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Teacher-research for Difficult Circumstances: Building on Success

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Back to overall Teacher-research for Difficult Circumstances project (2016–2018)

Building on success: rationale

Our overall approach to research in the area of teaching English in difficult circumstances could be called an 'enhancement approach' - identifying, understanding and disseminating 'good practice' as locally defined rather than focusing on deficit (Smith, Kuchah and Padwad, in process). The term 'enhancement approach' - as contrasted with a 'deficit model' or 'deficit approach' - emerged in the context of a reading and discussion group facilitated by Richard Smith with active contributions from Mais Ajjan, Harry Kuchah and Anyarat Nattheeraphong when all three were studying for their PhDs at Warwick in the early to mid-2010s. It relates to an approach to research in general, not only to teacher-research (the main focus of these pages).

Earlier on, TELC-net, the Teaching English in Large Classes research & development network, set up in 2008 by Richard Smith and Fauzia Shamim, had begun to focus on gathering teachers' narratives as its principal research activity (Smith 2011; Smith et al. 2012). This approach, in turn, informed work with undergraduate researcher Rajapriyah Anmpalagan (Anmpalagan and Smith 2013).

As a starting point in workshops, and as a good, positive basis for further teacher-research, the practice of eliciting and having participants present stories of recent success has been implemented and developed in Nepal (see Teaching in the Low-resource Classroom materials referenced below); see also Smith 2014). The Crisis-ELT network began to adopt the same approach. Sharing success stories also features in the questionnaire developed for 'Teacher Association Research' in Cameroon (Smith and Kuchah 2016).

in 2016 Richard Smith oversaw the production of a set of videos with associated reflection tasks for English teachers called Teaching in the Low-resource Classroom: Voices of Experience. The videos and tasks were uploaded to the British Council's TeachingEnglish website. They are based on a five-day 'Hornby school' Richard directed in Kathmandu, Nepal, in November 2013.

Teachers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan share success stories as a basis for further inquiry into issues they face in their low-resource classrooms:

Primary success stories

Secondary success stories

At the end of 2017 an open access e-book of stories of success and of teacher-inquiry was published which arose from the same school and which links to the above video materials:

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Smith, R., Padwad, A. and Bullock, D. (eds) (2017) Teaching in Low-resource Classrooms: Voices of Experience. London: British Council.

The book and associated video materials can be used informally by teachers as a stimulus for reflection and
inquiry or for discussion in teacher associations, English teacher clubs or other forms of self-help group.
They can also be used in in-service training workshops. Each individual story is followed by questions for
reflection and discussion to help with these uses. The stories can also be used by teacher educators
in initial teacher training programmes for studentteachers who are likely to be teaching in relatively
difficult circumstances.

From a review of the book in System (Cao & Gao 2018): '[we] consider it to be one of the most impressive resource books that the British Council has produced over the years ... [it] delivers a straightforward and powerful message about what constitutes good pedagogy in highly accessible language'.
The 'Building on success' approach was adopted for an innovative 'ELT Clinic' at the 21st International Conference of NELTA 2016 and has been adapted for use in in-service teacher training in the various South Asian contexts represented by participants in the Hornby school. Sagun Shrestha, a participant in the 2013 Hornby Regional School, also organised the 1st Success Story Conference of Teachers, attended by 250 teachers in Kathmandu, Nepal, on 12 August 2018:
A 2018 workshop on Building on Success for mentors and lead teachers on the Warwick in Africa programme led to the approach being adopted in workshops in Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa. Tilly Harrison and Richard Smith reported on this in their 14 May 2019 presentation at the Warwick Education Conference 2019 on 'Leading with an enhancement approach: Warwick in Africa workshops for teachers of English in Ghana'.

References / resources

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

Smith, R. 2011. 'Teaching English in difficult circumstances: A new research agenda'. In Pattison, T. (ed.) IATEFL 2010 Harrogate Conference Selections. Canterbury: IATEFL. Pre-publication version here. Video of original conference presentation here [currently unavailable].

Smith, R., Negash, N., França, V., Wang, Q., Phyak, P., Ajjan, M., Kuchah, H.K., Saleem, M., Sarwar, Z., and Coleman, H. 2012. 'Investigating large classes' (panel discussion). In Pattison, T. (ed.) IATEFL 2011 Brighton Conference Selections. Canterbury: IATEFL. Pre-publication version here. Video from original panel discussion here and handouts/discussions The latter will eventually be taken down from the British Council website, so more permanent links are here: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. (pdf)

Smith, R. 2015. 'Teaching English in difficult circumstances: a conversation'. NELTA ELT Forum (July 2015). [The entire issue is devoted to 'Teaching English in difficult circumstances'].

Smith, R. 2014. ‘Transformations in ELT: Agents, contexts and opportunities’. In Shrestha, P.N., Dhakal, K.R., Ojha, L.P., Rana, L.B., and Rawal, H. (eds) NELTA Conference Proceedings 2013. Kathmandu, Nepal: Nepal English Language Teachers’ Association, pp. 12-22. Pre-publication version

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

Smith, R., Padwad, A. and Bullock, D. (eds) (2017) Teaching in Low-resource Classrooms: Voices of Experience. London: British Council.

Talk by Rajapriyah Anmpalagan and Richard Smith on 'Researching large classes: A questionnaire with impact?' at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, 10th April 2013. [Temporary link:]

Featured speaker talk by Richard Smith on ‘Teaching English in large classes: An enhancement approach to research and teacher education’. Teacher Educator Conference (TEC) 14, Hyderabad, India, February 2014. Associated interview.

Webinar by Amol Padwad, Prem Phyak and Richard Smith on 'Teacher Education for Difficult and "Super-difficult" Circumstances', IATEFL Teacher Trainers & Educators SIG, October 2015.