Why we do Action Research at IH Cordoba

by Rachel Pearson

Our Action Research program came from a desire to encourage teachers to grow professionally and continue their training in a more autonomous way. In a move away from top-down teacher development, with everyone working on the same teaching skill at the same time, eight years ago we were given the opportunity to begin experimenting with our individual teaching styles, focusing on students’ needs and each teacher’s individual interests. This has led to an exciting environment where everyone is working on projects either individually or as a team and innovation can be seen to be taking place. Over time it has evolved from an obligatory project into something extremely free and open to individual interpretation, from a short or extremely long term project, driven by our Director’s wish to push the limits of our teaching.

For me the ethos behind it all is encapsulated in the phrase ‘you don’t know until you’ve tried it’. Students in academies like ours benefit from changing teachers every academic year because each teacher brings their own style to the classroom. Individual students respond differently to different stimuli. By trying out various techniques and reflecting on what makes a successful recipe in the classroom, teachers can better know themselves and facilitate learning more effectively. Teachers don’t stagnate when they are given freedom to experiment.

What is Action Research (AR)?

The basic processes of Action Research are always the same and we are encouraged to carry them out in scientific conditions (i) using a control group and (ii) to produce measurable findings, although these are not always feasible or viable. The processes are: identify an area of interest to develop and investigate, plan a course of action, act it out, observe student responses and reflect on the success or otherwise. These stages help a teacher analyze what her students need, respond better to them and identify what helps them achieve overall better results. Of course, this varies hugely over the different age groups and levels; a group of teens might need motivation derived from exposing them to more real-world tasks. An adult group may need help with the Listening skill with a view to passing an official exam. Younger Learners may require specific guidance when embarking on digital literacy for the first time. Remedial groups may require an entirely different approach which normally wouldn’t fit neatly into our 90 or 60 hour annual study plan.

The range of AR projects seen in our school has been wide: Using classical music in the classroom; using synthetic phonics to enable YLs to read and write faster than using traditional textbook approaches; using sign language to promote autonomous language production; exploring the strong with weak buddy system; using poetry in the classroom to promote pronunciation, motivation and cultural awareness of literature. These are just some of the areas our teachers have shown particular interest in.

Staff involvement

Another great characteristic of the way we carry out AR in Córdoba, is the involvement of all staff over the length of the project. Everything from informal staff room chats about how things are progressing, to monthly meetings where participating teachers have the chance to share their work in progress and colleagues can pose pertinent questions to help focus the research even more. This may lead to peer observation and even to others carrying out shorter versions of the research with similar age groups or levels to help corroborate results.

At the end of a period of AR we write up our conclusions and our DoS produces a document so we can read each other’s findings.