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My experience participating in the Cambridge English/English UK Action Research Award Scheme

This year, my colleague, Chris Edgoose, and I have been taking part in the Action Research Award Scheme run by English UK and Cambridge English Language Assessment.  The aim of Action Research is to give teachers, "the opportunity to investigate teaching and learning in their own classrooms". Participating in the scheme led us to research an area of teaching that we often discussed together and intrigued us in terms of how and what we were teaching.

The starting point of all action research is a 'local issue'; local in terms of your class, your course, or your school, that is presenting you, as a teacher, with a "challenge, problem, area of potential improvement, or a puzzle". Very importantly, our piece of action research allowed us to examine an area of our teaching practice systematically, and contributed to the broadening of our own professional development. Additionally, it allowed us to spend valuable time with the other participants, who came from a variety EFL institutions, and to receive expert, inspiring tuition from the course tutors.

So what did we do? Over a period of 9 months, supported by training sessions in London, we focused on broadening our understanding of the strategies that students employed when doing an IELTS reading test. Our experience of IELTS reading was that our students often found it difficult, challenging and, at times, frustrating and that for us as teachers, we were sometimes unsure about the best way to help our students get the IELTS reading level they needed in order to progress to their chosen higher education institute. We, therefore, used a Think Aloud Protocol to help us analyse what strategies our students employed to answer the questions in an IELTS reading test. We then planned to pass on the strategies that led to reading test success to other students and to our colleagues in the school.

Ken and Chris speaking about their research at the 2016 English UK Teachers' Conference
Ken and Chris speaking about their research at the 2016 English UK Teachers' Conference

Have we come to any firm conclusions? Not yet: we did observe students whispering to themselves as they read and saw them using their fingers to guide their eyes, and we have started to think that vocabulary learning might be of greater significance than strategy. As we are still in the investigation phase and plan to continue with our research over the coming months we are still unsure.

This month, Chris and I were invited to speak about our findings so far at the annual English UK Teachers’ Conference in London. Presenting at a conference is an interesting experience. You have to distil hours of work down to just 20 minutes and spend a lot of time reducing all your work and ideas down to the essential message that you want to get communicate. The best part for me was carrying out the research with a colleague and the questions and discussions after the presentation. As we often work alone in our classrooms, teachers are very keen to spend time together sharing ideas and experiences.

Would we recommend that other teachers use Action Research as part of their teaching development? Yes, we most certainly would.

If you would like further information or you would like to apply for next year's scheme, visit: http://www.englishuk.com/en/training/awards/action-research-award-scheme

If you would like to ask us any questions about our research, please email: kenbateup@bellenglish.com.

As Ken and Chris have demonstrated, the best teachers never stop learning:

  • Develop your teaching skills with our summer teacher development courses at Bell Teacher Campus, Homerton College, part of the University of Cambridge.
  • Become an advanced practitioner by studying for the Delta, the highest qualification for English language teachers.