Teachers into Researchers a study of learning to research on a Masters in tesol programme

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Pedagogical Research Fund in Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies

Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, www.lang.ltsn.ac.uk

Teachers into Researchers
A study of learning to research on a Masters in TESOL programme
Dr. Richard Kiely

Gerald Clibbon

Dr. Pauline Rea-Dickins

Dr. Catherine Walter

Helen Woodfield

Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol

Table of Contents

1Teachers and Research 6

2Questionnaire studies 20

2.1Course evaluation questionnaire (Appendix 5) 20

2.2Analysis of the interviews 24

2.2.1 The value of oral presentation 41

3The evaluation of the research methods programme 52

4Acknowledgements 62

5Appendices 63

5.1Appendix 3 - Presentation guidelines 68

5.2Appendix 4 - Consent form 70

5.3Appendix 5 - Course evaluation questionnaire 72

5.4Appendix 7 - Critique-writing questionnaire 85

Brief abstract

This research report examines the implementation of a series of innovations in a research methods course in a postgraduate programme (Masters) for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The specific innovations are i) a new assessment format which centred on the writing of a critique on a published research study, and ii) a series of oral presentations based on the written critique (post assessment) to peers. The approach to the research has two principal features: it develops a comprehensive account of the student experience through use of self report in the questionnaire and interview studies, and it has a longitudinal dimension, evidenced in the dissertation phase of the research. The data include a series of four questionnaire studies, interviews and an impact trail to the dissertations completed at the end of the programme. In addition to contributing to an evaluation of these innovations, the research informs wider debates relating to the skills development in research methods, and the role of such skills in the professional development of teachers.

This study explores the process of learning to research in the context of a postgraduate programme for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). It is an evaluation of a set on innovations in a specific programme context. It is also a research study, exploring generic issues in teaching and learning in higher education. The specific teaching and learning context is a research methods programme for Masters in Education (TESOL) students. The research into the processes and outcomes of this programme facilitates engagement with two current issues in higher education: the relationship between research and teaching, especially in the context of the education of teachers, and the process of learning to research, especially in the context of teachers where they start with a professional understanding of issues of pedagogy and curriculum. Section 3 presents a brief overview of the institutional and curricular context of the research methods course. The particular research foci are set out in Section 4. Existing research in these areas, both in general education and the specific context of TESOL is discussed in the literature review in Section 5 below. The approach to the research including the design of the data collection instruments and procedures is discussed in Section 6. The analysis of the data – questionnaire, interview and dissertation tracking – in Section 7 facilitates an engagement with these issues in the current research context which informs on the still small body of research findings on teaching and learning research methods, particularly at Masters level. In Section 8 the concluding remarks presents the implications for each of the three research foci, and sets out the limitations of this study and the opportunities for further research. The Appendices contain a range of contextualising information as well as the full results of the data analysis and proposals for further small-scale research studies.

Teaching and Learning Context

Three factors contributed to the perceived need to examine the process of learning to research more closely. First, it is a central curricular feature of in UK Higher Education postgraduate courses in education and in TESOL /Applied Linguistics, and one which is very difficult to achieve: student evaluation feedback and external examiners reports in our own institution and the HEFCE Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) in Education Subject Overview Report (SOR) (2001) attest to the ongoing curricular challenge in this area. Second, there are enduring questions about the utility of learning to do research as part of the core curriculum. Some students on Masters courses prefer a focus on teaching skills rather than research skills, even though such a focus is not compatible with the required dissertation element. This view derives some support from policy positions which see teachers, the students on such postgraduate courses, as consumers of the products of research rather than generators of such knowledge. Since the initial elaboration of the Stenhousian perspective on teachers and research in the 1970s, there has been a debate about the role of research in teacher education and practice, a debate still current in the discussions of the University Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET). Further perspectives on the role of research training in teacher education and in teaching are explored in Section 5 below.

Third, these challenges are particularly acute in TESOL/ Applied linguistics where home students (i.e. British and European teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English as an Additional Language (EAL), and English for Academic Purposes (EAP)) and international students (i.e. teachers of English in institutions from kindergartens to universities in countries outside the European Union) have experienced a range of professional education formats. Home students are likely to have had either i) a university-based teacher education grounded in the social sciences and leading to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), or ii) a university or other further education, followed by British professional qualifications in TESOL (such as the certificate and diploma awards of Trinity College London and Cambridge ESOL). International students are likely to have become English teachers through subject expertise, i.e. university study in English language and literature, within linguistics or humanities programmes. They may have achieved QTS either through i) subject (English language) expertise alone, or ii) subject expertise and a probationary period in a school of college; or iii) a teacher education programme and examination leading to QTS. Therefore, a research methods programme for TESOL /Applied Linguistics, is likely to have a challenging range of starting points in terms of both existing research skills and conceptions of research in language teaching, education more generally, and across the social sciences.
These effectiveness issues at sector-wide and subject specific levels have created a context for innovation in the teaching of research methods courses. A key element of the context of research methods course generally is captured in the title of Benson and Blackman (2003): Can research methods ever be interesting? This title picks up on the student view that research methods is a boring, unengaging subject, a view the tutors in the current study are familiar with. This view also reflects both the need for and the challenge of innovation in this area. The research methods course for the TESOL students on the Masters in Education in the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol has been the focus of an ongoing response to this need. Three phases of curriculum development in teaching research methods in this research context over recent years illustrate the development of an effective pedagogic approach:
Phase 1

The provision here was a generic educational research methods course in which teachers in different subject areas (e.g. Mathematics, Educational Management, Psychology, TESOL) would develop an understanding of research concepts and practices relevant to the construction of knowledge in their field, and to the design of a specific research study (i.e. the dissertation). Assessment in this phase was through a range of essay type questions on social science research theory and practice.

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