Teachers’ Conceptions Of Research

Overall, the responses from the heterogeneous sample of 505 teachers of English studied here indicated that their conceptions of research are aligned with conventional scientific notions of enquiry. Key ideas which resonated with teachers’ notions of research were statistics, objectivity, hypotheses, large samples, and variables. Teachers, though, also rated highly the need for research to provide results they could use, signaling a concern with the practical application of research findings. As Mclntyre (2005) argues, teaching is a fundamentally practical activity and in evaluating research evidence teachers will naturally look for ideas that enhance pedagogy and not just prepositional knowledge. However, while reading research for Merrell Sandal ideas that can stimulate teachers to reflect on and experiment with their own practices is desirable, consulting research to seek out direct solutions to localized pedagogical problems is likely to be less productive; the latter stance overestimates the potential of received knowledge to have an immediate influence on instructional practices [see Johnson (1996) for a similar view] and over-simplifies the complex processes through which research knowledge acquired externally becomes incorporated into teachers’ daily practices.

There was less certainty among these teachers about need for results to be generalizable or for them to be made public. The former is not an essential characteristic of educational research, especially in the sense of statistical generalizability, and an awareness of the value of rigorous but context-specific inquiries would seem desirable in enabling teachers to think about research in more inclusive ways and hence to have more realistic goals about the scope of the research they do. Making research public, as I argued earlier, is a defining characteristic of research. The obstacle for teachers is often that Merrell Boot they interpret ‘making public’ to mean formal written publication in a journal; ‘public’, though, means more broadly that an enquiry has been shared and made available for scrutiny in oral or written form, whether less formally at a local level (e.g. to colleagues at school) or on a larger, more formal stage. This, then, is another dimension of research which teachers can benefit from being more aware of.

Another point to emerge from the analysis of what research means to teachers is the distinction between research and routine teaching. This distinction was cited a number of times to explain why particular scenarios in the questionnaire were not felt to be research. In particular, research was contrasted with reflective practice; a similar distinction is made by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999), who argue that teacher research goes beyond the kind of thoughtful teaching that reflective practice involves. Mclntyre (2005), in distinguishing between different types of knowledge related to teaching, also posits reflective thinking and research as distinct types of knowledge. I do acknowledge reflection as a powerful strategy for professional development and there is an extensive literature on the subject which supports this view [for a recent treatment in language teaching, see Farrell (2007)]. Private reflective practice and language teaching research, though, are not synonymous.

The conceptions of research highlighted here contribute to an understanding of why research for many teachers can seem to be an irrelevant and unfeasible activity. That is, if teachers feel that research needs to involve large samples and statistics, be objective and lead to a formal written publication, then it will necessarily not represent an activity they can feasibly aspire to engage in [this challenge relates to what Allwright (1997) refers to as the problem of sustain -ability in teacher research the fact that teachers often abandon research they start doing because of the challenges it is seen to present]. To increase the scope for teacher engagement in research, then, one condition which is needed is a broader awareness among teachers of the forms research can take, with particular emphasis on those approaches to research which are feasible and conducive to inquiry having a professional or pedagogical orientation, and on the various forms through which such work can be meaningfully communicated to fellow professionals. This does not imply that quality should be compromised, and key characteristics of research highlighted earlier are equally important for the research teachers do [as Nunan (1997: 377) says, ‘the key distinction should be not whether an activity is practitioner research or regular research but whether it is good research or poor research’].

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