by RC Smith · Cited by 6 — Abstract: This paper reports on an attempt to integrate ‘simulated action research’ into a pre-service MA programme, with a view to developing.
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1Forthcoming, in Kelly, J. and Hancioglu, D. (eds.) Proceedings of Teachers DevelopTeachers Research (TDTR) 5, Ankara, Turkey (CD-ROM).Faute de mieux? Simulated action research, fromparticipant perspectivesRichard C. Smith, Sultan Alagöz, Peter Brown and Simla Îçmez. Centre forEnglish Language Teacher Education (CELTE),University of Warwick, UKBiographical information: Sultan Alagöz and Simla Îçmez both have experienceof teaching English in Turkey, and were enrolled in 2000Œ1 on the MA in EnglishLanguage Studies and Methods programme at the University of Warwick, UK. Peter Brown and Richard Smith were their course tutors for the Professional Practice module which is described in this paper.Abstract: This paper reports on an attempt to integrate ‚simulated actionresearch™ into a pre-service MA programme, with a view to developingparticipants™ capacities for ongoing and self-critical reflection on teaching. A briefsummary of the need and rationale for this type of approach in our context is provided, and problems and advantages of the approach are discussed on the basis of participants™ evaluations and reflections. We conclude that the advantages of involving students in a positive, well-supported experience of action research outweigh disadvantages relating to its ‚simulated™ nature. Finally, we note the possible relevance of ‚simulated action research™ in other teacher education settings.Introduction Normally action research is conceived of as an ‚on-site™, in-service phenomenon.There have been descriptions of action research projects carried out by student teachers during teaching practice in schools (e.g. Moreira, Vieira and Marques1999), but often Œ before teaching practice itself, or when trainees are off-site forthe duration of their course Œ there seems to be no option but to omit the idea of action research, or, perhaps, for trainers to recommend it only in abstract terms.However, there may be an experiential means of preparing (future) teachers forteacher-research. In this paper we describe how international students enrolled on a year-long MA programme at the University of Warwick have been involved Œ in one particular ‚Professional Practice™ course Œ in an intensive, ‚simulated™ experience of action research based on peer-teaching, lesson transcript analysis,
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2classroom observation and interviews with more experienced teachers, followedby repeated peer-teaching.Two of the authors (Sultan Alagöz and Simla Îçmez) were students on the course,and summaries of their action research projects, together with their retrospectivereflections, are combined below with a description, evaluation and reflections relating to the overall development of the course by the course tutors (Peter Brown and Richard Smith). On this basis, we hope to provide insights from a variety of participant perspectives into possible advantages as well as problems of incorporating simulated action research into pre-service teacher education more generally.The paper is structured as follows: in Section 1, background information isprovided regarding the particular setting, while in Section 2, the development of the course is described in overall terms, and two action research projects are briefly summarised. Section 3 provides an overall evaluation of the course, and refers to our retrospective reflections and discussions. Finally, Section 4 discusses emerging problems and possible advantages of ‚simulated action research™, drawing implications for possible wider adoption of this innovation.1. BackgroundThe Centre for English Language Teacher Education (CELTE) at the University ofWarwick provides various year-long postgraduate programmes, at MA and Diploma level, as well as English language support for international students across the university, and short tailor-made courses in English and Englishteaching methodology for groups visiting from overseas (see CELTE n.d.).All of CELTE™s postgraduate teaching takes place on campus rather than bydistance. Almost all students study full-time for one year, coming to Warwickfrom a wide variety of countries and regions of the world. Most of the MA programmes are for students with teaching experience, but the MA in English Language Studies and Methods (ELSM), is specifically designed for students with little or no substantial experience. The ‚Professional Practice™ course, as implemented within this particular programme in the spring term (‚Term 2™) of2001, will be focused on in this paper.In Term 1, all MA in ELSM students take three option courses and a commoncore course, ‚Introduction to ELT™, on which the Term 2 ‚Professional Practice™ course is intended to build. In Term 2, apart from Professional Practice (which is allotted five timetabled hours per week and is assessed by means of a 6,000-word assignment), students follow ‚Research Methodology™ (one hour per week, unassessed) and two option courses (both 3 hours per week and assessed on the
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3basis of 3,000-word assignments). In Term 3 students complete the ResearchMethodology course and carry out work for their 15,000-word dissertation (see Appendix 1 for further details).Thus, within the overall MA in ELSM programme, the Professional Practicecourse has a central but somewhat ambiguous role, in the sense that it is relied upon to help students translate theory into actual practice in the context of a programme which is academic rather than purely practical in overall intent. How theory may be linked to practice is a continual concern in all of the MA programmes, and is particularly an issue with these students, who have little or no substantial teaching experience. Students, too, are often concerned above all to refine their practical teaching skills. However, there is an institutional pressureeven for the Professional Practice component to meet academic criteria, in otherwords, not to be purely practical in nature. Thus, unlike in a conventional teachertraining practicum, assessment for the course is based on a 6,000-wordassignment rather than on teaching performance per se, which is not assessed.Also, there is only time for each student to teach once or twice, and there is nopossibility for students to teach in the ‚real™ teaching contexts which they have left behind, coming to the university as they tend to do for a year from overseas.Taking into account the above constraints, ‚faute de mieux™ as it might appear, anew strategy was adopted for the 2001 MA in ELSM Professional Practice coursewhich we have come to term ‚simulated action research™. This involved small- group peer-teaching, with student-teachers imagining that they were teaching in a context with which they were already familiar or within which they intended to teach in the future, while over the course of the term they engaged in an assessed action research project related directly to their ‚simulated™ peer- teaching.At first sight, this arrangement is clearly far from ideal Œ and limitations due tothe simulated, artificial nature of the experience are likely to spring immediately to the reader™s mind. Indeed, initially at least, some students were themselves resistant to the idea that peer-teaching could provide an appropriate alternative to what they themselves termed ‚real™ teaching. We do not wish to deny these limitations (and will consider them further below), but we have discovered that they are counter-balanced by advantages which are not, at first sight, so obvious. We have come to believe that the ‚simulated action research™ model developed in this context may be of interest to others working in comparable ‚academic™teacher education settings, and, more generally, to teacher educators who may beseeking experiential means of preparing teachers for future action research and/or reflective teaching. At this stage, then, we ask you to keep an open mind!
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42. Description of the course2.1Starting-pointsParticipants in the MA in ELSM ‚Professional Practice™ course in the spring termof 2001 were the two tutors (Peter Brown and Richard Smith) and twenty-three students from a variety of countries, namely Japan (3), Taiwan (8), People™sRepublic of China / Hong Kong (2), Thailand (2), Turkey (2), Greece (3), Cyprus(2), and the Dominican Republic (1). The course was carried out over a 10-week term, with five contact hours (one three-hour session and one two-hour session) allotted per week,The course had already been running successfully for several years on a smallgroup peer-teaching model, although with some problems (according to the previous year™s student evaluations) as follows:· overload in terms of amount of work for the assignment (divided into 3,000words for a set of three lesson plans with rationale and 3,000 words for a small-scale classroom observation study, plus a portfolio of reflections on others™ and own peer-teaching);· perceived duplication of aspects of the Term 1 Introduction to ELT courseduring input sessions;· a feeling that tutor-led whole class feedback sessions were not always ofvalue (since the whole class had not seen both peer-taught lessons being discussed).Additionally, there was a shared desire on the part of the course tutors toenhance or introduce the following aspects:· more opportunities for peer-teaching: students consistently requested this inprevious years™ evaluations, but the challenge was how to meet this request within the time constraints without sacrificing input and the ‚academic™nature of the course;· more reflection by student-teachers on their own practice: this had beenpreviously only a minor element within overall course work (as one component in a portfolio of reflections Œ see above);· self-observation and self-evaluation with a view to improvement of practice(few students chose to analyse the video of their own teaching for their assignment, preferring in general to replicate a previous study from the literature through observation of others™ classes, thus engaging in ‚outsider™ academic research and writing rather than ‚teacher-research™)· a more integrated assignment, rather than separate components.
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5In order to meet the above demands the tutors hoped, in the first place, toexpand the popular peer-teaching component of previous years. Something hadto go if this was to be attempted, and it was decided to reduce the amount ofinput related to teaching grammar, vocabulary and the four skills (this wasachieved partly by negotiating an increase in the number of hours for Term 1Introduction to ELT, and partly by encouraging and supporting students to find out for themselves what they needed to know in relation to their lesson planning. A major concern was to improve the assignment, in particular to make it more integrated, involve more reflection on students™ own teaching, and to encourage continuous writing throughout the term rather than all at the end of term (in order to reduce ‚overload™).. The tutors also felt that enhancing the ‚teacher- research™ dimension of the course would ensure maintenance of academicstandards, indeed could provide an effective lead-in to Term 3 dissertationresearch.2.2Course aimsIn accordance with the above, the following aims were established for theimproved course:1) Build on but provide a different experience from Term 1 ‚Introduction to ELT™;2) Develop students™ willingness and ability to reflect critically on their own practice; 3) Prepare students methodologically and psychologically for future reflectiveteaching / teacher-research;4) Prepare students for dissertation research in Term 3.While (1) and (4) obviously have local salience to this particular setting. (2) and(3) appear to have a wider relevance to other teacher education contexts.The tutors™ central idea was to redesign the course according to an actionresearch model, thus providing a motivating structure for reflection on teaching. Essentially they wished to enhance a strategy that had proved to be highlyvalued in previous years (i.e. peer-teaching) by engaging students in repeatedpeer-teaching. They hoped to develop students™ autonomy as learners / futureteacher-learners, trusting them more to find out what they needed to learn for themselves and placing more emphasis on their researching their own practice, witha view to developing their capacities in these areas for the benefit of their futureteaching.2.3Course design
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6On the basis of the above considerations, the following three phases wereplanned:Phase 1 (weeks 1Œ5): Lesson planning, peer-teaching and self-evaluation:Each student would teach a 30-minute lesson to a small group of peers; no tutorfeedback would be provided. Instead, feedback would come from students being taught and self-analysis (including transcription) of audio- and video-recordings. The class would be divided into three sub-groups for simultaneous peer- teaching, allowing time for all to teach and for the experience to be repeated later in the term.Phase 2 (weeks 6Œ7): Further investigation and planning improvement:On the basis of summaries of feedback and their own reflections, and analysis ofthe lesson transcript and video, students (with appropriate guidance) would identify areas for improvement and further investigation; then, by means of reading, observation of lessons and interviews with more experienced teachers, students would plan changes to their lesson and plan how to evaluate whether improvements took place.Phase 3 (weeks 8Œ10): Repetition of peer-teaching, evaluation of change andreporting of findings:The same lesson, incorporating improvements, would be repeated for a differentgroup of peers (to enhance the interest value for those being taught). Feedback would be gained with regard to intended improvements (e.g. by means of focused questionnaires / observation by a ‚critical friend™ / transcript analysis),and this data analysed and reported orally and in written form.The requirement to submit a 6,000-word assignment was unchanged, but theassignment was divided into three parts consisting of reports on the three phases above, drafts of which would be submitted following completion of each phase, i.e. throughout the term.Appendix 2 (the handout actually given to students to describe the course inadvance) provides a more detailed description of these phases and assessment procedures.2.4ImplementationThe course was implemented more or less as planned, although as a result offeedback from students an extra week (week 8) was allotted to investigation
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8The next step in my research was to observe three lessons (reading/speaking, vocabularyand integrated skills), using three different observation schemes. The first one was to findout the ratio of student turns and teacher turns in whole class activities, The second was used to identify the kinds of interaction taking place in the lesson and the amount of student talking time in pair/group work,. and the last scheme was designed to find outthe types of activities and the quality of the interaction in these activities. The data I gotfrom these schemes were in accordance with what I learned from my reading in the area of student participation.Therefore, I decided to include pair work and group work in my second peer teaching, andin order to evaluate the changes in student-student interaction and student talking time I decided to use three different methods: giving the students a questionnaire, analysing thetranscript of the lesson using two tally sheets and asking a critical friend to makecomments. The data I got from these three sources showed that there was an increase in both student-student interaction and student talking time.3. Evaluations and reflections3.1Ongoing and mid-term evaluationAs part of the tutors™ own teacher-research into the effectiveness of the changesintroduced into the Professional Practice course, feedback from students waselicited on an ongoing basis, both informally and formally. In response to informal feedback, an extra week was added for investigation of research questions, delaying the second peer-teaching experience (as mentioned above). Formally, a mid-term (end of week 5) evaluation was carried out by means of a simple open-ended questionnaire (eliciting ‚Good points™ and ‚Points to improve™ about the course). Good points mentioned by many participants at that point were that the course was ‚well-structured™ and provided good opportunities forpractice teaching. However, the evaluation also revealed insecurities andconfusion on the part of some participants. In particular, there were many requests for feedback from tutors on peer-teaching. This led the course tutors to explain more carefully why they were not providing feedback, namely so that participants could develop expertise in self-evaluation which would enable them to improve their teaching in the future.3.2End-of-course evaluationSome of the most valuable feedback on the course as a whole came from theoverall quality of the students™ final assignments. The fact that these inexperienced teachers were often able to produce acute and principled critiques
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9of their own teaching performance in itself indicated that the course hadprovided a useful structure for their professional development.More direct feedback was obtained from an end-of-course questionnaire,supplemented by opportunity for open comment. Students were asked to agreeor disagree (on a five point scale) with twenty-three statements about the course and to answer four open-ended questions. A total of 16 students responded to this questionnaire.A summary of the main points emerging is presented here under three headings:overall impressions of the course, perceptions of professional development and anxieties and criticisms.3.2.1Overall impressions of the course· 14 students agreed (8 strongly) that they had benefited and learned a lot fromthe course. 2 students disagreed with this statement.· 13 students agreed that the course had been challenging and interesting,while 2 disagreed.· 13 participants agreed that they had succeeded in improving their teaching inthe area(s) they had chosen to focus on; 2 disagreed.In general, a clear majority of the students had a positive impression of thecourse. However, there remained two students who consistently doubted itsbenefits. This pattern of response is generally consistent throughout thequestionnaire and is reflected in the questions inviting comment on more specific aspects of the course (below).3.2.2.Perceptions of Professional Development· 14 students agreed that the course taught them how to reflect on their ownand others™ teaching. Again, 2 students disagreed.· 9 students said that their views about teaching had changed, with 13 agreeingthat they were better able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses as a result of the course.· 12 students agreed that they had learned to use techniques such as (self-)observation which they would like to use for improving their teaching in the future. 13 of the participants felt better equipped to use these techniques for future research.
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10In general, a large majority of the students agreed that the course had enabledthem to develop professionally. Again, there appeared to be two dissenting voices whose specific reservations are detailed in the following section.3.2.3Anxieties and CriticismsThe course leaders were aware that the mode of study adopted would makeunexpected demands on students who were not accustomed to self-evaluation, self-direction and collaboration with peers, as opposed to direct guidance from the teacher. Students™ responses to questions inviting them to comment on this different learning experience generally show an understanding and appreciation of the guiding principles behind the approach adopted, for example: ‚This courseenabled me to be more active . . . not just reading, but reflecting on, analysing andadopting what I have read to suit my own teaching style was what I enjoyed most™.· The largest number of students had neutral feelings when asked about thedifficulties of the course. Similarly, 6 were neutral about the number ofactivities, with 5 claiming there were too many activities and 5 that there were too few. However, only 2 students said that the course should be simplified because it had been too difficult.· 8 students agreed that they had received enough feedback from lecturers, but8 remained neutral or disagreed that they received enough feedback. Forexample: ‚Sometimes I couldn™t get the feedback that I wanted at that time™; ‚I reallywanted you [the tutors] to see my teaching and give me feedback on it™.· 8 students agreed they had sometimes ‚lost their way™, but only one studentcomplained about a lack of feedback from tutors when he or she wasconfused.· 13 students agreed that the course encouraged collaborative learning. Onlyone disagreed with the statement that group work was generally helpful.3.2.4SummaryIn relation to the specific, local problems identified in previous years Œ thestarting-points for this innovation (see 2.1 above) Œ the tutors were satisfied that improvements had been made. There were few complaints regarding assignmentoverload (the biggest single complaint in the previous year). Although studentswere engaged in a significant amount of work, the spreading-out of this load by means of encouragement of submission of drafts for separate parts throughout the term seems to have had the intended effect, while the fact that students were
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11writing about a topic of immediate relevance to themselves and their future workseems to have developed a degree of intrinsic motivation to write up. Overlap with the Term 1 Introduction to ELT course had been reduced. At the same time, the course had succeeded in building on the strengths identified in previousyears™ evaluations, via an increase in the amount of practice teaching withoutdiminishing the academic/research orientations of the course. Indeed, the whole course combined research with reflection by student-teachers on their own practice to an extent not achieved in previous years. At the same time, there was a sense in which the course provided a better preparation for dissertation research in Term 3 (as well as future teacher-research) since students were engaged in formulating and identifying their own research questions, rather than simply replicating previous research in the literature. Indeed, several studentschose to extend research begun in the Professional Practice module intodissertation research (for example, on teacher questions).A clear majority of the students found that the course provided them with thestructures and inputs to enable them to develop professionally. The course seems to have been pitched at a suitable level for the students and the majority clearly appreciated the nature of a course which stressed autonomy and self-evaluation. Nevertheless, at the end of the course some anxieties about the quantity of feedback remained. Several students had occasionally felt a lack of direction, butappear to have ultimately realised that such problems were temporary andsurmountable. However, others noted that ‚There is a need for a clearer explanationabout the aims and procedures of the course™, and: ‚Having a general outline of phases ofresearch before we started would make things more clear™. In fact the tutors believedthat the phases of the course had been adequately explained, but comments suchas these show the importance of attempting to make sure that all participants are clear about the nature, rationale and methodology of the course in future years. At the same time, some degree of confusion may be necessary as participants‚restructure™ their expectations away from dependence on tutors and towardsautonomy as teacher-learners: the overall shift from confusion and desire for more tutor feedback (as revealed in mid-term evaluations) towards generally though not completely shared understanding of the rationale for tutors™ notproviding feedback on peer-teaching was gratifying, and requires furtherinvestigation, particularly in order to avoid the problem in the future that even at the end of the course a few students were still left confused and unsure of the course™s benefits.3.3ReflectionsFollowing completion of the course, the four authors of the present paper mettogether a number of times to reflect on it retrospectively. Each of us prepared reflections on aspects which interested us individually, and reflections by the
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