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CIFLTE Public Talk with Dr. Gary Barkhuizen: “Language Teachers as Researchers”
On March 30th, the Center for International Foreign Language Teacher Education (CIFLTE) brought back celebrated author, researcher, and educator Dr. Gary Barkhuizen for his second talk in as many months. The public talk, attended by just over 100 participants, addressed the topic of “Language Teachers as Researchers.”
Dr. Barkhuizen’s talk looked into the changing identities of language educators as they engage in research, and discussed how the process of doing research can lead to developments and changes in teacher identity. His focus for the talk was expressed succinctly at the beginning of the presentation: he is concerned less with the transformation of teaching through research, but rather with the transformation of teachers through research. (This subject is explored further in his recent book, Language Teacher Educator Identity, 2021.)
Dr. Barkhuizen began the talk by first introducing the idea of language teachers as researchers: who are they, where do they work, what kind of research do they do, and what is their motivation? In addressing each of these questions, he emphasized that there is not just one “answer” to each of these questions, but rather many. He said that teacher researchers do not represent a single, monolithic group, but instead are made up of educators from a variety of contexts; anywhere that language teaching is taking place represents an opportunity for an educator to engage in teacher research. This thinking was underscored throughout the presentation as Dr. Barkhuizen asked participants to contemplate their own identities, circumstances, and goals with questions like “Who are you?” “What do you do?” and “What’s your motivation?”
Following his introduction into teacher research, Dr. Barkhuizen then spent time looking at teacher conceptions of research. He discussed data he and two other researchers had collected from a group of primary school teachers in China (Gao et al., 2010). Through the use of narrative frames, he and his co-authors elicited these teachers’ thoughts on what research is and what it looks like. From their results, the researchers found that research ultimately means different things to different people, and that the process of engaging in teacher research can itself be transformative: It can result in the creation of (inter-institutional) communities of practice and improved collaboration between teachers. Teacher research can also lead to greater confidence in teachers’ practice, renewed enthusiasm for teaching, and the development of new teacher research identities.
Dr. Barkhuizen then provided a contextualized illustration of this process of teacher identity development by sharing findings from his recent research into the topic. He discussed data that had been collected from interviews with PhD students who were studying in an ELT program in Bogotá, Colombia. Over the course of their time in the program, these students had undergone identity-related developments, prompted by conflicts between their teacher identities and their reasons for enrolling in the PhD program. Dr. Barkhuizen categorized these developments according to their focus: the developments were personal-, academic-, practice-, research-, or student teacher-focused. It was at this point in the talk that Dr. Barkhuizen also took time to prompt participants to reflect on their own development in these terms: “What is your development?”
Following his discussion of identity development, Dr. Barkhuizen then focused in on one student, Ana, and her teacher identity dilemma. He describes Ana’s struggle in having to contend with competing identities and values, particularly as they relate to research. She views the academic, institutional research that is required of her to succeed in the field as meaningless, overly formalized, and detached, and desires instead to use teacher research to make meaningful contributions to her local context by improving and better understanding her teaching practice. Dr. Barkhuizen says that her developmental process is characterized by and a result of the complex tensions between her competing identities. He then carried this idea of tension through to the final piece of his talk, into his discussion of teacher research dissemination. Here, Dr. Barkhuizen posed more questions than he answered (“Should teachers disseminate their research findings? Does it depend on one’s conceptions of teacher research?”), underscoring the complex nature of teacher research.
Dr. Barkhuizen concluded the talk by responding to participant questions. They ranged in topic from the appropriateness of dissemination to the place that auto-ethnography holds in the field. Dr. Barkhuizen’s talk presented a clear, comprehensive overview of teacher research and provided participants with an understanding of how language teachers see and conduct research. It also encouraged participants to think reflectively about how their own engagement with the research process has changed and affected their identities.
By Abby Massaro