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Teacher Research Engagement

By Author: Solo Chen
Total Articles: 129

A drive to engage teachers more fully both with and in educational research has in recent years been a prominent feature of educational policy in several international contexts (Department of Education Training and Youth Affairs 2000; Shavelson and Towne 2002; Thomas and Pring 2004 in Australia, the USA and the UK, respectively). One fundamental argument underpinning this drive is that when teachers engage with (through reading) and in (by doing) research and make pedagogical decisions informed by sound research evidence, this will have a beneficial effect on both teaching and learning (Hargreaves 2001). The recommendation that teachers be research-engaged has also been based on broader arguments about Merrell Boot the benefits this can have for teachers' professional development and, from a more critical perspective, for their status as professionals: teachers need to be encouraged to move out of their submissive position and to take a much more innovatory, as opposed to implementary, role in curriculum development. One way to do this is to adopt the perspective of the researcher.

Stimulated by this interest in encouraging teachers to be research-engaged, one strand of inquiry to emerge has focused on examining what teachers actually think about research (Shkedi 1998; Everton et al. 2000; Everton et al. 2002; McNamara 2002b; Ratcliffe et al. 2004). The rationale for such work has been that initiatives to promote teacher research engagement are more likely to succeed if they are based on an understanding of teachers' conceptions of research and of the role research plays in their work. A further related strand of inquiry, particularly in the UK, has focused on the notion of research-engaged teachers and schools. One collective finding to emerge from Merrell Sandal this work is that organizational and institutional factors, and not just teachers' individual attitudes, can also exert a powerful influence on the extent to which teachers can be research-engaged. An interest in teacher research engagement is also evident in the literature on English language teaching (ELT), though in this field only a limited number of empirical studies of teachers' conceptions of research exist (in contrast to a much wider body of work which advises teachers on how to do research e.g. Allwright and Bailey 1991; Nunan 1992; Freeman 1998; Burns 1999; Brown and Rodgers 2002). McDonough and McDonough (1990) surveyed the views of research of 34 teachers of English as a foreign language, while Brown et al. (1992) report a survey of 607 members of an international association for ELT professionals (although it is not clear what proportion of this sample were teachers, as opposed to academic researchers and university lecturers). These studies, echoing those outside ELT, reported notions of research closely tied to quantitative and statistical methods and a general ambivalence (and in some cases cynicism) about the role of educational research in teachers' professional lives. In the field of foreign language teaching more generally, Macaro (2003) examined the views about research of 80 heads of modern foreign language departments in the UK. Reflecting findings in McNamara (2002b) and Shkedi (1998), respondents in this study identified the physical and conceptual inaccessibility of published language teaching research as a key barrier to their engagement with it.

To extend our empirical understandings of English language teachers' conceptions of research, in 2005 I initiated a program of research which is examining these issues in a range of international contexts [see Borg (2007a) and Borg (2007b) for early papers from this work]. Here, I draw on this program of research to examine the conceptions of research of over 500 English language teachers from 13 countries. In doing so, my aim is not to argue that teachers should be research-engaged; my point, rather, is that decisions about what is desirable and feasible in relation to teacher research engagement in ELT need to be based on the kinds of empirical insights we currently lack and which I present in this article. Such research can elucidate practitioners' perspectives on what research is, the extent to which they feel they are research-engaged, and the factors which they feel enable or hinder them in being so; informed recommendations about teacher research engagement in ELT cannot, I would argue, be made without an understanding of such issues.

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