A DipTESOL candidate got in touch asking for tips/recommendations for the Independent Research Project (IRP). Hmmm. Er…
So, I’m just gonna write, then I’ll go back and try to pick out useful bits! Pfff. I learnt that according to Bolitho my usual approach is called something like ‘a teacher’s night-time reverie…’ Ha.
Skip to the end for main points.
Choosing a project
Well, my first (and frankly obvious) tip is to look at the guidance in the handbook. It’s actually pretty clear and the ‘examples only’ bit gives enough scope there to help generate ideas:
Every training centre will offer their own guidance on top of that. I liked the way my centre provided a bank of example tasks:
These were just a reminder to make sure the research is genuinely relevant to your own context, your learners, your colleagues, etc. This was a nice nudge for me to think about some of the problems or areas that needed addressing at my school at that time. This depends on your thinking, but framing your own project as a task like this might help – clearer objective maybe?
Something that really helped me to devise a relevant project was to bounce ideas with the DOS, aDOS and colleagues. I’d had lots of informal chats with my aDOS (Sketch) about how our tech equipment was underused at our school, and how we felt staff would benefit from a bit of upskilling on that front. We put this to other staff as it’s important to identify whether this was a genuine need rather than just us making biased assumptions! After chats with various teachers, a tech-upskilling guidance booklet became the focus of the product I created for my project.
Here’s a summary my IRP with example resources if you’re interested.
Overall, I guess:
- Getting input from colleagues helped to ensure a clear need, relevance, etc. It gets them onboard and invested too.
- It also helped to see the bigger picture – where does my research fit in the context? What impact will/might it have on my school, other teachers, and ultimately the learners? Surprisingly, this last point is something I neglected. Don’t do that, always have the learners in mind!
That last point is useful to bear in mind if you think about the marking criteria:
Sorry if I’m saying really obvious things here, but it makes it a lot easier to discuss the implications of your research if you think about its impact in a broader sense.
Another important question when framing your research:
It’s likely the case that the ‘artefact’ you produce during the project (a syllabus, new materials, a training course, whatever) solves a problem or addresses an area for development. So…
- What exactly is the issue you’re addressing? And who says it’s an issue?
- What was wrong with what’s already in place (if anything)?
I think this will give you a clearer direction – something you need in order to write a clear rationale!
I know that the IRP is kinda small-scale so I don’t wanna get all intense-MA-style on you here. However, one resource I’ve referenced a lot from my MA research is the ‘planning matrix for research’ that’s in Cohen et al (2007). There’s a good summary of the key elements of research:
Even though this is small-scale I think this will help with things to consider. You’ve got 3300 words after all.
That book pretty much has all you need for describing your methods. The really useful bits in the book for me are the summary of research styles (see page 84), the planning matrix itself (from page 88) and the ‘planning sequence’ (page 94). Here’s a snapshot of the matrix:
There are 30 questions like this that just really help you to think where your research is going! You don’t need to go over things in extreeeeeme detail for the dip and some Qs here aren’t relevant. Nevertheless, these are great prompts.
These questions work well with the practical nature of the IRP. They nudge you to think about the research not as a tick box exercise for your course, but more to serve a real purpose:
What are the formal and hidden agendas here? / Whose purposes are being served?
Hmmm. Maybe I have a hidden agenda in trying to force teachers to use more tech! Do they need to? Do they want to? Will it actually benefit the learners? I need to investigate that more first…
Who decides the purpose of the research?
Right! I really should get colleagues more involved in framing the research so it’s deffo relevant and worthwhile!
Can participants add their own questions?
Aha! I’ll need other teachers to help get feedback on lessons from learners… I could let teachers decide how they gather the feedback to give more ownership? Or, no wait… they might not have time to do that and they might just want guidance from me. Hmmm, I’ll ask them.
(Imaginary obvs as I didn’t know about this resource back during the dip!)
Don’t go overboard or anything. But few hours of ploughing through the planning matrix should help you work out where you’re going with the project! It’ll give you some action points at least…
Data from multiple sources (if relevant)
Whatever product you create for the project, try and get feedback from multiple sources. Again, I know it’s a small study. But if you create a syllabus, get feedback from managers, teachers AND learners if you can/if relevant. For a training course – maybe teachers and aDOS/DOS, etc. It just adds weight to the research and validity to the findings.
Don’t worry if you can’t though! I didn’t get feedback on resources from learners, only teachers – I recognised that mistake and mentioned it in the discussion. Still got 81 for the project so it’s not essential, but recognising the limitations and mentioning them in the write up probably helped.
As I said, my product was a teacher guidebook including practical lessons. I’ll be honest, they look atrocious now so I’m not sharing them, haha! I asked teachers to evaluate the resource as a whole, and to reflect on the individual lessons they used in the resource.
Some examples of content from the overall evaluation. They might give you a few ideas. I went overboard though, there were like pages and pages of questions. Poor teachers. I wish Google Forms was on my radar back then!
Here is a link to my short post on materials evaluation and checklists. I only learnt about these different types of checklists during my MA (2 years after dip). I made up the checklists in the IRP myself but would have been better to refer to/adapt existing examples I think. No need to reinvent the wheel.
Okay, enough rambles. Let me look back and see what we’ve got. I’m gonna bold key points.
Okay, so it looks like my tips are basically…
- Check existing guidance (!)
- Keep your context in mind throughout: school, colleagues, learners, constraints, etc
- Whatever product you create/evaluate/etc, have a clear purpose/target audience and keep the real-world application of the product in mind.
- Get colleagues involved! Make sure the voices of others come through in your research! (That just sounded good, bit fuzzy though).
- Ask yourself lots of questions to help frame the research and identify appropriate methods. Use the planning matrix from Cohen et al (2007) although remember this is not MA research.
- Understand the limitations of your research project. Make sure you mention them in the write up.
- DON’T FORGET to mention implications for future practice. Think of these as implications not just for you but for learners, teachers, processes at your school, whatever. Mention (if relevant) adaptations you might make to resources in the future based on your findings.
- Don’t give yourself too much work. If you need to evaluate materials, ask if there’s an in-house checklist you can adapt. If you’re writing a syllabus, ask which docs are already available to help. Etc. Ask in school, maybe ask for general guidance on social media (places like the DipTESOL survivors group).
Apart from that, just enjoy it. It’s a fun project from what I remember. It actually led to my first published resource. I bet that booklet I made is collecting dust at my old school though!
If you have any specific questions about your IRP feel free to get in touch. Disclaimer: I’m not a tutor so can only share my take on things!
Categories: DipTESOL tips