The following four-step process will help you plan a small action research project to explore your questions about engaging students in community experiences, implement action plans for designing interactions between students and native speakers either inside or outside the classroom, and collect information to assess your instructional innovations. Before you begin this section, you can go to About Action Research for an introduction to the process of designing and conducting action research projects. If you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project from any one of the eight workshop sessions as an assignment.
If you would like to focus on community interactions for your action research project, use the following questions and examples to help frame your thinking and shape your action research project.
- What issue concerning helping students engage in community experiences do you want to describe, document, and investigate? For example, you could examine your students' reactions to using the foreign language in the community, or what your students learn about language and culture from interactions with the target language community. This will be the focus of your action research project.
- Why is it important to you as a teacher to provide students with opportunities to interact with native speakers? How have you designed community experiences for students in the past? How do you want to change that approach and why? What has been your experience with designing interactions that occur inside the classroom? Outside the classroom? What has been your experience with helping heritage speakers feel challenged at their level of language ability and cultural knowledge when interacting with the community? Are you satisfied with your approach to designing community interactions for both second-language learners and heritage speakers? Why or why not? How does the focus of your project reflect your beliefs about the importance of community interactions to language learning?
- What is your research question concerning the design of community interactions for students? The research question will help you investigate your area of focus and understand it better. For example:
- What are my students' reactions to community learning experiences?
- What are the most important lessons that my students are learning when engaged in an interaction with a target language community?
- How do the preparation that I provide students before community interactions and the debriefing that follows help them to learn from the experience?
- When students are interacting with target language communities electronically, how can I monitor what they are learning, the topics they are discussing, and whether they need assistance? What does this information tell me about the best way to create and use electronic communities with my class?
- What is the action plan for carrying out your project? Depending on your action research question, the following are some questions you might ask yourself to help you develop an action plan:
- What materials and preparation do I need to design a community interaction?
- How will I systematically collect information about what my students take away from a community experience?
- How many students will be involved in my project? How many different classes will be involved? How will I select the classes and/or the students?
- How often will I ask students to share their reactions to a community-based experience, and how will I gather this information from them?
- Will I research the community itself as part of my action research project? If so, how? (For example, you might follow up with the people who participated in the community experience to find out what they gained from interacting with language learners.)
- What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? For example, you could take field notes on critical incidents; distribute student questionnaires before, during, and after a community-based learning experience; use student self-assessments; or ask students to keep a journal of their personal reactions and learning. You should have at least two sources of information.
- How much time will you allot for your action research? That is, when and for how long do you plan to collect information before you're ready to begin analyzing it? Develop a timeline for implementing your action plan.
- After collecting your information, how will you analyze it? That is, how will you organize and review the information you have collected to understand it better and help you answer your research question? For example, will you use percentages based on responses to a questionnaire? Themes from teacher or student journals? Summaries of students' self-assessments at different points in time? Summaries of observations made during a community learning experience?
- How will you display the information so that it can be shared with others? For example, you can use charts, graphs, and/or tables. The goal is to organize your data in a way that presents a clear description of what you investigated.
Note: The final step of the action research project is to reevaluate your teaching practice based on your research data. Because it takes time to complete an action research project, it may not be possible to do this step during the course of this workshop. However, if you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project during or after the course of the workshop to submit as an assignment.
If you are taking the workshop for graduate credit, submit your completed action research project on any one of the eight session topics.
- Based on what you learned through your data analysis, how will you rethink your teaching practice? What changes will you make to your lessons the next time you create interactions between students and native speakers of your target language? If you had to research the community component of your teaching again, what changes would you make to your action research plan?
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