Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Action Research


Action Research

Richard Donato, University of Pittsburgh

Action research can inform teachers about their practice and empower them to take leadership roles in their local teaching contexts. Mills (2003) provides the following definition of action research:
Action research is any systematic inquiry conducted by teacher researchers to gather information about the ways that their particular school operates, how they teach, and how well their students learn. The information is gathered with the goals of gaining insight, developing reflective practice, effecting positive changes in the school environment and on educational practices in general, and improving student outcomes. (p. 4)
Action research is conducted by teachers and for teachers. It is small scale, contextualized, localized, and aimed at discovering, developing, or monitoring changes to practice (Wallace, 2000). The defining features of action research also reflect the qualities of leaders in collaborative cultures of change. These qualities include a deep understanding of the organization, vision and insight, a quest for new knowledge, a desire for improved performance, self-reflective activity, and a willingness to effect change (Fullan, 2000a, 2000b). This Digest discusses a framework for conducting action research and describes an action research study carried out in an elementary school Spanish program.

A Framework for Action Research

A review of action research frameworks reveals several common features. An action research project seeks to create knowledge, propose and implement change, and improve practice and performance (Stringer, 1996). Kemmis and McTaggert (1988) suggest that the fundamental components of action research include the following: (1) developing a plan for improvement, (2) implementing the plan, (3) observing and documenting the effects of the plan, and (4) reflecting on the effects of the plan for further planning and informed action. New knowledge gained results in changes in practice (see also, Fullan, 2000a). Action research is often conducted to discover a plan for innovation or intervention and is collaborative. Based on Kemmis and McTaggert's (1998) original formulation of action research and subsequent modifications, Mills (2003) developed the following framework for action research:
·         Describe the problem and area of focus.
·         Define the factors involved in your area of focus (e.g., the curriculum, school setting, student outcomes, instructional strategies).
·         Develop research questions.
·         Describe the intervention or innovation to be implemented.
·         Develop a timeline for implementation.
·         Describe the membership of the action research group.
·         Develop a list of resources to implement the plan.
·         Describe the data to be collected.
·         Develop a data collection and analysis plan.
·         Select appropriate tools of inquiry.
·         Carry out the plan (implementation, data collection, data analysis).
·         Report the results.
This deductive approach implements a planned intervention, monitors its implementation, and evaluates the results. A more inductive approach, formulated by Burns (1999), is to carry out action research to explore what changes need to be made or what actions need to be taken in a specific instructional setting. Burns suggests the following interrelated activities:
·         Explore an issue in teaching or learning.
·         Identify areas of concern.
·         Observe how those areas play out in the setting of the study.
·         Discuss how the issue might be addressed.
·         Collect data to determine the action to be taken (e.g., student questionnaires, observation reports, journal entries).
·         Plan strategic actions based on the data to address the issue.
Kemmis and McTaggert's approach focuses on implementing an action plan, whereas Burns’ focuses on planning for action.
Commonly used data collection tools in action research projects include existing archival sources in schools (e.g., attendance reports, standardized test scores, lesson plans, curriculum documents,), questionnaires, interviews, observation notes and protocols, videotapes, photographs, journals and diaries, and narratives (e.g., stories told by teachers, see Hartman, 1998)


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