Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from “Exploratory practice: a way of opening up access to research by classroom teachers and learners” by Assia Slimani-Rolls in the book “New case studies of openness in and beyond the language classroom”, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. This chapter shows how teachers can integrate research into their teaching in a straightforward and feasible way with the Exploratory Practice (EP) framework. The author organized a research project with a group of teachers who met together regularly to support each other in their individual exploratory practices. The team’s resulting work demonstrates many facets of open education: experimentation by teachers, support from other teachers, and giving students more agency in the classroom.
It remains relevant for teachers to engage in research in order to contest their tacit understanding and ensure that their classroom practice is not based only on intuition and experience. It is essential to realise that teachers cannot undertake research in the same way academic researchers do because their training and working conditions differ drastically. Exploratory Practice (EP) has put forward a principled framework (Allwright, 2003) to empower teachers and their learners to understand better their practice by investigating teaching puzzles, such as “why do my students make disruptive use of mobile phones during my lessons?”, as Lecumberri’s (2018) study illustrates.
EP believes that asking ‘why’ instead of ‘what’ questions leads to a deeper understanding of complex issues rather than finding solutions which may work in some circumstances but not in others (for more teacher and learner puzzles see Allwright, 2003; Allwright & Hanks, 2009; Dikilitas & Hanks, 2018; Slimani-Rolls & Kiely, 2018).
In the framework of EP, quality of life is prioritised in the classroom because it is believed that it is the search for quality of life that paves the way to quality of work. When teachers and learners feel respected, listened to, and enjoy rather than endure their classroom experiences, then they invest their efforts in developing the quality of their work. Seeking to understand quality of life should come before attempting to bring any change because understanding is “a prerequisite to intelligent decision-making” (Allwright & Hanks, 2009, p. 151).
The principles of collegiality and inclusivity for mutual development are crucial to the research enterprise. Indeed, it is imperative that all those involved in the research are given the opportunity to contribute with their ideas and, by the same token, derive a positive learning experience. In particular, inclusivity of learners as co-partners is essential as EP suggests that learners are an integral part of the classroom environment and that their involvement in the search for its understanding is paramount.
In order to make sense of their practice without getting burnt out, EP recommends that teachers integrate the search for understanding into their teaching routine so that both, teaching and research, get done at the same time. For this purpose, EP proposes that teachers use normal classroom activities as research tools to investigate the teaching puzzles. These activities can include brainstorming sessions, class discussion, pair/group work, reading comprehension texts, surveys, video recording, and any other pedagogic activity that teachers find suitable. Developing expertise in using the tools of their trade as investigative instruments would make the teachers’ search for understanding feasible and sustainable.
- Read the rest of the chapter, including the description of Lecumberri’s research on the puzzle “why do my students make disruptive use of mobile phones during my lessons?”, and information about where teachers can engage with exploratory practice.
Dr Assia Slimani-Rolls is Associate Professor at Regent’s University London. She has co-authored a book with Richard Kiely on Exploratory Practice as continuing form of professional development for language teachers and is currently working with Dr Ines Miller and her colleagues on a British Council funded research project (2018-2019) whose main objective is to examine the delayed impact of the principles of Exploratory Practice (EP).