This paper introduces general ideas about AR: how AR is defined, what is involved in doing AR, how AR is linked to teachers’ professional and personal development as well as to innovative activities in schools.
In the context of education, there are different definitions of AR by academics. For example, McKernan (2008) sees AR as “a form of procedural practical improvement” (p. x) in which teachers aim to make positive changes in their professional contexts. According to Burns (2010), AR is referred to as a critical, systematic and, importantly, self-reflective approach to exploring teachers’ own practice in their teaching contexts, where teachers play both the researcher and participant roles. Thus, doing AR requires that teachers be critical about their own teaching practice, questioning what they are doing and what is happening. AR, as shown in its name, involves an action, i.e. intervention, to make change to the current situation. It is also systematic, meaning that teachers need to collect information in a systematic manner for a solid basis on which changes can be made and improvements can be observed. One important feature of AR is that teachers need to be reflective on the AR steps they have taken, thinking about what has happened and seeing if it has moved in a desired direction.
From a practitioner’s perspective AR is defined as “a form of enquiry that enables practitioners everywhere to investigate and evaluate their work” (McNiff & Whitehead, 2006, p. 7). Furthermore, it can be seen as a disciplined repeated process of identifying the problems and testing the solutions. It is a flexible procedure designed to deal with classroom-related concerns so that improvements could be made to teachers’ teaching practice and students’ learning. Thus, AR is related to and informed by individual teachers’ own teaching contexts. It aims to make changes to the teaching and learning practice in teachers’ classes, solving the problems or dealing with teachers’ concerns (Nguyen Long et. al., 2014). That is, by doing AR teachers can improve their teaching practices. Teachers, themselves, are the ones who best understand their problems in the classroom. Doing AR helps them to take appropriate actions to overcome such problems.
This is an example of Nam’s report on what he did he did to solve a problem he had identified among a group of English teachers in his school, including himself.
Nam teaches English in an upper secondary school in a Vietnamese province. Last year he participated in a workshop on AR and then, upon returning to his school, he observed most English teachers needed improvement in their pronunciation, particularly final consonants in English words. Nam decided to carry out a small-scale 4-week AR project to solve this issue with the teachers. He wrote:
English pronunciation skills of some English teachers, especially the final consonants are limited. This means all implosive stops without an off-glide phase (phonation stopping in the midst of occlusion), that is to say they all belong to the category of consonants the recognition of which depends mostly on the acoustic cues in the adjacent vowel segment. The retention of a final [p] for example, is only a silence. The noise made by the lips when closing is practically inaudible; the only acoustic cue that makes it possible to distinguish [p] from [k] and [t], is the particular formant bendings toward the end of the “preceding” vowel, an acoustic effect of the closing movement (underlined ours).
Effect: from restrictions in the pronunciation of the final consonant of the teachers led to the student’s pronunciation is wrong. Mispronunciation or omitted final consonants gradually became bad habits in the process of learning.
Nam hypothesized that daily practice of listening and speaking could help teachers improve their (and his own) pronunciation skills. Thus, in his project, he worked with three other English teachers in his school, forming a research group. Addressing the concern about teachers’ English pronunciation skills and based on his hypothesis, he organized for the group, including himself, to listen to the recording of the listening section from unit 3 in the textbook used for students of grade 12. They then recorded their own voices reading the transcript of the listening section to see how well they pronounced words in the transcript, particularly final consonants. Each teacher in the group then also selected different passages from the book to read out loud and recorded their voices. The group of teachers met every week to listen to the recordings of each and gave comments on the pronunciation and improvement. There were 4 recordings for each teacher during the 4 weeks. Nam wrote about the outcomes he observed as the result of the action, as well as what he learned from the project, as follows.
The first results can be seen that teachers feel more confident especially the final consonant pronunciation. Students are excited about learning English especially for students feel more confident when talking in English. The quality of education is improved especially English communication skills of students improved. Most English teachers the school are excited to this action research. After the research, teachers become more and more confident.
AR, thus, can be seen as a form of teacher professional development. Doing AR is necessary for making changes in classroom teaching and learning and for initiating and implementing innovative activities in education. AR has its own strengths and weaknesses as an approach to research, and these will be discussed at the end of the course when trainees have gained a basic understanding and developed necessary skills in doing AR.
Burns, A. (2010). Doing action research in English language teaching: A guide for practitioners. New York, NY: Routledge.
Burns, A. (2013). Professor Anne Burns talks about action research in TESOL. [Video clip file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4kLZLhxWzk
McKernan, J. (2008). Curriculum and imagination: Process theory, pedagogy and action research. New York, NY: Routledge.
McNiff, J., & Whitehead, J. (2006). All you need to know about action research. London, Great Britain: Sage.
Nguyen, et al., (2014). Chương trình và tài liệu tập huấn giáo viên về Nghiê cứu hành động trong tổ chức các hoạt động đổi mới. Đề án 2020 Bộ Giáo dục.