Today I was part of a really energising event: the Pre-Conference Event held by the Research SIG of IATEFL at the annual conference in Harrogate. The day was especially focused on teachers’s research and set up to be “for teachers by teachers”. We heard some really interesting poster presentations, and had some interesting discussions in plenary. Here are my personal highlights.
Good ideas I learnt from poster presentations & the discussions that followed
– “Process-folios”: Instead of assessing students on a portfolio consisting of the work they have chosen, their best pieces of work, get students to produce a portfolio which demonstrates the process through which they arrived at their final product and how they improved the product and their language/skills throughout the project. For example, if they are working on an essay, the process-folio could include reading notes, essay plan(s)/outline(s), drafts, feedback, peer review, reflections, etc, as well as the final essay. Since it’s hard to give a grade for this kind of documentation, the assessment could be a list of ‘can do’ statements, so the students have to prove through the documents included in their process-folio that they have the skills to complete the tasks listed in the statements, for example ‘I can narrow down a topic appropriately’, ‘I can read sources critically’, ‘I can incorporate feedback into my work’. These process-folios remove the pressure from students of producing one very good essay (for example) and re-focus their attention on the process of improving themselves and their work. (Thanks to Jayne Pearson for this idea!)
– Group peer review: Instead of having students bring copies of their written work to class and working in pairs or small groups on peer reviewing tasks, put the documents online (e.g. in a Google Group) and invite everyone in the class/group to leave comments on all the other pieces of work. Students can sign up to the group using pseudonyms, and the anonymity can help to make the feedback more honest. It will probably also mean that students receive feedback from peers who are not in their immediate friendship group (who they would probably work with if given the chance in class) and are thus likely to receive a broad range of comments and ideas. They may be exposed to new approaches to improving their writing, and receive more abundant feedback than just from one partner within the lesson time. (Thanks to Elena Oncevska for this idea!)
– Online/Smart phone apps for improving oral fluency: Students can be encouraged to improve their own oral fluency if they are aware of where their weaknesses lie. There are a number of tools available on the internet or as smart phone apps which can make this work more motivating. For example, the IDEA (International Dialects of English Archive) provides recordings of English speakers from around the globe, who are speaking freely and naturally (not like the staged recordings often found in textbooks!). These recordings can be used to encourage students to notice what exactly it is they listen to when someone is speaking, what aspects of their speech make them sound ‘fluent’, etc. And then they can record their own speech (using smart phones, usually no special app is required) to ‘anaylse’ and compare with the IDEA samples. Other apps, such as The Ahcounter or The Hitcounter can be used by students (alone, in groups, or with/by the teacher) to measure things such as words per minute, the number of disfluent interruptions (e.g. ah, err, um) in a concrete nominal way, from which the students can set themselves targets and continue to monitor improvements in their fluency. Being allowed to use their mobiles in class will probably bring additional motivation to the task! (Thanks to Becky Steven and Jessica Cobley for this idea)
Interesting points of discussion
We didn’t really find clear answers to any of these, but I think the questions are important ones for teachers to be asking themselves and perhaps discussing with colleagues – and it would be great to read your ideas if you’d like to post them as comments below.
– Is teacher/action research simply part of good teaching practice, or is there something more to it?
– What is the relationship between action research and professional development?
– Where is the boundary between teacher research and “proper” academic research?
– How can we share and disseminate the findings of teacher research projects to reach the people who are actually in the classroom?
As you can see, an interesting and productive day … can’t wait to see what the rest of the conference holds in store!
By the way, if you’re interested in seeing/hearing more from the ReSIG PCE, here are the videos from all the poster presentations: http://resig.weebly.com/teachers-research-1-april-2014.html