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Collaborative Research as an Approach to Professional Development for Language Teachers: Greg Sholdt

The following is a summary of Greg Sholdt's presentation at the Winter Potpourri event, held January 29, 2012, entitled Collaborative Research as an Approach to Professional Development for Language Teachers. Greg can be contacted at gsholdt AT

By Greg Sholdt

First, let me thank Osaka JALT members for giving me the opportunity to present at the Winter Potpourri last Sunday. That was my third time with you all, and as usual, it was a treat. I was very impressed with the great turnout and the fantastic lineup of interesting presentations.

My presentation, Collaborative Research as an Approach to Professional Development for Language Teachers, covered two main topics-- the rationale for professional development activities for language teachers based on collaborative research projects and a description of a new project investigating writing fluency that has just started with a group of over 40 teachers. I first presented an argument for the benefits of teachers getting involved with classroom research including improved classroom practices, enhanced engagement with professional life, increased connections to the community of teachers, and strengthened employment opportunities. After describing two worthy approaches to doing research, action research and qualitative research, I made a case for some unique benefits for getting into quantitative research. I felt my point about being able to better comprehend quantitative research articles was well-received, but the room of language teachers seemed less convinced with my proclamation that numbers are exciting and fun to study!

I then identified three key aspects of my approach to professional development through quantitative research that included: 1) the critical and accessible nature of the fundamental concepts of quantitative methods, 2) the sensibility of starting with simple easy-to-complete research designs that can be used as practical learning experiences, and 3) the importance of collaborating and getting support during the learning process. I moved on to describe the execution of this approach with the Writing Fluency Project, which I have been developing for over a year. For this project, a group of over 40 teachers spread out around Japan have access to a Moodle site that serves as a project coordination center. The teachers meet online and are guided through all steps of a simple research study focused on the effects of the method of topic selection on students’ output in free writing exercises. Each teacher will separately conduct the study in their own classrooms but discuss the planning, procedures, execution, and data analysis throughout the entire process. Additionally, there is self-access learning center set up on the Moodle site with a guide to lead teachers through an online quantitative methods textbook so that they can all study and understand each step they take in the study. Key goals for the project include helping teachers get a better understanding of quantitative methods, building community and collaboration among teacher researchers in Japan, and developing a system of professional collaboration on research projects.

I am really excited about this project and the amazing team of teachers who are taking a lot of time out of their busy schedules to participate. Although it is still in the early stages, I feel we are well on our way to a valuable and enjoyable experience.

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