This is a summary of a paper given at the 2022 Africa ELT conference
Gary Motteram, Kouadio Appia and Susan Dawson
This paper reports on a two-year project that explored the potential role of inquiry-led practice in four schools in a small rural town in Côte d’Ivoire. The project started just before the Covid-19 pandemic and while there was a period when schools were closed, and there was no activity, once schools re-opened in Côte d’Ivoire the project was brought to a successful conclusion and the groups of teachers presented the inquiry-led projects they worked on at an online conference.
The paper will describe our model of inquiry-led practice and show how the teachers interacted with the model to begin to work on their inquiries. It will show how the teachers got to grips with inquiry-led practice and how the remote mentors worked to help shape the activities in the schools. It will talk about the choice of topics and why these were important to the teachers, and present the teachers’ solutions alongside of feedback from the students (as reported by the teachers). It will also present the views of the teachers at the end of the project and show whether there had been an impact on their practice and their thoughts about how such practice might be maintained. Finally, it will present a document which models the practice, and which can be used by other teacher groups to introduce inquiry-led practice into their own contexts.
Keywords: inquiry-led practice, digital tools, teacher education
Developing language teacher quality and resilience in fragile contexts through inquiry-led practice
The work described in this paper has developed out of a number of projects, each one building on the last. It represents a search for the effective and efficient ways of providing teacher education in what are often referred to as challenging circumstances (Kuchah & Shamin, 2018)), or fragile contexts. The activity often takes places in low- and mid-income countries, although in one case the project took place in Manchester, UK. In this case the difficult circumstance talked about was that of students who are refugees trying to learn English during the pandemic.
The earlier work had focused on teacher development that made use of what can be described as low-tech applications (apps), and they focused on the feasibility and possibilities for using these tools. An assumption in all these projects was access to a compatible mobile and internet data. The apps we are talking here about instant messaging systems like WhatsApp, or Telegram and video conference tools like Zoom. Inquiry-led practice was an additional focus of this project, as we felt that we had shown that using these apps was a possibility and had also shown that teacher development was occurring (Motteram, Dawson & Al Masri, 2020; Motteram, Al-Masri, Hamouda & Omarali) and we wanted to explore a particular way of conducing teacher education.
The original plan for this project was a mixture of face-to-face meetings with online support, making use mostly of WhatsApp online, as we experienced it in previous studies (Motteram, Dawson & Al Masri, 2020; Motteram, Al-Masri, Hamouda & Omarali,), but with the addition of Zoom. Following on from the results of the work we had undertaken in Jordan, we also asked in the bid document for funding to cover the costs of online data both for the face-to-face meetings, as well as for when the teachers were working independently. We also included costs for a mobile router which was used during the face-to-face sessions. However, the plans were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and while we did have an initial visit, subsequent interaction was conducted online.
There were three teacher educators from Côte d’Ivoire. One who headed up the English language teacher education team for the Ministry of Education, the local head of teacher English education in the town where the project was based and a colleague from a local education college with a particular interest in learning technologies. They worked in conjunction with the three teacher educators from the Manchester Institute of Education (MIE). The plan had been to work with the English language teachers at the different schools in this small rural town, situated to the west of Abidjan, working both face-to-face and online. All the English teachers were invited to participate. We were also joined by local trainees in some sessions. Numbers of teachers engaging in the process varied, but when we restarted in January 2021, there were 18 teachers spread across 4 schools. The majority of the teachers were male, reflecting the dominance of men in ELT in Côte d’Ivoire. Each colleague from Côte d’Ivoire paired up with a colleague from MIE and worked as joint mentors to different schools.
We started off by introducing Inquiry-led Practice (ILP). ILP means that the teaching and learning that happens in our classrooms is informed by the research we do as teachers. We call it ‘inquiry-led practice’ because we believe that exploring our classrooms and investigating what happens there is important for our own professional development and for helping to make our classrooms “pleasant and productive” (Allwright, 2003). It means that we are continually looking at our practice and working hard to understand it better through inquiry. One of the outputs from the project is a workbook that people can use to do their own projects: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1b7HtRIrYEaR–RnqTce62JiDLtlq9pTMx4aFQPFsqZA/edit?usp=sharing.
The teachers then worked on their own projects, going through different phases of identifying the issue that they were going to focus on, considering how to collect initial data. They mostly used questionnaires, but also observation and student feedback gathered in the class as a part of the lesson. They analysed this data to try to get a better understanding on what was happening in their classrooms. They then designed an intervention which they introduced, collected and analysed further data. At the end of the project they presented their work to the local teacher community and representatives from the Ministry of Education. You can view the presentations here: https://tateproject.wordpress.com/
While the teachers were conducting their ILP projects, the teacher educators were also collecting data. Data included interactions from the online tools, so the WhatsApp discussions, Zoom meetings, teacher produced materials, diaries kept by the teacher educators and also end of project focus groups and interviews with the participants. At the time of writing, the data set has not been fully analysed and what is presented next are some initial descriptive results.
Each group working in a school learned the basics of how the ILP process works and underwent a round of ILP. They were all able to agree an issue to focus on, collect data to understand their puzzle and introduce an intervention. There were four groups and they explored: why the students didn’t see the importance of English; whether how the teachers monitored the students in class made a difference; learners’ motivation to study English, and why students need to make use of translation. All the groups were able to bring the findings of the process together in a presentation, so in essence there are two levels of results in this article. The presentations are on the project blog: https://tateproject.wordpress.com/2021/05/12/final-celebration-and-team-presentations/
Feedback that we got from the translation group was as follows:
Our project teachers found something interesting. Firstly, they began to think more about how they used L1 in the classroom (rather than just thinking about translation) and whether there might be times when L1 was useful and helpful. They thought it would be good to continue to try to reduce the amount of L1 used by everyone, but they also recognised, “that we can’t have zero translation or zero use of L1 as we are in a French-speaking country.” They also observed that it seemed easier to reduce the amount of L1 in the literary classes rather than in the science classes. They have a new question: How can we motivate the science students more?
We got some very useful feedback from the participants as a part of the interview process.
“[Doing teacher research helps] you becoming an honest teacher. You’re realizing that we’re not perfect, and you understand that you must question yourself about what is really going on in the classroom” (C)
“… because this project helped me have a new way, a new vision of the job I have chosen to do all my life, because really, putting, as I can say, the student in the centre of my work, in the centre of my teaching” (Morris)
“… for this project we had the opportunity to work together, and know each other more deeply” (D)
“… with my students the project has changed something, because it allowed the students to be more confident, to have self-confidence” (G)
While we made use of WhatsApp, in this project it became a management tool and discussions around pedagogy occurred in the hybrid spaces when the teachers met with their local mentors face-to-face and with the Manchester mentors online. There were larger group meetings, which the local mentors attended, as well as small support group meetings with the teachers in their schools; these occurred during the working day. This latter type of meeting proved an effective way of working. The groups would gather around one mobile phone to discuss their ongoing projects with the mentors who in these meetings were all remote.
Even though the project was interrupted by the pandemic, we were still able to complete it and the teachers remained motivated throughout. They managed to engage effectively with the ILP process and reported positive experiences from their classrooms and new understandings related to the issues that they had explored. In this project Zoom proved more valuable enabling the mentoring support, although both WhatsApp and Padlet were also used.
We managed to produce a guide for other teachers on ILP, the link is above and we hope that other teachers will be able to make use of this.
Allwright, D. (2003). Exploratory Practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 7(2), 113–141. https://doi.org/10.1191/1362168803lr118oa
Kuchah K., & Shamim, F. (2018). International Perspectives on Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances Contexts, Challenges and Possibilities. Palgrave Macmillan.
Motteram, G., Al-Masri, N., Hamouda, H. and Omarali, S. (2020). Exploring Mobile Support for English Language Teachers in a Context of Conflict: Syrian Refugee Teachers in Jordan. In Fassetta, G., Al-Masri, N. and Phipps, A. (Eds.). Multilingual Online Academic Collaborations as Resistance: Crossing Impassable Borders. Multilingual Matters.
Motteram, G., Dawson, S., & Al-Masri, N. (2020). WhatsApp supported language teacher development: A case study in the Zataari refugee camp. Education and Information Technologies, 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-020-10233-0
 We would like to acknowledge the work of the other local mentors: Adi Aubain and Fofana Mamadou, as well as all of the teachers who engaged in the research process.