Published 14th September 2017

If you’ve recently done an internationally qualified TEFL course or if you’ve only started teaching English abroad, you probably haven’t engaged in action research or you may not even have heard of action research. Action research is something which is best done on a regular basis in order to deal with any challenges you may experience in the EFL classroom and, in turn, enable you to improve on your teaching skills.

The thing is, though, that not many EFL teachers know what action research is or how to do it.

So consider this a top-up to your international TEFL qualification on what action research means in an EFL context:

1.      Problematize a Situation

The whole point of action research is to solve a problem you are experiencing in the EFL classroom. The first step, then, is to problematize a situation. If you have encountered a difficult situation in the EFL classroom, think about how you can reframe that situation into a problem to be solved. If, say, you are finding that your students don’t understand a certain grammar concept when you teach it in a certain way, then think about the reason behind this.  This is called problematizing and it’s the first step in any action research plan.

2.      Troubleshoot

The next step is to come up with a plan to solve this problem. Maybe you experiment with a different teaching approach to teach the same grammar point or maybe you try teach it at a different point in the curriculum. Once you have identified a solution, or many solutions, you need to implement these solutions to see the outcomes. This step requires time and patience, but it is key to the success of your action research.

3.      Evaluate the Outcomes

Throughout this process it is important to document your strategy and your observations so that you can ultimately evaluate the situation. It may be helpful to enlist the help of your fellow teachers to either assess your strategy, observe the results or to help you rethink your action plan.

4.      Reflect

The idea behind action research is to improve a situation, so once you have implemented a plan and observed the effects of this plan, it becomes necessary to understand what you can take away from the experience, both in terms of the specific situation and in terms of your teaching.

Let’s look at a real-world example to clarify. Imagine you are teaching a group of Intermediate students the third conditional but they are really struggling with it. You wonder what the reason behind this is, whether it’s your teaching method or if it’s more directly related to the students. You realise you need to teach the grammar point again and you approach it from a completely different angle, but the students are still confused. You decide to be direct with your students and ask them why they are having so much difficulty with the structure. You find out they are not familiar with any conditional structure, which means you need to take a step back in your curriculum and focus on the first conditional before you can move on.

In this case, your action research proved that it was not your teaching method that was the problem but it reminded you to engage with your students more about the learning process. It also showed you that you should never assume a certain level of knowledge from your students, which made you reconsider utilising guided discovery in the classroom to build on what the students already know instead of spoonfeeding them grammar because it’s in the syllabus.

All in all, a relatively simple experiment with far-reaching consequences!