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Aslı Saglam's Blog about CPD in ELT

Blogging: An Adventure in Professional Development

June23

At the IATEFL 2015 Annual Conference I gave a presentation about potential contribution of blogging to professional development in a forum. It was the first time that I participated in a forum and it was a very enriching experience because all presenters focused on blogging from different perspectives.

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With the advance of technology and proliferation of Online Communities of Practice blogging has become a promising form of continuous professional development for the networked educators. Many researchers, educators and bloggers concur blogging may bring about opportunities for cooperative learning, connecting, sharing, and reflecting. I have been an avid blogger for more than 5 years and my blog had witnessed and accumulated accounts of my journey as a learning teacher. This presentation described a case study which explored posts of an academic blogger who had been utilising blogging as a form of professional learning and presented an approach which other educators might employ as a means for their professional development.

Affordances of Academic Blogging

Potential opportunities afforded by academic blogging involve exposure to insights and experiences of others in the blogging community, engagement with professional learning and networking. Blogs are instrumental for professional development because they enable networking which is an important asset in the digital age. It is often remarked that sharing-dissemination of information- is an important responsibility of the modern educator. In addition, blogs can support professional identity development by making one’s particular values and perspectives and thinking public and explicit (de Moor & Efimova, 2004 in Luehman, 2008) and by developing social alliances and affinity groups. Networked educators bond through shared practices, goals, endeavours, and interactions that support identity development (Gee, 2001, in Luehman, 2008). Furthermore, blogs provide opportunities for reflective practice which is characterised as “a process of internal dialogue facilitated by thinking or writing and through external dialogues and reflection together with others” (Gee, 2001, in Luehman, 2008).

Reflective writing was considered the major form of reflective action within reflection-on-action, that is reflection before or after teaching. The 5Rs Framework is suggested as an effective implementation strategy guiding reflective practices and triggering reflective writing (Bain, 2002).

Table 1

The 5Rs Framework for Reflection

5R Framework What is it? Critical Questions to Ask
Reporting A brief descriptive account of a situation / issue (ie. the reflective trigger) What happened, what the situation and issue involved
Responding Your emotional / personal response to the situation / issue etc Your observations, feelings, questions about the situation
Relating Personal and/or theoretical understandings relevant to the situation / issue Making connections between the situation and your experience, skills, knowledge and understanding
Reasoning Your explanation of the situation / issue Explaining the situation in terms of the significant factors, relevant theory and/or experience
Reconstructing Drawing conclusions and developing a future action plan Your deeper level of understanding about the situation- issue that is used to reframe reconstruct your future practice and further develop your understanding of professional practice

 

Using a case study approach, my study aimed to examine the content of 30 blog posts to ascertain the role of written reflection in improving my professional knowledge and my teaching. Guided by Hatton and Smiths’ framework (1995) for Levels of Reflection, content analysis traced verbal manifestations highlighting hints of change in pedagogical beliefs and practices.

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Figure 1 Hatton and Smiths’ Framework; Levels of Reflection (1995)

Findings

Blog posts which were categorised under “descriptive reflection” usually listed reasons why topic of the writing could be a challenge, referred to relevant literature, explored own professional practices and portrayed professional and personal reasons to instigate action. Blog posts bearing qualities of “dialogic reflection” often highlighted the process of making deliberate connections between my pedagogical beliefs and classroom practices. Some blog posts were identified as “critical reflection” because they triggered constructing and reconstruction of my understanding of realities of teaching and thus leading to a development of a deeper understanding of my own teaching as well as devising future action plans.

Conclusion

Blogging appears to offer a potentially rich and transformative means of continuous professional development since it may empower critical analysis for reflection. Consequently this dialogic reflection, sharing and cooperative learning may transform pedagogical beliefs and practices.

In sum, I think I learned a lot as a professional from reflective blog writing and I was happy to share my retrospective case study with other colleagues at IATEFL 2015.

You can find further details in my slides below.

Teachers as researchers: A strategy for professional development

November7

Kenan (Dikilitas) and Koray (Akyazi) are language teachers and teacher trainers at Gediz University. They are advocates of teacher research as a professional development strategy and they gave a workshop on different forms of teacher research at the 3rd ELT Malta Conference. I couldn’t attend the conference and I was very curious about their session. Luckily Kenan kindly agreed to answer my questions in the following interview regarding their workshop.

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1.       In your opinion how can teacher research contribute to the continuous professional development of teachers?

I should absolutely say yes to this question. Depending on my 4-year experience of conducting teacher research with teachers from varying degrees of experience, it seems that they benefit from engagement in research. There are concrete evidences for teacher development. The teachers generally report that they promote deeper understanding of the research focus they study and can talk about the problem under research very confidently.

This is related to the long engagement and deeper involvement in planning research, discussing critical issues, writing up an account of the research and sharing it with a wider audience in a conference.  Areas of development they highlight in the interviews are:

  • general professional development
  • experience in research skills
  • developing a critical eye
  • promoting reflecting skills
  • improving classroom practices
  • gaining insight into teaching
  • learning how to optimize student learning
  • evaluating the context they work in

Though it is demanding and challenging process and leads to development slowly and in the long run, conducting teacher research is a strong and well-established way of creating deeper impact on one’s understanding and teaching.

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2.       In your institution you apply teacher research as a form of professional development. Could you please give some background about this project? How did you started off? What alternative applications of teacher research do you use in your context?

I started to conduct teacher research projects in 2010. Having seen busy schedule and intensive work teachers were doing, I opted for a flexible professional development program.

 

Other reasons for choosing teacher research  are that it is;

  • practice-based
  • classroom-oriented
  • student-focused
  • process-based
  • reflection-integrated
  • exploration-oriented

When the teachers are going through so much cognitive activities such as thinking, understanding, exploring, deciding, creating knowledge, sharing and discussing, it is inevitable that they process new knowledge in a way that will have impact on them.

The project I am conducting also involves planning, conducting and writing up research as well as presenting it at the annual conference held in June in the institution.  These conferences, though they started as an institutional event, turned into national and international ones in four years where other teacher researchers and academics as well as project participants come together. This year I am helping more than 30 teachers in the project who are aiming for writing up and presenting their teacher research studies. Although it may seem an easy activity from how it is written here, teachers’ personal commitment play the key role in the accomplishment of the project.

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3.       In 3rd ELT Malta Conference, your workshop focused on different forms of teacher research. Could you please give some information about different forms of teacher research?

For MALTA ELT Professional conference, I collaborated with one of the skillful teacher researchers and prepared a workshop. Our major purpose was raising teachers’ awareness towards understanding teacher research as an umbrella term which includes exploratory practice, reflective practice and action research. The workshop introduced these concepts with hands-on activities by focusing on the following key characteristics:

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4. What could be the criteria or points to consider when thinking about selecting an appropriate form of research and applying it to a local context? What should be considered?

These three forms of teacher research are complimentary though they seem as different research activities because teachers generally start with an exploration process where they try to understand the context they are teaching and clarify the issues they want to understand. Following this they think about the specific issues they explored and theorize from their experiences. These two initial stages may help them develop a research plan especially when they identify a problem in their teaching and a practice they want to change or improve. This is where they decide on a particular action research by which to solve particular problem they have in mind.

My suggestion could be for them to decide whether they have a question in mind or problem. If they have the former, they can carry out an exploratory practice combined with a reflective practice. However, if they have a problem in teaching, they should also conduct an action research.

For those who are interested in any of these forms can contact me for further questions and help.

kenandikilitas@gmail.com

Thanks for the interview and valuable information.

 

Reflections on IATEFL ReSIG Workshop; “Quality Research in ELT” by Simon Borg

October28

1Professor Simon Borg gave a pre-conference workshop entitled “Doing Quality ELT Research” at the onset of 3rd ELT Malta Conference “The Learning ELT Professional”. I was fortunate enough to attend it in sunny and beautiful Malta with more than 50 participants. It was great to see that many educators are into research. The workshop had a 360-degree look at the research process and focused on traits of a good researcher, dimensions maintaining quality in research, essentials steps to be considered in planning the research, objectives and research questions, points to consider while conducting research, analysing data and reporting.Throughout the workshop Professor Borg challenged participants’ preconceptions  about conducting research and encouraged reflection on assessing research quality through a criteria. I have to say that I really enjoyed being in the audience and benefitted a lot from the workshop. I would like to reflect on some highlights accompanied by some quotations that lingered in my mind at the end of the day.

What counts as data, what’s research and who is a good researcher?

We started off by framing our own questions that we hope to be answered in the workshop at the end of the day. Mine was about having a framework or a blueprint for conducting research. I mean, where do you start from? What aspects need to be examined and monitored?

2We worked in groups shared our views about what counts as data. One example was a research study which examined impact of pre-service English language teacher education on trainees’ beliefs through an innovative visual methods study at the University of Barcelona. Discovering alternative kinds of data that could be used in a study, including photos and drawings, was very beneficial because being aware of the full range of data can enable researchers to make informed choices among a greater spectrum of data collection.

“You can be subjective as long as you can support it in an objective way”

Also, we discussed traits that a good researcher should have such as being self-critical, patience, and perseverance in addition to the ones outlined by Zoltan Dornyeri (2007) such as experience, academic expertise, curiosity, common sense, good ideas, discipline, reliability and social responsibility. In the end, the researcher sounded like a Marvel character with super powers but it’s all in the name of maintaining quality in research and it’s definitely worth the try.

One area that we talked about was the concept of objectivity. Is it possible for the researcher to be objective in a research study? The overall conclusion was that researchers need to be disciplined about subjectivity since it’s very difficult to completely divorce the personal dimension and human element from research. In other words there is always an element of subjectivity but it should be controlled and monitored in order not to direct the research and findings towards the results you were hoping for as the researcher. Therefore the cure is “disciplined subjectivity” as Professor Borg stated.

“You don’t fall out of bed and say I’ll do research”

As for what research is Professor Borg suggests a generic definition which states that research is planned, systematic, purposeful, empirical, analytic and made public. During our discussions planning stage received the utmost attention because as Levine says: ‘There is nothing more practical than a good theory,’ (1952).  These characteristics are important because these differentiate research from reflective practice.

Quality in Planning, Conducting and Reporting Research

Planning

A number of tasks were mentioned as prerequisite agenda items for the planning stage. These tasks involve defining the focus of the study, developing a rationale for research, conducting a literature review, specifying research objectives and questions as well as design of the study. We were presented with common critical comments made by journal reviewers when papers were rejected and these comments highlight some common deficiencies that stem from lack of a critical literature review. It was stressed that literature review should provide a theoretical context rather than a historical one. Professor Borg provided couple of on-line resources as well. On-line resources for language education research 

“Original doesn’t mean no one in the universe has ever thought about it before”

Choice of topic is of vital importance for a quality research and discussion about writing good research questions provided good insights. It was concluded that topics should be;

  • timely (aligned with the current ELT trends and/or current school policies and strategies),
  • focused, original (understudied),
  • relevant, and
  • practical (value of the topic with respect to offering practical solutions to educational world).

“Why do weak students get low scores?”

After examining the suggested criteria to assess quality of research questions we went over example research questions and screened them against the given criteria.

It was concluded that research questions should be clear, specific, and answerable, interconnected, linked to previous research, worth of the effort and knowledge extending in order to contribute one drop of water to the knowledge ocean.

Conducting the study

Regarding research design the workshop stimulated quality discussion about dimensions of research that should be taken into consideration. These range from determining the research philosophy, methodology (qualitative, quantitative, mixed method), research approach (case study, experiment…etc.), participants, ethics, data collection methods, time (longitudinal, cross sectional …etc.) to approach to data analysis. Some of the buzz words that guided our discussion were validity, reliability, generalizability, and objectivity. Then, Professor Borg introduced certain ways in enhancing quality in collecting and analyzing data such as being aware of data collection methods in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, evaluating methods in relation to the purposes of the study and devising strategies such as prolonged engagement, triangulation, member checks, inter-reliability and avoiding poor coding of qualitative data among many others to overcome validity threats.

Reporting Research

In this section of the workshop we delved into strategies to make research public, maintain and increase credibility as researchers by providing thick description regarding how the research was conducted and having a good discussion session critically weaving previous research with findings and extending knowledge in some way rather than repeating previous findings.

Fourteen Steps to Writing an Effective Discussion Section  

Writing a research article: advice to beginners 

As a wrap up, we were asked to revisit the initial question we had in mind at the beginning and reflect on ‘to what extent it had been answered’. Mine was answered comprehensively.

Now, I wonder how widespread research is as a professional development strategy. I mean, how many of us in our own context conduct research or are asked to carry out research as a strategy for professional development. How can research contribute to teaching practices?

I really wish that teacher research will flourish as a strategy for continuous teacher development…

Other Resources that could be helpful

References

Dornyei, Z. (2007). Research methods in applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Lewin, K. (1952). Field theory in social science: Selected theoretical papers by Kurt Lewin.

London: Tavistock

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