Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Out of the Dip, Part 4: Unit 2 Research Projects

And so finally, we come to the last part of the course I completed. Possibly the most time consuming and arduous but also ultimately, one of the most rewarding and possibly the part that reflected my day-to-day teaching context most closely.

Action! Research!
Image from pixabay.com
CC0 Public Domain


What it entails

  • Three projects based on your own research each written up as a 3,000 word assignment.
  • Part 1 - Observation Instrument (OI). The teacher designs, implements and refines a pro-forma for observing a particular aspect of other teachers' lessons. After observing ten hours of classes making at least two sets of revisions to your OI as you go, you write up a report of your findings including an evaluation of the pro-forma itself.
  • Part 2 - Developmental Research Project (DRP). The teacher selects an aspect of their own classroom practice to focus on and engages in a cycle of action research over a period of fifteen classroom hours. The report summarises and reflects on what you did and what you and your learners got out of it.
  • Part 3 - Independent Research Project (IRP). As the name suggests, there is more scope for pursuing your own interest in this one. You may again focus on an aspect of your teaching or you may explore teacher training, reflective practice, course design, in-house training programmmes... It's up to you. It's also up to you how you do your research - literature review, survey, observations, interviews, feedback collection - as long as it matches your research aims!
Strengths
  • The projects really allow the teacher to explore their own context and what is directly relevant to them, their learners, and their school. For the OI, I had a general impression that teachers were not really exploiting the space in the classroom effectively so I investigated and drew conclusions for future in-house PD. For the DRP, I investigated using vocab notebooks to promote learner autonomy and engagement with language outside the classroom (something I could not incorporate into the assessed teaching practice). For the IRP, I further investigated the extent to which teachers use online networks for PD and how this information could be of use to the language teaching staff in Gabon, where offline PD possibilities are limited. The research was interesting and fruitful (a shame I didn't stick around to follow-up on it!)
  • It's useful for those who wish to move into more senior positions. For the DRP, I had to design a series of lessons for a specific group of learners, which of course will be of use in the future as I design courses in different contexts. It also made me more aware of my own development when experimenting and trying out new things. I was told the OI was a bit of waste of time as it wasn't directly relatable to everyday language school work but I have not found that to be the case. In my new role at the British Council, I wanted to get a picture of how everyone currently uses technology in class so I designed and revised a pro-forma for observations to collect data. This would have been a tougher task had I not done this project!
  • It allows you to develop areas of interest. I already had a long-standing interest in online professional development but I am now keen to examine classroom interaction patterns, learner autonomy, learner training, and lexis more.
  • It gives you a foundation for further professional work. There are blog posts, articles and conference talks to come out of the research I did.
Advice
  • Engage with your tutors about this early on. The sooner you start, the better. I don't just say that in terms of getting head start but the earlier you begin, the more time you have to make alterations or ditch an entire idea and move onto something else. I was lucky to have fantastic support and sage advice from Nicola for my research and it would have been more difficult had I not interacted with her as much as I did.
  • Try to complete the research before you do the TP. Through the data you gather and the findings you make, there will be useful ideas and things to be aware of that you can incorporate into your assessed lessons. 
  • Also, do not try to do part of the OI or the other projects while you are doing the TP. Yes, you are allowed to do this (for four of then ten hours I believe) but you will have so much other work to do, I would advise against it. Just focus on one thing at a time.
  • Set deadlines and stick to them. Applying for jobs provided the final impetus to get everything wrapped up so the qualification was confirmed rather than TBC. However, I did let things drift on a couple of occasions and I also heard stories of people who literally took years to getting round to doing the research. Best avoided.
  • Make notes as you read. Nothing worse than remembering a relevant point from some article you read a while ago and then struggling to find it. A list of notes, quotes and page references will be much easier to look through, and it will help you for the Unit 1 exam as well.
  • Spread the writing out. It is hard to write a 3,000 assignment, even harder when you try to do it in one weekend! Aim for writing 400-500 words a day and you'll be finished in a week.
  • Know the criteria! Once again, you have to make sure your project write-up focuses on the areas that Trinity are looking for. It's all there in the syllabus, including the weighting for each area so write your paper accordingly!
  • When you are finished, wait a few days before submitting it. Forget about it. Return to normal life, then read through it again and see if it still makes sense.
  • Check out these blog posts and video guides from previous Trinity Dip graduates: Observation Instrument and Independent Research Project.
  • Check out my old posts on preparing for and writing assignments - they focus on my MA studies but a lot of the advice is relevant here too.
Suggestions for Improvements

As with Unit 3 Phonology, I got a lot out of this unit (including a distinction!) so I wouldn't change too much. It would be nice if the kind of teaching work we do for the DRP could also be applied to the TP more directly. As I have previously said, I have focused on learner training with teens a lot in recent times and I was able to explore that in depth here. However, that had to all be put to one side for my observed lessons, and it's a shame the criteria don't cater for that.

I found my experience of having completed an MA, having written many assignments of similar lengths, and having engaged in large-scale research and data collection was invaluable here. I do wonder how I would have coped without that academic background. I think more needs to be done to ensure candidates are prepared for the rigours of research, data collection and processing, and academic writing, both within the Trinity syllabus and from the course providers side.

Once again, I will round off by asking you to share your experiences of Trinity Dip TESOL Unit 2 or any other similar research projects. One more post to go - Dip v. MA: which one proved to be better?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a million Dave for the post. I'm on the projects right now and need all the help I can get!
    Cheers

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