Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cooper: Inviting students into the research circle in ESL classrooms - Adam Cooper, Guest Blogger

Adam Cooper recently presented at the MWERA conference in Columbus, Ohio and he had some interesting things to say regarding AR in the classroom. His call to invite students to participate as more active members of research circles, rather than "token members" challenges the comfort zone of those educators less experienced in classroom action research; but listening to his argument I can see only positive and dramatic changes in ESL classrooms possible. Adam has given me permission to post a short excerpt from his paper presentation which is published in the MWERA conference program. You can reach Adam at acooperca@gmail.com and if you have an idea for a posting or would like to write about your experiences using AR in classroom, email me at Dusty.Embury@EKU.edu.

Scholarly calls to invite action research (AR) into the language classroom abound (Burns, 1999; Crookes, 2003; Crookes, 1993; Kumaravadivelu, 2001), resulting in successful formulations of instruction for foreign language study (Crookes & Chandler, 2001), English as a Foreign Language in postsecondary programs (Thorne & Qiang, 1996;), and English as a Second Language in secondary settings. Indeed, collaborative inquiry has long been a means for refining practice according to traditions in Japanese Lesson Study (Fernandez, Cannon, & Chokshi, 2003). The dynamic ability for action research to affect positive changes in the classroom, however, is evident in the quick transition it has made from a primary focus on teacher practice to an added focus on increasing opportunities for disengaged students (Atweh, 2003; Bland & Atweh, 2007; Mitra, 2006; O’Brien & Moules, 2007), for student learning (Nunan, 2002), and for school reform (Fielding, 2001; Leitch, Gardner, Mitchell, Lundy, Odena, Galanouli, et al., 2007). With the proliferation of AR among teachers, administrators, and students, there are still little, if any, attempts to convene these efforts into parallel investigations that can inform and assist one another in their distinct objectives.

Although students-as-researchers efforts are designed to strengthen student voice in schools, learners are rarely given the opportunity to use these efforts in order to make important structural, procedural, or pedagogical decisions at the school. Admittedly, impressive efforts are made to train and support students in data collection, but too often, research design is left to the educators, as is the task of drawing conclusions and articulating implications. This token involvement jeopardizes the same student engagement educators wish to incite with this approach (Fielding 2004a, 2004b, 2007). When incorporated into a curriculum effectively, motivation among previously disengaged students can improve (Oldfather, 2002; Rogers, Morrell & Enyede, 2007), and instruction can change to better meet the needs of the students (SooHoo, 1993).

By incorporating a dual role for teachers’ action research circles and those for students in one given classroom, ESL programs can support the pedagogical needs of mainstream content teachers, as suggested by Pawan (2008). Additionally, all students, whether they are native speakers of English or second language learners, can then address Duff’s(2001) concerns regarding ELLs’ limited opportunities to communicate in classes dominated by native speakers who have long been enmeshed in American popular culture. Because this collaborative methodology honors the knowledge base of all participants, it could create the space that would allow these previously silenced students to participate more fully in learning activities, contribute more meaningfully to teachers’ pedagogical knowledge, and influence the communities that factor into their education.

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