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Action Research: Insight & Advice
Author: Justina Spencer, AALF | December 11th, 2013

“For us what’s really incredibly important is teachers as researchers. It’s important that we’re documenting this journey along the way and we have our research questions as educators along the way as to why do we put out that provocation? Why did we ask that question? Why was that experience provided to the children and if we had done something else in that instance would the direction of the inquiry changed? How can we reflect on that next time to improve this ongoing process? Getting staff to actually research those concepts and ideas themselves and to establish themselves a belief about how they believe children learn is crucial in getting teachers to look at their practice and to question it.”

-Esme Capp, Principal at Princes Hill Primary School in Victoria, Australia.

Teacher action research is designed to allow educators to engage in both the assessment and improvement of their own practice. It can be designed to allow the teacher to reconsider their teaching methods, or can be exercised to solve a specific problem in the classroom. Have you considered teacher-researching in the classroom, but don’t know where to begin? Below you’ll find some helpful points gleaned from the book Teacher-Researchers at Work, by Marion MacLean and Marian Mohr.

As a teacher, you no doubt watch and observe your students every day, paying particular attention to the pace in which they are learning or their struggles and achievements. The only difference between teaching and action-research teaching is the ongoing recording of what you observe in the classroom, and the systematic reflections on those recordings over a period of time.

To begin you’ll need a question, somewhere to record your thoughts, questions and outcomes, and a handful of colleagues to confer with through the process. Once you have come to a research question you’d like to pursue in your investigation, a number of research activities can be organized throughout the school year in order to guide you through the process. The series of questions and timeline will not fit everyone’s research process, but it can be used as a rough guideline to move you through the process.

Tentative Research Plans and Guiding Timeline

Start of the school year: Begin your research log What is my research question? What are the expectations for this project?

One month in: Begin data collection How do I find out more about what interests me? What is the data telling me? Should I revise my research question?

Two months in: Data collection Where is the data leading me? What else do I want to know?

Three months in: Data collection analysis What questions are emerging from the data? What is my research question now? What does the data mean?

Four months in: Complete major data collection Looking at my data as a whole, what is my research question now and what do I think I’ve learned?

Six months and beyond: Prior to deadline of research As I write, what am I learning? How can I best show what I have learned? Where are the gaps in my research? What can I say at this point, I’ve learned? What questions do I want to study further?

When do you find time to do teacher research? First, it’s important to remember that as long as teachers don’t conduct their own research, they won’t be viewed as people who need the time to think, question, reflect, and research. As a teacher researcher, you are simultaneously a knowledge user and a knowledge maker. Here are some tips to finding time to conduct action research in the classroom:

1. Make the most of the time

Faced with an expanding curriculum or changing standards? You could choose a research focus that will help you answer your questions about the new curriculum and test mandates. Ensure that you collaborate with your colleagues and discuss without fear, what is helping or not helping in your classroom.

2. Integrate your teaching and researching

Remember that your research is not in addition to your already overloaded schedule, because a lot of what you do already serves research purposes.

3. Assert yourself about the importance of your time to do research

Research requires time for you to reflect, think, and write. Be sure to ask for time to write and give presentations about your research.

And be sure to check out this video from AALF's 21 Steps to 21st Century Learning series featuring Esme Capp, Principal at Princes Hill Primary School in Victoria, Australia, and a strong proponent of action research.

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