Action Research

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Introducing Action Research

This section of the website provides an introduction to a specific model of action research with a series of planning templates that educators can use for designing their action research. For the sake of simplicity, the website will refer to ‘teachers’ and to ‘schools’ but we hope that the materials can be used in all educational sites including, early childhood centres, primary schools, secondary schools, adult education, and in higher education (including especially courses for preparation of teachers).

This page provides the map for this section on action research and provides navigation to the other pages.

Introduction

Traditional research in education is typically conducted by researchers who are somewhat removed from the environment they are studying. It might be thought of as research on teachers. Alternatively, educational research can involve research by teachers that entails opportunities to research their own classrooms—their own teaching methods, their own students, their own assessments—in order to better understand them and be able to improve student learning. This form of research is often referred to in terms such as ‘action research’, ‘teacher research’, ‘action learning’ ‘practitioner research’ or ‘practitioner inquiry’. Whilst these approaches are not identical, they have a lot of similarities. For the sake of simplicity, in this website we will be using the term ‘action research’ (see some Models).

Key features of action research

  • Action research is an approach to improving teaching by examining changes to practice and learning from the consequences of the changes.
  • Action research is participatory: It is research through which teachers work toward the improvement of their own practices.
  • Action research develops through a self-reflective cycle of planning, acting, observing, reflecting. Action research involves the systematic collection of data that could include teacher and student understandings, student artifacts, evidence of significant teaching moments, and assessments plans and rubrics shared with students.
  • Action research is collaborative: Educators work together to improve their own practice. Ideally action research usually involves critical friends capable of offering critique and provocations and is conducted in learning communities.
  • Critical action research is committed to advancing socially just outcomes in schools.

A rationale for action research

A key rationale for action research is the claim that teachers are the major actors all efforts to improve student learning. In which case, we need learning processes for teachers that support their efforts to redesign their classroom practices. The most significant problems for teachers, such as, making the curriculum relevant for their students, can not be fixed through conventional problem-solving approaches. Instead, problem-posing is required. Rather than going for an immediate resolution there is a need to realise that many issues need careful consideration. For instance, there is always a gap between what the intended (what’s planned/documented), enacted (what the teacher does) and real (what the students experience) curriculum.

Reflective practice, such as action research, does not just happen but requires conducive conditions and effort on the part of the school and the teachers. At a minimum, action research in schools requires: support from school leaders, time to design a coherent research project, critical friends to discuss the research, and resources to conduct the research.

The stages action research

The model adopted here proposes a year long process with the following 4 stages:

Term 1 Term 2 Term 3 Term 4
Provocation and orientation Curriculum projects and design of action research Doing some action research on one unit of curriculum (3-5 weeks) What did we learn?

Performing learning and implications

Provocation and orientation: working on articulating your own classroom challenges, and developing a rationale for doing something different to improve student achievement. This could involve doing some small research into your existing situation, doing some reading, and clarifying through discussion with colleagues.

Re-designing curriculum and pedagogy: redesigning some curriculum and the suggestion is one 3-5 week unit of work that you could teach in term 3.

Designing action research projects: refining a ‘good’ research question, that focuses on some aspect of your pedagogy to examine and working out what data and how you will collect that data.

Teaching the new curriculum and doing the action research: actually teaching the unit and collecting the data as planned.

What did we learn?: analysing your data and developing a presentation of your findings. This stage could involve presenting your findings to an audience of peers and working collaboratively on the implications for future curriculum and professional development, and the next cycle of action research.

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