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What is Action Research? Action Research is a processin which participants examine theirown educational practicesystematically and carefully, usingthe techniques of research. (Watts, 1985, p.118)
Action Research is based on thefollowing assumptions: Teachers and principals work best on problems they have identified for themselves; Teachers and principals become more effective when encouraged to examine and assess their own work and then consider ways of working differently;
Teachers and principals help each other by working collaboratively; and Working with colleagues helps teachers and principals in their professional development. (Watts, 1985, p.118)
Although there are many types ofresearch that may beundertaken, action research specificallyrefers to a disciplined inquiry done by ateacher with the intent that theresearch will inform and change his orher practices in the future. Implicit to the term action research isthe idea that teachers will begin a cycleof posing questions, gatheringdata, reflection and deciding a courseof action.
What is Not Action Research? Action research is not usually comes to mind when we hear the word “research.” Action research is not a library project where we learn more about a topic that interests us. It is not problem-solving in the sense of trying to find out what is wrong, but rather a quest for knowledge about how to improve.
What is Not Action Research? Action research is not about doing research on or about people, or finding all available information on a topic looking for the correct answers. It involves people working to improve their skills, techniques, and strategies. Action research is not about learning why we do certain things, but rather how we can do things better. It is about how we can change our instruction to impact students.
Similarities and Differences between Action Research and Formal Quantitative and Qualitative Research
Action Research Formal ResearchSystematic inquiry. Systematic inquiry.Goal is to solve Goal is to developproblems of local and test theoriesconcern. and to produce knowledge generalizable to wide population.Little formal Considerabletraining required to training required toconduct such conduct suchstudies. studies.
Action Research Formal ResearchIntent is to identify Intent is toand correct investigate largerproblems of local issues.concern.Carried out by Carried out byteacher or other researcher who islocal education not usuallyprofessional. involved in local situation.Uses primarily Uses primarilyteacher- professionallydeveloped developedinstruments. instruments.
Action Research Formal ResearchLess rigorous. More rigorous.Usually value- Frequently value-based. neutral.Purposive samples Random samplesselected. (if possible) preferred.Selective opinions Selective opinionsof researcher often of researcherconsidered as never considereddata. as data.Generalizability is Generalizabilityvery limited. often appropriate.
Types of Action Research Individual Teacher Research – usually focuses on a single issue in the classroom. Collaborative Action Research – may include as few as two teachers or a group of several teachers and others interested in addressing in a classroom or department issue. School-wide Research – focuses on issue common to all.
Types of Action Research District-wide Research – far more complex and utilizes more resources, but the rewards can be great. Issues can be organizational, community- based, performance-based or processes for decision making.
History of Action Research 1940: The idea of using research in a “natural” setting to change the way that the researcher interacts with that setting was traced back to Kurt Lewin. Kurt Lewin – credited for coining the term “action research” to describe work that did not separate the investigation from the action needed to solve the problem.
History of Action Research Stephen Corey - the first to use action research in the field of education. 1950: Action research was attacked as unscientific, little more than a common sense and the work of amateurs (McFarland & Stansell, p. 15). 1970: Saw again the emergence of action research.
Steps in Action Research Within all the definitions of actionresearch, there are four basic themes:empowerment of participants,collaboration through participation,acquisition of knowledge, and socialchange. In conducting actionresearch, we structure routines forcontinuous confrontation with data onthe health of a school community.
Steps in Action Research These routines are loosely guided bymovement through five phases ofinquiry: 1. Identification of problem area 2. Collection and organization of data 3. Interpretation of data 4. Action based on data 5. Reflection
Identify the Problem Next Gather Steps DataEvaluate Interpret Results Data Act on Evidence
Identify a Problem Area Teachers often have severalquestions they wish to investigate;however, it is important to limit thequestion to one that is meaningful anddoable in the confines of their dailywork. Careful planning at this first stagewill limit false starts and frustrations.
Identify a Problem Area There are several criteria to considerbefore investing the time and effort in“researching” a problem. The questionshould: be a higher-order question- not a yes/no be stated in common language, avoiding jargon be concise be meaningful not already have an answer
Gather Data The collection of data is animportant step in deciding what actionneeds to be taken. Multiple sources ofdata are used to better understand thescope of happenings in the classroomor school.
Gather Data There are many vehicles forcollection of data:Interviews Portfolios JournalsDiaries Videotapes Audio TapesPhotos Memos Case StudiesSurveys Field Notes ChecklistQuestionnaires Logs of MeetingsIndividual Files Self-assessmentRecords – tests, report cards, attendance
Interpret Data Analyze and identify majorthemes. Depending upon the question,teachers may wish to use classroomdata, individual data or subgroup data.Some of the data are quantifiable andcan be analyzed without the use ofstatistics or technical assistance.
Act on Evidence Using the information from thedata collection and review of currentliterature, design a plan of action thatwill allow you to make a change and tostudy that change. It is important thatonly one variable be altered.
Evaluate Results Assess the effects of theintervention to determine ifimprovement has occurred. Is there isimprovement, do the data clearlyprovide the supporting evidence? If no,what changes can be made to theactions to elicit better reults?
Next Steps As a result of the action researchproject, identify additional questionsraised by the data and plan foradditional improvements, revisions andnext steps.
Guide Questions1. What was my concern?2. Why was I concerned?3. What could I do?4. What could help me?5. What did I do?6. How can I evaluate my work?
Benefits of Action Research1. Focus on school issue, problem or area of collective interest.2. Form of teacher professional development.3. Collegial interactions.4. Potential to impact school change.5. Reflect on own practice.6. Improved communications.
Sample #1 Studying the Effects of Time-Out on a Student’s Disruptive Behavior by Means of a Single-Subject Experiment Ms. Wong, a third-grade teacher, findsher class continually interrupted by a studentwho can’t seem to keep quiet. Distressed, sheasks herself what she can do to control thisstudent and wonders if some kind of time outactivity might work. Accordingly, she asks:
Would brief periods of removal from theclass decrease the frequency of this student’sdisruptive behavior? What might Ms. Wong do to get ananswer to her question? This sort of question can best beanswered by means of a single-subject A-B-A-Bdesign. First, Ms. Wong needs to establish abaseline of the student’s disruptive behavior.Hence, she should observe the student carefullyover a period of several days, charting thefrequency of the disruptive behavior.
Once she has established a stablepattern of the students behavior, she shouldintroduce the treatment – in this instance, time-out, or placing the student outside theclassroom for a brief period of time –for severaldays and observe the frequency of thestudent’s disruptive behavior after thetreatment periods. She then should repeat thecycle. Ideally, the student’s disruptive behaviorwill decrease and Ms. Wong will no longerneed to use a time-out period with this student.
The main problem for Ms. Wong is beingable to observe and chart the student’sbehavior during the time-out period and yet stillteach the other students in her class. She mayalso have difficulty making sure the treatment(time-out) works as intended (e.g., that thestudent is not wandering the halls). Both ofthese problems would be greatly diminished ifshe had a teachers aide to assist with theseconcerns.
Sample #2 How Can I Improve My Students to Improve in English? By Ma Hong I am a teacher of English in China, I havebeen teaching for two years. I undertook myprofessional learning within a traditionalcontext, which emphasized that teachersshould help their students learn correct answersand achieve a high standard of languageproficiency.
This involved using pedagogies that putthe responsibility for success on the teacher’steaching, rather than on the student’s learning.Using this approach also meant that mystudents and I were exhausted at the end ofeach day. I wondered what I could do aboutthe situation. In 2003, I heard from my colleague, TaoRui about the action research approaches shewas developing under the guidance of MoiraLaidlaw at the Guyuan Teacher’s College,
so I asked Moira to help me develop newpedagogies. Under Moira’s guidance I beganmy formal action inquiry within the context ofmy class 40 English major students aged 15-18,of which 98% had failed the entranceexamination for senior middle school. I metthem for a two-hour class three times a week. This report sets out the action-reflectionsteps I took to develop my inquiry.
What was my concern? The level of proficiency of 80% of thestudents in spoken and written English wasunsatisfactory. They had limited vocabulary,could not pronounce even simple words,understood little when I used English as myteaching medium, and could not use the basicgrammar they had learned in junior middleschool. I wanted to help them developconfidence, show more initiative and becomemore motivated to learn English.
What was my concern? I decided to monitor the progress of thewhole class, focusing especially on threestudents. Ma Jie, Ma Fei, and Yu Jinghu, whoselevel of proficiency was representative of thelow achievers. I felt that if I could help them, Icould help others also.
Why was I concerned? Three reasons drove my inquiry. The firstwas my desire to help the whole class toconcentrate more on their learning, rather thanspend time chatting and wasting time. Thesecond reason was to improve my ownteaching methods. The students were still in atraditional mode of learning passively, waitingto be told what to do, and were unwilling toanswer questions in public for fear of losing faceif they made a mistake.
Why was I concerned? I seemed to be doing the work for them,rather than enabling them to practice andthink themselves. Third, I could empathize withthe experience of being a less able studentbecause I had also had that experience atschool and had achieved my current positionthrough sheer hard work and determination. Iknew how important it was for all students tofeel cared for by their teacher.
What could I do?I wanted to: Create a friendly, well-disciplined, united class spirit; Help students develop confidence in themselves; and Encourage them to take more responsibility for their learning.
What could help me? I could observe lessons given by Moira,and colleagues Li Peidiong, Tao Rui, andothers. I could ask them to observe my lessonsand offer critical feedback.
What did I do?1. To overcome students’ anxieties about speaking in front of the class, I divided the whole class into eight groups. Each group nominated a leader who was proficient and confident and proactive. One found that many students became more confident and proactive. One of my special participants, Ma Jie, one day volunteered to answer a question for the fist time.
What did I do?2. I developed strategies to encourage students to take the initiative about their learning, and to ask questions as well as offer answers.3. I paid particular attention encouraging effort. I praised them publicly and wrote encouraging comments in their books. When less able students answered correctly I got the whole class applaud them.
What did I do?3. I also encouraged them to regard mistakes as opportunities for learning. It took a long time to persuade them that I was genuine about this, because our culture regards making mistakes as loss of face. This one of the most difficult aspects of my new pedagogies, but students responded well.
What did I do?4. I also encouraged my students by taking interest in their family stories. Many less able students come from rural environments, where opportunities for schooling are rare. We talked about how hard their parents and families worked to make them come to college, and how important it was for them to succeed. I showed that I was prepared to work as they were.
What did I do?4. We developed good relationships, and soon the spirit of the class became one of collaborative working through a respectful atmosphere.5. I aimed to make my teaching more interesting. Rather than teaching the rules in action. Students were asked to listen to the stories, and work out the rule for themselves.
What did I do?5. I set them short exercises, and organized them into groups to share their learning. Because of these were new methodologies for me, I asked them for feedback, and they said that they found this way of learning interesting and enjoyable. I shifted the emphasis from learning rules to practicing language. I varied the exercises according to student’s ability.
What did I do?6. I expressed my pleasure and gratitude to my students. I thanked the group leaders for helping others. They in turn took their duties seriously, and checked with their peers whether they had understood that the task and volunteered extra help when appropriate. I valued this aspect particularly, because it met my own values of the need for moral teaching and the value of hard work and care for others.
How can I evaluate my work? I used the following strategies to getfeedback on the effectiveness of my work. I kept field notes about when students volunteered to speak. I noted much increased activity and confidence among all the students. I invited group leaders to keep journals, and asked their permission to access their journals for evidence about my influence. The journals contain comments such as: “ I made progress in dictation this time.”
How can I evaluate my work? I have more time to reflect on the recordwhat happens in class and make an instantevaluation of my teaching. Though I now doless speaking in class. I spend more timepreparing, and I ask myself questions such as,“What do I want my students to learn?” “Whichway would be better for them to learn? Howcan I help them learn?”.
How can I evaluate my work? Interestingly, out of this research a newproblem has arisen. Students who were moreproficient in English seem less motivated thanbefore. I am wondering whether it is because ofthe attention I have paid to the lower-achievingstudents. So my next research question will beabout developing differentiated teachingmethodologies that enable all to learnaccording to their individual learning strengths.
Workshop Make an action researchindividually. Use the following guidequestions.1. What was my concern?2. Why was I concerned?3. What could I do?4. What could help me?5. What did I do?6. How can I evaluate my work?