific terminology, statistics Often unnecessary (and unforgivable): difficult language for its own sake (Aaronson, 1977)

18 Orwell (1946) Politics and the English language (1) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. (2) Never use a long word where a short one will do. (3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. (4) Never use the passive where you can use the active. (5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. (6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

19 Contradictions Example: The role of practice in instructed language learning Salaberry(1997) vs. Ellis (2001)

20 Researcher bias Articles which use the research to support a particular position Example: Truscott (1999): Against the giving of corrective feedback Swan (2005): Against task-based instruction

21 Limited practical application (i) Small population or time-frame Small populations: usually university students Relatively short time Example: Studies quoted in Norris & Ortega (2001)

22 Limited practical application (ii) The Hawthorne effect Impressive results in an empirical study may be simply the result of change, and subjects awareness that this is an experimental innovation. e.g. Research on the use of CALL (Macaro, Handley, & Walter, 2012)

23 4. Limited practical application (iii) Pedagogical / practical constraints The professional research we read is nearly all SLA. But: pedagogical or practical constraints: large and/or heterogeneous classes discipline problems pressure from stakeholders upcoming exams the local learning culture limited time to prepare … etc.

24 Example 1: Culture of learning Task-based or communicative teaching The task-based approach seen by many as the best basis for successful instructed language- learning But not appropriate for some cultures of learning (Carless, 2007; Hu, 2002)

25 Example 2: stakeholder pressure The optimal age for starting to study English in school In the context of instructed language learning, late starters learn better. (Muñoz & Singleton, 2011) But the pressure of parents, politicians and commercial interests leads to early-start programs.

26 (iv) Inadequate professional knowledge of researcher The rearchers practical pedagogical implications are often useless. Many excellent studies are followed by off the wall suggestions for classroom teaching. Implications for teaching should be drawn by the teacher-reader.

27 3. Reading selectively and critically Main problems: Time, access, practical use, comprehensibility. Time and access: the contribution of the Internet Access: national and international conferences Practical use, comprehensibility: the need for selective, critical reading.

28 Selective reading Check the topic: look it up on the Internet Check the source: a respected publisher or journal Check the author Websites, e.g. Webinars, conference proceedings, Youtube…

29 Critical reading Check for clarity Check for replications / contradictions Check for applicability to your teaching Draw your own conclusions

30 4. Practical Recommendations Surf Google Scholar for the topic / author / question that interests you Check out the overviews (e.g. in Language Teaching, or The Handbook of…) Read online (if you can!)

31 My favourite journals ELT Journal Language Teaching Language Teaching Research TESOL Quarterly System …lots more. Ask a friend!

32 When reading an article… I skim through the abstract. Then decide whether to read the article. If Im short of time, I move to the main results and conclusions I skip the practical implementations! I file the full reference in a database, with brief critical comment

33 Summary The research literature is an important source of professional knowledge. It is increasingly accessible to the practitioner through conferences and the Internet. It should be read selectively and critically.

34 References Aaronson, S. (1977-8). Style in scientific writing. Essays of an Information Scientist, 3, Available from: 78.pdf Borg, S. (2009). English language teachers conceptions of research. Applied Linguistics, 30(3), 358–388. Carless, D. (2007). The suitability of task-based approaches for secondary schools: Perspectives from Hong Kong. System, 35(4), Ellis, R. (2001). Grammar teaching - Practice or consciousness-raising? In Richards, J. C. & Renandya, W. A. (Eds.), Methodology in language teaching (pp ). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hopkins D., & Rudduck J. (Eds.) (1985). Research as a basis for teaching: Readings from the work of Lawrence Stenhouse. London: Heinemann. Hu, G. (2002). Potential cultural resistance to pedagogical imports: the case of communicative language teaching in China. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 15(2), Laufer, B. (2009). Second language vocabulary acquisition from language input and from form-focused activities. Language Teaching, 42 (3), Lyster, R. (1998). Negotiation of form, recasts and explicit correction in relation to error types and learner repair in immersion classrooms. Language Learning, 48(2),

35 Macaro, E, Handley, C., & Walter, C. (2012). A systematic review of CALL in English as a second language: Focus on primary and secondary education. Language Teaching, 45, Muñoz, C., & Singleton, D. (2011). A critical review of age-related research on L2 ultimate attainment. Language Teaching, 44(1), Niemi, H. (2008). Advancing research into and during teacher education. In Hudson, B. & Zgaga P. (eds) Teacher education policy in Europe (p.184). Faculty of Teacher Education, University of Umeå, in co-operation with the Centre for Educational Policy Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana Norris, J. M., & Ortega, L. (2001). Does type of instruction make a difference? Substantive findings from a meta-analytic review. Language Learning, 51, Supplement 1, Orwell, G. (1946). Politics and the English language. Available from: Papathanasiou, E. (2009). An investigation of two ways of presenting vocabulary. ELT Journal, 63(4), Salaberry, M. R. (1997). The Role of Input and Output Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Canadian Modern Language Review, 53(2), Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books. Second Language Acquisition, Course syllabus, University of Maryland. Available from: Swan, M. (2005). Legislation by hypothesis: the case of task-based instruction. Applied Linguistics, 26(3), Truscott, J. (1999). What's wrong with oral grammar correction? The Canadian Modern Language Review, 55(4),

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