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‘Auto-Ethnography’ as a Social Research Method: Analytical Overview

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‘Auto-ethnography’ is a social research method, wherein the author plays the role of a researcher and a participant. As Burnard (2007) claims that in auto-ethnography the author becomes the ‘subject’ of the study. According to Smith (2005), “[b]y using auto-ethnography, researchers can use their experiences, together with those of other participants, to complement their research.” (p. 71). It permits the author to systematically describe and analyze her experience in order to understand cultural phenomenon.

Accordingly, this autoethnography narrates my experiences in relation to teaching English in particular socio- cultural context which clearly, visibly presents me as a social actor. In writing autoethnography, Fernanda Durante also agrees that 'it begins with a descriptive narrative of events and activities that unfold within a particular culture and then develops into a reflective analysis of these events and activities to generate new insights and to enhance the researcher's sensitivity towards the knowledge gained in the process'. In Durante’s view an autoethnography includes two processes mainly: description of events and activities, and reflection from them. My autoethnography, presented below, is the outcome of these two processes as an English Teacher and learner.

In this auto-ethnography, I will try to explore my journey of learning and teaching English in my home country and in the UK from the perspective of a non-native speaker of English. I will employ language ideologies to explore my identities and I believe it would benefit me to reflect and interpret my experiences as a language user, learner and teacher.

When I review and study my past experiences of teaching English. It adds to my learning from this process and I realize the significance of Heewon Chang’s autoethnography in which she has clearly explicated that autoethnography as method can help teachers to understand themselves and others better and make teaching of multicultural education more effective (L2). Thus, based on autoethnography, I further explore my teaching experiences which are reflected in my autoethnography as a teacher.

Today when I reflect about the incident of my becoming a teacher of English, which in my opinion was quite accidental because as a student, I never thought of becoming a teacher. I studied pure and social sciences in my school and college life but then I ended up studying English literature. So my journey is not a linear one, I have been trying to find direction out of a lot of indirections.

I think it will be interesting to share with you how I joined the profession of teaching. Actually, I was accompanying my sister to collect her documents from her university while passing by a school on the way we saw a lot of people queued up in front of a renowned school in the metropolitan city of Rawalpindi in Pakistan. While my sister went to her university, I joined the queue and discovered that it was an open day for teachers’ recruitment.

I decided to test myself. Although I was not carrying anything such as my qualification certificates nor I had any previous experience of appearing in interviews let alone any teaching experience. Anyway, I was attended by some staff and they made me sit in a hall. All of us candidates were given some books relevant to the subjects of our choice to prepare a micro lesson. Being a student of English literature, I opted for English language. However, interestingly I did not have much know how of English language grammar, functions, forms and meanings etc. After some time I was taken to a classroom where I had to deliver a lesson to a group of 14-15 year old students and a panel of observers was seated at the back. They kept on taking notes while I was giving lecture which lasted for 15 minutes. As soon as, I finished my lesson I was told that I would be informed of the feedback and outcomes soon.

Few days later, I was informed by a telephone call that I had been selected for the role of a teacher. Where I was glad of the outcome at the same time it left me perplexed and I started thinking about how I would carry out this given role in the long run. If I really wanted to join this profession for long time or I was just trying to take up the opportunity till I don’t find something of my interest or as a matter of fact the question at the heart of this self dialogue was if I really wanted to become a teacher of English language and how I would be justifying the role, knowing that English is not my first language and I have not been through any formal teacher training as well. Now when I look back and think about that episode, I realise that perhaps these questions came to my mind because until few months back I observed teaching profession from outside as an observer and then was the question of becoming a member of the teaching community and perhaps I was trying to place myself at an appropriate position in this situation or was it a struggle to find an appropriate identity for myself.

I was assigned a class of elementary level and was provided a text/course book to follow. Having got all the supporting material when I sat at my desk to plan my first lesson I found it quite over whelming because there were so many things and I was confused how to organise my lesson that at the end of the lesson I achieve the learning outcomes. My observations and experiences as student the way I was taught helped me to prepare my next day’s lesson.

I carried a copy of my lesson plan to the classroom as to follow the planned activities in sequence. When I came out of the classroom after delivering my first ever lesson, I was too over whelmed and there were so my questions I wanted to seek answers for. I was very lucky to have a group of very supportive colleagues who comforted me and shared their wisdom as to how I can develop my teaching skills and some of them were kind enough to answer my questions. But one area that I always struggled with was phonetics because having a background of literature this field was totally alien to me until one of my colleagues, who studied linguistics introduced me some of its basics.

One of the problems of the developing countries is the lack of resources and lack of professional networking which means that there are no forums and platforms where professionals of one field can get together and exchange their experiences and practices. And in those days internet access was not available very easily. Therefore, I had to travel long distance from my home or workplace to have access to the British Council where I could access some journals or books about teaching English to enhance my knowledge of the profession and make myself aware of the latest theories and philosophies shaping the future of English language teaching in particular.

It was at the British Council which provided me an opportunity and awarded me Hornsby Trust Award to attend an international summer school in Leeds which changed my outlook towards teaching practice. I regard this opportunity as highly impactful because it helped me to redefine my career, my entire approach towards teaching and also it brought me an opportunity to connect myself with the practitioners from the world as the participants of the group came from 37 different countries of the world which included teachers, test designers and policy makers as well but I was just an ordinary member of one large group. I find this opportunity to interact with external social, cultural and institutional forces that helped me constructing my own meanings and identity of myself. I felt as if I got the membership of a larger community but it did not come easily. Neither my new self nor the membership of the larger community which I newly became the member of came so easily. There was a constant dialogue and tension between the two communities and cultures one that I was a member of at home and one that I newly subscribed.

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It was the time when I first time came to know about modern teaching approaches such as I never heard of communicative approaches, task based approaches all this was new to me because I thought of teaching from the perspective of direct and indirect approach, grammar translation approach and the conventional teaching style which is practiced by the teachers commonly in South Asian states but there was a sense of dissatisfaction and an urge to seek more that kept me focused and brought me a purposeful and engaging opportunity which was not confined to the seminars and lectures but also I got the opportunity to experience the British culture that is the culture of native speakers of English.

Education as a permanent process is rooted in the awareness of our incompleteness. Every individual is capable of being educated to the extent one is capable of seeing himself as unfinished. Education does not make us educable. It is our awareness of being unfinished that makes us educable. And the same awareness in which we are inserted makes us eternal seekers. (Freire, 1998, p. 58)

On completion of the programme equipped with my new wisdom about Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), I went back and resumed my job. After carefully reflecting on my previous style of teaching and introspection, I decided to switch from teacher centred to student centred approach. Having been introduced with CLT, I started believing it to be more effective for teaching English than the other methods. I began practicing it in my classrooms–I began using student-centered activities, maximized (STT) student talk time, minimized (TTT) teacher talk time, and put myself as a facilitator in setting up communicative activities and as an advisor during their activities (Harmer, How 38). My objective was to enable learners to communicate in the target language and gave them autonomy to be responsible of their own learning (Larsen- Freeman129), and my desired goal of teaching English was to develop communicative competence in them. As CLT is believed to be an effective method of teaching L2, I adhered to it and made it a part of my teaching practices. I continued my practice of CLT for some time till I realized that it was not allowing me to accomplish the term wise syllabus targets.

As it is generally believed, reflective practices provide opportunities for teachers to engage in self-dialogue and self-assessment and in theory; this is an ideal approach because teachers need to negotiate with their complex identities (Duff & Uchida, 1997; Tsui, 2007; Varghese et al., 2005) also it help them develop their own strategies for intervention or change.

A year later, I changed my job and began teaching international proficiency exam based classes where I experienced what I never experienced in my 3 years of teaching career. It was my first experience of teaching adults with professional qualifications and in most of the cases my learner group was mainly composed of established professionals who wanted to continue their studies in some English speaking country. This was the time when I started studying grammar myself in detail. On one hand, I was playing the role of a teacher on the other hand, I was a learner myself. I found it quite daunting teaching adult male learners in a male dominated conservative society but I count this experience as one of the most valuable assets because it motivated me to explore those areas of the language which I never bothered about in my student life. In many ways this was an enlightening time for me especially when we used to get engaged in discussions in order to mutually develop an understanding of the problem by comparing the languages L1 and L2 (Target Language).

By engaging in discussions with the gender which is generally considered authority, it governs the society in socio-cultural context gave me massive amount of confidence and motivated me to establish myself (my identity) both on personal and professional levels. Also, it enabled me to gain acceptance in the circle of men without being noticed and challenging their authority rather I became one of them, perhaps sharing the stage with them and giving them some space to work to work together make it happen. Another thing that revealed to me was that the learners who are willing to improve their proficiency, competence in the target language prefer to learn it from a person who has experienced the culture of their L2 or who belongs to L2 culture either directly or indirectly.

The focus of education in Pakistan’s socio-cultural context is to form and nurture the personality and to instil moral qualities in the learners. As a lot of respect, prestige is associated with the role of a teacher therefore, teachers are expected to be the moral and spiritual guides and they are not considered less than parents. Teaching is simply not the work of brain but it demands heart and soul to educate good citizens.

I think my exposure to the world through learning and teaching English has influenced my performance and identity as well which in turn has influenced my views about teaching. Where it broadened my mind to accept and embrace a culture different from the culture in which I was born and brought up at the same time it broadened my mind as Thu stated, “Learning a language broadens our minds”, because as a teacher of a foreign language one gets connected with a culture beyond his/her home culture which is incongruent with one’s identity which he/she has been nurturing since birth or since one starts communicating with external world.

Having got a significant experience of teaching English as a foreign language in Pakistan, I decided to relocate to the UK. The idea of relocation itself is very daunting and challenging because relocation is not simply transporting oneself and one’s material belongings to a new place but transporting one’s values, beliefs, culture etc anything or everything that is associated with or makes one’s identity.

I entered in the UK with my assumptions and my past experiences of the English society which I had few years ago. After coming in contact with the British society, what I experienced, how I responded to particular situations, how others reacted to my responses, how I tried to adapt and fit in with the new environment, how I negotiated and shaped my new identity as an immigrant and my teaching role in the English society. Within three months of my arriving in the UK , I started teaching English in ESOL settings.

Being a non-native speaking teacher of English among native speaking teachers and non-native speaking learners was quite a complex situation. As a non-native speaking teacher many students associated themselves with me, especially female learners from South Asia found it easy to communicate with me with confidence for cultural and social reasons and being a bilingual in both English and Urdu/Hindi help me to communicate better with them understand better. Knowing learners’ L1 fosters student-teacher relationship to an extent, because they can explain their problems to the teacher in their L1. An advantage of knowing my learners’ cultural and social background gave me awareness of their learning styles and some added insight into the problems they were likely to face as compared to my native speaking colleagues.

A disadvantage of teaching English in the inner circles being a non-native speaker of English is that despite having a reasonable fluency I cannot speak English like natives, because it is not my mother tongue. For example, teaching intonation, rhythm and pronunciation is the area where I struggle. Thus, I put a lot of effort when I plan my lessons. I may be very good at dealing with grammar and methodologies but native speakers may have excellent understanding of their culture, and can explain cultural concepts better than me.

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‘Auto-Ethnography’ as a Social Research Method: Analytical Overview. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/auto-ethnography-as-a-social-research-method-analytical-overview/
“‘Auto-Ethnography’ as a Social Research Method: Analytical Overview.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/auto-ethnography-as-a-social-research-method-analytical-overview/
‘Auto-Ethnography’ as a Social Research Method: Analytical Overview. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/auto-ethnography-as-a-social-research-method-analytical-overview/> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2024].
‘Auto-Ethnography’ as a Social Research Method: Analytical Overview [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/auto-ethnography-as-a-social-research-method-analytical-overview/
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