Action research in the classroom: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

Action research in the classroom: A teacher's guide to understanding your learners and improving learning outcomes.

What is action research?

Action Research is a systematic enquiry method that educators undertake as their practice researchers. The enquiry of the Action Research is mostly seen as a cyclical process. Below are the two examples of the action research process.

'Kurt Lewin' (1944) was the first person to propose the term  “action research,” for a process of inquiry and investigation that takes place as an action is carried out to solve a problem. Currently, we use the term 'action research' for a reflective process of inquiry, performed to improve practice and understanding. One may use the word “action” for the change he/ she is trying to implement and “research” to define a teacher's improved knowledge of the learning environment. In this article, we will explore how this professional learning model can be used to improve educational outcomes in both primary and secondary schools.

How to start an action research activity?

The action research process usually begins with a situation or issue that a teacher wants to change as part of school improvement initiatives.

Teachers get support in changing the 'interesting issue' into a 'researchable question' and then taking to experiment. The teacher will draw on the outcomes of other researchers to help build actions and reveal the consequences.

Participatory action research is a strategy to the enquiry which has been utilised since the 1940s. Participatory action involves researchers and other participants taking informed action to gain knowledge of a problematic situation and change it to bring a positive effect. As an action researcher, a teacher carries out research. Enquiring into their practice would lead a teacher to question the norms and assumptions that are mostly overlooked in normal school life. Making a routine of inquiry can provide a commitment to learning and professional development. A teacher-researcher holds the responsibility for being the source and agent of change.

Potential research questions could include:

What is action research
What is action research?

What is an action research cycle?

Action research in education is a cycle of reflection and action inquiry, which follows these steps:

1. Identifying the problem

It is the first stage of action research that starts when a teacher identifies a problem or question that they want to address. To make an action research approach successful, the teacher needs to ensure that the questions are the ones 'they' wish to solve. Their questions might involve social sciences, instructional strategies, everyday life and social management issues, guide for students analytical research methods for improving specific student performance or curriculum implementation etc. Teachers may seek help from a wide variety of existing literature, to find strategies and solutions that others have executed to solve any particular problem. It is also suggested to build a visual map or a table of problems, target performances, potential solutions and supporting references in the middle.

2. Developing an Action Plan

After identifying the problem, after reviewing the relevant literature and describing the vision of how to solve the problem; the next step would be action planning which means to develop a plan of action. Action planning involves studying the literature and brainstorming can be used by the action research planner to create new techniques and strategies that can generate better results of both action learning and action research. One may go back to the visual map or table of contents and reorder or colour-code the potential outcomes. The items in the list can be ranked in order of significance and the amount of time needed for these strategies. An action plan has the details of how to implement each idea and the factors that may keep them from their vision of success. Identify those factors that cannot be changed–these are the constants in an equation. The focus of action research at the planning stage must remain focused on the variables–the factors that can be changed using actions. An action plan must be how to implement a solution and how one's instruction, management style, and behaviour will affect each of the variables.

Developing a model for action research
Developing a model for action research

3. Data Collection

Before starting to implement a plan of action, the researcher must have a complete understanding of action research and must have knowledge of the type of data that may help in the success of the plan and must assess how to collect that data. For instance, if the goal is to improve class attendance, attendance records must be collected as useful data for the participatory action. If the goal is to improve time management, the data may include students and classroom observations. There are many options to choose from to collect data from. Selecting the most suitable methodology for data collection will provide more meaningful, accurate and valid data. Some sources of data are interviews and observation. Also, one may administer surveys, distribute questionnaires and watch videotapes of the classroom to collect data.

4. Data Analysis and Conclusions

At this action stage, an action researcher analyses the collected data and concludes. It is suggested to assess the data during the predefined process of data collection as it will help refine the action research agenda. If the collected data seems insufficient, the data collection plan must be revised. Data analysis also helps to reflect on what exactly happened. Did the action researcher perform the actions as planned? Were the study outcomes as expected? Which assumptions of the action researcher proved to be incorrect? Adding details such as tables, opinions, and recommendations can help in identifying trends (correlations and relationships). One must share the findings while analysing data and drawing conclusions. Engaging in conversations for teacher growth is essential; hence, the action researcher would share the findings with other teachers through discussion of action research, who can yield useful feedback. One may also share the findings with students, as they can also provide additional insight. For example, if teachers and students agree with the conclusions of action research for educational change, it adds to the credibility of the data collection plan and analysis. If they don't seem to agree with the data collection plan and analysis, the action researchers may take informed action and refine the data collection plan and reevaluate conclusions.

Making insightful classrooms observations
Making insightful classrooms observations

5. Modifying the Educational Theory and Repeat

After concluding, the process begins again. The teacher can adjust different aspects of the action research approach to theory or make it more specific according to the findings. Action research guides how to change the steps of action research development, how to modify the action plan, and provide better access to resources, start data collection once again, or prepare new questions to ask from the respondents.

Teachers developing professional judgements
Using action research to deepen teachers judgements

6. Report the Findings

Since the main approach to action research involves the informed action to introduce useful change into the classroom or schools, one must not forget to share the outcomes with others. Sharing the outcomes would help to further reflect on the problem and process, and it would help other teachers to use these findings to enhance their professional practice as an educator. One may print book and share the experience with the school leaders, principal, teachers and students as they served as guide to action research. Or, a community action researcher may present community-based action research at a conference so people from other areas can take advantage of this collaborative action. Also, teachers may use a digital storytelling tool to outline their results. There are plenty of creative tools we can use to bring the research projects to life. We have seen videos, podcasts and research posters all being used to communicate the results of these programs. Community action research is a unique way to present details of the community-related adventures in the teacher profession, cultivate expertise and show how teachers think about education, so it is better to find unique ways to report the findings of community-led action research.

Final thoughts on action-research for teachers

All teachers want to help their students to become better citizens and learners. An action research project offers unique and reflective professional learning one may use to bring a positive change in the educational practices and classroom and to find out whether those changes bring the desired results or not. An action research model provides unique ideas and knowledge along with critical action research making a great formula for an effective change.