Reflection on my MRes Studies

There have been a lot of challenges since beginning my MRes course at University of Portsmouth, even bearing in mind the advice given to me that I should make as many contingency plans as possible. However, what has been most difficult has been planning to overcome myself in the research process. In this blog post I shall outline the natures of challenges faced and overcome. It is not the case that this is some kind of quest, merely that, given the circumstances I vastly overestimated my own abilities to carry out the kind of study that I wished to undertake. What has finally coalesced is, I believe, worthwhile research but not quite the project that I had planned. Below, I outline my learning during the MRes course so far with reference to the Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) (Careers Research and Advisory Centre Ltd., 2011) in bold parentheses.

The pond at Shinjuku Imperial Gardens, Tokyo in Spring 2019. Cherry blossoms are reflected in the pond.

My original proposal was for a quantitative study that relied upon an overly optimistic sample size of volunteer participants. This sample was drawn from a population at my new place of work. Because I was a new instructor in an intensive English programme, I had few free teaching periods available when my students did. Furthermore, I had not Continue reading →

Slides on a Zoom session on Feedback with educators in Japan

The slides for this morning’s Zoom session on feedback are here.


  • We need a balance between general and detailed feedback.
  • Rubrics alone are not seen as useful. Notes on performance outside/beyond the rubric and more detailed feedback is required (NB, maybe not written).
  • Ongoing dialogic feedback, with perhaps a reflective plan of action (say a few bullet points) from students, could be more useful overall in facilitating student engagement with feedback.


A podcast episode with related methodologies by Sascha Stollhans was put out by Dustin Hosseini.

Reflections by a hermit on collaborative writing

I am fairly asocial. Not antisocial, but I tended, even before the current pandemic, not to go out very much. I geek out about SLA and teaching alone for the most part, but I do have chats with colleagues at work from time to time, and on Twitter.

I decided to work on a duoethnography with my colleague and former housemate Jon Steven last year as a way to try something a bit different to all of the quantitative work that I was reading about and basically immersing myself in as part of my MRes. I also noticed that part of the Vitae criteria that researchers are supposed to work toward (and as somebody looking toward getting a doctorate in the future, this is me), and Jon wanted to work on more publications. This seemed like a really good opportunity.

It really was, but it was also tough. Jon and I both worked as full-time part-time/freelance teachers, me in universities and at an orthodontic clinic teaching ESP, him at high schools, companies and an international supplementary school. I changed jobs in the middle of our big bulk of writing it, so finding time to write was difficult. We are both parents, so after work and being present with our families, finding time to check citations and page numbers was dependent upon how tired we were and how long we could procrastinate them.

A key quote from Jon: “Are we still doing that? I thought it had been abandoned!”

Oh yes, it took me best part of nine months to get down to checking two citations and making changes to a paragraph I highlighted “Drastically rewrite or cut”. When I was ‘in the zone’ it felt frustrating that Jon wasn’t, though I am also sure the same is true of how Jon felt when I should have been redrafting, filling out or pruning text.

In the end, though, we ended up with a duoethnography that is, according to our review, “rooted in the literature” and that we are both proud of, despite it being quite tiring to write at times. Despite being a bit of a challenge, it was quite fun to share our opinions and beliefs and explore them further in writing, boiling them down and distilling them, then egging each other on to explain ourselves further.

As with autoethnography being a bit ‘mesearch’, duoethnography can be a bit ‘wesearch’; it’s pretty much the whole point. It could have got fairly navel-gazing if it was only about us, but I think we did a decent job within our word count of situating us within a context and talking about how others might have similar feelings, anxieties and experiences as us. That, to me, is the value of autoethnographic research methods to the literature. While I am quite keen on quantitative studies, having qualitative studies to explain the human, emotional side of what happens to us in language teaching is also important, and also appears to be becoming a bigger part of my projects outside my MRes.

Given the right opportunity and circumstances, I would definitely write a duoethnography again. It was immensely rewarding to write it, and once I got myself sat down and prepared, even fun to revise it. I just wouldn’t ever consider writing one when in the midst of learning the ropes in a new job.


New Article: Investigating English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Stated Practices Regarding Bottom-up Processing Instruction for Listening in L2 English

An article based upon my MA dissertation has just been published in the Journal of Second Language Teaching & Research. It is Open Access so you can access the full text, but here is a summary a bit longer than the abstract.

Language learners face difficulties in parsing what they hear into a meaningful message. There are still gaps in SLA research about how we do this and about how it can be taught. There was nothing about bottom-up (phonology level, syllable-level) listening. There is not much research on what teachers do or say that they do, so I wanted find out about this.

Not much has changed since John Field (2008) said that “the Comprehension Approach” dominates how listening is taught. This was supported by Siegel (2014), who found that most teachers used comprehension-based activities.

Based on speech learning models (Best, 1995; Flege, 1995, 2007), it would be advisable to educate learners to discern the difference between sounds (phonemes) that form part of the language being learned, but which do not form part of their first language. Also, ongoing practice with variations in these sounds would be helpful.

With words and grammar, there might be a psychological process of cueing (Ellis, 2006), which might also explain lexical priming and collocation. However, making things stand out appears to be key. Making things stand out does not mean only teaching isolated, citation-form words because this does not always carry over to listening skill acquisition (Bonk, 2000; Joyce, 2013). Instead this need to be balanced with listening to natural connected speech.

I wanted to find out whether teachers taught learners to decode single words and phrases, connected speech and phonological differences between languages. I did this by questionnaire and asked people over Twitter. I analysed the data in JASP and did some explorations in the data.

There is not a total absence of bottom-up instruction. A lot of use of stresses corresponded with bottom up instruction. A minority of teachers in my sample used knowledge of phonology of their learners’ first languages. There is a correlation between using this knowledge and regular single sound (phoneme) and connected speech instruction. However, there is a reluctance among teachers to teach single sounds and words. However, it should be noted that this is a minority activity. Most teachers in the sample said they did not consider differences between first and second language phonology, are reluctant or do not regularly teach decoding of single words and , phrases, though connected speech may be taught slightly more regularly.

References (in this summary)

Best C. T. (1995) A direct realist view of cross-language speech perception, in Strange, W. (ed.) Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience. York Press. 171-206. Retrieved April 25th 2017 from

Bonk, W. J. (2000) Second Language Lexical Knowledge and Listening Comprehension, International Journal of Listening, 14:1, 14-31, DOI:10.1080/10904018.2000.10499033

Ellis, N. (2006) Language acquisition as rational contingency learning. Applied Linguistics 27, pp. 1-24

Field, J. (2008) Listening in the Language Classroom (ebook). Cambridge: CUP.

Flege, J. (1995) Second-language Speech Learning: Theory, Findings, and Problems. In Strange, W. (Ed) Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience: Issues in Cross-language research. Timonium, MD: York Press, pp. 229-273.

Flege, J. (2007) Language contact in bilingualism: Phonetic system interactions. In Cole, J. & Hualde, J. I. (Eds.), Laboratory Phonology 9. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 353-380.

JASP Team (2017). JASP (Version[Computer software]. Retrieved June 25th 2017 from

Joyce, P. (2013) Word Recognition Processing Efficiency as a Component of Second Language Listening, International Journal of Listening, 27:1, 13-24, DOI:10.1080/10904018.2013.732407

Siegel, J. (2014) Exploring L2 listening instruction: examinations of practice. ELT J 2014; 68 (1): 22-30. doi:10.1093/elt/cct058

Publication: Duoethnography of Two EFL Teachers Developing Their Own Classroom Teaching Materials

My colleague Jon Steven and I have just had our article Duoethnography of Two EFL Teachers Developing Their Own Classroom Teaching Materials published in The Language Scholar (online first and it will be in the Autumn 2020 issue).

We talk about the motivations behind us developing our own materials and some of the challenges of materials development. We cover working conditions briefly, commercial issues of coursebooks versus classroom issues of teaching, originality, marketability, guarding against precarity, values and skills we aim to develop in learners.

It is open access, so anyone can read it. I certainly look forward to any comments or questions (and would be happy to pass any on to Jon as well).

Surveying university English language instructors’ development provision and expenses in the shift to online teaching

Hello. I have been thinking about the current English language teaching situation and the shift to online instruction around the world due to the global COVID19 pandemic. If you are an English language instructor at a university, please consider taking the time to answer my questionnaire. I will write up a working paper based on the results within the month (with updates).

Link to Google Form.

First book chapter!

What seems like an age ago now but is likely less than a year ago, I was invited to write a chapter for a book on eikaiwa, or English conversation schools in Japan, edited by Daniel Hooper and Natasha Hashimoto:
Teacher Narratives from the Eikaiwa Classroom: Moving Beyond “McEnglish”. After reviews and rewrites it’s nearly ready. You can find the page for it here.