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Teachers as Action Researchers

In this next series of blog posts, I share some of the ways I use digital technologies to enhance student learning in my own classroom. As I implement new technologies I use an Action Research model to help me systematically explore each new program or tool.

How do I define Action Research and apply it to my classroom practice?

At the school where I teach, grade level teams meet in Professional Learning Communities (PLC) on a regular basis. In the last two years our practice has been to select 3-4 students in our classrooms to focus on as a team during the year. We selected reading fluency as an area of concern. We tried different strategies to build fluency, and then assessed fluency, shared successful strategies and described struggles. This sharing helped each of us grow and improve our practice. This work is a form of Action Research.

Action Research is something good teachers regularly do. We may not call it or think of it as research, but teachers regularly reflect on classroom practice and the effects of our practice on student learning. Through a lens of Action Research I become more aware and systematic.  Critically reflecting on classroom practice increases my sense of confidence and my understanding of teaching best practices.  Action Research is sometimes called Teacher Research.

Action Research begins as a teacher reflects on an area of concern, a problem or a classroom practice. I form a question related to the area of concern to guide the study. Examples from my classroom include:

How might digital audio recorders increase student engagement in reading fluency practice?

What effects does an online reading intervention program have on learners?

In what ways will the introduction of brief active breaks between class activities effect student behavior?

The Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher collects data, reflects on it and plans a course of action to study the question. The Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher  reflects regularly on the question and refines the study as the school year progresses.

Action Research generally takes place in a kind of upward spiral. After coming up with a question, designing and implementing an action plan, the Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher examines and reflects on the data collected in an ongoing cycle. Data might include the following:

  • Qualitative (written) data, such as interviews with students, and teacher notes of observations from the classroom.
  • Quantitative (numerical) data might include reading comprehension scores, attendance rates or reading fluency scores.

This data provides feedback that allows the teacher to adapt and refine the action plan.

Unlike traditional research there are no control groups and test groups. Students in a control group do not receive a treatment, and students in test groups do receive a treatment.  In Action Research there is only an intact group of students who receive the same treatment, usually with their classroom teacher as the Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher. The goal of Action Research in the classroom is to provide teachers with a systematic model to guide the study and improvement of teaching practice, while in the process of teaching.

Unlike other forms of research, Action Research is seldom written up into articles. Classroom teachers are busy planning and preparing to lead engaging lessons and activities and have little time or energy left for writing. But this is a shame, because such articles may give other teachers helpful information and inspiration to try new ways of approaching old problems.

The goal of this blog post has been to give you an overview of Action Research. I follow this model to help me systematically explore the use of new technologies for student learning in my own classroom. In this series of posts to my Blog,  I share some of the ways I use digital technologies to enhance student learning in my own classroom.

I welcome comments and constructive criticism as well as questions about what I have shared.

Some resources for further study of Action Research:

Santa Rosa City Schools Professional Development Center

Teacher’s Network Leadership Institute

Mohr, Marian – George Mason University Teacher and Action Research Resource website. July 20, 2014

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