Promises of Action Research Paradigm for Teachers’ Professional Development

                                                                                                                              * Pramod Sigdel

Abstract

This paper discusses on one of the modalities of teacher’s professional development. As the teachers are the key persons to enhance quality learning, they must be empowered with knowledge, skill and attitude towards teaching and learning. A teacher only knows his or her classroom situations and obstacles hence, he/ she themselves must design and plan the activities which can facilitate and accelerate the learning opportunities for the learners. So, teachers should be empowered with the skills of identifying real classroom problems, designing intervention strategies to cope the problems and execution of their plan, rather than imposing theories and philosophies in the training. It is also because yesterday’s best practices are considered as obsolete today because of the rapid change in time and technological advancement. So, students’ needs and styles of learning are also getting diverse rapidly. Hence, to fulfill the present need of the students and to foster quality education, teachers must be equipped with action research skills. 

Key wordsTeachers’ Professional Development (TPD), action research, in-service training, intervention

Background

Relating the activities done in the training sessions and taking them back to the real classroom is the most challenging task for the teachers who are working as in- service teachers in the context of Nepal. Last year, I went in one of the resource centers to deliver my session as a facilitator. We had to deliver nine sessions within three days and next two days would be our observation session as per the requirement of the program. Thinking that transfer of skills is the most challenging task for the teachers, we planned each session in such a way that all the teachers can get time to reflect back on their teaching practices, their setting and the ways to incorporate those learnt activities in their classes. We also asked our participants to think in which lesson they can use those activities and which learning need of the students a particular activity can address. Then, the participants had to share their reflective thinking being framed on those clues. As the sessions were delivered, that cycle would repeat. By the end of nine sessions, teachers did have different action plans to cope with the problems which they were facing earlier. Through their personal reflections, we came to know that they were eager to take back those learnt skills into their classroom practice. However, we were in doubt: how far they could mould these activities according to their situation, and how they would modify activities to achieve their intended objectives.

After a gap of three days, we went to the schools of the participants to observe their classroom teaching. They were able to use those activities tactfully even in a different environment from that of the training hall. Teachers were able to choose right activities to fulfill the intended aim of the lesson. They were able to modify the activities according to age level of the students, school environment and the physical environment of the classroom. We were astonished to see the performance of the teacher. This forced me to reflect back on the session plan we designed. I thought:  why are people saying that training does not go back to the class?  But here, it is absolutely transferred in a meaningful way. Then I thought about the action plan and the reflective thinking frame-work for the participants which we provided after each of the session. I became sure that this kind of practice helps teacher to develop professionally.

Normally, teachers consider teaching as ‘something done in front of the classroom’. But in contrast, we are doing an action research daily in the class. “We can use the language of research to describe teaching: hypothesizing an activity will help students learn, engaging students in the activity, observing the process, and evaluating the results. Many teachers do this as a matter of course, but typically unconsciously, and alone.” (Wachholz & Christensen, 2004). Even though teachers do it unknowingly, there are no systematic guidelines for the teacher on how to do action research in the context of Nepal. If an action research is practiced well, effectiveness of teachers’ professional development would grow high.

It is obvious that everyone involved in school- students, teachers, school administration, and other colleagues- expect something in return by the teacher after the course of training. It is expected that when teachers return to their teaching institutions after a training course some kind of tangible change will have taken place involving their skills, knowledge, and attitudes. Unfortunately, however, in many in- service teachers’ training, including EL teachers’ training, this sort of outcome is often difficult to achieve. For this we cannot only blame the trainees. The model of teacher training and mode of teachers’ professional development is itself defunct. Brookfield (1994) also rightly hints to such a situation that current professional development often fails to fulfill the needs of teachers. Teachers are not given sufficient ideas on how to take the activities in the class as a part of action plan and document the changes. Furthermore, there is little time for teachers to investigate their practice, to move toward meaningful change, to document effects of change on students’ achievement, and to share what they learn with other teachers. Nor is there much support from the administrators for such activities. Hence, identifying problems and cases which teachers have in their schools, engaging them in designing activities and tasks, and helping them to develop action plans to implement in the schools is the current need in teacher’s professional development. Teacher research could prove to be a more beneficial model for the teachers’ professional development.

Ned for teachers’ professional development

Equipping skills and knowledge through readings, sharing, training and continuous effort in ones’ related job to bring efficiency and quality changes is known as professional development. Similarly, teacher professional development (TPD) is defined as a process of improving both the teacher’s academic standing as well as acquisition of greater competence and efficiency in the related subject. Effective professional development enables educators to develop the knowledge and skills they need to address students’ learning challenges. To be effective, professional development requires a thoughtful planning followed by careful implementation with feedback mechanism on the performance. Professional development is not effective unless it causes teachers to improve their instruction or causes administrators to become better school leaders. In this connection, Mizell (2010) sates that the effectiveness of professional development depends on how carefully educators conceive, plan, and implement it. There is no substitute for rigorous thinking and execution. Unfortunately, many educators are responsible for organizing professional development, yet they do not have formal education in how to do so.

College and university programs cannot provide the extensive range of learning experiences which is necessary for the graduates to become effective school teachers. Once students graduate, meet their certification requirements, and are employed, they learn through experience. Even experienced teachers confront great challenges each year, including changes in subject content, new instructional methods, advances in technology, changed laws and procedures, and student learning needs.  The statement by Britten (1987), “EFL moves fast, as yesterday’s orthodoxy is today’s heresy”  implies that teachers of this era have a great challenge of fulfilling the current needs of the learners and educating them in experiential and natural order. Teachers who do not have experience of effective professional development do not improve their skills, and, as a result, students’ learning suffers. To cope with this great challenge of the twenty first century, teachers should be encouraged to identify the problems of their students and the means to eradicate them through action plan implementation. Hence, action research should be made a mandatory part of teachers’ professional development.    

Action research and teachers’ professional development

For many practitioners, research appears to be a complex set of steps and time-consuming for classroom teachers to participate in. But teachers who are immersed in their own classrooms may find research irrelevant because there is little research written by practicing teachers, and many times it does not relate to the daily activities in classrooms. However, research can be conducted in an educational setting and often has a positive impact. According to Hine (2013), “classrooms that become laboratories are better classrooms” (p.157) because research would not be effective if it is done by some ones else and passes down to the practicing teachers.  Head & Taylor (1997) states ‘much of the knowledge that teacher have is acquired through experience of actually doing the job. The habits of thinking and acting that professional use is called knowing- in – action. This means that teachers are able to make the necessary on-the –spot practical decisions to cope with problems as they arise while a lesson is in progress’ (p. 22). This ‘know- in- action’ is called action research. Action research is more authentic and meaningful to the teacher-researcher because it is conducted by the teacher in his/her own classroom.  Action research can be useful for teachers in a number of ways. According to Gnawali (2001), action research allows for continuous professional development of the teachers as teachers can generate strategies that help them to turn the problems into positive experiences. It also helps solve practical problems that occur in teaching learning process. Action research can also be a useful tool for in- service training. Instead of prescribing classroom techniques for teachers from the outside, teachers can adopt techniques suitable for their situation; they can do so independent of outside help. Equally important promise of action research is that it can bring about visible positive results during innovative interventions in the classrooms. Different activities carried out during the cycle of action research equip a teacher researcher with full grasp of the issues, means of intervention and tracks of success in the educational setting.

Issues concerning the practice of action research for teachers’ development in Nepal

The concept of action research has been brought into Teachers’ Professional Development (TPD) training by Nepal government recently. By the end of this training, participants need to submit an action plan with its results to the trainer. Yet it is observed that it has not been so much successful as trainees are not aware about the processes of action research itself in the training. They are not asked to raise the problem or issues which they have at the time of training. Secondly, teachers need to make an action plan at their home, and it is really a monotonous job for them. They neither have sufficient time to work on the action plan in school nor do they spend time on it at their home. As a result, most action plan turns out to be of low quality and useless. Finally, teachers do not have anything to implement systematically and in planned way in the class after training. Gradually, they forget the activities which they learnt in the training sessions.

Ways out

In the present Nepalese context of teacher development, it is urgent that diversification is brought in the modality of teacher training. Trainers should not deliver the session according to the plan made; rather they should  motivate the trainees to share the problems. Training sessions should be planned with the activities which are directed to solve the most common problems of the teachers. Trainer needs to ask the trainees to make action plans for classroom implementation. There they should indicate the problems/issues they have, allocated time for action research, objectives of action research and intervention strategies or activities which are learnt in the course of training under the direct supervision of the trainer. Teachers will be motivated to plan, to seek new and innovative ideas through collaboration with the colleagues. This action plan has a high possibility of being implemented back in the respective classes of the teachers. This new energy and fresh mind make teachers’ job easier and effective. When the teachers submit a progress report to the trainer, it testifies that classroom has really improved as a result of the training intervention. Subsequent monitoring and follow- up by the trainer really helps teachers to grow professionally.

Conclusion

Training is for teachers’ professional development through raising high awareness in contents knowledge, equipping skill, and nurturing positive attitudes.  Positive change in the students’ performance is the indicator of better professional development of the teachers. To do so, action research is the best means. Teachers should be trained to make action plans and implement those plans in the class under the supervision of the trainer and collaborative groups for a continuous and sustainable teacher development.

References

Britten, D. (1988). Three stages in teacher training. ELT Journal42 (1): 3-8.

Brookfield, S. (1994). Adult learning: An overview. International Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Gnawali, L. (2001). Investigating classroom practices: A proposal for teacher development for the secondary school teachers of English in Nepal. Unpublished Dissertation, Marjon: The College Of St Mark & St John.

Head, K & Taylor, P. (1997). Readings in teacher development. Great Britain: The Bath Press.

Hine, G. C. (2013). The importance of action research in teacher education programs. In Special issue: Teaching and learning in higher education: Western Australia’s TL Forum. Issues in Educational Research, 23(2), 151-163.

Mizell, H. (2010). Why professional development matters. Locust. St. Oxford: Learning Forward.

Wachholz, P.  & Christensen, L. (2004). When teachers research: Action research as professional development.  Language Arts Journal of Michigan: Vol. 20: Iss. 1, Article 10.

 

(Mr. Pramod Sigdel, M.Ed. in ELT from Kathmandu University, is a life member of NELTA, and is serving NELTA Lalitpur chapter as an executive member. Mr. Sigdel is involved in English language teaching and teacher training. Besides, he has also written chapters in textbooks for learners.)

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