I’ve had a burr in my saddle for a little over a year, probably longer, a problem that pricks me and try as I might to find a solution, I just can’t put my finger on it.
On the one hand, we’ve got a robust body of research coming from both applied and theoretical linguistics programs, teachers and professors and scientists, all asking questions about how people learn language, some asking questions about how people learn or acquire a second language, about how teachers can be more effective in language classrooms.
On the other hand, we’ve got teachers who need to know the answers to these questions. One problem is many researchers don’t know what teachers are actually doing, or what they need, or what realistic expectations are for what the research might look like in their classrooms. A bigger problem is that the teachers don’t know about all this research. For most of us, it’s not because we don’t care. Most teachers I know care very much and would love to know more about how their practices can be better founded on solid research. But two primary obstacles loom in front of them:
- There’s no time.
You have an extra hour or two a week to dissect an academic article, right?
- The best, peer-reviewed articles aren’t accessible for teachers in the trenches.
You’ve got money to pay for expensive peer-reviewed journal subscriptions, right? How about an extra $55 lying around to download a single PDF article?
You feel like you had enough training in Second Language Acquisition theory to navigate academic research articles, right? Where the researchers are throwing around names and acronyms like you actually know what Chomsky said and what the critical period hypothesis is? (How did they know about my seventh period sophomores?! That’s my critical period!)
Last year I determined this would be one of my missions: to overcome these obstacles as much as I could and get real research into our language classrooms. My first attempt was the Black Box Podcast. But it didn’t work. It was extremely time consuming. I estimate I put 10-15 hours of work into each 18-minute episode. I enjoyed it immensely. It was like writing a 10-page article summary / essay where I got to pick whatever topic I wanted and could write in first person with all the jokes and informal comments I wanted. And it was fun. But frankly, I have to be careful what work I choose to do outside the time I commit to my family, and I don’t have that kind of time for work I don’t get paid for.
It also wasn’t accessible enough. To get it on a device for you to listen to, you had to be proactive enough to download it and put it on the device yourself. Then you had to find a spare 18 minutes where you could devote real attention to listening to and understanding it. I’d tried to make it easier and I hadn’t succeeded. Not enough anyway. A few dedicated teachers got something out of it, but we could say the same about the teachers who take the time to look this stuff up on the internet, or read every page of The Language Educator, which often makes important research more accessible for teachers.
So what do I do? I’m still convinced that teachers know that they need to evaluate materials and strategies against what research says about how kids learn. We know a lot of us are stumbling around in the dark there, because like I said before, we don’t have the time, money, and/or background to make that happen. I’m still convinced one of our major failings as a profession is that the people investigating the questions aren’t communicating with the people who need the answers most. What can we do about it?
I’ve been exploring how I can make the Black Box one of the answers to that question, and I need your help. What would be the most effective way for me to help you put research to practice?
I’ve discussed this question with some great colleagues and I appreciate their feedback. So now I have a poll for you. Here are the ideas:
- “Serial” changed the market of the podcast. Keep the podcast idea, but release it via iTunes so it’s super easy for anyone with an iOS device to listen to for free.
- Instead of a podcast, do a short, visualized video of how the research applies and put it on YouTube.
- Instead of a podcast or a video, put the takeaways from the article in a visual format on a PDF poster. Then you can download it and put it up in your classroom where you’ll see it and hopefully internalize the principles.
- Some other brilliant solution I’m not thinking of.
Another way this could be vastly improved is if one of you would help me. Do you have a strong background in SLA theory and a passion for research and what it means for the classroom? Does your dream lunch date involve pitting DeKeyser, Krashen, Long, Ellis, & VanPatten against each other and seeing if someone throws a sandwich? Could we alternate putting out the Black Box together? I’ll take care of the article access through DeepDyve, and you do the rest.
Please, take the poll, and if you have another idea or suggestion, add it, or comment below.
Missed the Black Box Podcast altogether?
If you’re interested in listening to or reading the scripts of the podcasts that I did last year, you’ll find them here.