Who am I?

This is a question I have been asking myself over the last couple of days as I started my pilot study. I am doing classroom-based research which means that I am researching my own learners. I’m using normal pedagogic activities to collect my data, so I’m not interviewing students or running focus groups or anything like that, I’m just doing what I always do – teaching. It’s not that I’ve never done this before either, I’ve been doing practitioner research on a regular, informal basis for a couple of years now, using what we do in class to help me understand the teaching and learning process better.  So why does this feel any different?

I think it’s because I feel as if I have now added the hat of ‘official’ researcher to the practitioner-researcher one. No longer is this just between myself and my learners – this research has to stand up in academia. And that changes things.

Firstly, because I had to go through the PIS and Consent forms with them, which do not come in the most user friendly format for second language learners. Despite my concerns, it wasn’t a problem in the end; in fact I got the impression that they were quite excited about their teacher doing a PhD and using the class to do her research. Although this particular class is a General English one, many of them are hoping to go to university here to do a Masters or PhD themselves and this gave them a little insight into what that might involve. I promised them that I would tell them the bits of the class (and subsequent classes) that were related to my research, so they would know when I was collecting data and when I wasn’t. I got the impression that they all tried a little bit harder when we were doing the ‘research’ bit.

The second issue was a lot more subtle. I suddenly became very aware of  all those little, on-the-spot decisions that you make while teaching (reflection-in-action). Suddenly they seemed to take on much more importance. Did I continue with an activity because we were getting a lot of language out of it which was great for the learners or did we stop because otherwise it would interfere with the next planned stage of my research? Did I change the pace and the way I had planned things because in the moment I realized that to keep them engaged,  that was what needed to happen. Or, did I keep going doggedly because that was what I had planned to do for research purposes? These decisions are normally second nature: if the class is flagging,  change the activity/focus/way you’d planned to do it; if something interesting comes up, go off at a tangent and see where it takes you etc. When you have carefully planned ‘research’ lessons however, what takes priority? The research, or the class and the learners? The first day I suddenly found myself not knowing what to do and having to make a split second decision. In the end I opted for the research and almost immediately regretted it. I felt as if my ‘academic researcher’ self had taken over from my ‘practitioner researcher’ self.

Mulling it over after the class, I decided that from an ethical point of view and also to be true to myself as a teacher, I needed to put the learners and their learning first. So, if they needed more scaffolding for an activity, I should give them that without being concerned that the research might somehow be skewed; if the way I had planned to do it wasn’t working for whatever reason, I should feel free to diverge from the lesson plan and do it a different way. Ultimately we are co-constructing knowledge together and that doesn’t necessarily happen or have to happen in a pre-planned way. The next day I acted more as a practitioner researcher, and made those little changes  as we went along. I felt happier and although I haven’t started seriously analyzing the data, I think I have got what I was hoping for, even if the route there wasn’t necessarily the one I had planned.

So much still to learn and reflect on ….




  • Magda Rostron

    Hi Susan,

    This is a very interesting post – and I can strongly relate to it as another “embedded researcher”. Although I didn’t work with my own students during my field research phase last year, I still conducted it in my own professional setting. As a result, I also found myself in the complex and sometimes confusing position of being a teacher and researcher at the same time. In fact, I still grapple with it as my understanding of the accumulated data is being informed by my continuing praxis, by new developments in my classroom and beyond it. That’s inevitable (and I have just signed a contract for another year!), but I need to be able to articulate it clearly to make my position transparent.

    So the key is to record all this in a research diary to reveal the inner workings of your methodology, your approach and your emergent research thinking. Reflexivity is an essential element of any bona fide exploration, but in this case, when you have to come to grips with the duality of your role, it’s even more important.

    Other than that, it’s good to see that others encounter similar problems, such as this perpetual practitioner-researcher “identity crisis” 🙂

    All the best with your research!


  • Zhoumin Huang

    Susan, it is very useful to keep a record of these detailed issues and transformations while we do our research. The points you made sound very interesting and practical to me! 😀

  • Richard Fay

    On the spot decisions, what we call in DRC the micro-decisions and contingencies which researchers face and must demonstrate their competence in (a different challenge to competently developing the plan itself!). To motor through such decision-points confidently and competently requires, I would suggest, a good level of intentionality as well as an ethical sensibility running throughout your researcher thinking (as opposed to the box-ticking exercise of gaining ethical approval) ….. good stuff here Susan 🙂