Bringing together experience and theory at my old age causes all sorts of complications. Designing research of any kind to answer a question means you first need to figure out what exactly your data is going to be. What can you observe? How can you measure it? What tools can you use? What model looks promising to describe the data with? Of course, there are usually competing models. The more you’ve seen, and the clearer the question, the more likely you’ll be to choose the right model.
Two weeks ago I was trying to figure out how to use politeness theory to explain a scenario involving the use of titles. Vicki Hollett was unbelievably kind and supportive, and introduced me by email to Dr. Sabrina Gerland, also a BESIG member, who has been working in this area for 15 years. Very heady. Unfortunately, as Sabrina pointed out, the theory didn’t quite apply to the given scenario, at least not in simple terms, as there were some other factors involved. So the data was there, a fascinating theory was there, but it just didn’t quite work together. I’ve really learned something from this and will have a second go at it in another chapter, in round two.
Now on my diploma course I’m experiencing the same thing in other areas. It’s bringing it all home: As a teacher, I’ve tended to react to students and the needs I perceived them having rather than presenting them with approaches to learning. I let very different perceptions co-exist without worrying about it. But as the saying goes, if you’re too open-minded, your brain will fall out. Now I’m going at it from the opposite end, looking for theories that make sense, and point to where I need to know more. Burrowing in, I’m wondering if the tunnels of experience and learning will meet.
By that time, at least I’ll have put my brain back in.
Last week the essay was “Professional Development” (very interesting to think about, read books by Duncan Foord and Bailey/Curtis/Nunan), this week it’s “Technology in Teaching” (don’t know where to start). My project outline so far is an observation instrument that looks at how introducing activities impacts how freely students speak, focussing on how meaningful the exchanges are as the conversation gets under way. More meaningful interaction should lead to more speaking, I’d say. The title is “Scaffolding speaking”, and I wish it didn’t have two “ing”s. – Still to complete: My own development project will be how to help German native speakers improve their pronunciation so they can be understood better by other non-native speakers of English. Main reading: Jennifer Jenkins. It’s mind-blowing how far apart research and teaching materials are in this area: all those phonemic tools have British and American native speaker voices. I have to work fast, to have some practical exercises ready to try out in two weeks.
So far, so good.