Dawson, Susan (MA and PhD alumna)

UntitledMy name’s Susan Dawson and I have recently completed my PhD after three years of luxuriating in being paid (I was on a Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant studentship) to read, think and write, among other things of course. Now its over and I’m excited about the next chapter. The text below tells the story of how I came to be doing the PhD in the first place.

I fell into teaching after graduating from the Durham University and going to Spain to volunteer for an international organization. Teaching English was the easiest thing to get a work permit for (yes, this was before Spain joined the EU) and it enabled me to pay the rent and feed myself while allowing me to do the volunteer work. Twenty seven years later and I’m still teaching!

Three years ago I had reached a point where I felt that my teaching had become rather mechanical and it was either time to change career or do something to revitalize my desire to teach. I chose the latter and enrolled on the MA TESOL programme at Manchester as a part-time student. And I loved every minute of it! So much so that when I had finished the dissertation I felt quite bereft and after a few months decided to apply for PhD funding and now, here I am.

While I was doing the MA I discovered a way of doing practitioner research called Exploratory Practice (Allwright and Hanks, 2009), which rather than focusing on finding solutions to problems  aims to deepen understanding of what is happening in the language classroom and by so doing improve the ‘quality of life’ experienced by all participants. I started to apply the principles on which it is based to my own classroom and became fascinated by the way in which my students in particular gained so much from exploring their own language learning puzzles.  It made researching my own practice meaningful for all involved. My MA dissertation focused on my own and other teachers’ experiences of applying EP principles to their classes in terms of their professional development. My PhD research will examine the development of the learners themselves as practitioners of learning, looking at the contribution their developing understandings can make to our knowledge base of how language learners come to know what they know. 

My PhD is entitled The language learning lives of English for Academic Purposes learners: From puzzlement to understanding and beyond in inclusive practitioner research. I take an Aristotelian relation approach to knowledge and knowledge production, using a framework I developed from Aristotle’s philosophy to examine the understandings produced by the learners through practitioner research.

Allwright, D. and Hanks, J. (2009). The developing language learner: An introduction to Exploratory Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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