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Language Teaching Research 7,2 (2003); pp.


Exploratory Practice: rethinking

practitioner research in language
Dick Allwright Lancaster University

This paper is an introduction to the rest of this Special Issue of

Language Teaching Research devoted entirely to Exploratory Practice
(EP), a form of practitioner research. It is also an introduction to EP
itself, telling the story of the development of its practices and its
principles over the last ten or so years. Readers already familiar with
EP may wish to go directly to the other seven papers in this issue, for
illustrations of EP in practice, for research about EP, and for a more
thorough review of the relevant research literature (see especially the
papers by Miller and by Perpignan).
The case for EP presented below is based on a perceived need for
practitioner research to be rethought: to be refocused on understanding,
and ultimately on a concern for the quality of life in the language
classroom, for both teachers and learners. The paper includes, in Section
VII, a brief introduction to the other papers in this volume.

I Introduction
Practitioner research is here to stay for language teaching
research, if only because of its practitioner development potential,
but we need to rethink it. We seem to have got some very
important things very wrong.
First, we have been seduced by the prevailing wisdom that
participant research must essentially aim to improve the
efficiency of classroom teaching, typically by isolating practical
problems and solving them one by one.
Secondly, we have largely accepted that such improvement will
best be achieved by the practitioners involved (the teachers)
Address for correspondence: Department of Linguistics and Modern English Language,
Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4YT, UK; e-mail:
Arnold 2003

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addressing their classroom problems as mainly technical ones, to

be solved by the development of better teaching techniques.
Thirdly, this implies that we accept that language teaching and
learning can therefore be reduced to a relatively unproblematic,
asocial, matter of cause and effect relationships.
Many people in our field would probably strenuously reject such
behaviourist notions, but many people in our field nevertheless
do seem generally to act as if this is what they actually believe.
Considerations of space preclude discussing further the above
propositions. Here I can only present the rethinking that has
produced Exploratory Practice (EP), starting with a new set of
three proposals:
First, we should, above our concern for instructional efficiency,
prioritize the quality of life in the language classroom.
Secondly, instead of trying to develop ever improved teaching
techniques, we should try to develop our understandings of the
quality of language classroom life.
Thirdly, we should expect working helpfully for understanding
to be a fundamentally social matter, not an asocial one. Simple
causal relationships are most unlikely to apply, but all
practitioners, learners as well as teachers, can expect to gain, to
develop, from this mutual process of working for
Working for understanding life in the language classroom will
provide a good foundation for helping teachers and learners make
their time together both pleasant and productive. It will also, I
believe, prove to be a friend of intelligent and lasting pedagogic
change, since it will automatically provide a firm foundation for
any improvements that investigation suggests are worth trying.
The papers that complete this special issue of Language Teaching
Research illustrate the range of the EP-related work done in
various parts of the world (but mostly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).
This introductory paper presents the practical and intellectual story
of the development of EP itself, as a continuously cyclical process
of global and local thought and action. This paper does not attempt
to situate EP in the relevant bodies of literature. For that the
reader should go to the papers here by Miller and Perpignan.
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II Thinking globally, acting locally: a cyclical view

By presenting my three propositions as universalistic claims I
deliberately started at the most global level. But the Friends of
the Earth movement says: think globally, act locally, because we
live our daily lives locally. We should therefore consider the
relationship between our global thinking and our local practice. We
need global principles for general guidance, but then we must all
work out their implications for our local everyday practice. This
suggests the following crude loop diagram:

Think globally,
globally, act
act locally,
locally, think
think locally.

That is:
By thinking globally, away from particular contexts, we try to
identify the fundamental principles behind what we want our
language teaching research to achieve principles like bringing
people together instead of pushing them apart, that it is worth
working for any time, anywhere, just because people are people.
Then we can act locally, in the light of those principles, meaning
that we work out their precise implications in our immediate
context (Millers doctoral work in Rio de Janeiro, in this issue,
and 2001, is an excellent example here). Wherever we are on the
globe, then, we need to find a practical way of respecting our
global principles.
We then find that the thinking we do to find principled ways of
acting in our local situation generates more thinking about our
principles. Whether or not it challenges our original principles,
it will necessarily feed the development of our global thinking,
and may help us approach new contexts more confident that we
know what we want to achieve, and why.
So, local action intelligently conducted will contribute in turn to
our thinking about our principles. But we humans can act and think
at the same time. So we can expect a constant interplay between
the three, not a simple linear sequence. In particular, it is not at
all obvious that we typically start with thinking globally. We
probably get our most deeply held principles, not from a major
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effort of context-free thinking (however hard we may try), but

from the sum total of our experiences in particular contexts.
We may want to approach new situations armed with our global
principles, but it may be our actual practices, the things we
consider most context-bound, that we carry around most easily
from situation to situation, and not our principles. Our principles
may be far more context-bound than we would like to think.
Perhaps the best we can hope for, in respect of the baggage we
take with us from situation to situation, is that the cyclical interrelationship between the global and the local, in our thought and
our action, tells a productive story.
The reader will have to decide if that is the case here.
III Some of my personal baggage: the origins of Exploratory
What follows is my personal professional story, as a universitybased academic, of the first decade or so in the development of
EP. It illustrates, I believe, the complex cyclical processes described
above. First the academic story, then the professional one.
1 Exploratory Practices academic origins
The academic origins of EP were first formulated (an attempt to
think/act globally?) in the Epilogue to my 1991 book with Kathi
Bailey. This Epilogue was my apology for the foregoing sections
of the book. I had unintentionally made classroom research so
demanding that teachers would not be able to do it unless they
had extra time and extra support (as on an MA course?), both for
learning how to, and also for fitting it into their classroom lives.
This Epilogue proposed the following statements of global
principle, limited to the language classroom context.
a) First, and foremost, I proposed that research should aim at the
development of situational understanding. This principle has
retained all its importance over the years, overtaken by concern
for the quality of classroom life only relatively recently
(see Section V below). This principle contrasted with the stated
aim of Action Research, for example, to produce practical
solutions to isolated problems (see Nunan, 1989: 1314). What
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understanding might mean is developed in Section III.4 below.

b) I also proposed that in relating to language teachers, academic
researchers like myself could best act as research consultants,
not, as was usual, research directors. So we would advise, if
asked, on the conduct of investigations, but not control the
research agenda. I was acutely conscious that we academic
researchers had frequently handled our relationships with
language teachers and learners so badly that we no longer
deserved their co-operation, but if we were helpful, then
classroom teachers and learners might be helpful to us in
return, in respect of our own research agendas.
c) I simultaneously proposed that learners be fully involved as
contributors to what was necessarily a social investigative
enterprise, with their own research agendas, and with their own
interest in understanding language classroom life. For examples,
see especially Perpignan, 2001 and this issue, and Slimani-Rolls,
this issue.
d) Finally, I advocated working with puzzles, rather than
problems. This was partly to avoid the negative connotations
of problem, given that many teachers around the world feared
that admitting to classroom problems might endanger their
contracts, and partly to involve areas of classroom life that were
not obviously problematic (the unexpectedly great success of
an activity with just one particular group of learners, say), but
which they might well want to try to understand better.
An embarrassment now, in 1991 I presented everything in terms
of delivering greater efficiency. Later I realized that greater
efficiency was a goal I neither wanted nor needed to work for (see
especially Sections III.3 and V below).
2 Exploratory Practices practical origins
The practical origins of EP came just as the academic ones were
published. I was invited to the Cultura Inglesa in Rio de Janeiro
(a major not-for-profit language teaching establishment with
hundreds of teachers teaching thousands of students) to teach a
practical course on classroom research, and to act as classroom
research consultant to the Cultura for two months (see Allwright
and Lenzuen, 1997; Lenzuen and Samson, 1998).
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Teaching a practical course on classroom research appeared

perfect for me at that point, since I had specialized in that area for
twenty years already (though as a university-based academic).
During the course itself, however, I realized it was a thoroughly
misguided enterprise. From visiting teacher groups around Rio, I
soon realized that it was hopelessly impractical to expect such
highly competent classroom teachers to become my sort of
classroom researcher, given their lives as part-timers with perhaps
two other paid jobs to manage. My sort of classroom research
would make impossible demands on their time both between and
during classes, and would bring a major new learning burden
mastering the research techniques involved.
Another source of disquiet came from what the teachers were
telling me at these group meetings. It was me who was getting very
practical ideas for classroom investigations, from the very teachers
I was supposed to be helping:
Some of the teachers were telling me (sometimes despite their
reluctance to believe they were doing anything worth talking
about) that they were already trying to understand what was
happening in their classrooms, but by using normal classroom
activities (group discussions, for example) as investigative tools,
not the sophisticated classroom research tools I was currently
teaching. And those who had devised questionnaires, for
example, told miserable tales of how hard and unrewarding
it was.
The teachers were also telling me that, sometimes,
understanding was itself sufficient. For example, one teacher
had worried about her learners apparent inability to stay in
English throughout group work, but instead of following the
academic example of colleagues (the questionnaire writers) she
had simply asked her learners to discuss the issue in their groups.
Having used a pedagogic activity to investigate the workings of
that activity, she had a very interesting story. Impressed with her
students seriousness, she felt she had learned a lot from
attending to their group discussions, developing both intellectual
and empathetic understanding of their problems. They too
seemed more understanding of each other, both cognitively and
affectively. Wonderfully, when they next got into groups to
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discuss something, they tried much harder than before to keep

to English. So, a practical problem that needed to be solved
had become an issue of understanding that virtually resolved
These teachers already knew how to bring their learners into the
whole enterprise of developing classroom understandings. The
learners would also now be generators of understanding, not just
consumers of it (fourth-hand consumers of their teachers thirdhand consumption of the second-hand academic knowledge in
teacher-training textbooks?).
So my own professional experience in Rio was telling me how
some of the ideas in that Epilogue might actually work out in
3 Focusing on quality of life rather than on quality of work
These Rio Cultura teachers, however, brought me something else
that has been crucial to the development of Exploratory Practice,
and to my own notion of development and the contribution it can
make to a person. I slowly realized that I had uncritically accepted
the received wisdom of the time (see, for example, Richards and
Nunan, 1990; Edge and Richards, 1993) that what teachers most
wanted and most needed was to become more effective language
teachers, more efficient delivery systems of educational success,
by discovering and adopting more efficient techniques. These
Cultura teachers offered a radically different perspective. I saw
excellent teachers under constant pressure to enhance their
teaching with the latest pedagogical ideas, so battered by the
ceaseless demand for novelty that they were at severe risk of burnout, of becoming cosmically tired of the job they were doing
so well.
Of course there are teachers who could teach better, probably
all of us could, but to me that was no longer necessarily the most
important matter to attend to, and even where it might be, it was
no longer obvious that better teaching techniques would suffice.
I remembered a visit to Lancaster, many years ago, by Michael
Joseph (then of Loyola College, Madras, now of the University of
the North, in South Africa). After listening to us for about a week
he said we were so obsessed with getting things right for learners
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that we had forgotten the prior need to get things right for teachers.
Education, he said, must first and foremost be good for teachers
lives, if it is ever to be good for learners learning. This very
challenging proposition proved enormously productive, because it
helped us see that EP must, in the same way, be more about life
than it is about work. In short, it must make a contribution to the
quality of life in the language classroom, before it can hope to
make a contribution to the quality of teaching and learning (the
work) there. But I risk making an unfortunate distinction between
work and life. Work is a part of life, or an attitude to it, not an
Very recently I have encountered the same sort of thinking in a
very different context that of chief executives in the British
National Health Service. These chief executives are apparently, like
many teachers, so constantly bombarded with new ideas and
demands that they also risk burn-out. They talk about a sense of
loss they feel they are no longer doing the job they believe they
should be doing, but are constantly side-tracked onto other
priorities and many resign because they feel unable to provide
a satisfactory service. This is very familiar to me in my work with
teachers. More striking than any similarity of symptoms, however,
is the approach of the team the British Government brought in to
help. Frank Blackler (1995), of the Lancaster University School of
Management, and Andy Kennedy, of the Kings Fund, chose to
focus on quality of life rather than quality of work, and on
understanding, the first principle of the 1991 Epilogue, as the
mechanism whereby these Chief Executives might overcome their
sense of loss.
4 Understanding what we mean by understanding
So, EP is fundamentally about trying to understand the quality of
life in a given situation. Quality of life is a tricky enough notion
in itself, and we are still trying to work out our own understandings
of it, but in the meantime we need to say something about what
we mean by understanding.
Our main problem seems to arise from the irony that we believe
the profoundest understandings to be somehow beyond words. In
this connection I recall a New York teacher with an extremely good
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reputation for her teaching, who, asked in public to account for her
classroom success, could only say she knew she was successful
because her contract was always renewed. That was all she could
say. And yet we have only words to try to express whatever
understandings we do have. Even worse, attempting to put our
understandings in words might be doubly counterproductive. First,
the words we find may serve to conceal, rather than successfully
communicate, the true extent of our understandings. Worse, having
found words, we may believe we have also found understanding,
and so the effort to communicate might inhibit any further effort
to understand.
But within the context of EP, and especially for classroom
language teaching, we need ways of using language, even a second
language, to develop and express our developing understandings.
This is clearly a very ambitious undertaking, not helped by the
thought that teaching and learning is itself a complex social process
that is typically, if not necessarily, mediated by language.
What EP can offer, however, is suggestions for linguistically
productive ways of developing classroom understandings, by
finding classroom time for deliberate work for understanding, not
instead of other classroom activities but by exploiting normal
classroom activities for that purpose. But any resultant statement
of understanding, like that of the teacher investigating group work
(above), is necessarily only a partial (if not actually misleading)
representation of the understanding itself, and of necessity a
situated understanding, valid, if at all, only for its immediate
So, although EP work is unlikely by itself to produce generalized
understandings, the production of situated understandings,
whether or not they are, or can be, fully articulated, would be
directly valuable to the immediate participants and would
represent a considerable achievement in itself. And, anyway, what
other people could learn from any statements of such situated
understandings might not come primarily from the findings.
Learning about the investigative procedures involved may be more
useful to others than any particular findings. This may be the major
value, for others, of local thinking.
Such major issues in participant research cannot be adequately
resolved within the scope of this paper, however.
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IV From global thinking to local action: Exploratory Practice, in

My global thinking for the 1991 Epilogue had needed the
practical experience of working with teachers. My local action in
Rio, my classroom research course, was clearly out of touch with
the thinking I had tried to articulate for that Epilogue, and I
needed to convert that local thinking, about my previous global
thinking, into practical local action.
Fortunately, my branch visits, as described above, were supplying
the ideas I needed. Soon I was trying to turn them into a practical
alternative to the Action Research approach I was teaching. But
it seemed very wrong in principle to seek to replace one recipe
for classroom research with another. Reducing the search for
understanding life in the language classroom to a research recipe
was repugnant and unnatural, whereas what I was hearing at the
branch meetings was attractive and natural. Worse, any list of
procedures would surely be misinterpreted by people (especially
teacher trainers?) with essentially academic expectations of what
proper research should be like. So I resisted reducing Exploratory
Teaching (as it was then) to a set of practical procedures.
But people wanted to know more about Exploratory Teaching,
and they wanted us to train them as exploratory teachers.
Eventually we surrendered, and the practices we had experimented
with (Samson, forthcoming) were eventually summarized in an
ordered list that was superficially very similar at first sight to many
other lists for practitioner research, but with some importantly
distinctive features (especially the focus on understanding, and
the integration of investigation into the pedagogy). Rather than represent the list here, however, with all its inherent
oversimplification, I am drawing from a very recent unpublished
attempt (2002, in collaboration with Ins Miller) to set out some
of the potential practical implications of working within the
exploratory framework.
So, what does it mean to adopt an Exploratory Practice (as it is
now called) perspective on trying to understand classroom life (or
social life in any setting perhaps)? First, some words about the
relationship between practices and principles. The practices
described below will, I hope, serve to illustrate the principles that
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will be presented later, but they have actually served also, as the
source of our statements of principle. By reflecting on our practices
we have been able to better understand and find words for the
ideas behind our actions. We have of course been thinking
globally, to extract from particular local experiences whatever
might be of more global relevance and value, but the very close
relationship to a great and growing quantity of local action, and of
local thinking has always been crucial to our global thinking. And
all that thinking constantly feeds into yet more local action, and
so on.
1 Making a preliminary distinction
When trying to represent highly complex matters in writing we
seem inevitably to be drawn into making apparently firm
distinctions between things that in our daily lives we see as
intimately inter-related. The biggest artificial distinction here is
between two sets of processes: (1) Taking action for understanding,
and (2) Working with emerging understandings. The first focuses
on the processes themselves, as practices, whereas the second set
focuses more on their substantive content.
The order of presentation below suggests chronological
sequence, if only because it may seem obvious that you can only
reflect on emerging understandings once they have started to
emerge, and so only after you have taken some action for
understanding. But at any point in our lives we all have some level
of understanding of the life we are currently living, and some
degree of puzzlement. That puzzlement arises, not from our having
no understanding at all of something that is happening, but from
feeling that our current understandings are not entirely
2 Taking action for understanding
So taking action is not necessarily the starting point, but
something had to come first, and this set does readily offer
connections to the principles of EP (see Section V below).
Taking action for understanding can involve, in our experience,
any or all of the following component processes (and no doubt
others we have yet to discover):
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1. bringing puzzling issues of classroom life to consciousness;

2. thinking harder with other practitioners (peers and/or coparticipants) inside and/or outside the classroom;
3. looking/listening attending more intensively to what is going
on, as it is going on; and
4. planning for understanding by adopting familiar pedagogic
procedures to help develop participant understandings.
Sequence is implied by the ordering of the four, but only because
they represent progressively more and more work of some kind,
for the participants. For example, simply bringing puzzling issues
to consciousness might be the work of a few moments alone at
home, but it may mean something much more complex (see Hanks,
1998 and 1999; Lyra et al., and Kuschnir and Machado, this issue).
Talking to others requires, on the other hand, finding time to talk
(although finding lesson time to get learners to talk about what
puzzles them might be relatively easy), and then looking and
listening also require some preparation (see Gunn, this issue), and
finally taking active steps to adapt familiar pedagogic procedures
is of course likely to be more time-consuming still (see Gunn,
Perpignan, and Slimani-Rolls, this issue). So starting with the most
demanding of processes is not recommended, but instead starting
wherever people feel most comfortable. Personally I get so much
out of group discussion, for example, that it seems hardly worth
bothering to try to think alone sometimes, so I might start with (2)
rather than (1). Alternatively I might go for (3), especially if I am
uncertain about which aspect of my classroom life is most likely
to reward further investigation. For the power of discussion, after
just one classroom observation, see Naidu et al.s 1992 report of
how what initially looked like a problem of huge class size turned
into a challenge of heterogeneity.
3 Working with emerging understandings
Working with emerging understandings also involves at least four
component processes. As already noted these put more focus on
the content of the process, rather than on the nature of each
process. They take for granted the first two principles, already
discussed, that it makes sense to focus on life issues, and to seek
primarily to understand, rather than to change. And they all, from
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our experience of working with them, have made us more

confident of the value of our principles. These processes are as
1. reflexively





2. unpicking and refining common notions of change;

3. discussing potential personal or collective moves; and
4. sharing personal understanding processes as a way of
supporting others and of inviting others to join the EP
community of practice.
Again the processes are inevitably listed in a particular order, but
not necessarily in chronological order. The first mentioned
reflexively expressing and appraising personal/collective insights
could come directly after the last-mentioned Taking Action
process using familiar classroom pedagogic procedures as
investigative tools, since we can hope there will now be data to
reflect on and appraise. But, equally plausibly perhaps, we could
imagine the whole business of getting involved with EP starting in
this way, by people getting together to pool their current thinking
on classroom language learning and teaching.
This first process covers just one person acting alone, but of
course the work could involve many people, bringing them all
together for mutual development.
The second process type here unpicking and refining common
notions of change could also offer a productive starting point
for everything. EP questions the common notion of change, that
advocates prioritizing a constant search for ever more effective
teaching techniques, not because we have no wish to help language
learners and their teachers, but because improvement seems all
too frequently reduced to a scramble for better teaching
techniques, to the exclusion of any attempt to take the logically
prior step of trying to understand the circumstances under which
the new techniques will be expected to bring about improvements.
We also see, as noted earlier, that sometimes the work for
understanding can itself deal adequately with the original
But some see us as quite simply against change, at odds with a
societal and professional perception that change is not only
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inevitable but also universally desirable. Within the framework of

EP we therefore need to think hard about our relationship to
change, so this matter will return in Section V, in relation to our
second principle.
The third type of process here discussing potential personal or
collective moves may need to wait until understandings have been
reached, but it could equally well be seen as a starting point
teachers talking together to find out where they are in their
personal/professional development perhaps, and where they want
to go next, all against a background of general interest in finding
out if EP has anything to offer (see Bartu, this issue).
Alternatively, Action Research might look like the best possible
next move, perhaps after EP has revealed a need for change (see
zdeniz, 1996, for the use of EP in the context of a demand for
classroom innovation). (For a developed argument differentiating
EP from Action Research see Allwright, 2001.)
The last type of process here sharing personal understanding
processes as a way of supporting others and of encouraging others
to join the EP community of practice could also be either a way
of getting started or of developing something already established.
Making presentations at in-house meetings would be one
example, up to and including international conferences. We would
advocate offering posters and workshops rather than papers, as
papers seem to work better for showing off than for recruiting
colleagues. Or, as in Rio, sharing personal understanding
processes, could involve a programme of working with teachers
over several years in extended workshop series (Miller and
Bannell, 1998). And such programmes might aim in the
transformational direction of Critical Pedagogy, of course, as
envisaged in Bannell, 1997.

Back to the dynamic relationship between practice and principles

The above processes are of course subject to change with

experience. And this means change by anyone who cares to
try them. There can be no copyright on such things. Change
could simply mean technical development, of course, but it might
also prompt a rethink of underlying principles, since using the
processes is probably the most effective mechanism for the
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development of the principles (Section V below).

There is always the danger, of course, that someone may mistake
the practice for the principles and decide that they are doing EP
just because they are making use of one or more of the component
processes, without regard for the principles. We cannot eliminate
that possibility, but we can try to be clear about our principles,
which we must now present.
V Exploratory Practice as a set of principles
1 Exploratory Practice in one sentence
Local action and local thinking having produced a set of practical
investigative procedures potentially adaptable to any context, we
had simultaneously developed our thinking about our underlying
principles. After producing lots of minimally different lists of
design criteria for participant classroom research (Allwright, 1993
offers an early example), for a talk I gave in Brazil in 1997 I found
myself formulating defining characteristics for EP.
This was an attempt to develop the ideas in the 1991 Epilogue,
and incorporate the ideas that had came from the experience (the
local action, and local thinking) of trying to find a satisfactory way
of working with teachers in Brazil. The following principled
description of EP, in one convoluted sentence, emerged:
Exploratory Practice involves
1. practitioners (e.g.: preferably teachers and learners together)
working to understand:
(a) what they want to understand, following their own agendas;
(b) not necessarily in order to bring about change;
(c) not primarily by changing;
(d) but by using normal pedagogic practices as investigative
tools, so that working for understanding is part of the
teaching and learning, not extra to it;
(e) in a way that does not lead to burn-out, but that is
indefinitely sustainable;
2. in order to contribute to:

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(f) teaching and learning themselves;

(g) professional development, both individual and collective.
2 Exploratory Practice as a set of general principles
From this we derived new statements of principle for EP, confident
that they were solidly grounded in extensive local practice and
thought. At first, if only to fit on an overhead, our principles came
in very cryptic slogan form (Be relevant). But that made them
look like commandments, rather than encouragements to
thinking. So what follows adds a more discursive element.
Principle 1: put quality of life first. In our previous statements of
principle we have typically put understanding first, but all our
illustrations of language classroom puzzles seem, retrospectively at
least, to have been about the quality of life in a particular classroom,
for a particular person or group of people. So, in practice, we have
always been centrally concerned with understanding life, but have
not often made that explicit. It now takes its rightful place as our
first principle.
We acknowledge, of course, that a concern for measurable
achievement is currently central for many people, and that generating more measurable achievement typically means finding quick
practical solutions to practical problems, taken in isolation as
merely practical/technical matters. Even apparently straightforward practical problems may be better treated in context, however, as matters going beyond purely immediate concerns. In short,
as matters involving quality of life.
Principle 2: work primarily to understand language classroom life.
The proper aim of practitioner research, as we see it, is best put as
working to understand life, not trying to directly solve problems,
but to step back from them and see them in the larger context of
the life (and lives) they affect. This stepping back can suggest that
EP is a force for conservatism, militating against change. We see it,
however, as a fundamental change in itself, towards taking seriously
the idea that only a serious effort to understand life in a particular
setting will enable you to decide if practical change is necessary,
desirable, and/or possible. For example, in education a problem of
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poor performance could be regarded as a technical issue, simply

requiring more efficient teaching. But we suggest first converting
the practical problem into a puzzle something that demands to
be understood. This will naturally lead us to investigate the nature
of life in the classrooms getting poor results, in case the problem
is more than a straightforward technical one. Pursuing the example,
we might then (in a move that might help to remove some of the
nebulousness from the notion of life) consider investigating
classroom life in three progressively inclusive ways, starting with
quality of learning as the narrowest, then quality of education,
and then the most comprehensive and elusive of all: quality of life,
which may take our search for understanding well beyond the
So EP can, by helping practitioners resist immediate and
thoughtless change, act as a force for fundamentally long-lasting
and profound change.
Principle 3: involve everybody. Since life in the language
classroom is necessarily social, then the conduct of any practitioner
researcher carried out there will also be a social matter. So, for
example, learners will be involved not as objects of research but
as fellow participants, and therefore as co-researchers.
Principle 4: work to bring people together. Apart from our
general wish for social harmony, we also stress that there are so
many forces acting to divide people in education (teachers from
researchers, teachers from learners, and so on) that we need to do
whatever we can, whenever we can, to bring people together, in an
atmosphere of collegiality.
Principle 5: work also for mutual development. And that
collegiality will perhaps be best served if all involved are
manifestly working for each others development as well as their
Principle 6: integrate the work for understanding into classroom
practice. So, practitioner research must not become parasitic upon
the life it is trying to understand. The alternative is for it to be
properly integrated into that practice. The practice itself needs to
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be conducted in such a way that the work for understanding is a

normal part of that practice.
Practical corollary to Principle 6: let the need to integrate guide
the conduct of the work for understanding. This practical
corollary reminds us to look for our investigative tools in our
existing practices, rather than look for them elsewhere (in
academic books on classroom research like mine of 1988 and
1991 with Kathi Bailey, for example). In the language classroom,
as mentioned earlier, this can mean simply giving learners an
opportunity to discuss whatever is puzzling you and/or them in
the time you would normally set aside for discussion anyway. In
such a way the lesson need not be interrupted, the learning can
continue, but the social understanding can also come too,
through the standard pedagogic activities of the classroom.
Principle 7: make the work a continuous enterprise . Making
space for work for understanding in the language classroom may
appear to be practically possible only on odd occasions. Taken
seriously, however, it will be seen as a continuous, indefinitely
sustainable, enterprise, if only to reflect the fact that any language
classroom is a dynamic social situation, such that any
understanding reached on any one occasion may rapidly become
Practical corollary to Principle 7: avoid time-limited funding.
Although it may seem perverse to argue against funding (and
funding may not be an option, anyway, for many), we believe
that accepting external funding and its associated problems
makes it difficult to avoid compromising the other principles of
EP. It can be especially difficult to make the whole enterprise a
continuing one, as advocated in Principle 6, since it is in the
nature of external funding to be time-limited, and managing
without funding is even more difficult if you are accustomed to
having it.
3 Whats new?
The above statements reflect some of the 1991 themes, but where
understanding was primary we now have quality of life, leaving
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understanding as the means, not an end in itself. The idea of a new

role for academics like myself, so important in 1991, now seems
hardly worthy of explicit mention, best left implicit in the idea that
working for understanding is essentially a social enterprise of
mutual development. Getting learners directly involved is also
absorbed in the same way into principles 3, 4 and 5. And working
with puzzles now seems best left implicit also, implied by the focus
on understanding rather than problem-solving.
Most importantly, though, the 1991 Epilogue was written from
the viewpoint of an individual academic classroom researcher, not
from that of practitioners themselves. In contrast, the new
principles, our new global thinking, come from more than a
decade of action and thought by practitioners in a great variety of
groupings and role relationships. It is time to reflect on this variety,
and what we have learned from it.
VI Exploratory Practice as collegial activity
Principles 3, 4 and 5 call for everyone to be involved collegially in
a mutually beneficial enterprise of working together towards
understanding something of common interest. Who stands to gain
most, most immediately, from any improved understanding will
surely be the teacher and the learners (rather than academic
researchers, say). Therefore they are the people, and the role
relationship, at the heart of EP, and our natural starting point here.
Next can come the teachers relationships with teacher colleagues,
then within the hierarchy of the employing institution, with
training and development people, with outsider researchers like
myself (in relation to school teachers, for example), and with other
colleagues in other institutions, perhaps via a teacher association
of some sort.
1 Collegiality between teachers and learners
Collegiality is probably not often used in connection with
teacher/learner relationships, but it surely makes excellent sense to
work for collegiality in the pedagogical relationship, for a sense of
a common enterprise. Unfortunately, proposals for practitioner
research (Action Research for example) seem to isolate the
professional as the source of topics to investigate and as the only
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people willing to work for understanding. In relation to the

pedagogic relationship, however, it is relatively easy to argue for
learners first of all to be the source of the puzzles that are
investigated, and then for them to participate fully in their
investigation, as long as respect for integration (principle 6 above)
means that the pedagogy is enhanced rather than impoverished by
the investigative work undertaken. Something similar to this can
already be found in autonomous language learning work (see
Holec, 1988), but typically the topics adopted for investigation by
the learners are direct language (or target-culture) ones, not
involving understanding the social processes of classroom language
learning, the probable focus of work within the framework of EP.
In principle, however, any teacher interested in working within the
EP framework could get started by finding a way of asking their
learners about what, if anything, puzzles them about what happens
in their lessons (see also Slimani-Rolls, this issue).
2 Collegiality among teachers in the same institution
Teaching can be a lonely enterprise (the most private job done in
public, someone said, or the most public job done in private).
Involving the learners in a collegial enterprise might offer one way
of combating this loneliness, but teachers are probably more likely
to turn to each other, not their learners, for company. Working
within the framework of EP is going to provide many occasions
when talking to someone else is a good idea. EP could even
provide a focus for collegiality, an excuse for stopping and asking
a colleague for their thoughts on some matter. So there is a strong
argument for workplace collegiality among teachers, both as a way
of fostering EP, and as a possible by-product of it.
Sadly, however, many teachers have difficulty developing good
collegial relationships with fellow teachers. Rivalry among teachers
seems to be the norm, in any one workplace, and at least a
seniority-based hierarchy typically prevails, such that teachers feel
uneasy talking to their immediate colleagues about their own
classrooms. Inviting thinking about puzzles (as for EP) rather
than outright problems (as for Action Research) may help, but
expecting it to suffice would be highly optimistic. The English
Language Teaching community in Bangalore (South India Naidu
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et al. 1992) faced this problem after they decided to meet in

workplace groupings. Very soon they changed their way of working
and met on neutral territory, just to avoid the destructive effects
of workplace hierarchies and rivalries.
3 Collegiality and the hierarchy within an employing institution
Employing institutions are therefore in a difficult position (see
Samson, 1995, and in progress) as regards the fostering of collegial
relationships throughout a hierarchy. Indeed, the very notion of
hierarchy is antagonistic to the notion of collegiality, if only
because collegiality suggests equality in some important sense.
Also, any pressure on teachers, at one end of the hierarchy, to
adopt the latest pedagogical changes will come from the
institutions, as employers and therefore managers, at the top end
of the hierarchy (whether this is relatively local, as in a private
language school, or highly remote, as in a state educational system).
Clearly it would be a very considerable achievement to both push
for change and simultaneously persuade everybody you were all
collegially on the same side (part of the problem for National
Health Service chief executives, presumably). So, it is going to be
far from easy, and we already know of a manager in a language
teaching institution who felt unable to openly advocate EP among
classroom teaching, because any proposal from management would
be deeply suspect.
4 Collegiality between teachers and training and development
Teacher educators, outside a teachers workplace, ought to be
relatively well placed to offer a collegially sympathetic and
supportive environment for teachers wishing to develop their own
understandings within the framework of EP. Unfortunately,
however, teacher educators who advocate teacher research seem
instead more likely to promote a highly intensive academic model
of research, as I did myself in Rio in 1991. They also seem likely
to promote the view that greater pedagogic efficiency is the

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5 Collegiality between teachers and academic researchers

Researchers in our field who are exclusively academic, pursuing
their own agenda of building grand theory from empirical research
in classrooms, with only a very long-term notion, at best, of ever
being useful to teachers, may be rare, but they do still exist. In
my own academic work, for example, I am expected to publish
under my name only, in the fields most academic journals.
Therefore, if I am to play the game, I need my own academic
research agenda, and cannot simply work as consultant to
practitioners pursuing their agendas. Teachers have reason to be
suspicious, then, of anything I do, however helpful, that gives me
access to their classrooms.
And yet I still want whatever classroom research expertise I
have to be available to teachers, on their terms, in response to the
demands of their research agendas. But my position as an
academic makes that more difficult, partly because years of abuse
have put teachers on their guard, and partly because, ironically, all
the abuse has not succeeded in eliminating the traditional
deference to assumed authority from the relationship.
6 Collegiality in a teacher association
One way of getting away from the direct influence of academic
researchers, and simultaneously out from under a workplace
hierarchy, if only temporarily, is to look for collegial professional
development opportunities in a teacher association. The largest
English language teaching associations do provide a forum for
academic researchers to talk to teachers, and vice versa, of course,
but researchers seem to prefer talking to each other, and are
typically heavily outnumbered by teachers, so their influence
can at least be filtered. Large teacher associations are already
organized as hierarchies, also, but these are organizational
hierarchies dedicated to providing whatever service the membership wants. They are inherently more likely to be more benign,
therefore, and perceived as such by teachers, than managers in an
employing institution (Allwright, 1991). And, the smaller the
association, the less the need for any sort of hierarchy at all (see
Rao and Prakash, 1991).
But collegiality still needs work. As Bartu suggests (1997, 2000)
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elsewhere in this issue it cannot be taken for granted, just because

there is no obvious hierarchy to worry about, or only a patently
benign one.
7 So what?
So, collegiality is multiply problematic, but crucial to the enterprise.
So much we have learned, but what has actually been done, within
the framework of EP, over the last decade?
VII Exploratory Practice, in practice
1 The story so far, and what is to come
The above discussion has traced the development of EP in terms
of its principles and practices, as the products of a dynamic cyclical
relationship between global thinking, local action, and local
thinking, and as the source of the three positive proposals I made
at the start of this paper: to prioritize quality of life, to work for
understandings, and for mutual development.
What follows here is just a brief general indication of the range
of work that has been or is being undertaken within the
Exploratory Practice framework.
2 Open-ended voluntary work with teacher groups
For several years now a small group of Rio-based academic
researchers have been working on a regular (fortnightly) basis with
groups of municipio teachers (see Miller and Bannell, 1998). This
is an open-ended commitment on all sides, with teacher educators
who are also local academic researchers giving their free time,
endless goodwill, and their very considerable expertise (since these
are the people most centrally involved in the development of EP).
This example is very welcome counter-evidence to any note of
pessimism in Sections VI.4 and VI.5 above concerning the
probability of teacher educators and academic researchers relating
appropriately to classroom teachers.
This work is run by these academics in their own time, but it
is not a way for them to get their academic research done. Rather,
they are volunteer teacher developers, using EP both as the focus
of meetings, and the way to get the meetings business done, so
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that the participants can better understand what is happening to

them, and what they are doing to each other. The teachers work
is allowed and encouraged by their employing institution, rather
than imposed.
In this issue this municipio work is represented in Lyra et al.s
paper about what puzzles teachers there, and what keeps them
A cautionary note about volunteer peer development work is
represented in this issue by Bartus study of group decision-making
in Istanbul.
3 Exploratory Practice in a consultancy relationship
Since teacher education and academic research often go together
for university employees in language teacher education, we also
have the possibility of an academic researcher working as consultant
to a colleague (and therefore in some sort of teacher educator
relationship to that colleague) and then turning the consultancy
encounters into practitioner research, on the Exploratory Practice
model, with that colleague (see Miller, 2001, and this issue).
4 Exploratory Practice as an approach to academic research
From the start, EP has been thought of as a form of practitioner
research that would provide an alternative to academic research
models, but, increasingly, people with academic research projects
to complete are finding the principles of EP helpful in guiding their
investigations. Beyond Millers doctoral work we also have
examples of Masters and doctoral level dissertation work in this
issue from Gunn, Kuschnir and Machado, and Perpignan (see also
Gunn, 2001, and Perpignan, 2001). Other major work done in such
academic contexts includes Constantinidou, 1998; Wolters, 2000;
Lamie, 2001 and Szesztay, 2001.
EP is also currently proving to be an appropriate framework for
a Masters level course and dissertation work at Lancaster and in
Lancasters MA level work in Hong Kong (see especially, work in
Lancaster by Hanks, 1998; Chan, 2002, Chen, 2002; Cheng, 2002;
and in Hong Kong in 2002 by Chan, Chuk, Ho, Le, and Lee).
Finally, in this section, it is important to draw attention to the
recently completed doctoral work of Wu (2002) who situates the
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principled framework of EP in a very wide philosophical context,

and shows how such thinking can illuminate a major development
project in his Chinese university context.
5 Exploratory Practice as practitioner research
EP was developed primarily as a form of practitioner research for
the language classroom. Such work is most directly represented
here by Kuschnir and Machado, reporting two separate EP
investigations in one paper; and by Slimani-Rolls report on group
work in a business school. But it is important to note that the
doctoral research reported by Miller, Gunn, and Perpignan, also
all takes the form of practitioner research, with teachers
investigating their own practices.
6 Research about Exploratory Practice
Every investigation inevitably makes a contribution to our thinking
about EP, but three papers in this collection have as their prime
focus the working of Exploratory Practice itself. First there is the
study by Lyra et al. about what puzzles teachers in Rio, as
mentioned above. Then we have Kuschnir and Machado linking
puzzlement to Vygotskyan ideas about the social nature of
learning. And finally we have Bartus discourse analytic study of
decision-making in her EP teachers group in Turkey, with its
implications for other such groups in future.
VIII Concluding thoughts
1 Exploratory Practice: a work in progress
EP is still and must always remain in the process of development,
as we learn from the different circumstances in which the framework is invoked.
We may hope that the principles will change less often than the
practices, but we already know that principles develop just like
practices do, and they all change in relation to each other. In the
meantime, it may be worth insisting that the principles in Section
V define EP, if anything does, not Section IVs sets of processes.
Those sets merely illustrate some of the forms that work within
the framework of EP can take (see also Wu, 2002).
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2 A stimulus to further thought, not a substitute for it

This paper, and this whole issue, are therefore not intended to save
readers from further thought about how participant research can
contribute to language teacher, and learner, development. On the
contrary, we hope to stimulate readers to even more thought, in
the hope that together we will be able to do more than if we remain
3 Back to think globally, act locally
I started with this slogan from Friends of the Earth and must now
return to it. I hope I have shown in this paper how the relationship
between the two key ideas of thinking and acting is, in practice,
going to be a cyclical one of mutual stimulation, through the
mechanism of local thinking. Local thinking may start out with
the idea of putting some global principles into practice, but if the
process is worked through thoughtfully then local thinking is also
going to feed back into global thinking, and thus into the revision
of the underlying principles of the whole enterprise.
4 Back to the three propositions of my introduction, and an
invitation to join in the enterprise.
The rethinking of practitioner research announced in my title was
introduced at the start of this paper in the form of three proposals,
which amounted to a plea for us to prioritize the quality of life
in the language classroom, by working to understand that life, and
by doing so as a fully social enterprise of mutual development. I
hope the foregoing pages, and the other papers that follow, will
suffice to convince the reader of the potential value of EP as a
professionally, intellectually and ethically coherent way of
conducting practitioner research in language teaching.
There is now an Exploratory Practice Centre established to keep
the thinking going and to facilitate networking around the globe.
We have a periodical Newsletter, an annual event and web site
which carries the Newsletter and much more.

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IX References
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