Tag Archives: Action Research


18 Jun

So… apparently movies in the Marvel ‘Cinematic Universe’ have grossed over $3,400,745,593 dollars. That’s 3.4 b-b-b-billion for 11 movies with a whole slate of follow-up on-screen bombast en route to complete their cinematic world subjugation. Not too shabby eh?

I’d argue though that the studio masterminds have left money on the table by overlooking a key figure in their comic book source material, the 1980’s anti-hero Taskmaster!!! Intent on “[training] a large number of thugs at criminal academies”, Taskmaster was a superhero and a teacher! True, he never went much into humanistic language pedagogy, but not all super teachers can start pseudo-scientific Hungarian cults.


I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Taskmaster until I googled the word a few minutes ago, but I can relate to the idea of a task-setting obsessive. It definitely doesn’t get into any of the deeper truths about language learning, but it still amazes me that the success of a lesson can hinge on whether learners have actually understood the tasks. That’s probably why a few years ago one of my first posts ever was about ICQs, and somehow, that post still gets more hits than almost any other (which doesn’t say much for my improvement as a writer!). Back then, I was railing against pointless instruction checking questions, and a few dozen CELTA courses later I’m still not a huge fan.

A few months ago though I decided to dig a bit deeper and see what actually does work in terms of helping students to come to grips with activities. Here, the concept of ‘instructional scaffolding’ was helpful, covering all kinds of support structures like checking questions, visual support, examples and demonstrations, gestures, etc. (Applebee and Langer, 1983).

With the kind permission of my Celtees, I made a note of every instruction given, the type of scaffolding used, and whether or not teacher intervention and repair was then needed. I even recorded a few samples for good measure. Four weeks, a bunch of pretty graphs, and one excessively long paper later, I came to a couple of simple conclusions:

1)  Instructional scaffolding works:

Pretty ground-breaking stuff, I know. Basically, looking at both the numbers and transcripts, it seems that no matter how you do it, providing some kind of support for instructions leads to better comprehension. This was true even when taking into consideration the type of task and the quality of the scaffolding, e.g. clear, unchecked instructions vs. garbled, checked instructions. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this!

Types of scaffolding used and subsequent repair


Between the three most common support types, there was not much difference in either usage or apparent effectiveness in comparison to when there was no support.  However, these stats are a bit misleading as Visual support was never used in isolation.

2)  Combinations of instructional scaffolds work best

More importantly in terms of being able to help my trainees, there was pretty compelling evidence that combinations of instructional scaffolds are more likely to ensure task comprehension than any instructional scaffold used in isolation. Although just asking ICQs or doing a demo worked some of the time, when used in combinations there was a massive improvement in task understanding. In fact, although it might seem excessive, when there was a demo or example, an ICQ, and some sort of visual, the learners understood 100% of the time on the course, no matter which of the eight trainees was teaching. At the other end of the spectrum, one or no scaffolds led to repair between 70% and 100% of the time.

Combinations of Scaffolds Used and Subsequent Repair


Of course, all the usual caveats apply – specific context, small sample, only one course, etc. Still, it was interesting to put intuition to the test and to gain a little evidence that may help future teachers trying to effectively set tasks.

Like with past blog posts about projects of little interest to all but a strange few, feel free to contact me for the complete paper full of thrilling facts, methodology, and figures. As well, if anyone has had a different experience in their teaching/training context, it would be great to hear about it as there are a lot of questions still to answer – does it make a difference if they are new or experienced teachers? The length of time the teacher has had the group? The cultural context?

More importantly, when will Taskmaster be coming to a theatre near me?


Applebee, A. and J. Langer. 1983. ‘Instructional scaffolding: Reading and writing as natural language activities’. Language Arts, 60/2.

Richards, J.C. and T. Rodgers.  2001.  Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Up and running!

30 Mar

Well, we’ve finally gotten our Dogme Pura Vida action research project up and running.  If you’d like to check out our progress or see summaries of any of the classes, plese visit the blog at puravidadogme.wordpress.com

Thank you to everybody who has helped, either through contributing ideas, providing the space (Rosa  at Pi Plus Academy), visiting our blogs, or attending the classes.  Most importantly, this project never would have even started without my friend and colleague, @ChrisOzog, whose energy and ideas made it all happen.

Also, since I’ll be writing pretty frequently for the other blog, there probably won’t be anything here over the next few months.  See you at puravidadogme.wordpress.com!

Unplugged Action Reseach Group

3 Oct

I had always assumed that promotions were a good thing. You know – more money, more job freedom, more responsibility – all good stuff. And at the outset, my experiences matched my expectations. Starting as a full-time teacher, I then became a Cambridge Examiner, then a teacher training coordinator, and then a CELTA trainer. So far, so good.

Until… I became the Director of Studies. Sure there was a raise and a lot of job freedom but at what cost? An unwanted shift in my relationship with new teachers, getting up early every morning, dealing with unhappy students/parents, and worst of all, no teaching! While I still get to do teacher training and the occasional substitution, I never have a class of my own. Theoretically I could assign myself a class, but it would have to be on top of my regular work load and without pay. I love teaching but really…

Thankfully, I’ve got the go ahead to start an Action Research Group next January as our school plans to move into a much larger, newer building. This group (another teacher’s idea) will consist of volunteer students who come twice a week for an hour and a half. There will be no coursebook or preset syllabus and anyone can join in. In a wonderfully unilateral decision, I’ve made myself the teacher although others are welcome to teach a class if they are interested in experimenting with different methodologies, activities, or are just interested in doing a little research. The idea is that we then have staff presentations were we can share our experiences. For my part I would love to experiment more with Dogme without the institutional constraints we usually have in place.

So… if anyone has any wonderful ideas they would like to have trialed, please leave a comment and I would be happy to incorporate them into my lessons. I’m sure I’ll be ‘borrowing’ many of the ideas I’ve read about on the blogosphere as well as ones from my colleagues. Also, if anyone has any suggestions for how to make this experiment a success, I’m all ears!