Masters in Teaching English: research project topics

This week our second-year Masters students in the English teaching programme at the University of Nice presented their end-of-year classroom research projects to an audience of university and secondary school teachers and their peers. We heard thirty presentations on different dimensions of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in French secondary schools, which include both lower secondary (collège, 11-15 years) and upper secondary (lycée, 16-18 years). The students are pre-service teachers; the majority have passed national competitive teacher entrance exams and have taught part-time through this school year, with support from mentor teachers and university tutors. Some have yet to pass the exams and had shorter school placements under the direct supervision of a school tutor.

This word cloud generated from the paper titles and abstracts gives an idea of the main concerns: language (English and French), teaching and teachers, class and classroom, pupils/students/learners, and … motivation.

WordCloud

The options and guidelines for these research papers can be accessed from this link, and below I have grouped the papers thematically. This overview gives some insight into what interests and concerns new teachers and teacher educators in French secondary EFL within the framework established by my guidelines and our school requirements.

Designing task-based activities, lessons, and units

  1. Fostering Students’ Interaction In ESL Classrooms: An Emphasis on Learning to Communicate through Interaction in the Target Language
  2. The Use of Games in French secondary EFL classrooms
  3. Reflection on Task-based Language Teaching in Lower Secondary School Through the Analysis of a Teaching Unit
  4. Material design: Secondary school EFL teaching unit on Global Warming

Most of the options for this project involved task-based language teaching, but some students were particularly interested either in preparing materials based on this approach, implementing activities, or evaluating their own lessons and units from this perspective. Some students felt they fell short in this respect: real-world constraints with respect to pupils’ age or proficiency, curricular requirements, or other expectations seemed to militate against a strong TBLT approach.

Teaching and evaluating speaking

  1. Different activities implemented in class to help pupils to speak
  2. Making technology programmes pupils in upper secondary willingly communicate in EFL and be ready for the oral expression evaluation of the Baccalauréat.
  3. How to generate and facilitate Speaking in E.F.L. classes ?
  4. A comparative case study in French upper secondary education – combining fluency and traditional TBLT with accuracy and corrective feedback

A number of students chose to focus on speaking skills, an often neglected aspect of secondary school EFL in our contexts due to large classes (often thirty pupils or more in upper secondary) and to a traditional focus on (authentic) texts. Some students focused on analysing learner production (e.g., fluency and accuracy) while others sought to create opportunities for less proficient and often less motivated learners to improve their spoken language through a combination of live and recorded presentations.

Investigating classroom interaction: teacher and learner participation

  1. Impact of Role-plays in EFL class on Student Talking Time and Teacher Talking Time Balance
  2. Strengthening the development of Student Talking Time (STT) in the EFL secondary classroom: student-centered activities and differentiated instructions

Two students were concerned about achieving a balance between teacher and pupil participation in classroom interaction. They recorded themselves teaching a lesson, and compared talk times for teachers and pupils, with reassuring results in both cases.

Differentiation: addressing diverse learner needs

  1. Working with different proficiency levels in the French EFL classroom: out-of-class activities
  2. Benefits & Limits of a Differentiated Instruction in an English Class
  3. Impact of Differentiated Pedagogy on Pupil’s Motivation
  4. Differentiating reading and listening comprehension activities in a mixed- ability class.

Another common area of focus for these novice teachers was differentiation, a popular topic in language teaching and indeed other disciplines in French education at present. Students investigated different approaches to accommodating different learner needs, from mixed-ability pair work or grouping by proficiency, to separate tasks for different groups. There was some overlap between these projects and others focusing explicitly on pupil motivation, since techniques for increasing motivation often included differentiated instruction.

Motivation

  1. Enhancing Learners’ Motivation and Interest in EFL Classrooms
  2. Arousing Students’ Motivation In ESL Classrooms: Increasing And Enhancing Participation, Interaction And Production.
  3. Implementing Ideal Future Selves in the Second Language Classroom
  4. Group work as a potential source of motivation

Approaches to the topic of motivation varied from the psychological (Dörnyei and colleagues) to the practical (Rivoire). A number of students and teachers in our schools have recently begun implementing Rivoire’s approach to classroom management via a “group work system.” It’s a somewhat controversial approach; see Puren et al and links on my wiki for criticism.

Teaching content: history, geography, art, literature

  1. CLIL in French schools:meaning-focused or form-focused?
  2. ‘Soft’ CLIL in French Lower Secondary School: the Benefits of Teaching Geography in English Classes
  3. Art in English classes or How to integrate art notions in upper-secondary EFL classes
  4. Access to Culture in Classes of 6éme Between Motivation and Adaptation
  5. Teaching Literature in Middle School: Benefits and challenges
  6. Reading in English : How to introduce literature in language teaching class in lower secondary school
  7. How to develop pupils’ taste for reading through extracts from Roald Dahl

In French universities and secondary schools, the study of English is situated within the field of anglistics, which views language and culture as indissociable, and the (written) text as the prime vehicle for conveying meaning (cf Angles). “Culture” is thus an important component of English programmes and, I have argued, can be considered as separate content just like other disciplines which are taught through the medium of a foreign language as Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Students this year focused on teaching history and geography, modern art, and different forms of literature to upper and lower secondary classes.

Tools for teaching

  1. Using the dictionary Inside and Outside The Classroom
  2. Integrating Web Online Mapping Services in the Teaching of EFL
  3. Teaching Vocabulary & the use of flashcards.

Three students focused on particular tools for language teaching, two using paper-based materials such as dictionaries and flashcards to aid comprehension and retention of lexical items, and perhaps encourage learner autonomy. A third demonstrated the more complex affordances of Google applications such as maps and street view, and how these might be exploited for learning about the culture of English-speaking countries.

Classroom language: native versus target language use

  1. Perceptions of French students in regard to native and non native speaking teachers
  2. EFL teaching: Questioning L2 exclusivity and its effects on learners and teachers in a Lower Secondary school

Finally, two students focused on questions surrounding classroom language, including the native-nonnative debate and the use of the L1 in classroom.

These, then, are the topics selected and researched by our thirty masters students this year, written up and defended in English over five days last week before peers, university tutors and school teacher mentors.

References

Angles: French perspectives on the Anglophone world. http://angles.edel.univ-poitiers.fr
Dörnyei, Z., & Ushioda, E. (2013). Teaching and researching: Motivation. Routledge.
Puren, C.,  Médioni, M-A.,  & Sebahi, E. (2013). Le système des ilôts bonifiés : de fausses bonnes solutions à de vrais problèmes. meirieu.com

Rivoire, M. (2012). Travailler en “ilôts bonifiés” pour la réussite de tous, Chambéry, Génération 5.
Whyte, S. (2014). Research project topics 2014-15. Weebly

 

5 thoughts on “Masters in Teaching English: research project topics

  1. tkoenraad says:

    Dear Shona,
    Compliments for the guidelines and resources for this curriculum task and the resulting student products. Have shared the briefing page on Twitter targeting the NL (language) teacher education community the more since your approach, IMO, is also a great & practical example of implementing / exploiting EU projects HE institutions coordinate and/or participate in.

  2. Hello Ton,

    Nice to see you here, and thanks for your kind comment. As you know I’m very much in favour of finding intersections among the things we do as part of our “day job” as teachers, teacher educators, and education researchers, and the EU projects we work on for the collaborative opportunities they provide.

    I have a set of slides here where try to highlight some of those intersections: http://www.slideshare.net/cherryenglish/interactive-teaching-in-languages-with-technology

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