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Teacher-Research for Difficult Circumstances (TRDC)

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This website was developed for, and is being maintained as an outcome of, the ESRC-funded Impact Accelereration Award project Teacher-research for Difficult Circumstances: Richard Smith (Principal Investigator) with Annamaria Pinter, Ema Ushioda and Jo Gakonga (Co-investigators) (1 October 2016 - 31 March 2018, ES/M500434/1), Main contact: R dot C dot Smith at warwick dot ac dot uk. See also the International Festival of Teacher-research in ELT website for 2017–18 events which were supported by the same project.

Work in this overall area began with underlying research from 2000 onwards ('Phase One' below), was extended via in-service interventions in Latin America (2013 onwards) and South Asia (2015 onwards) ('Phase Two'), and expanded via further activities, initially with the support of the ESRC project (2016 onwards) ('Phase Three').


Most English teachers in the world work in low- and middle-income countries, in large classes of primary or secondary school pupils, without much material or training support, i.e. in particularly 'difficult' circumstances. Our recent projects have aimed to investigate, build on and develop teachers' own abilities to address difficult circumstances, in particular via contextually appropriate forms of practitioner research – that is, research carried out by teachers and, in some cases, learners themselves. Underpinning this work is conceptual and empirical research into:

* Language learner and teacher autonomy
* Teacher-research (including involvement of children as co-researchers)
* Teaching and teacher development in difficult circumstances

Working closely with the British Council and teacher associations in Latin America, Central Africa and South Asia as key change agents, we have seen that enhancement and teacher-inquiry initiatives based on our research have had a positive and sustainable impact on in-service teacher training, teaching and learning practices, and both teacher and learner attitudes in countries including Chile, Peru, Cameroon, India and Nepal.


Explanation of the three phases of activity:

Phase 1 (Underlying research)

Our previous research into language learner and teacher autonomy, into the teaching of English in difficult circumstances (large-class, low-resource settings in developing countries) and into English for young learners has both fed into and been further developed by a series of small-scale teacher education interventions over the last 15 years.

Phase 2 (In-service interventions)

In the context, in particular, of projects funded by the British Council in Chile (2013 onwards) and India (2015), we extended our work into larger-scale interventions with practising teachers (especially, the Champion Teachers programme in Latin America and the Action Research and Mentoring Scheme (ARMS) in India and Nepal).

Phase 3 (Expansion of impact)

These interventions themselves involved research which seemed to have potential to feed into further impact projects with larger numbers of teachers. Phase 3 (part-funded by the ESRC award) focused on the production of teacher training materials arising from Phase two activities and public engagement involving widespread dissemination of them.

We continue to be interested in engagement in further projects with British Council regional offices and Ministries of Education in developing or transitional countries.

Achievements relating to Phases 2 (In-service interventions) and 3 (Expansion of impact) - click on links for more:

April 2017: See this video-based record of the symposium on 'Teacher-research for Difficult Circumstances' at the 51st Annual IATEFL Conference in Glasgow for reports of achievements up to that point]



Phase 1 (Underlying research)

  • Conceptualization and empirical validation of the notion of ‘teacher-learner autonomy’ as a basis for self-directed continuing professional development (Smith 2000, Smith and Erdogan 2008);
  • Development of an innovative approach to the promotion of teacher-learner autonomy via teacher-research (Smith 2005, Brown, Smith and Ushioda 2007) and continued networking (Ushioda, Smith, Mann and Brown 2011).
  • Identification of engagement and development of learner autonomy as a particularly appropriate methodological response to ‘difficult circumstances’ (Smith 2003; Kuchah and Smith 2011);
  • Development of a network, (TELCnet), research agenda and innovative bottom-up approach to research in the field of ‘teaching English in difficult circumstances’, that is, teaching in large-class, low-resource developing world school settings (Smith and Kuchah 2016; Ajjan, Kuchah and Smith in process)
  • Identification of the desirability of children acting as researchers in the field of ELT (Pinter 2014; Pinter and Zandian 2014);
  • Identification of viability of children acting as co-researchers and the importance of their voices being heard specifically in difficult circumstances (Pinter and Zandian 2012; Kuchah and Pinter 2012);
  • Development of innovative (e.g. exploratory not interventionist, and group-based not individualistic) approaches to teacher-research specifically for teachers in difficult circumstances (Smith, Connelly and Rebolledo 2014; Smith 2015; Smith and Kuchah 2016; Padwad, Kuchah and Smith in process).



Ajjan, M., Kuchah, K. and Smith, R. (In process). ‘Building on success: an enhancement approach to teaching in difficult circumstances’.

Brown, P., Smith, R. and Ushioda, E. (2007) ‘Responding to resistance’. In Barfield, A. and Brown, S. (eds), Reconstructing autonomy in language education: Inquiry and innovation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kuchah K. and Pinter A. (2012) ‘Was this an interview?’ Breaking the power barrier in adult-child interviews in an African context. Issues in Educational Research 22/3 (pp. 283-297)

Kuchah, K. and Smith, R. (2011). ‘Pedagogy of autonomy for difficult circumstances: From practice to principles’. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching 5/2: 119-140.

Padwad, A., Kuchah, K. and Smith, R. In process. ‘Teaching English in difficult circumstances, revisited’.

Pinter A. (2014) ‘Child participant roles in applied linguistics research’. Applied Linguistics 35/2: 168-183.

Pinter, A., Mathew, R. and Smith, R. (2016). Children and Teachers as Co-researchers in Indian Primary English Classrooms. London: The British Council. Online.

Pinter A and Zandian S. (2012). ‘”I thought it would be tiny little one phrase that we said, in a huge big pile of papers’: children’s reflections on their involvement in participatory research’. Qualitative Research DOI: 10.1177/1468794112465637

Pinter A. and Zandian S. (2014) ‘I don’t ever want to leave this room’ – researching with children ELT Journal 68/1: pp. 64-74

Smith, R. (2000). ‘Starting with ourselves: Teacher-learner autonomy in language learning’. In Sinclair, B., McGrath, I. and Lamb, T. (eds.). Learner Autonomy, Teacher Autonomy: New Directions. London: Addison Wesley Longman, 89–99.

Smith, R. (2003). ‘Pedagogy for autonomy as (becoming-)appropriate methodology’. In Palfreyman, D. and R.C. Smith (eds) Learner Autonomy across Cultures: Language Education Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 129–46.

Smith, R. (2005). ‘Developing professional autonomy: An action research based MA module and its ongoing evaluation’. Interactions 9/2 (issue no. 26).

Smith, R. and Erdogan, S. (2008). ‘Teacher-learner autonomy: Programme goals and student-teacher constructs’. In Lamb, T. and Reinders, H. (eds), Learner and Teacher Autonomy: Concepts, Realities and Responses. AILA Applied Linguistics Series no. 1. Amsterdam: Benjamins / AILA.

Smith, R. and Kuchah, K. 2016. 'Researching teacher associations' ELT Journal 70/2: 212-221.

Smith, R., Barkhuizen, G., & F. Vieira (2013). ‘Teacher education and autonomy: Where’s the real story?’ In A. Barfield & N.Delgado Alvarado (eds), Autonomy in Language Learning: Stories of Practices. Canterbury, England: IATEFL Learner Autonomy SIG.

Smith, R., Connelly, T. and Rebolledo, P. (2014) ‘Teacher-research as continuing professional development: A project with Chilean secondary school teachers’. In Hayes, D. (ed.) Innovations in the Continuing Professional Development of English language teachers. London: The British Council, pp. 111128. Online:

Smith, R. (2015). ‘Exploratory action research: why, what, and where from?’ In Dikilitas, K., Smith, R. and Trotman, W (eds). Teacher-researchers in Action. Faversham: IATEFL, Chapter 3 (pp. 37-45). Available online:

Ushioda, E., Smith, R., Mann, S & Brown, P. (2011). Promoting teacher-learner autonomy through and beyond initial language teacher education. Language Teaching 44/1: 118–21.