1. Introductory remarks
We, as language teachers, do many things a day: prepare for
tomorrow's class by adding notes on the margin, designing
extra exercises, and giving references; marking yesterday's
assignments; and when the time has come, rush to the noisy
class, calm the crowds down and start shouting at the top
of our voice. The list only embraces a fraction of our daily
chores --- students' questions, telephone calls, emails, the
school master's orders, admin meetings, etc., etc., etc. What
is frustrating and making our life nothing short of a drudgery
is the fact the things we do --- all the things we do, are
not counted as research. And to make things worse, our promotion
crucially depends on research and publication! "Publish
or perish" seems to be not just an American phenomenon,
but a Chinese one as well.
One may say that the picture I have drawn is unwarrantedly
depressing. Well, this is my strategy of presentation, perhaps.
I start with a negative note just to take sides with teachers
in the trench. Now I want to tell them that the grooming situation
is very much a result of our own making. As the English proverb
would say, we make our bed wet and have to lie on it. But
we can make our bed dry and lie on it, too. The crux of the
matter lies in the fact that we unwittingly pit teaching against
researching. We must become aware that teaching and researching
are not necessarily conflictive by nature. Teaching process
can be turned into a researching process, and once your teaching
task is carried out, your research is simultaneously being
implemented. Killing two birds with one stone can be literally
But how? Indeed, how! This is the theme of my talk. I hope
that by the end of my talk you will be convinced that the
two can be fruitfully integrated, and cannot wait any longer
to have a go yourself.
2. What counts as research?
Let's start by taking a closer look at the notion of research.
In everyday parlance, when we see someone search for books
in the library, or do some serious reading with a pile of
reference books beside him or her, we have no doubt that he
or she is doing research. And sure enough, he or she may feel
proud of informing us that he or she is preparing a paper.
What makes reading or searching for books in the library count
as research, whereas what we do in a classroom packed with
students is counted as non-research or research-less?
Well, think about it and we may soon realize that what makes
doing something count as research or not depends on a larger
framework of which doing something plays a part. In other
words, reading or searching for books and teaching in the
classroom can all be counted as research, and can all be regarded
as non-research. It depends on what we do it for, and the
way we do it.
So what counts as research depends on multiple factors:
|1) Do you want to solve a problem?
2) Do you want to prove a hypothesis?
3) Do you want to testify that what is assumed to be true
is in fact wrong?
4) What methods are you going to adopt in order to achieve
5) Are you well informed of what others have done to your
problem, your hypothesis, and your testimony?
6) What are the specific actions you have to take in order
to achieve your goal?
7) What are the arguments and evidence you are going to
produce to convince people that you are correct or doing
the right thing?
These are the things that jointly make up what I have called
"a larger framework". Within this framework you
may do a lot of things. Each individual thing by itself is
just a thing, and it makes little sense to ask if it is research
or non-research. But once we look at it from the perspective
of the larger framework, and do each individual thing as a
bit of contribution to the overall framework, we are doing
research, no matter if it is reading or searching for books,
or shouting at the top of our voice to a crowd of students.
Let me emphasize my message again: what makes our doing count
as research depends on the larger framework in which our doing
plays a part. Once this notion is established, we come to
see that whether teaching counts as researching or not lies
in the framework we are going to put it into. This is the
issue we are going to examine in the next section.
3. Towards a research-oriented mind
plus a researching eye
Research is nowhere and everywhere. This is an oxymoron worth
pondering over. If you are not ready looking for research,
there will be no research. If you are ever ready for research,
research exists everywhere. This is what I call "a research-oriented
mind". Well, some of you may say: "Oh gosh, that's
exactly what is missing with me. I don't have a research-oriented
mind. How can I develop one?" My response is that you
are absolutely wrong. Even a one-year old baby has a research-oriented
mind: Whatever it does not know, it wants to know. Whatever
it sees, it wants to touch it. Whatever is in its hand or
within its reach, it sends it to its mouth! One of the saddest
stories of human cultivation is to kill or at least suppress
the inborn research-oriented mind.
It is often the case that we teach our students the way we
were taught. It is also often the case that we take this state
of affairs for granted. This creates an inertia for non-action,
and kills a research-oriented mind. To get out of the vicious
circle, we need to adopt a reflective model of teacher development,
as graphically shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 Reflective model of teacher development
(based on Walace 1989)
You may read the figure in this way:
1. You start with your existing view of what "teaching"
means to you. For example, you may think that --
|Teaching means "teach students things they don't
Teaching means "prepare a lesson at night and teach
it the next morning";
Teaching means "the teacher passes his or her knowledge
Teaching means "give a series of lectures on a particular
Teaching means "help students to learn";
2. You then do some reading or attend some classes on the
theory of teaching, etc.
3. While doing the reading, you bring your past teaching
experience into your reading. For example, the book you are
reading may say something like: It is counterproductive
for a language teacher to talk all the time in class.
This prompts you to review your own teaching experience. "Did
I talk all the time in my class? Is it really counterproductive?
But my students seem to like it."
4. Through reading and reviewing your past teaching practice,
you then find some problems which are worth exploring. To
solve the problems you design something new (e.g. a project)
and start teaching in a fresh manner.
5-6. While you are teaching in the new way, you constantly
monitor your own teaching, looking for strength as well as
weaknesses. You go on in this loop project by project, or
term by term, until you reach a high level of professionalism
-- a model teacher, so to speak.
The figure 1 in fact represents a larger framework of research
for a language teacher. You probably already realize that,
if you do your teaching by putting it into this framework,
your teaching process is also a research process. Once your
teaching is finished, your research is at the same time done.
4. What renders my research a good
piece of work?
The message I wanted to drive home up to this point is that
any thing we do can be turned into a part of research activity.
It all depends on the framework we put it into. From this
perspective, children can do research in the children's framework,
adults can do research in the adults' framework, and we teachers
do our research in the teachers' framework. The course Practical
Project Design is specially designed to help our students,
i.e. in-service teachers, to do research in their framework.
Since frameworks are relative to what people do, research
is therefore relative too.
So far so good. Now that we are all teachers of English,
and we all do our research within the teachers' framework,
does it still make sense to say that there are good research
and bad research among us? This is the question to be dealt
with in this section.
There is no simple and straightforward yardstick with which
you can easily tell good research from bad one. Having said
this, there are some general principles worth keeping in mind.
The originality principle
This principle demands that the research be original. Note
that to say that the research is original does not mean the
same thing as that the finding is original.
To say that the research is original means that the research
is being carried out by none other than the researcher him
or herself. It is not done by someone else, nor is it copied
from someone else's work.
Whereas saying that the finding of the research is original
means that the research is not only original, but also it
contributes to new knowledge, that is, no one else in the
world has ever reached the same conclusion before.
For B.A. and M.A. dissertations, original research, not original
finding, is required. It is a doctoral thesis that demands
originality both in research and in finding.
Note that original research does not mean that you choose
a topic which has not been dealt with by anyone ever before
-- "filling-in blank topic", so to speak in Chinese.
B.A. and M.A. students in fact should not be encouraged to do
so. Rather, they should realistically choose a topic which
has been well researched. The originality of the research
lies in its application of the existing theory to a new situation.
The honesty principle
This principle demands that you acknowledge and give credit
to anything which is not yours, and that you must not manipulate
the original data. By manipulating data I mean to tailor data
to suit your expectation, or hide some crucial data which
is in conflict with your conclusion.
Honesty will not make your research less significant. It
only makes it more trust-worthy and reliable. Honesty is the
The data-driven principle
It is unrealistic to expect any theoretical sophistication
from M.A. students, still less B.A. students. For B.A. students,
if they can show a good understanding of what they have learned,
and be able to apply, in a limited way, what they have learned
to a new situation, they should be considered as good students,
or in some cases, excellent students. For M.A. students, if
they can show a masterly understanding of what they have learned,
and be able to apply, creatively or even critically, what
they have mastered to a new situation, they should be considered
as being qualified for the degree.
Since theoretical sophistication is not expected, B.A. and
M.A. students should be encouraged to do research that is data-based,
rather than theory-driven. For example a student works on
a topic entitled "Towards a model of semantic theory".
This is theory driven. This topic is in fact too big for M.A.
students. It is even unrealistic for a Ph.D. dissertation.
Data-based research starts with an existing theory or analytic
framework, and collect your own data to test the theory or
framework. Your originality and creativity lie in the data
collection, application of the theory or framework to your
data, and the research process you go through.
We must not regard data-driven research as being trivial
or unimportant. On the contrary, it can lead to substantial
discoveries or even fresh evidence that can be used to overthrow
the theory or framework we have adopted.
The standardization principle
Doing research is a very serious activity. It is often the
case that its final result is a public product, such as a
report, a degree dissertation, or a published paper. Since
it has a public dimension, it has to be done in accordance
with the public standards. However, we must not assume that
there is only one and absolute public criterion. Public standards
vary from discipline to discipline, and from culture to culture.
They are hence relative to research communities.
In our case, the standards are negotiated and fixed by a
committee of glasses-wearing professors from the two universities.
If you ask me what the standards are, my answer is: Part I
and Part II can be regarded as standard-setting documents.
The six research procedures, the writing standards in English
for Studying, and the principles in this lecture, are
all dealing with standards.
The objectivity principle
If you write: "I like teaching a large-size class",
you are making a subjective statement. It is subjective because
you are describing your personal liking or experience ----
You are the only one who can testify that this statement is
true or false. No one else will be able to verify it. For
instance, the moment you are saying it, at the bottom of your
heart, you actually hate doing it. No one else can find it
out, except that you become conscience-stricken later, and
let the cat out of the bag yourself!
However, you can improve the subjectivity by producing evidence
to demonstrate that you really like teaching a large-size
class. For instance, you show to the committee that you have
been teaching such class for the past three years, and that
you were not made to do so, but out of your own free choice.
To make it even less subjective, you show to the committee
that your students' satisfaction with your performance has
been consistently high. Your public behaviour (i.e. actual
teaching) and students' assessment are the objective evidence,
or objective data, that verify your subjective statement,
make it less subjective, or achieve objectivity.
Any research that has a public dimension, that is, research
being carried out not for personal fun, but for public sharing,
must be objective. Of course, one hundred percent of objectivity
with research in social sciences and humanities remains an
unattainable ideal. Objectivity is a matter of degree. Serious
research requires a high degree of objectivity, and less serious
research a low degree of objectivity. But there is no rule
of thumb readily available to tell you which degree of objectivity
is precisely required with regard to a particular instance
of research. The hunches are: the more evidence you produce,
the higher the objectivity, and the safer you become with
Questions for you to reflect upon:
1. According to the author, doing something as an isolated
action cannot be counted as research. Once it is put into
a larger framework, it can be turned into a part of research
process. Do you agree with him? Give an example or two to
argue for or against this view.
2. What is a research-oriented mind? Is it true to say that
according to the author, if a mind keeps asking some critical
questions such as what, why, how, when, where, who, etc.,
this mind is research-oriented?
3. Why do you think that objectivity is a matter of degree?
Does the author imply that subjectivity should be condemned?