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TESOL Research Directions 2023–2027: Continuing the Conversation

by Jessie Hutchison Curtis |

Since its inception, TESOL International Association has been committed to research in English language teaching (ELT). From the first issue in 1967, TESOL’s flagship journal TESOL Quarterly has updated and interwoven research in ELT with the complex historical, political, and social dynamics of teaching a dominant world language. TESOL Journal aimed to be a forum for dialogue among language education researchers and practitioners with a focus on how research and theory can shape classroom practice. In addition, since 2000, TESOL has disseminated three research agendas. The fourth such effort, TESOL Research Directions, led by the TESOL Research Professional Council, represents an expansive commitment to engagement in research areas identified by TESOL members:

  • Research Education and Literacy
  • Emerging Educational Technologies
  • Teaching Methods
  • Professional Learning

Research engagement is generally understood to include reading, using, or doing research. Thus, the current vision for research engagement, aligning with TESOL’s commitment to equity, involves a continuum of activities within varied ecologies of ELT communities. This article shares a few perspectives on teaching and research activities in TESOL, brings attention to themes that emerged in conversations about research during the presentation of the TESOL Research Directions, and suggests ways to continue these conversations with TESOL colleagues.

Perspectives on Teaching and Research in TESOL

Critical scholars (e.g., McKinley, 2019; Paran, 2017; Rose, 2019; Spada & Lightbown, 2022) have pointed out that, in recent decades, ELT and research have come to be viewed as two distinct activities that involve different types of thinking. These critical scholars push back, arguing that not only are research-practice dialogues among researchers and teachers needed, necessary, and productive (Paran, 2017; Spada & Lightbown, 2022), but collaborations among teachers and researchers should be encouraged and institutional structures that separate research from teaching should be challenged (McKinley, 2019; Rose, 2019).

Scholars (e.g., Burns, 2019) also advocate for teachers to be researchers in their classrooms, taking up questions that arise for them in practice and sharing findings within their schools or more publicly. Another way of looking at research by teachers is as an avenue to reflective practice (Farrell, 2018). Yet another line of thinking posits that teacher research serves best as professional development (Borg, 2017), which may also involve researcher-teacher mentoring relationships (Dikilitaş & Wyatt, 2018).

Taken as a whole, these perspectives suggest a continuum of research activities, dialogues, relationships, and collaborations that are agentively determined by English language educators in a variety of institutional roles and settings.

TESOL Research Directions Conversations

Presenting the Research Directions at the virtual TESOL Town Hall in December 2023 allowed for opportunities for attendees from across the world to reflect on their research interests, to pose research questions, and to connect with like-minded colleagues. The Town Hall created a space that virtually and literally brought together TESOL members from diverse career paths—for example, teachers, teacher educators, researchers, program administrators, educational consultants, resource specialists—to engage in dialogues about their research interests, regardless of their institutional roles. Four breakout rooms, one for each of the prioritized research directions, included Padlet options for participation.

Looking back at the Town Hall chats, it was clear that members appreciated the Research Resources provided on the Research Directions webpage (at the bottom of the page), as well as a description of the process for arriving at the TESOL Research Directions (a process of more than 2 years involving hundreds of TESOL members). In each research breakout room, the excitement of engaging with research and sounding out ideas was present, and I have learned from colleagues that this excitement and engagement has extended to social media. In some cases, research groups coalesced in real time. Here are just a few examples of themes from each.

    • Research Education & Literacy: Questions ranging from how to start collaborations to reengaging with research later in a teaching career and engaging part-time practitioners with research.
    • Professional Learning: Learning about teacher education that integrates reflection, action research, and research into emotional labor by novice teachers; teacher identity; and preparing teachers for multiple learner contexts.
    • Emerging Educational Technologies: Research about uses of translation software, instructors’ perceptions of their roles in light of AI-assisted learning, and policies for using AI tools. A discussion thread led to starting an informal AI research group.
    • Teaching Methods: Research in methods that integrate language acquisition with content learning; integrating students’ cultural and practical knowledge with language learning; and creating opportunities to connect directly with methods researchers.

Continuing the Conversations

To continue the conversations, you are invited to join one or any of the research directions discussions that interest you via the links to the Town Hall Padlets—they are still open for responses and making connections. Upcoming opportunities to join in-person research discussions led by the Research Professional Council include the Research Colloquium, Research Mentoring Workshop, and Research Directions Fair at the 2024 TESOL International Convention in March.

Meanwhile, please browse the TESOL Research Directions webpage to locate publicly available published research and open-access research resources. There, you will find books and articles, including open-access articles from TESOL Quarterly and TESOL Journal, plain language summaries, and examples of data collection instruments, among other resources. Stay tuned for updates. We welcome your thoughts and feedback at


Borg, S. (2017). Twelve tips for doing teacher research. University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, 12, 163–185.

Burns, A. (2019). Action research in English language teaching: Contributions and recent developments. In X. Gao (Ed.), Second Handbook of English Language Teaching (pp. 991–1005). Springer.

Dikilitaş, K., & Wyatt, M. (2018). Learning teacher-research-mentoring: Stories from Turkey. Teacher Development, 22(4), 537–553.

Farrell, T. (2018). Research on reflective practice in TESOL. Routledge.

McKinley, J. (2019). Evolving the TESOL teaching–research nexus. TESOL Quarterly, 53(3), 875–884.

Paran, A. (2017). ‘Only connect’: Researchers and teachers in dialogue. ELT Journal, 71(4), 499–508.

Rose, H. (2019). Dismantling the ivory tower in TESOL: A renewed call for teaching-informed research. TESOL Quarterly, 53(3), 895–905.

Spada, N., & Lightbown, P. (2022). In it together: Teachers, researchers, and classroom SLA. The Modern Language Journal, 106(3), 635–650.

About the author

Jessie Hutchison Curtis

Jessie Hutchison Curtis chaired the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC) from 2021–2022. During this time, the working group to update TESOL’s research agenda was led by RPC past chair Scott Roy Douglas. To ensure continuity, as member of the working group and past chair, she has since led the project in addition to her work with international graduate students at Rutgers University in the United States. Her published articles and book chapters focus on achieving equity in language education. Most recently, Jessie guest-edited a 2023 special open-access issue of the Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, “Critical Language Awareness in Multilingual Contexts.”

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