PISMP 2007 @ IPG

What is Action Research? Action research is known by many other names, including participatory research, collaborative inquiry, emancipatory research, action learning, and contextural action research, but all are variations on a theme. Put simply, action research is ―learning by doing‖ - a group of people identify a problem, do something to resolve it, see how successful their efforts were, and if not satisfied, try again. While this is the essence of the approach, there are other key attributes of action research that differentiate it from common problem-solving activities that we all engage in every day.

Action research is a term which refers to a practical way of looking at your own work to check that it is as you would like it to be. Because action research is done by you, the practitioner, it is often referred to as practitioner based research; and because it involves you thinking about and reflecting on your work, it can also be called a form of self-reflective practice. The idea of self reflection is central. In traditional forms of research – empirical research – researchers do research on other people. In action research, researchers do research on themselves. Empirical researchers enquire into other people‘s lives. Action researchers enquire into their own. Action research is an enquiry conducted by the self into the self. You, a practitioner, think about your own life and work, and this involves you asking yourself why you do the things that you do, and why you are the way that you are. When you produce your research report, it shows how you have carried out a systematic investigation into your own behaviour, and the reasons for that behaviour. The report shows the process you have gone through in order to achieve a better understanding of yourself, so that you can continue developing yourself and your work. Action research can be described as a family of research methodologies which pursue action (or change) and research (or understanding) at the same time. In most of its forms it does this by using a cyclic or spiral process which alternates between action and critical reflection and in the later cycles, continuously refining methods, data and interpretation in the light of the understanding developed in the earlier cycles.

Action research is undertaken in a school setting. It is a reflective process that allows for inquiry and discussion as components of the ―research.‖ Often, action research is a collaborative activity among colleagues searching for solutions to everyday, real problems experienced in schools, or looking for ways to improve instruction and increase student achievement. Rather than dealing with the theoretical, action research allows practitioners to address those concerns that are closest to them, ones over which they can exhibit some influence and make change. Practitioners are responsible for making more and more decisions in the operations of schools, and they are being held publicly accountable for student achievement results. The process of action research assists

At times. as well as enlist support and guidance from administrators. documenting the steps of inquiry. It is based on the following assumptions: Teachers and principals work best on problems they have identified for themselves Teachers and principals become more effective when encouraged to examine and assess their own work and then consider ways of working differently Teachers and principals help each other by working collaboratively Working with colleagues helps teachers and principals in their professional development Although there are many types of research that may be undertaken. action research is a form of self evaluation. While people who call for greater professionalization say that teachers should be constantly researching and educating themselves about their area of expertise. reflection. Action research is open ended. It helps you live out the things you believe in. Seen in this way. seeing how it goes. While a teacher may work alone on these studies. university scholars. action research specifically refers to a disciplined inquiry done by a teacher with the intent that the research will inform and change his or her practices in the future. It is used widely in professional contexts such as appraisal. many action research projects are started with a particular problem to solve. Implicit in the term action research is the idea that teachers will begin a cycle of posing questions. Action research is a process in which participants examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully. and it enables you to give good reasons every step of the way. gathering data. Indeed. it is also common for a number of teachers to collaborate on a problem. which require a new look. mentoring and self assessment. whose solution leads into other areas of study. and continually checking whether it is in line with what you wish to happen. using the techniques of research. analyzing data. and deciding on a course of action. and making informed decisions that can lead to desired outcomes. with the students and at the school in which the teacher works— on questions that deal with educational matters at hand. this is different from the study of more educational questions that arise from the practice of teaching. When these decisions begin to change the school environment. It does not begin with a fixed hypothesis. . A useful way to think about action research is that it is a strategy to help you live in a way that you feel is a good way. whole schools may decide to tackle a school-wide study to address a common issue. or join with others to look at district-wide issues. a different set of circumstances appears with different problems posed. and others.PISMP 2007 @ IPG educators in assessing needs. The research process is the developmental process of following through the idea. It begins with an idea that you develop. This research is carried out within the context of the teacher‘s environment—that is.

Differences between Action and Formal Research TOPIC Training needed by researcher Goals of research Method of identifying the problem to be studied Procedure for literature review Sampling approach FORMAL RESEARCH Extensive Knowledge that is generalizable ACTION RESEARCH On own or withconsultation Knowledge to apply to the local situation Review of previous research Problems or goals currently faced Extensive. or finding all available information on a topic looking for the correct answers. change during study. but rather a quest for knowledge about how to improve. techniques. Action research is not about doing research on or about people. Classroom Action Research Classroom Action Research is research designed to help a teacher find out what is happening in his or her classroom. descriptive or experimental. control through triangulation Research design Rigorous control.PISMP 2007 @ IPG What is NOT action research? Action research is not what usually comes to mind when we hear the word ―research. It is not problem-solving in the sense of trying to find out what is wrong. It is about how we can change our instruction to impact students. using secondary sources Students or clients with whom they work Looser procedures. and to use that information to make wise decisions for the future. using primary sources Random or representative sampling More cursory.‖ Action research is not a library project where we learn more about a topic that interests us. quick time frame. but rather how we can do things better. It involves people working to improve their skills. Action research is not about learning why we do certain things. long time frame . Methods can be qualitative or quantitative. and strategies.

instructional strategies. An example of action research for a school could be to examine their state test scores to identify areas that need improvement. Or. or submit written material to a listserv. Individual teacher research usually focuses on a single issue in the classroom. or student learning. or newsletter.PISMP 2007 @ IPG Measurement procedures Evaluate and pretest measures Convenient measures or standardized tests Focus on practical. and it may be that problem points . a school may have a concern about the lack of parental involvement in activities. It is possible for several teachers to be working concurrently on the same problem with no knowledge of the work of others. or a team of teachers and others focusing on a school. make a formal presentation at a conference. and then determine a plan of action to improve student performance. and is looking for a way to reach more parents to involve them in meaningful ways. such as a university or community partner. Team work and individual contributions to the whole are very important. qualitative techniques Emphasis on theoretical significance Application of results Types of Action Research Part of the confusion we find when we hear the term ―action research‖ is that there are different types of action research depending upon the participants involved. present raw data Emphasis on practical significance Data analysis Statistical tests. Collaborative action research may include as few as two teachers or a group of several teachers and others interested in addressing a classroom or department issue. and decide on a plan of action. gather and analyze the data. This issue may involve one classroom or a common problem shared by many classrooms. Teams of staff from the school work together to narrow the question. Teachers may have support of their supervisor or principal. School-wide research focuses on issues common to all. the school may be looking to address its organizational and decision-making structures. For example. a group of teachers working on a common problem. use of materials. The teacher may be seeking solutions to problems of classroom management. A plan of research can involve a single teacher investigating an issue in his or her classroom.or district-wide issue. not statistical significance. or parents. The research may then be such that the teacher collects data or may involve looking at student participation. an instructor for a course they are taking. These teachers may be supported by individuals outside of the school. The problem is one that the teacher believes is evident in his or her classroom and one that can be addressed on an individual basis. One of the drawbacks of individual research is that it may not be shared with others unless the teacher chooses to present findings at a faculty meeting. journal.

A district may choose to address a problem common to several schools or one of organizational management. Downsides are the documentation requirements (communication) to keep everyone in the loop. but the rewards can be great. On the positive side. community-based. District-wide research is far more complex and utilizes more resources. there will be a sense of ownership and accomplishment in the results that come from this school-wide effort.PISMP 2007 @ IPG arise as the team strives to develop a process and make commitments to each other. or processes for decision-making. performance-based. Collecting data from all participants needs a commitment from staff to do their fair share and to meet agreed-upon deadlines for assignments. and the ability to keep the process in motion. . real school reform and change can take hold based on a common understanding through inquiry. The involvement of multiple constituent groups can lend energy to the process and create an environment of genuine stakeholders. Issues can be organizational. When these obstacles are overcome.

PISMP 2007 @ IPG Figure 1 : Types of Action Research .

and social change. 5. there are four basic themes: empowerment of participants. 2. 3.PISMP 2007 @ IPG Steps in Action Research Within all the definitions of action research. In conducting action research. 4. collaboration through participation. These routines are loosely guided by movement through five phases of inquiry: 1. acquisition of knowledge. we structure routines for continuous confrontation with data on the health of a school community. Indentification of problem area Collection and organization of data Interpretation of data Action based on data Reflection .

For example. avoiding jargon be concise be meaningful not already have an answer GATHER DATA The collection of data is an important step in deciding what action needs to be taken.PISMP 2007 @ IPG IDENTIFY A PROBLEM AREA Teachers often have several questions they wish to investigate. a teacher may be using the latest fashionable teaching strategy. however. Multiple sources of data are used to better understand the scope of happenings in the classroom or school. be a higher-order question—not a yes/no be stated in common language. it is important to limit the question to one that is meaningful and doable in the confines of their daily work. the problem to be studied may come from a feeling of discomfort or tension in the classroom. yet not really knowing or understanding what or how kids are learning. There are several criteria to consider before investing the time and effort in ―researching‖ a problem. There are many vehicles for collection of data: . The question should An important guideline in choosing a question is to ask if it is something over which the teacher has influence. Is it something of interest and worth the time and effort that will be spent? Sometimes there is a discrete problem that is readily identifiable. Careful planning at this first stage will limit false starts and frustrations. Or.

attitudes. It is important that only one variable be altered. INTERPRET DATA Analyze and identify major themes. Are the data easy to collect? Are there sources readily available for use? How structured and systematic will the collection be? Use at least three sources (triangulation) of data for the basis of actions. Data that are not quantifiable can be reviewed holistically and important elements or themes can be noted. (The Reconnaissance & General Plan . school. Other data. Data can be arranged by gender. individual data. where an understanding of a problem is developed and plans are made for some form of interventionary strategy. if several changes are made at once. revisions. or subgroup data. continue to document and collect data on performance. what changes can be made to the actions to elicit better results? NEXT STEPS As a result of the action research project. etc. grade level. EVALUATE RESULTS Assess the effects of the intervention to determine if improvement has occurred. 1993) as per the following characteristic cycle: Initially an exploratory stance is adopted.PISMP 2007 @ IPG Select the data that are most appropriate for the issue being researched. do the data clearly provide the supporting evidence? If no. it will be difficult to determine which action is responsible for the outcome. such as opinions. and next steps. ACTION RESEARCH DESIGN The essentials of action research design are considered by Elliott (in Hopkins. teachers may wish to use classroom data. While the new technique is being implemented. As with any experiment. If there is improvement.) . Some of the data are quantifiable and can be analyzed without the use of statistics or technical assistance. Depending upon the question. Organize the data in a way that makes it useful to identify trends and themes. design a plan of action that will allow you to make a change and to study that change. may be summarized in table form. ACT ON EVIDENCE Using the information from the data collection and review of current literature. or checklists. identify additional questions raised by the data and plan for additional improvements. classroom.

action. The protocol is iterative or cyclical in nature and is intended to foster deeper understanding of a given situation. Figure 1: Action Research Protocol after Kemmis Figure 1 clearly displays the iterative nature of AR along with the major steps of planning. (The Action in Action Research) During and around the time of the intervention. continuing until a sufficient understanding of (or implement able solution for) the problem is achieved (Reflection and Revision).the idea is to close in upon a final goal or outcome by repeated iterations. (Monitoring the implementation by Observation. For instance. starting with conceptualizing and particularizing the problem and moving through several interventions and evaluations. ) The new interventional strategies are carried out. A representation of an AR protocol by Kemmis is provided in Figure 1. observation and reflection before revising the plan . This may be thought of as similar in nature to the numerical computing technique known as successive approximation . Later protocols reflect changes in the goal as determined via experience during the reflections of earlier iterations of AR. and the cyclic process repeats.PISMP 2007 @ IPG Then the intervention is carried out . pertinent observations are collected in various forms. Figure 2 reflects the evolution of the general idea or main topic of interest throughout the process. .

. 1985). . The reconnaissance necessarily includes some degree of analysis.PISMP 2007 @ IPG Figure 2: Action Research after Elliott Elliott's model emphasizes constant evolution and redefinition of the original goal through a series of reconnaissances recurring every cycle. as described in Figure 3.recapture some of the 'messiness' which the Kemmis version tends to gloss [over] " (Hopkins. Ebbutt further illustrates the evolution of the overall plan through a spiral analogy. and seeks to ". This design permits much greater flexibility..

however. transcripts or official documents. is relative to the teller. such as notes. biases. 1) Reflexive critique An account of a situation. therefore a dialectical critique is required to understand the set of relationships both between the phenomenon and its context. it implies that it is factual and true.PISMP 2007 @ IPG Principles of Action Research What gives action research its unique flavour is the set of principles that guide the research. The principle of collaborative resource presupposes that each person‘s ideas are equally significant as potential resources for creating interpretive categories of analysis. 3) Collaborative Resource Participants in an action research project are co-researchers.e. Winter (1989) provides a comprehensive overview of six key principles. which is to say it is shared through language. 2) Dialectical critique Reality. Phenomena are conceptualized in dialogue. In this way. negotiated among the participants. will make implicit claims to be authoritative. It strives to avoid the skewing of credibility stemming from the prior status of an idea-holder. These are the ones that are most likely to create changes. It especially makes . The principle of reflective critique ensures people reflect on issues and processes and make explicit the interpretations. i. or in opposition to one another. and between the elements constituting the phenomenon. practical accounts can give rise to theoretical considerations. assumptions and concerns upon which judgments are made. is consensually validated. particularly social reality.. Truth in a social setting. The key elements to focus attention on are those constituent elements that are unstable.

practice refines theory. he was concerned with social problems. It is up to the researchers to make explicit the theoretical justifications for the actions. with commentaries on their contradictions. A report. therefore. 6) Theory. The two are intertwined aspects of a single change process. and judgments. The ensuing practical applications that follow are subjected to further analysis. in a transformative cycle that continuously alternates emphasis between theory and practice. andchange. generally within organizations. Lewin firstcoined the term ‗action research‘ in his 1946 paper ―Action Research andMinority Problems‖. ideas. andfocused on participative group processes for addressing conflict. leading to multiple possible actions and interpretations.PISMP 2007 @ IPG possible the insights gleaned from noting the contradictions both between many viewpoints and within a single viewpoint 4) Risk The change process potentially threatens all previously established ways of doing things. thus creating psychic fears among the practitioners. commentaries and critiques. characterizing Action Research as ―a comparative research on the conditions andeffects of various forms of social action and research leading to socialaction‖. Evolution of Action Research Origins in late 1940s Kurt Lewin isgenerally considered the ‗father‘ of action research. in a continuous transformation. acts as a support for ongoing discussion among collaborators. but soon went on to establish his own National TrainingLaboratories. will be subject to the same process. Transformation For action researchers. rather than a final conclusion of fact. Initiators of action research will use this principle to allay others‘ fears and invite participation by pointing out that they. Initially. and to question the bases of those justifications. 5) Plural Structure The nature of the research embodies a multiplicity of views. he was associated with the Center for Group Dynamics at MITin Boston. using a process . and one of thefounders of the Gestalt school. This plural structure of inquiry requires a plural text for reporting. and with every observed result. people‘s actions are based on implicitly held assumptions. theoretical knowledge is enhanced. One of the more prominent fears comes from the risk to ego stemming from open discussion of one‘s interpretations. This means that there will be many accounts made explicit. and that whatever the outcome. learning will take place. A German social and experimental psychologist. In any setting. crises. Practice. theories and hypotheses. and a range of options for action presented. too. theory informs practice.

and theClinical Model. holographic. Both wereavid proponents of the principle that decisions are best implemented by thosewho help make them. each of which is composed of a circle of planning. Eric Trist. Group Dynamics. This traditional approachtends toward the conservative. Current Types of Action Research By the mid-1970s. The concept oforganizational ecology. as each participant understands the working of thewhole. also sometimes referred to asAction Learning. has a strong focus on emancipation and theovercoming of power imbalances. Radical Action Research The Radical stream. Quality of Working Life (QWL). initially for the civilrepatriation of German prisoners of war. and OrganizationalDemocracy. is an approach derived from Trist‘s work on relations betweenorganizations.. contextural (action learning).another major contributor to the field from that immediate post-war era. and educational actionresearch. He and his colleagues tended to focusmore on large-scale. The growing importanceof labour-management relations led to the application of action research in theareas of Organization Development. radical.g.client collaboration and affirmed the role of group relations asbasis for problem-solving. was asocial psychiatrist whose group at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relationsin London engaged in applied social research. It is c ontextural.PISMP 2007 @ IPG of ―a spiralof steps. generally maintaining the status quo withregards to organizational power structures. action. They emphasized directprofessional . in that it tries to involve all affected parties andstakeholders. with socialtransformation occurring by consensus and normative incrementalism. Information Systems). which is more of a liberal philosophy. T-Groups. Traditional Action Research Traditional Action Research stemmed from Lewin‘s work within organizations and encompassesthe concepts and practices of Field Theory.Socio-technical systems (e. and the use of search conferences come out ofcontextural action research.the field had evolved. often found in liberationist movements and . revealing 4 main ‗streams‘ that had emerged:traditional. ParticipatoryAction Research. andfact-finding about the result of the action‖. Contextural Action Research (Action Learning) Contextural Action Research. and it stresses that participants act as project designers andco-researchers. multi-organizational problems. insofar as it entailsreconstituting the structural relations among actors in a social environment. which has its roots in Marxian ‗dialectical materialism‘ and the praxisorientations of Antonio Gramsci.domain-based. Both Lewin andTrist applied their research to systemic change in and betweenorganizations.

and applying learning in asocial context. and Feminist Action Research both strive socialtransformation via an advocacy process to strengthen peripheral groups insociety. Thus. Its practitioners. Educational Action Research for A fourth stream. operate mainly out of educational institutions. rather than a single methodfor collecting and analyzing data. notsurprisingly. It is often the casethat university-based action researchers work with primary and secondary schoolteachers and students on community projects. . has its foundations in the writings ofJohn Dewey. questionnaire surveys. which are generally common to the qualitative research paradigm.participant observation recordings. the great American educational philosopher of the 1920s and 30s. professional development.include: keeping a research journal.PISMP 2007 @ IPG internationaldevelopment circles.who believed that professional educators should become involved in communityproblem-solving. These variousmethods. and case studies. Action Research Tools Action Researchis more of a holistic approach to problem-solving. and focus ondevelopment of curriculum. document collection and analysis. structured andunstructured interviews. it allows for several different research tools to be used as theproject is conducted.that of Educational Action Research.

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