Action Research in the ELL/ESL Classroom
There is a recent trend in the number of teachers taking advantage
of “action research.” But what exactly is action
research and how can the ESL classroom benefit from this reflective
Cross University, adeptly defines action research as: “a
family of research methodologies which pursue action (or change)
and research (or understanding) at the same time.” As
ESL teachers, we actively seek ways to improve our understanding
about the students we teach. Furthermore, we hope that understanding
guides us to a set of actions that will increase our student’s
knowledge of English and their feelings of acceptance in the
Action research achieves these goals by using a cyclic or spiral
process which alternates between action and critical reflection.
Simply stated, action research is what teachers do naturally,
but with a reflective piece added to it. This reflective piece
is essential to making conscientious decisions about what steps
we need to take next in the process of educating children who
are learning a second language.
Teachers begin with a question. For example, in my own classroom
I asked myself, "Are my second language learners feeling
connected to the classroom community and to me?" After
a question is identified, the information gathering process
begins. The information may come from all different kinds of
places. It can be via a journal of reflections about the teacher's
interactions with the child. It can be copies of notes that
the teacher sends home. The information can include copies of
assessments that the student took relevant to the question.
After the teacher/researcher feels that sufficient time has
passed, then she looks at the data and makes decisions about
what she can do, or has done to address the initial question.
This reflective analysis may lead her to: 1) come up with a
new question related to the first question 2) gather more data
3) come up with an entirely new question based on the data gathered.
Even though this process seems rather “soft,” in
terms of scientific research, many studies have shown the tremendous
impact it has had on master teachers. This year, my action research
has opened my eyes to the need for a "Welcome to Class
Program." Often times I receive new ESL students with little
or no warning. Prior to my action research, I had no formal
way of welcoming them into the daily tapestry of our "classroom
life. Now, through questioning, interviewing, and reflecting,
I have developed a whole system for making new students feel
connected to the classroom and to me from the first day. It
is truly one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. The
revelations that I have had are staggering and have led me to
really hone my teaching skills and deepen the connections I
have as an ESL teacher to a highly mobile population.
If you have questions, please email me. I have compiled a list
of websites for you to visit if you’re eager to learn
more about this fascinating and rewarding research process!
The Teachers Network
Learning Institute publishes many action
research papers by TNLI MetLife Fellows. For a listing of them,
Other action research websites:
Questions or comments? E-mail Tobey.