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 ….