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Developing Principles for Practitioner Research: The Case of Exploratory Practice

Dick Allwright
The Modern Language Journal
Vol. 89, No. 3, Special Issue: Methodology, Epistemology, and Ethics in Instructed SLA Research (Autumn, 2005), pp. 353-366
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3588663
Page Count: 14
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Developing Principles for Practitioner Research: The Case of Exploratory Practice
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Abstract

Exploratory Practice (EP) has been developed over the last 15 or so years as an approach to practitioner research that is devoted to understanding the quality of language classroom life. It started in reaction both to academic classroom research and to Action Research, the practitioner research model most in vogue at that time in our field. At first looking for an alternative to current academic classroom research practices on largely ethical grounds, EP developed over time primarily as a set of principles rather than as a set of classroom practices. The emphasis on principles relates to their potentially global reach, whereas emergent practices seemed to be essentially local in nature. Of course, the principles were coming from the experience of years of local action, endlessly and intensively discussed in global terms. These principles address (more or less implicitly) the issues at the heart of this special issue of The Modern Language Journal: the technical, epistemological, and ethical dimensions of research on second language learning. In this article, I will therefore set out the principles of EP in direct relationship to these 3 dimensions. For EP, the ethical and epistemological dimensions are the most critical, with the emphasis on understanding rather than problem-solving. I find the common emphases on practical problem-solving and making measurable improvements in student achievement not only unhelpfully shortsighted but also potentially counterproductive. I argue instead for a return to the traditional research aim of understanding, and for focusing our work for understanding on quality of life (rather than quality of output) as the ultimate value. This focus also prompts us to address the ethical issue of the researcher-researched relationship, and to insist that the learners, as well as the teachers, should be seen as classroom practitioners developing their own understandings of language classroom life.

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