Without utilizing a technique like Action Research, you may not be certain about a solution’s effectiveness and might not be maximizing your student’s potential. Action Research is a process for teachers to reflect and evaluate their teaching practices, identify best practices in current research, and work to improve instructional and student performance in a data-focused way. How often have you seen a new strategy or idea and thought, “Yes! That would be a great way to help my students,” and then sought to try it out? Or, has your district or school ever identified some areas for improvement in the student population and recommended a specific instructional method or strategy to help solve those problems? Every teacher experiences these scenarios, but the only way for a teacher to know whether or not an approach in the classroom is valid and works is to deeply reflect on and evaluate his or her own implementation in the classroom. The best method for identifying a problem, selecting a solution, and evaluating its effectiveness after implementation is the standardized approach of Action Research.
Action research seeks to make changes. It is performed as part of your classroom teaching, and as such, the subjects being studied are known to you- these are your students or colleagues. Some form of action is taken after your research so that you can test your solution. Finally, in action research, your results are shared in a more informal presentation. There are, in general, six steps of an action research process.
STEP 1 – Identify a problem, and formulate a research question
Step 1 is identifying a problem and posing a question. Action research officially begins by identifying a problem. As a teacher, you might choose a problem to focus on related to classroom management, assessment, a specific content area, a specific teaching strategy, or even outside factors that impact your classroom. Once you have chosen a problem on which to focus, you develop a research question based on that problem.
STEP 2 – Review the existing literature
Step 2 is the literature review. Once you have identified a problem and posed a research question, the second step is to review the literature that has already been written about your chosen problem. It is important to discover what solutions people have already explored as you work towards developing your own solution for your classroom.
Step 3 – Propose a solution
After completing your literature review, you are ready to choose a solution to implement. That is step 3. Choosing a solution that only changes one variable in your data collection is essential. In other words, you want to select a narrowly focused solution that addresses the root of your identified problem in a way that allows you to easily measure the solution. You may have to revise your research question at this point in the process.
Step 4 – Collect data
The fourth step in the action research process is the actual collection of data. This is when you test the solution in your classroom and collect data to determine the effectiveness of the solution.
Step 5 – Analyze data
Once you have collected data from your action research, it is time to analyze that data. There are different methods for analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data that will be covered in this course.
Step 6 – Communicate results
The final step in the action research process is to share the results of your hard work. You will select an audience and create a presentation to share. This also gives you a chance to receive feedback from your audience and to consider your next step. Collaboration is critical to any process involving problems and solutions, and your presentation can help spread best practices to your colleagues!
Consider this 5th-grade classroom.
If you were to observe Mrs. Clifton’s 5th grade class first thing in the morning, it would appear to be very chaotic. Students come in at staggered times and do not appear to have any idea of what they should do, so there are kids all over the room, talking loudly and some even getting physical with others. Science is the first subject of the day, and Mrs. Clifton shows a video at least 3 days each week, expecting her students to take notes during the video. Later, while her students are in their art class, she grades their spelling tests from the previous day and over half of the class had a failing grade. Based on this scenario, what would be some potential research topics that Mrs. Clifton might choose to investigate?
One topic Mrs. Clifton could consider is related to classroom management with a focus on a morning routine. A second idea is looking at the value of video and note-taking as a primary instructional strategy for science. A third idea would be looking at different types of assessment, particularly for spelling. These real- classroom problems set the perfect stage for a strong action research project, where Mrs. Clifton can identify a solution to her problem, and then measure whether it is effective and appropriate for her students.
Action Research can be a powerful tool to impart real change in your classroom for the betterment of your students! While this article did not provide you with a comprehensive look at how to begin and fully implement an action research project, it should have given you an idea of what it entails and whether this is a professional development exercise you may wish to explore further.