Becoming Research Literate: Supporting Teacher Research in ELT

I am pleased to announce the publication of a volume on research literacy for language educators, edited by Daniel Xerri and Ceres Pioquinto. The book, which was pubished by the English Teachers Association Switzerland, is entitled Becoming Research Literate: Supporting Teacher Research in English Language Teaching, and consists of 17 chapters  (including one by me) intersperesed with interviews by influential scholars who share their insights on aspects of research literacy.

If you scroll to the end of the post there is a link from where you download the book for free. But first, a short discussion of what you will find in the book and my chapter.

The book

The volume is divided into four major parts. The first part discusses key concepts in teacher-led research, including the value of research literacy, the ways research is perceived, and the roles of teacher-researchers. The section begins with an interview of Dudley Reynolds, who sets that scene by providing an overview of teacher research, the challenges teachers face, and the role teacher associations can play in supporting the teachers’ research endeavours. David Nunan goes on to define what types of research are most appropriate for teachers, and —apprehensively following his lead— I (Achilleas Kostoulas) argue that teachers need to develop the twin skills of research literacy and research competence. In the next chapter, Improving the feasibility of teacher research, Simon Borg makes the case for fostering appropriate research-related beliefs and expertise, as well as providing teachers with the time and support necessary for them to engage with teacher research. The next chapter (Research as meaning-making), by Donald Freeman, proposes four approaches for teachers who wish to engage with classroom-based inquiry. The section concludes with an interview by Richard Smith, who cautions about the negative perceptions some teachers might have about research, which might influence their attitudes towards classroom-based inquiry.

The seven sections that make up Part 2 discuss ways in which language teachers’ engagement with research can be supported, with a particular focus on the issue of research quality. Christine Coombe initiates this discussion, by outlining how teacher associations can support the development of research literacy. This is followed by a chapter by Mark Wyatt, who proposes three research quality criteria for classroom-based research. Picking up on the topic of appropriate support, Amol Padwad discusses the roles of mentors, and Judith Hanks emphasises the need to show teacher-researchers trust in their abilities and in the value of their research. In the next chapter, Anne Burns makes ten practical suggestions for educational managers who wish to support teacher research in their organisations, whereas Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel discuss the role of technical expertise in the context of a postgraduate degree programme. Part 2 concludes with the views of Willy Renandya and Flora Floris, who talk about the importance of material and institutional support.

The third part, which consists of ten sections, explores how research can be embedded into professional practice. This part begins with an interview by Kathleen Graves, who argues that appropriate beliefs about research are of paramount importance in helping teachers develop a research identity. Two chapters, by Lynn Williams-Leppich, and Bushra Ahmed Khurram and Steve Mann look into action research as a means towards developing such an identity. The chapter by Jane Spiro (Researching in your own voice) describes how a group teachers were gradually acculturated into a research culture through writing about research, and Susanne Oswald offers concrete advice on academic writing. Darío Luis Banegas looks into the role of pre-service teacher education in fostering research literacy, whereas Patricia Daniels draws on her experience as a doctoral candidate to describe aspects of university-based research that are relevant to language education. Turning our focus back to the classroom, Hanna Brookie and Cynthia White describe how a teacher used systematic reflection to engage in inquiry, and Gary Barkhuizen picks up on this in his chapter (The centrality of story in teacher inquiry), which discusses the role of narrative inquiry as a means for engaging with the experiences of teachers and learners in the language classroom. Last but not least, Thomas S. C. Farrell concludes the chapter with an interview in which he discusses the importance of appropriate instruction in evidence-based reflective practice.

The final section of the book (‘In their voice’) consists of six sections, where teacher researchers talk about their experience doing research. This part begins with an interview by Daniel Xerri, who talks about the need to move “Beyond monolithic thinking and practices in ELT” and teacher research. This is followed a chapter by Ben Hoyt, who explains some reasons why teachers might be motivated to engage with research, such as the refusal to be confined into a passive role of knowledge consumer. In the next chapter, Lynn Williams-Leppich describes the transformatory effect that classroom-based research had in her own professional identity. For Susanne Oswald, one of the main benefits of such research is that it enable teachers to share their experience and critical skills. Rachel Harris draws on her own experience of collaborative research to describe how empowering such an engagement can be for language teachers. Finally, Gemma Lunn describes the potential of research engagement, with reference to her participation in an academic reading group.

Although I am clearly biased by the inclusion of my own chapter, I am genuinely impressed by the book that Xerri and Pioquinto have put together. One of the main reasons is the multitude of perspectives that are presented in the volume. When putting together a collective work with so many voices and such differing outlooks, there is a real risk of losing cohesion. This is not the case in this book, however, as all the chapters seem to work together in advancing the same, very important thesis: that teacher research is both feasible and worthwhile. This is a claim that is very close to my heart, and —given the prevalence of discourses that seek to reduce the role of teachers to the passive delivery of skills and content— it is a claim that can’t be reiterated often enough.

My own chapter

My contribution to the collection is entitled ‘Developing teacher research competence: Simpler than you think, more necessary than you realise’, and you will find it in pp. 13-18, awkwardly tucked between two towering figures of the field, David Nunan and Simon Borg.

In my chapter, I take issue with the argument advanced by Péter Medgyes (2017), who claimed that teachers’ do not really have much need for academic research. I begin by outlining the reasons why I believe that engagement with research is a necessary safeguard against the fossilisation of the profession in unquestioned conservative practices.

Such an engagement, I argue, consists of two main strands. The first is research literacy, i.e., the ability to engage with the collective knowledge of the field. I suggest that research literacy consists of three interlocking skills: the ability to locate information, the ability to subject evidence to critical scrutiny, and the ability to synthesise this information into a usable, personally relevant, theory of teaching and learning.

The second strand is research competence, i.e., the ability to conduct approporiate empirical work. Such an engagement, I argue, is necessary in order to test the relevance and validity of published research in our teaching contexts. I also claim that it is necessary in order to subvert the mediating influence of ‘knowledge brokers’ (such as teacher educators), who disempower teachers by selecting, reinterpreting and occasionally misinterpreting the research findings that are disseminated to the profession (predictably, that was a view that got me into trouble, because it was interpreted as criticism of the language teacher education programme at my former workplace).

Download the book

The book is open-access, which means that it can be downloaded for free. Whether you are a teacher, a school leader or a teacher educator, the editors and I hope that it proves useful, enjoyable and inspiring in your own work.

You can access the book by clicking at the link below:

Becoming Research Literate: Supporting Teacher Research in English Language Teaching

Enjoy, and please share any views or comments in the comment box below. Also feel free to share this information among anyone who might find it interesting, using the social sharing buttons.

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