Last modified on 28 March 2010, at 04:07

Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Knowing/Action Research

What role does action research play?

Teachers constantly test and adapt their teaching methods to ensure the best learning environment for their students because teachers know that not all accepted methods work for all students. After all, most educational research is conducted not in an actual classroom but in a controlled environment, yielding results that only theoretically work in a classroom. Teachers who want to prove what methods work with their current group of students can conduct research in their own classroom, referred to as classroom action research.

Conducting Classroom Action ResearchEdit

Classroom action research is most often conducted collaboratively, but can also be used by individual teachers to answer a pressing question about learning in their classroom. Classroom action research can focus on an individual student, a group of students, or two or more classes. Educators pose a question and look for the answer within their classroom or their team, gathering data as they teach; in other words, action research is research that actively takes place in the classroom. When performing action research, “…the researcher wants to try out a theory with practitioners in real life situations, gain feedback from this experience, modify the theory as a result of this feedback, and try it again” (Avison et al, 1999, p.95).

Analyzing DataEdit

Analysis of data will usually combine both qualitative (e.g. classroom discussions or student surveys) and quantitative (e.g. test scores or student averages) measures. Classroom action research can be instituted for as little as one semester or can take place over the course of an entire school year. Because the researcher is also the teacher and not an outsider collecting data for publication, findings from data analysis can be used immediately to share with other professionals and to decide what course of action to take in the classroom regarding the issue studied. In this way, classroom action research provides teachers an outlet to share common concerns and solutions to real classroom problems and helps to eliminate isolation that is common among teachers. Furthermore, classroom action research offers the teacher-researcher insight into what teachers know about how and what their students are learning in their classrooms.

Supporting the ResearchEdit

Ask a question, research accepted answers to the question, develop a research plan, collect data, analyze data, plan a results-based course of action, and finally, share the results.

—(Mettetal, 2002-2003)

Many writers supporting classroom action research (e.g. Mettetal, 2002-2003; Johnson, 1993; Rinaldo, 2005) encourage teachers to participate in action research by equating the processes involved with action research to the behaviors of naturally gifted teachers because “…on a daily basis teachers design and implement a plan of action, observe and analyze outcomes, and modify plans to better meet the needs of students” (Anderson). Formally writing down these things essentially transforms good teachers' methods into research. Most research writers agree that successful research follows a set of clearly articulated steps that are easily manageable with other daily duties, even for the beginning teacher:

Overall, supporters for classroom action research want teachers to realize that teachers have the power to develop and implement best practices in their classrooms simply by turning their lessons or procedures into research and place importance on classroom action research as vital to educational reform. Supporters further argue that a teacher’s observations are more valuable than an outside researcher’s, given teachers’ real-life experience in the classroom, and subsequently hope in the future to see more teachers and schools involved in action research. (Mettetal, 2002-2003; Johnson, 1993; Rinaldo, 2005)

Questioning the ResearchEdit

While supporters of classroom action research make some convincing arguments, those with doubts raise some interesting questions regarding the validity and ethics of classroom action research. Skeptics view the role of teacher-researcher as poorly defined in the absence of clearly stated guidelines for carrying out action research and argue for the creation of ethical and procedural standards specifically related to classroom action research. (Avison et al, 1999, pp.96-97; Bournot-Trites and Belanger, 2005, pp.197-215)

Standards and Ethical PoliciesEdit

Most research standards and ethical policies are designed for medical experimentation and, therefore, do not readily apply to educational research. Bournot-Trites and Belanger argue that some modern day ethical principles designed for medical research are important to classroom action research. (2005, p.199) For instance, the Nuremberg Code, developed as a response to the inhumane practices of Nazi medical researchers and the basis for modern research ethics, dictates that a research subject must give voluntary consent upon being informed of the experimental procedures. However, classroom action research holds no standard for free and informed consent. Without free and informed consent from both students and parents, Bournot-Trites and Belanger worry that students’ rights, including ownership of intellectual property (i.e. written work) and entitlement to best possible instruction, could be overlooked. (2005, pp. 204-210)

GuidelinesEdit

Additionally, some researchers (Avison et al, 1999, pp.96-97; Bournot-Trites and Belanger, 2005, pp.197-215) believe that procedural guidelines must be established for classroom action research to be considered credible. The purpose of guidelines or standards for any documented undertaking is to quantify the quality of information being communicated. In other words, guidelines or standards allow us to judge the validity of one person’s research compared to another. In order “…for novice researchers and practitioners to understand and engage in action research studies in terms of design, process, presentation, and criteria for evaluation,” (Avison et al, 1999, p.96) guidelines must be developed. Moreover, these writers believe that with these necessary improvements action research could be a valuable tool that could improve education. (Avison et al, 1999, p.96)

ConclusionEdit

In spite of their differences both supporters of action research and those doubtful of the current state of action research share the belief that classroom action research, when done properly, can make a difference in education. Teachers must weigh the benefits and consequences of conducting research in their classroom, not only the ethics and credibility of action research but also their ability as a professional to balance those two roles of researcher and educator. Although the practices of action research and a skilled teacher’s daily routine of observing, reflecting, and adapting material are similar, the ease with which a teacher can perform the additional task of consistently recording the data from these routine practices relies on solid time-management and multi-tasking skills. Poorly planned and executed classroom action research can jeopardize a student’s education, and teachers must remain cognizant of their duty to provide the best possible instruction for their students.

Multiple Choice QuestionsEdit

Click to reveal the answer.

Classroom action research would not be helpful in addressing which of the following questions?
A. What happens when I implement silent-sustained reading in my classroom?
B. What is the relationship of homework to test scores?
C. Do students enjoy my class?
D. What is the role of inquiry in my science classroom?

C. Do students enjoy my class?

Classroom action research can be carried out by a teacher with...
A. An individual student.
B. A group of students.
C. A group of volunteers in a simulated classroom setting.
D. Two or more sections of the same class.

C. A group of volunteers in a simulated classroom setting.

Classroom action research can produce all of the following effects EXCEPT which one?
A. It isolates teachers.
B. It allows for teachers to share their knowledge with colleagues.
C. It could act as a catalyst for educational reform.
D. It can improve student learning in the classroom.

A. It isolates teachers.

Teacher-researchers should make sure that their classroom action research...
A. Informs them about what their students know.
B. Does not jeopardize student learning.
C. Addresses one question of particular concern in their classroom.
D. All of the above.

D. All of the above.

Which of the following steps would you not expect to see in the action research process?
A. Collect data.
B. Formulate a question.
C. Publish findings in an academic journal.
D. Implement new strategies based on findings.

C. Publish findings in an academic journal.

Ms. Gruff desires to control behavioral problems in her fourth grade class. She arranges student seating in the following manner: Caucasian and Asian students sit toward the front of the classroom; African and Hispanic students sit at the back of class, to minimize any distraction made towards the Caucasian and Asian students. Ms Gruff’s seating assignment is based upon...
A. Classroom action research
B. Scientific research
C. Both A and B
D. None of the above

D. None of the above

Mr. Meal, a school dietitian at a middle school, becomes intrigue by the article “Childhood Obesity,” from the American Medical Journal. Mr. Meal drafts up a proposal to change the menu for the entire school district. Mr. Meal’s proposal response resulted from...
A. Classroom action research
B. Scientific research
C. Both A and B
D. None of the above

B. Scientific research

Mrs. Love teaches a combined class of 4th and 5th grade highly capable students. Mrs. Love realizes that some of the adopted lesson plans are too challenging for the 4th graders and not challenging enough for the 5th graders. She resolves to identify which lesson plans can be combined and which lesson plans must be separated. In addition, she must determine methods to deliver quality education and support to the various learning styles of her 32 students without the aide of a para-educator or teacher assistant. Mrs. Love should perform...
A. Classroom action research
B. Scientific research
C. Both A and B
D. None of the above

A. Classroom action research

Essay QuestionEdit

Click to reveal a sample response.

How might you use action research in your classroom? Develop a question that you could address in your classroom and describe your research plan using the steps given in the article.

While working as an aide in an elementary resource room, the teacher and I performed classroom action research. All of the 3rd and 4th graders that we saw were below their grade level in reading. They often left their classrooms to come to the resource room during un-structured time or sustained reading time. As a result they were not actively involved in the Accelerated Reader Programs in their individual classrooms. The teacher and I decided to create an Accelerated Reader Program for the resource room. At the beginning of the semester we gave each students a test to calculate both their independent and assisted reading levels. We then broke the students down into to groups of 2 or 3 based on their reading levels. During their time in the resource room each group read a book and then took a test in the program to earn points. They read silently when not in the group reading. I also read a portion of a chapter book each day in class, and class notes were created on that book.

Points could be stored and then cashed in for various prizes. We made the prizes educational. They were compromised mainly of books, art supplies and educational computer games. Before long students were coming in before school and during their lunch to take Accelerated Reader tests. At the end of the semester each student had raised their reading level at least a full year. At the end of the year each student had raised their reading level by an average of two years. Two of the fourth grade students were able to leave the special education program completely. —Sarah Mullins-Spears

ReferencesEdit