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Chapter 1. What Is Action Research?

The Action Research Process

❶Action research provides enough flexibility to allow fuzzy beginnings while progressing towards appropriate endings.

Three Purposes for Action Research

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With collaborative research, more than one person is involved in the implementation of the new program. Typically, a group of students, larger than just one class, are tested, and the results are analyzed. Many times collaborative research involves both teachers and the principal of the school.

This type of research offers the collaboration of many people working jointly on one subject. The joint collaboration often offers more benefits than an individual action research approach.

Action research programs are generally created from a problem found within an entire school. When a program is researched for an entire school, it is called school-wide action research.

For this type of action research, a school may have concerns about a school-wide problem. This can be lack of parental involvement or research to increase students' performance in a certain subject. The entire staff works together through this research to study the problem, implement changes, and correct the problem or increase performance.

District-wide research is used for an entire school district. This is true for a host of reasons, with none more important than the need to accomplish the following: Enhance the motivation and efficacy of a weary faculty.

Meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body. Teaching in North America has evolved in a manner that makes it more like blue-collar work than a professional undertaking.

Although blue-collar workers are expected to do their jobs with vigilance and vigor, it is also assumed that their tasks will be routine, straightforward, and, therefore, easily handled by an isolated worker with only the occasional support of a supervisor.

Professional work, on the other hand, is expected to be complex and nonroutine, and will generally require collaboration among practitioners to produce satisfactory results. With the exploding knowledge base on teaching and learning and the heightened demands on teachers to help all children achieve mastery of meaningful objectives, the inadequacy of the blue-collar model for teaching is becoming much clearer.

When the teachers in a school begin conducting action research, their workplace begins to take on more of the flavor of the workplaces of other professionals.

The wisdom that informs practice starts coming from those doing the work, not from supervisors who oftentimes are less in touch with and less sensitive to the issues of teaching and learning than the teachers doing the work. Furthermore, when teachers begin engaging their colleagues in discussions of classroom issues, the multiple perspectives that emerge and thus frame the dialogue tend to produce wiser professional decisions.

The work of teaching has always been difficult. But now it isn't just the demands of the classroom that are wearing teachers down. Students increasingly bring more problems into the classroom; parental and societal expectations keep increasing; and financial cutbacks make it clear that today's teachers are being asked to do more with less.

Worse still, the respect that society had traditionally placed upon public school teachers is eroding, as teacher bashing and attacks on the very value of a public education are becoming a regular part of the political landscape. Consequently, teacher burnout has become the plague of the modern schoolhouse. However, without credible evidence that the work of teaching is making a difference, it is hard to imagine the best and brightest sticking with such a difficult and poorly compensated line of work.

Fortunately, evidence has shown that teachers who elect to integrate the use of data into their work start exhibiting the compulsive behavior of fitness enthusiasts who regularly weigh themselves, check their heart rate, and graph data on their improving physical development.

For both teachers and athletes, the continuous presence of compelling data that their hard work is paying off becomes, in itself, a vitally energizing force. In a homogeneous society in which all students come to school looking alike, it might be wise to seek the one right answer to questions of pedagogy.

It is now imperative that classroom teachers have strong content background in each of the subjects they teach, be familiar with the range of student differences in their classrooms, and be capable of diagnosing and prescribing appropriate instructional modifications based upon a knowledge of each child's uniqueness. Crafting solutions to these dynamic and ever changing classroom issues can be an exciting undertaking, especially when one acknowledges that newer and better answers are evolving all the time.

Nevertheless, great personal satisfaction comes from playing a role in creating successful solutions to continually changing puzzles. Conversely, if teachers are expected to robotically implement outdated approaches, especially when countless new challenges are arriving at their door, the frustration can become unbearable. In most jurisdictions standards-driven accountability systems have become the norm. Although they differ somewhat from state to state and province to province, fundamentally these standards-based systems have certain things in common.

Specifically, most education departments and ministries have declared that they expect the standards to be rigorous and meaningful, and that they expect all students to meet the standards at the mastery level. The stakes in the standards movement are high. Students face consequences regarding promotion and graduation. Teachers and schools face ridicule and loss of funding if they fail to meet community expectations. Of course, none of that would be problematic if we as a society knew with certainty how to achieve universal student success.

However, the reality is that no large system anywhere in the world has ever been successful in getting every student to master a set of meaningful objectives. If we accept the truth of that statement, then we need to acknowledge the fact that achieving the goal of universal student mastery will not be easy. That said, most people will agree it is a most noble endeavor in which to invest energy and a worthy goal for any faculty to pursue.

The reality is that our public schools will not prevail with the challenges inherent in the standards movement unless they encourage experimentation, inquiry, and dialogue by those pioneers the teachers who are working toward meeting those challenges. So the time is right for action research. The teachers, schools, and school systems that seize this opportunity and begin investing in the power of inquiry will find that they are re-creating the professional practice of education in their locale as a meaningful and rewarding pursuit.

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Subscribe to ASCD Express , our free e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month. ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online. Premium Member Book May What Is Action Research? The researcher and others involved first recollect and then critique what has already happened.

The increased understanding which emerges from the critical reflection is then put to good use in designing the later steps.

The cycle best known in Australia is probably that of Stephen Kemmis and his colleagues at Deakin University. The reflection leads on to the next stage of planning. The "planning" isn't a separate and prior step; it is embedded in the action and reflection. Short, multiple cycles allow greater rigour to be achieved. As change is intended to result, effective action research depends upon the agreement and commitment of those affected by it.

This is usually generated by involving them directly in the research process. In many instances, researchers try to involve them as equal partners. Action research in more detail. I regard action research as a methodology which is intended to have both action outcomes and research outcomes.

I recognise, too, that in some action research the research component mostly takes the form of understanding on the part of those involved. The action is primary. In distinction, there are some forms of action research where research is the main emphasis and the action is almost a fringe benefit. I regard all of these as action research.

This definition is capable of encompassing a variety of research and intervention methods. It is broad enough to include, as examples, the critical action research approach of Carr and Kemmis , the soft systems methodology of Checkland , and perhaps even the evaluation of Guba and Lincoln , to name just a few.

The responsiveness of action research allows it to be used to develop hypotheses from the data, "on the run" as it were. It can therefore also be used as a research tool for investigative or pilot research, and generally for diagnosis or evaluation. Most writers on the topic state or assume that action research is cyclic, or at least spiral in structure. To put this differently, certain more-or-less similar steps tend to recur, in more-or-less similar order, at different phases of an action research study.

At the same time so the action researcher hopes progress is made towards appropriate action and research outcomes. A commonly known cycle is that of the influential model of Kemmis and McTaggart mentioned earlier -- plan, act, observe, reflect; then, in the light of this, plan for the next cycle. It is also generally held that action research is participative, though writers differ on how participative it is.

My own preference is to use participative methods. On the other hand I don't see why action research must be limited to this. So, the extent of participation may vary. In some instances there may be a genuine partnership between researcher and others. The distinction between researcher and others may disappear. On other occasions the researcher may choose for whatever reason to maintain a separate role. Participation may be limited to being involved as an informant.

The participants, too, may choose something less than full partnership for themselves under some circumstances. Most action research is qualitative. Some is a mix of qualitative and quantitative. All else being equal, numbers do offer advantages. In field settings, though, one often has to make other sacrifices to be able to use them. Most importantly, sometimes numbers are not easily applied to some features of a study. If these include features of particular interest or importance, the choice is between qualitative research or omitting important features.

In addition, developing a suitable quantitative measure is often difficult and time-consuming. It may be more time-efficient to use qualitative data.


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Action research can be defined as “an approach in which the action researcher and a client collaborate in the diagnosis of the problem and in the development of a solution based on the diagnosis”[1]. In other words, one of the main characteristic traits of action research relates to.

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Video: Action Research in Education: Methods & Examples Action research is often used in the field of education. The following lesson provides two examples of action research in the field of education, methods of conducting action research and a quiz to assess your understanding of the topic.

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MethodSpace is a multidimensional online network for the community of researchers, from students to professors, engaged in research methods. Sponsored by SAGE Publishing, a leading publisher of books and journals in research methods, the site is created for students and researchers to network and share research, resources and debates. Action research consists of a family of research methodologies which pursue action and research outcomes at the same time. It therefore has some components which resemble consultancy or change agency, and some which resemble field research.

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Educational action research can be engaged in by a single teacher, by a group of colleagues who share an interest in a common problem, or by the entire faculty of a school. Whatever the scenario, action research always involves the same seven-step process. Action Research is more of a holistic approach to problem-solving, rather than a single method for collecting and analyzing data. Thus, it allows for several different research tools .