Ongoing Research – Divya

An Action Researcher’s Checklist
– Divya Madhavan

Divya Madhavan

  • Not all research needs statistics.
  • Not all research needs to be generalised to other populations.
  • Not all research data needs numbers or sophisticated tools.
  • All research needs a clear (and clearly articulated) agenda.
  • All research demands responsible documenting of the data collection process.
  • All researchers need to stay close to their reason for doing the research from start to end.

I’ve blogged regularly about research, about the uncomfortable way we hedge claims by saying ‘Research says…’, about research not being the intellectual property of academics and about how we might de-code research talks.

In this post, I’d like to zoom into the specifics of how we approach Action Research, with a series of questions. Hopefully I’ll frame the questions well enough to make your answer-seeking journey a little more lucid. To my mind, this is what research is all about: the act of seeking answers, and the road that ends up revealing itself as you do so.

This post isn’t a summary of centuries of scholarship – there’s a lot more to read on Action Research, so please don’t stop here if you are really interested in doing it.

Here’s the checklist:

 1.  Do you have four stages set out?
Action Research works on the principle of Plan-Act-Observe-Reflect (and then Plan-Act-Observe-Reflect again, and again – depending on how long you want to carry on). Aim for real clarity with your thinking, writing and reporting around this.

2.  What is your research question?
Is there a specific purpose to doing this research? Has that purpose been clearly articulated? Action Research is not a research method where you go in not knowing why you’re going in. There are other methods for this kind of inquiry. Action Research is much more of the ‘crystal clear’ type where there’s a real purpose to the research, usually one that is directly related to the researcher’s practice (i.e. your classroom).

3.  What’s the plan?
You don’t need a hypothesis. You need a plan. Some people associate Action Research with hypothesis-testing. Again, there are other methods for this kind of inquiry, where you start with a hypothesis. This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever have a hypothesis in Action Research, but it shouldn’t be where your thinking starts. Your thinking starts with an issue that you problematize, before planning how you’ll engage with the issue as an action researcher.

4.  How are you going to document the ‘action’ and ‘observation’ phases of your research?
This is when you test drive your plan. Where I’ve slipped up very easily in the past is being so busy driving that I forget to write down little details about my observations, participant comments and even little mood shifts in the process along the way. Even though things seem ‘normal’ at the time, the more disciplined I am with the recording, the more I am able to analyse the process when I’m done.

5.  Do you have specific reflection time at the end?
I think ‘reflection’ is rapidly becoming one of the most overused words in our industry. What I mean by ‘reflection time’ is that stage four is as important as the first three. Even though we think about things the whole way through, specific thinking-analysis time at the end is very precious and will help build a more robust second phase where there’s a further plan that is then put into action.

6.  Do you feel comfortable with ‘going public’ with what you’ve done? 
Even if you’ve made mistakes along the way, or left some things out in the process, do you explain why – and do you outline what you expect to do differently next time?


Don’t we already plan, act, observe and reflect in our everyday lives as teachers?

Of course we do.

What’s the difference?

I think the difference is the rigour that we impose on our thinking, documenting and analysis of what we see before us. With that comes the responsibility to examine our practice intelligently, rather than just responding to a situation emotionally, which often comes more easily to us all in a very normal, human way. And the difference is also in using the right vocabulary to say all of these things.

If you feel excited about Action Research, try and ask yourself :

What are the social changes or the individual changes you hope to deal with in your research?

How are you trying to reform your practice?

“Action research is concerned equally with changing individuals, on the one hand, and, on the other, the culture of the groups, institutions, and societies to which they belong. The culture of a group can be defined in terms of the characteristic substance and forms of the language and discourses, activities and practices, and social relationships and organisation which constitute the interactions of the group.” (Kemmis and McTaggart, 1992:16)

If I had to recommend one book it would be:

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical. Education, knowledge and action research, Lewes: Falmer Press.


Happy researching, reflecting and resonating…


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Ongoing Research – Josette

Discovering Narrative Inquiry
Josette LeBlanc

Josette LeBlanc
I have a craving to learn. Part of this craving is satisfied by writing about teaching and learning here on the iTDi blog as well as on my blog, and also by talking with my inspiring community of teachers, but sometimes I think I need more. I think of working towards a PhD. The idea of diving deep into my topics of interest – how reflective practice and compassionate communication intersect in teacher education – seems like it would satiate my appetite. However, my research into research methods always left a bad taste. I just couldn’t imagine myself crunching numbers. My areas of interest seem to be beyond equations (re: quantitative methods), and too big for what I understand about action research. Then finally, this part of my search was over.

After class one day, my colleague, Darryl Bautista, and I were talking about research, and I told him about my distaste. This was when he told me about his professional experience with narrative inquiry as an approach.  And just like that, the world of research opened itself to me. What follows is a description of where my ongoing research begins: in discovering narrative inquiry.

Discovering narrative inquiry was a big deal. Maybe like many of you, I have a math phobia. Perhaps part of the reason why I never connected to math was that it was never introduced to me as something that connected to the juiciness of life: the things that make life worth living like love, joy, and all the complexities of being human. Now that I am older, and thanks to the storytelling skills of scientists such as Carl Sagan, Brian Greene, and Leonard Mlodinow, I can see how equations and life are one in the same. And this is the point; I needed to hear a story in order to connect to their research. The language they use – numbers — and the language that I use – words that describe experiences — although interconnected, paint very different pictures. Via the language of a lived experience, numbers turned into stars, nature, and human relationships.

This is what narrative inquiry does: it uses the story process to make sense of an experience. As professors of education, and the authors of Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research, D. Jean Clandinin and F. Michael Connelly explain it:

Narrative inquiry is a way of understanding experience. It is a collaboration between the researcher and participants, over time, in a place or series of places, and in social interaction within milieus. An inquirer enters this matrix in the midst and progresses in this same spirit, concluding the inquiry still in the midst of living and telling, reliving and retelling, the stories of the experiences that make up people’s lives, both individual and social. Simply stated, (…) narrative inquiry is stories lived and told. (p.20)

 Another point that piqued my interest about narrative inquiry was this concept of collaboration between the researcher and participants. As a strong proponent of reflective inquiry as a way to develop myself personally and professionally, I knew that any research worth doing would have to begin from my experiences. Although narrative inquiry values a balanced account of what happens for the researcher and the participants during the research process, the researcher’s voice is not diminished. In fact, this may be where it begins.

Such inquiry is driven by teachers’ inner desire to understand that experience, to reconcile what is known with that which is hidden, to confirm and affirm, and to construct and reconstruct understandings of themselves as teachers and of their own teaching.  What teachers choose to inquire about emerges from their personalities, their emotions, their ethics, the contexts, and the overwhelming concern for their students. (Johnson & Golombek, p.6)

And so this is where my research begins. I will look back at the themes I discover in my teaching story (via my blog posts, emails, and journals) as a way of looking forward into possible research: into understanding my experience and how it relates to teaching at large.  What I have already found are themes that speak to the juicy craving I mentioned.  Narrative inquiry is my first step into ongoing research which has yet to reveal itself to me.


Clandinin, D.J., & Connelly, F.M. (1999). Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Johnson, K.E. & Golombek, P.R. (2002).  Teachers’ Narrative Inquiry as Professional Development.  Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


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Ongoing Research – Kieran

Research: NOT For Academics Only
Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

How do you feel when you hear the words “research shows”? It used to grate on me and make me switch off because research was something academics, with high-brow qualifications did and having done an Open Degree through the Open University composed of a variety of unrelated courses, my lower echelons of British society and the world of academia, unfortunately, had always been a mystical place which I didn’t understand. Even the degree I gained from the OU was accidental! I hadn’t realised I was studying towards one in the first couple of years as even the basic points system was confusing to me. I didn’t know what BA, BSc, MSc or Phd’s were or how they related. I didn’t know what an undergraduate was compared to a postgraduate, until I did teacher training and saw the PG in PGCE stood for post graduate. Research then, was something done by other people who understood the system and the big words; it was done by clever people – not people like me.

The social structure of research gave me the perception it was unattainable for me, despite the fact I was interested and thought it looked fun. I am sure there are others in the world, especially in education, that feel the same. To research is to find things out, making it by nature to learn. When you think of it as learning, what is unattainable about it? We are capable people. The chances are, like me, you walk around having random ideas, wonderings and make predictions in your mind thinking nobody would be interested if you shared them or not knowing where to start.

Nevertheless, if you look at nature and the animal kingdom, curiosity is apparent. From the toddler opening all the cupboard doors to the ants exploring the kitchen, living organisms have a sense of wonder. Humans have a need to explore. Throughout history we have explored geographically; we explore our limits physically; we explore our limits emotionally and psychologically, and on a daily basis we explore intellectually.  By not stretching understanding of what is known, there is a danger that people become passive in life and the world around us wallpaper. Asking questions, investigating, comparing and hypothesising are all consequences of curiosity yet they are also the foundations of research – this is what research does, and it is accessible to all!

My activities and the ‘Researchers Mindset’

Due to the misconceptions detailed earlier in this post and a lack of understanding of the essence of research, it has taken me a long time to be able to say “I am a researcher” comfortably.

Most recently, I have been working on ‘The Floating Teacher’. This is an action research project that looked at how videos made by and featuring the teacher could be used in class by children to aid in the learning process. The videos were also accessible from home. It is a variation of the ‘flipped classroom’ model, offering learners more autonomy and freedom with the speed they assimilate information as well as an extra way to use the teacher as a resource. Videos were filmed and put together quite simply with the use of an Ipad and windows movie maker and deliberately have an ‘amateur’ feel to them; it was important to me the videos felt approachable and did not appear as polished articles. As a learner I know I do not engage with things if they do not have a personal element so the videos were designed to ensure this was included. Personalness is something I feel is missing from technology at the moment, hindering it in a way, and I wanted to see what impact a personal touch would have on learners use of the materials, if any.

Originally, the project design involved collaborating with other schools, measuring usage of the videos from home and at school within lessons and meticulous recording of data, statistics and website analytics. However, it quickly became apparent I had overestimated what was achievable at that point. I was so enthusiastic about the project that the complexities of reality hadn’t been factored into my plan so when events at school such as parents evening, assessment weeks, changes to timetables and meetings cropped up, I found it hard to supply the videos needed for the research to take place. The videos were made from my home setting and during latter stages, required someone else to help me film them. At a crossroads, the plan was scaled down to focus on my class only and fell into a natural pattern over the next six months, with the focus latching on to the children’s use of the videos in class, as that was something we could observe and had control over.

The practical element of our research finished at the end of March and after analysis of questionnaires and compilation of all information in April, is in the process of being written up, with a hope of initially sharing more about it at a conference in July ( When we initially discussed running this project as ‘research’ I put on a persona and was in a mindset of playacting (after all I am certainly not academic). I tried so hard to understand what research was, and what being a researcher is that I missed what now feels blindly obvious; life is research. Teaching is research. Getting to know pupils is research. We incorporate many elements of the role into our day-to-day activities without really realising yet for some reason, a perception that research is for those with higher level qualifications pervades. This is wrong! It is this perception that stopped me from being involved, or even realising that things like the Culture Chat project were a basic level of research ( Is the same perception stopping you from being involved?

Now that I have had a taste of it, I spot opportunities to research everywhere. In my head, I’ve already planned several with unbridled enthusiasm! Just as the sun parts the shadows, action research is beginning to lift the barrier that stands between those in classrooms and those that write research papers. The most valuable thing I have learned so far is that research is not about being published – it’s nice, but that is only a small part of it. Research is a mindset. It is accessible to all. It is a way of thinking that we can encourage within ourselves to help us engage with life more personally, and to understand our learners, classrooms and teaching professionally.


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Ongoing Research – Nina

Resonating Kindness in Language Classrooms
Nina Septina

Nina Septina

These last 6 months in my life have been fascinatingly fulfilling with a new rewarding adventure. I’ve been going on a joyful ride with my students, looking and exploring a new pathway: a new perspective on our language learning that allows us to evolve to find our true self to be what we want to be, how we should be; a better person and a better friend to each other. And this route has taken us to a changed nature in our language-learning atmosphere – a more favourable one.

Before I take you further on this journey, let’s take a look at a few questions.  Please answer them silently…(thank you for doing so:)

  • Do you like being respected by others?
  • Do you like to have friendly friends?
  • Do you like getting help when you’re in trouble?
  • Do you like being encouraged and motivated each time you’re feeling down?

(To all the questions above, I suppose no one says ‘no’)

And now this is the last one:

  • How would you feel if you had all the above things?

(yes, me too! 🙂

By spending a little time responding to these questions, we all realize that we want and need such kindness and positive support from our family, friends and all the community that surround us. But not only us, they also need just the same treatment from us towards them. And the same analogy goes with what many religions and philosophies in the world similarly call their Golden Rule: “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.”

I imagine if all the people in the world could really resonate this kindness among each other regardless of their nations, ethnic groups, or religions, we would all live peacefully side by side and thus it would make our world a better place to live in. (Don’t you agree?)

Hence, this is the perspective I’m trying to embrace into our language-learning context.

Now, let’s get on board and let me start taking you to where it all began. This field of study has captured my attention since I watched a YouTube video by Tim Murphey (an author and professor at Kanda University Japan) that he shared on April 12 last year on his FB timeline, titled “Ideal Classmates and Reciprocal Idealizing.” I was inspired by how Tim and his colleagues’ research on this study could bring a powerful resonating influence in their classes by simply asking their students a question, “How would your ideal classmates be?”

At that point, I thought this positive influence should go viral not only in Japan, but also in Indonesia and all over the world, and I could start with my classes. Next, I emailed Tim asking for more details on the procedures.

Then, in October 2013, at the beginning of a new term, I set myself and my classes off (with Tim as my navigator) on a journey exploring what we call ‘Ideal L2 classmates’. I began by asking my students these questions:

“Please describe a group of classmates that you could learn English well with. What would you all do to help each other learn better and more enjoyably?” I collected their feedback, typed them and put them all on a class sheet anonymously. Then, I returned them in class so they could read what their classmates said. Here are some of their responses:

I want a group of classmates that speak English with me in this class. Because this class is my only chance to speak English as much as I can. A group of classmates like that will improve my ability in speaking English. I’ll help them by answering their question. But if I don’t know the answer I’ll suggest them to ask the teacher.

We should make speaking English as a habit, especially when we talk to our friends. We share more grammar and vocabulary and help each other to improve our English skills

By reading these responses, students were then aware of each other’s expectations allowing them to reflect on what had been happening so far in class. Some questions that arose were: Have I tried talking in English with my friends in every class and made the most of every opportunity to help each other in speaking? Have I been helpful to my friends when they needed me to tell them what I knew about the lesson? Have I been an ideal classmate for my friends? All of us, as a class, agreed to improve the situation, to fulfill these expectations and bring change to our language learning atmosphere.

To support this, for my adult classes, I made a summary of their responses on Wordle and made a word cloud out of it. Then I created some posters from this wordcloud and put them on our class walls to serve as a mirror or reminder for them of their reflections. For my childrens’ class, I made their reflections look more obvious to them in a poster that included their photos as well.

I also took a really close look at their interactions with classmates in class and helped remind them when they seemed to forget things we agreed to improve.

From my daily observation, I learned that these students now spoke in English more in class and tended to help each other in lesson more – despite the differences in their gender and age groups. This positive energy and their kindness spread harmoniously among them and were continuously resonating in each and every meeting. They enjoyed the change they brought in class and they became a great English team!

Eventually, this was confirmed by the results of a survey I distributed at the end of the term. In this survey, students were asked to give their opinion about this ‘Ideal L2 classmates’ research, and below are some of their comments:

From this survey, now I know the importance of creating a fun class during an English learning. By making the class fun I think it’s easier for us to enjoy the study. And this survey is quite good for me so I know what I should change in me to create a better atmosphere in my class so the learning will be more fun for us. (Dewi)

After this research, I think I’ll become more interested at learning English. Especially at speaking English with my classmates. I’ll also get motivation to be the ideal friend for my classmates. I hope that after this research, all of us will become better persons. (Putri)

To conclude, invoking their ideal classmates made students recognize the good things that their actual classmates were already doing, at least to some extent, and reciprocally made them want to be better classmates themselves in the present and future.

Finally I should take you to the end of our tour but this is not the end of the journey. This is just the beginning of the next journey for I invite you all to collaborate and sail together to explore new possibilities and to resonate this humanity and kindness to your classes, to your school and to the world.

(I will describe more detailed procedures and the results of this research with Tim Murphey at JALT Conference 2014 in Tsukuba, Japan). You can also look for our article to be published soon by the English Teachers Association Switzerland Journal at



Murphey, T. (2012). Ideal classmates research notes. PeerSpectives #9 pp. 24-26.

Murphey, T. (2013). Ideal Classmates and Reciprocal Idealizing through Critical Participatory Looping (CPL) in Socially Intelligent Dynamic Systems (SINDYS) [.mp4 file, pdf file] (NFLRC Video #25). Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i, National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Murphey, T. & Iswanti S. (2014). Surprising humanity! Comparing ideal classmates in two countries. ETAS Journal, 31(2) Spring, 33-35.

Murphey, T., Falout, J., Fukuda, T., & Fukada, Y. (In progress). Socio-Dynamic Motivating through Idealizing Classmates. (Accepted by) System.


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Ongoing Research

What is research, who does it, and what are some directions it could take? In this issue Divya Madhavan, Josette LeBlanc, Nina Septina, and Kieran Dhunna Halliwell ask questions, provide answers, and point us in good directions.

Divya Madhavan
Divya Madhavan
Josette LeBlanc
Josette LeBlanc
Kieran Dhunna Halliwell
Kieran Dhunna Halliwell
Nina Septina


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