Texas LOTE Teachers Participate in Action Research Initiative
On September 26-28, eleven LOTE educators from around Texas gathered at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Austin to participate in a professional development opportunity sponsored by the LOTE Center for Educator Development, Texas’s first Action Research Initiative (ARI) designed for foreign language professionals. Although the activity of teaching language is a highly personal endeavor, most educators have encountered at least some challenges in implementing standards-based instruction. Understanding how teachers go about implementing standards in the classroom, how students learn, and how educators can best help them attain the standards in their local teaching context was the purpose of this Action Research Initiative.
What is Action Research?
Action research (AR) involves systematic inquiry by teachers to investigate how they teach and how their students learn with the goal of effecting positive changes in instruction and learning. It requires a willingness to critically examine one’s teaching through regular reflection on classroom practice. The AR process includes identifying a focus area, collecting data, analyzing and interpreting data, and developing a plan of action. It provides a process for examining common assumptions and empowers educators to make informed decisions, to systematically ask questions and search for answers, and to learn from experience.
Collaborators in the Action Research Institute include: Linda Allen (Holmes Middle School, Dallas ISD), Gigi Austin (Spence Middle School, Dallas ISD), Cesiah Boryczka (Warren High School, Northside ISD, San Antonio), Monica Daucourt (Hillcrest High School, Dallas ISD), Greg Foulds (Winston Churchill High School, North East ISD, San Antonio), Pat Kahn (Grisham Middle School, Round Rock ISD), Phyllis Santiago (Liberty Hill Middle School, Killeen ISD), Leah Sequeira (Memorial High School, Spring Branch ISD), Miriam Thompson (Westwood High School, Round Rock ISD), María Treviño (Texas Education Agency), and Renée Wooten (Rider High School, Wichita Falls ISD). Rick Donato of the University of Pittsburgh (see photo, left) and Elaine Phillips, Director of the LOTE CED, facilitated the event. Dr. Donato is a nationally-known consultant and a strong advocate of teacher research. He currently serves as chair of ACTFL’s New Visions Research Task Force.
During the September gathering, participants reflected on the challenges of implementing the TEKS for LOTE in classroom instruction, identified their own critical issues in implementing standards-based instruction, and explored together how they can plan for instructional innovation and intervention. Facilitator Rick Donato lead the group in understanding the nature of action research and common tools of inquiry. Through an interactive process, each participant developed an action plan for a classroom research project and identified appropriate data collection instruments. They are conducting their action research projects during the remainder of this fall semester.
Each participant was to develop a plan for an action research project that would fall within the purview of challenges to implementing standards-based instruction. Within that broad category, they were asked to reflect on an issue that was important to them personally. Some research topics illustrate the uniqueness of an individual participant’s teaching context such as providing for “authentic” learning while helping students prepare for the AP test or investigating how students’ performance and attitudes are affected by an integrative lesson team-taught with a teacher from another discipline. One participant is looking at designing assessments showing what students can do, rather than what they can’t do, and another is looking at using innovations in the language lab to create interest. Maintaining interest and providing meaningful lessons in classes with both heritage and non-heritage language learners is the subject of another participant’s research. Two topics common to several action research projects illustrate the universality of certain challenges to implementing standards: correlating lessons to students’ interests and finding ways to increase interpersonal (meaningful) communication in the classroom. Participant María Treviño, Assistant Director for LOTE at the Texas Education Agency, chose to develop an action research plan focused on inclusion in the LOTE classroom, a challenge faced by many foreign language teachers who have little or no training in this area.
ARI collaborators keep in monthly contact through an e-mail listserv, reporting on progress, sharing data collection instruments, and providing feedback. They will return to Austin in February, 2003, to report on the results of their studies. Additionally, they have agreed to present at a local, regional, or state conference on the results of their projects and the experience of doing action research. Next spring, the LOTE CED will prepare an issue in its occasional papers series, the Communiqué, which focuses on teacher action research in general and these participants’ experiences in particular.