Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Teachers and Action Research

Today, more than ever, education at the school level is in a state of flux and for this reason it is important for educators to experiment, research and explore different skills, practices, and teaching pedagogy to obtain optimum quality of education in class. Action Research comes in handy in exactly such a situation. Educators and instructors who work in close contact with the actual learning environment should be encouraged to document  their observations about what went well in class and what didn't. Action Research can help find solutions to problems at the class room level. It is more effective than formal research as it addresses grass root problems faced while teaching. Often formal research is based on ideas  that might sound good in theory but don’t not work in practice.

Some important topics for Action Research deal with day to day problems faced by educators in real class room situations, for example issues faced with regard to curriculum planning, concept clarification, handling of classroom dynamics, discipline issues, handling teenage learners, and pedagogy.  The merits of action research far outweigh those of formal research as they are related to grass-root problems and practical issues faced in day to day teaching and thus they are more relevant for active teachers. In many cases Action Research deals with observations which are most valuable for ironing out difficulties that a teacher might face while explaining to his students concepts that are rather abstruse.

Case studies related to students with adjustment problems and discipline issues, attention deficit problems and how the teacher tried to tackle these might form a good topic for action research. Some of the methodologies that an educator can use for his research would be the survey and the experimental methods. It wouldn’t be right however to give too much importance to one method over the other. The statistical method of research is depends on gathering of statistical data and the use of statistical tools to support the hypothesis.

Does it mean that the findings related to action research might be more effective than formal research? I guess the value of action research should not be overlooked! Addressing problems relating to real class room issues are more relevant than researches based on hypothetical issues which might not exist in the real world.  Formal research starts with the framing of a hypothesis and then the researcher sets out to disprove or prove it. Seems as if the researcher is working on a research paper  with a prior  knowledge of the outcome!

When I was told to encourage students’ participation in the lesson and advised not to lecture students, it seemed to be a rather difficult proposition having done exactly that for ages. It is very difficult for traditional teachers to adopt a more student centric approach towards teaching as they have trained themselves to adopt an approach where the teacher leads the class into adopting the concepts that he believes in. However, to elicit the correct responses from the students, to make the students arrive at the concept and themes endorsed by the lesson requires great skills where the teacher attempts to efface himself in such a way that he doesn’t impose his ideas on to his learners.

When I joined my new assignment, I was told to adopt the concept of experiential learning. It was difficult not to impose my ideas on to the lesson, whether it was all about imposing my interpretations on the lesson being taught. Today, I facilitate the teaching of literature grammar and higher order writing by trying to elicit ideas from the students. It however doesn’t mean adopting a laissez faire approach towards the lesson! Does it mean that we need to change our teaching methodology according to the times? I guess the answer is, yes! There is a constant need for the educator to continue to adapt his pedagogy to the needs and abilities of the learners!

The observations subsequent to my action research suggest that what required  today is not to depend entirely on the  lecture method in class, not to dictate views but to elicit ideas from  students. It is more important therefore to involve students in class discussions, brainstorming sessions, problem solving exercises and making the students connect to the lesson personally and emotionally. The bone of contention is therefore whether experiential learning is an effective strategy of teaching? My experience does suggest that it is a most important strategy in today’s times where rote memorisation  might not appeal to students who are much more aware of their surroundings than their predecessors were in an earlier age.

I have observed how effective the expeditionary method of teaching is at the lower class levels from class one to class eight. Does it mean that it might not be as effective in senior classes? My observations point out to the need to integrate everyday instances with the learning situations at the senior levels. For example, while teaching report writing, it is more effective to tell the students to write a report on an actual even so that they can relate to the same personally and emotionally. The same is applicable in the case of teaching students to write job applications. Tell the students to write a job application for a position of their choice and then expose them to a mock interview. It is only after they have faced the job interview that they will have understood the need to write an effective cover letter and a bio data for a particular job! It is clear that today we need to develop the so called twenty-first century skills in our students. These skills include the ability to use technology effectively, and to be aware about current issues. Learning about job skills, learning about the importance of having the necessary abilities for a particular job, understanding about the essential qualifications of a particular job will help the students compete for various positions in the job industry.

So then, what is the purpose of education today if it is not to equip students for a successful life as adult professional? For a language teacher it is important not only to teach the student important concepts of grammar, but also to teach him or her how these skills can help him succeed in real life situations. Today it is important not only to have the correct skills but also to use them effectively! Take for example, the ability to argue a point, to express oneself effectively in a debate-this, in itself is an important skill which would help the learner be able to prove his point in a brainstorming session prior to being appointed in a good firm. The ultimate goal of action research should be therefore to identify effective teaching strategies which will empower the learners to be successful decision makers, thinkers, and problem solvers  in real life.

It goes without saying that Action Research is an important tool in the hands of the Educationist, it helps him or her deal with day to day dealings in the classroom. It is about noting which styles of pedagogy work best, it is about working on the styles of teaching and tweaking them. Action Research is about taking notes, meticulous notes, and Action Research is what makes teachers better.

Action research also follows the pattern of pure research, and this includes citing sources, developing a working bibliography, and supporting one's observations with evidences from secondary sources. Ideally, the bibliography should be in the MLA format. Also it is important for the action-researcher to add his or her 'thesis statement' or 'hypothesis' in the the introductory paragraph, the idea being that through the process of research, the researcher will attempt to prove whether or not the thesis statement or hypothesis is validated by evidence.

We have introduced research skills in school from the grade eight level onward.Students are introduced to the idea of identifying a topic, and then they derive a thesis statement. After they have identified their thesis statement or the hypothesis, the students work on gathering supporting evidence from their primary source and secondary source. After they have identified their sources, students write, paraphrase, summarise or even quote relevant information or supporting evidence on index cards. The information is then incorporated into their first draft. Exposing students as early as grade eight empowers them with essential research skills. Action research is based on these very lines and a teacher who is already conversant with research skills will be better equipped than those who are beginners.

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