Updated: Oct 13
By Prof. Kylie Smith.
In this podcast we encourage and empower you, the teacher, to become an education researcher - looking into an aspect of the field in order to learn and positively impact on your own practice.
Action research is an interactive inquiry based approach to researching about everyday issues. While there are many different approaches the key features of action research are it
· is participatory, practical and collaborative,
· explores real life contexts, issues and concerns of people,
· creates change,
· informs local practice,
· focuses on issues of social justice and fairness,
· reflexive and dialectic.
Emerging from action research is the concept of teacher-as-researcher which frames teaching as a process of critical inquiry. Teacher-researcher inquiry brings theory and practice together. It brings the why (research and evidence-based data or findings) together with the how (pedagogy) (Olin, Almqvist & Hamza, 2021).
Action research is a cyclical approach to research to create change (Smith, 2015; MacNaughton & Hughes, 2009). The cyclical approach starts with the teacher-researcher identifying a topic or problem and creating a question from that. The focus might be on pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, relationships, wellbeing, leadership or any other area that the teacher has questions or concerns about or has an interest in that connects to their everyday classroom. Next the teacher-researcher undertakes reconnaissance. During this stage the teacher-researcher gathers data about what is currently happening in the classroom and exploring what current research literature is saying about the problem or issue. Critically reflecting on questions like What do I already do and why? What and whose knowledge and resources do I draw on and why? Whose voices are privileges and whose are silenced in this curriculum content or pedagogical practices? Once you have a question the next part of the cycle is to plan an action for change. This might be a different teaching strategy, introduction of a new activity or experience, tweaking a pedagogical practice or routine or other changes. The teacher-researcher then implements the change and observes and documents what happens (for example, teacher journal or notes, student feedback) as a result of the change and then reflects on the implication for the question being asked making sense or analysing the data) – and the cycle begins again. Image 1 provides an overview of the action research cycle for teachers.
Image 1: Action research cycle for Teacher Researchers
Some things to consider on your action research journey:
1. Research questions will be different for each teacher and reflect a person’s interests and experiences, the classroom context, the needs of the children and families, the context of the community and the interests and experiences of co-teachers that they work with.
2. You might invite students into your project as student-researchers where you create a research question and action research project together. And/or you might invite other teachers in your team or families. Working collaboratively with others will support you to build communities of practice.
3. As you plan to create a change plan for small changes that are doable with your everyday practice. Think about how you might tweak what you are already doing to create the change. Small changes can lead to huge learning, while major changes may not be sustainable beyond the life of the project. Remember to be realistic.
What makes a good action research question?
MacNaughton and Hughes (2009) describe what makes a good action research question:
1. ‘change-orientated – What else is possible in this situation? What should be different in this situation?
2. inquiry-friendly – Will my research question shake my faith in what I know and/or in what I can do? Will it help me challenge my existing knowledge and practices? Will it encourage me to collect evidence about what is happening? Will it inspire me to keep learning and to inquire further?
3. knowledge generated – Will my research question lead me to discover something new? Will it help others to learn something new about teaching and learning?
4. ethical – Would I be comfortable discussing my research question with people who are implicated in it or who are likely to be affected by it (e.g. students, colleagues, parents)? Does my question allow people who are affected by it to have a say in what is happens to them?
5. manageable – Will my research question maintain my current interest in it over time? Can I manage to address it with my current resources (including time)?’ (p. 22 & 23).
Here are some examples of possible questions that teacher-researchers might explore:
· How can I rethink how I incorporate Indigenous knowledges into the classroom that reflect contemporary images and knowledges of First Nations People?
· How might I reimagine the science curriculum to weave First Nations worldviews into learning plans?
· In what ways can we reimagine place as the classroom?
As you start to reflect on getting on getting started you might reflect on and talk with the people you will collaborate or research with (co-teachers, students, families, community). Here are some questions that will help you get started and during the different phases of the action research project:
1. Who will be involved and when? – At the developing the question phase? Reconnaissance phase? Change phase, Implementation?
2. What questions do I/we have? Which once will I/we focus on? (Remember there is your life’s work and then there is your action research project? Keep it focus and contained and managable?
3. What actions for change will I plan?
4. Where will it take place?
5. When will each phase happen?
6. How and who will document and make sense of the data (analysis)?
7. Who will support me/us?
Sharing the learning
New learning often occurs across the life of the action research project. With different types of learning how and who you share this learning will vary for each person. Some of the learning will be at an individual level that you may just reflect on yourself or with the students, teachers and families you are researching with. If the project is part of a learning community, then you might share new insights and practices with your principal or deputy principal and the teaching team. For others the findings might have broader policy and curriculum content implication and you might choose to share these learnings to a broader community beyond the classroom or school. What and how you choose to share your learnings will be entangled with how you decide the ways you can influence change at a local, structural and institutional level.
MacNaughton, G., & Hughes, P. (2009). Doing Action Research in Early Childhood Studies. New York: Open University Press.
Olin, A., Almqvist, J., & Hamza, K. (2021). To recognize oneself and others in teacher-researcher collaboration. Educational Action Research, 1-17.
Smith, K. (2015). Action research with children. In O. Saracho (Ed.), Handbook of Research Methods in Early Childhood Education – Volume 1. (pp. 547-576) New York: Sage.
What do I wonder in my teaching practice?
How can I turn a wondering into a research project?