In it together: Teachers, researchers and classroom SLA

 Patsy M. Lightbown and Nina Spada


Teachers and researchers are often characterized as distinct groups, facing each other across a “gap” that separates them. Teachers are described as having practical concerns that center on their own classrooms, with little patience for “theoretical” issues. Researchers are described as removed from day-to-day classroom concerns and oriented to more abstract factors which, if not “universal” are at least “generalizable”. Such stereotypes miss an important reality: teachers and researchers share the goal of making classroom teaching and learning as successful as possible, and what they learn from each other can have positive effects on classroom learning. The challenge is to create conditions in which these productive interdependent relationships can develop.  

In our own classroom-based research we were fortunate that schoolboards and teachers often invited us into their classrooms to investigate L2 teaching and learning relationships. We knew how lucky we were to have classroom doors opened to us and we were also aware of how important it was to keep them open. One way this was accomplished was to work with teachers to investigate questions that were relevant to their goals. We also spent hundreds of hours observing teachers and learners which created opportunities to investigate questions of mutual interest. Over the decades this led to a relationship of trust and respect resulting in L2 classroom research that now spans generations of teachers and researchers. In our presentation, we will take examples from our own experience and those of others who have engaged in long-term teacher/researcher collaborations that have informed and inspired us. This will include illustrations of how the research process is conceptualized and how teachers are engaged in it, how research questions are selected, and how feedback is provided to teachers and policy makers.

“In it together” emphasizes the interdependent relationship between teachers and researchers. Importantly, the title of our talk also recognizes colleagues whose research is done outside classrooms (e.g., psychologists, corpus analysts, linguists) and whose insights have directly influenced our classroom research over the years.  



Patsy M. Lightbown is Distinguished Professor Emerita in Applied Linguistics at Concordia University in Montreal.

Nina Spada is Professor Emerita in the Language and Literacies Education program at OISE, University of Toronto


Nina and Patsy began doing classroom-based research together in the1970s, observing and interpreting how teachers and students interacted in ESL classes in elementary and secondary schools in Quebec. Over four decades they have co-authored more than thirty publications based on their classroom research on instructed second language acquisition. They co-authored How Languages are Learned, an introduction to second language acquisition research, which grew out of their experience in both research and teacher education. They also co-edit the Oxford Key Concepts for the Language Classroom series, which is designed to give teachers access to information about research that can help them understand and develop their own classroom practice.  Patsy and Nina are both Past Presidents of AAAL.