Julian Edge (ed.) (2001)
Alexandria, Virginia: TESOL, Inc.
Pp. x + 198
$29.95 US (members, $25.95)
Three main ideas, which I take from the editor's preface, impregnate the whole book: these case studies are written by practitioners, to offer immediate solutions to the uniqueness of their classes.
Let's start by putting things into context. The present volume, Action Research, is a new asset to the Case Studies in TESOL Practice Series. It is also another outstanding collection of articles edited by Julian Edge, who has already played the same role together with K. Richards (1993), for example. The book also contains the complete picture of an article Julian Edge (2001) has also recently published and it puts into practice all the theory previously described in several reference books (e.g., Wallace 1998).
Action Research consists of fourteen chapters, plus a References section and the final Index. Chapter 1 is written by the editor himself, who offers a very clear, well founded, plentiful of bibliographical references, description of action research. In fact, almost at the end of the chapter, he says that "My thinking is that the collection now acts in the sense of action research; it is more of action research and less about it" (p. 10).
Chapter 2, by a novice teacher in charge of teaching Basic Computer for ESL to adult immigrant classes in Maine, USA, provides two good examples of what action research is: first of all, I would highlight the first-person touch the whole article presents and, in terms of research itself, the innovative way to keep a diary for her research: by writing in three columns: the middle one for direct observations and the side columns for later entries, the one on the right for afterthoughts and reflections on the observations and the one on the left for theoretical entries regarding the observed facts.
Chapter 3, carried out in Japan, at a university background, explores how to teach writing by giving students feedback with audiotapes. The author's three-year study consisted in substituting his traditional written style of giving feedback for audiotaped comments.
The third study, in chapter 4, informs readers about the efforts of the author to make her Brazilian TESOL teachers able to write reflective journals at pre-service courses. She reflects on how difficult it is to make people critical thinkers, above all when they are not used to doing so, and how laborious it is to teach them to do so.
The next chapter is devoted to an interesting piece of research work, carried out in Slovenia with teachers and students at state schools. It describes how a series of tasks were implemented to promote learner development--one of tasks had to do with the list of features of "good language learners"-. The author ends up by comparing, because of their similarities, learner development and action research: the first one being focused on students, the other one on teacher.
Action research in chapter 6 is carried out at a university in Thailand. The faculty is encouraged to improve the curriculum and their professional "knowledge". One of the teachers decides to make use of action research for the first time in her academic life, but with the help of a mentor. The chapter offers extracts of the diary compiled by the researcher, together with both her own and her mentor's comments. It is an interesting example of how to look at the same fact from two different perspectives.
Chapter 7 is authorized by two teachers in charge of preservice courses in public and private institutions, who reflect upon the action research spiral and how the roles of trainer and trainees have undergone an important change through the years they have been involved: the trainer is no longer the imparter of knowledge, in their experience, whereas the trainee is exposed to research from the very beginning of his/her teaching career.
The next piece of research starts out with a very interesting description of the context where the case study took place: a women's college in the United Arab Emirates. The author describes his struggle on how to build a system for gathering and using feedback. I would highlight a sentence from the outcomes of his article: by reflecting on his study, he says: "It is all common sense, but common sense that we may forget to apply in our busy teaching lives" (p. 91).
The experience in chapter 9 was carried out at a French university, with the researcher's idea of investigating how best to teach the speech act of requesting. For that purpose, she requested native speakers and non-native speakers to provide her with examples of requesting. Once these examples were available, she compared them to the samples of language that are taught in course books. In her personal reflections, she admits having learnt at a linguistic level but she also states her need to develop a more pedagogic approach in the next step of the research cycle.
Chapter 10 is particularly interesting for this reviewer since I myself had the same experience as a language learner as described: foreign students who go to Britain to improve their language skills and their complaining about how little they progress. To understand the announcements in the London tube is the goal of the study exemplified in the article. It concludes that only when classroom methods were applied to language spoken outside the school do the students begin to understand the language they were exposed to in the real world.
A school in Germany is the setting for next chapter. The authors try to introduce the use of internet with students from grades 11 and 12: they want them to be involved in intercultural book-based projects. They describe the whole process, including the difficulty that lack of hardware implies. They conclude that the integration of technology has enriched their foreign language classes and has produced a change in the role they play in the classroom.
Chapter 12 analyses the situation of foreign language teachers in Japanese universities. The researchers portray the cultural distance existing between teachers and students and the consequent dissatisfaction and failure it brings into the classroom. The strategy to be carried out has to do with Psychology: in particular, the notion of personal constructs, developed in the 1950s by G. A. Kelly. The changes that took place during the study were as simple as smiling more, talking to students as they arrived into the room, learning and using their names and slowing down the pace of teaching. All of these helped reduce the initial cultural gap and misunderstandings.
The case study in chapter 13 takes place at a Polytechnic in New Zealand and it shows the way to integrate CALL into the ESOL syllabi. It is important to notice that the research tool is a reflective journal, which somehow resembles the diary previously used in chapters 2 and 6.
The final chapter focuses on globalisation and pays attention to the importance that interaction in English plays in the business circles. The researcher divides the potential subjects in two groups: native speakers of English and non-native speakers. The disappointing issue is that the questionnaires she sent out were only replied in small numbers: 4% of native speakers and 22% of non-native ones. The case study demonstrates that it is not only language training the requirement for communication in the world of businesses. It is such a quickly changing community that setting goals, defining objectives, training language users and getting used to interlocutors are merely impossible.
Considering the book as a whole, there is an aspect, which surprisingly contrasts with the experience of the editor, and it is the amount of new teachers who share their experience as researchers.
I have also found interesting that own descriptions of studies are made in a very honest mood. As a sample, I would point out sentences like "the first problem for any teacher gathering feedback from their students is how to ensure that the feedback the students give is honest, reliable and valid" (p. 83), "given the multiple demands on the time and energy of ESOL teachers, can an investigation of this kind be justified?" (p. 101) or "I needed a research tool that could lower the risk of my own bias" (p. 131).
The other important aspect has to do with the variety of contexts in which action research is described: from schools to universities or training courses, from business English to Adult Education, or from the USA to Slovenia.
To end up, I would recommend the book not only because of the appropriateness of its content to the current TESOL/TEFL community, but because of the many doors it opens up for future research.
Edge, J. (2001). "Search and research". English Teaching Professional 20: 5-7.
Edge, J. & Richards, K. (eds.) (1993) Teachers develop teachers research. Oxford: Heinemann.
Wallace, M. (1998). Action research for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Antonio R. Roldán Tapia
University of Córdoba, Spain
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