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Action Research

Page history last edited by Isaim B 9 years, 9 months ago

Action Research: Seeking a solution to the puzzle at hand.



What is Action Research?

Action research is a process used to address a problem or issue.  Action research typically takes place in a school setting, where an individual teacher, a group of teachers, or perhaps even an entire school or district, will sit down and try to discuss ways to solve an issue at the school.  The individual or team will research ways to address their issue, and will implement, or put the solution, into action.

When implementing an action plan, it is best to have an outside educational researcher helping out with the plan.  This person can help guide the individual or team into the steps of action research.



Action Research vs. Traditional Research

Action research is different from other types of research, because with traditional research, the findings are generalizations about a concern.  If the problem dealt with improving standardized test scores, this is a general concern of many schools across the country, and traditional research findings would be about all of these schools.

In action research, however, the research involved is targeted towards a specific concern.  Instead of the problem being about improving standardized test scores, it would be about improving standardized test scores at XYZ elementary school, a school where 90% of the population receive free/reduced lunch, where 70% of the students don’t speak English at home, etc.  The topic concern is more focused, and more personal for the researcher(s) involved.  The research for this problem would entail finding more specific data about the school, its particular student strengths, weaknesses, etc. 

In general, while traditional research gives a broad idea of a topic area, action research is aimed to target a specific problem at a specific classroom, school, or district.



Brief History of Action Research

Kurt Lewin, the "father of action research."


The idea of “action research” started in the 1940’s by Kurt Lewin, a social and experimental psychologist known as the “father of action research.”  Lewin first used the term in his 1946 paper entitled “Action Research and Minority Problems.” Lewin described action research not as a linear process, but as a “spiral of steps,” meaning that it is a cycle of research, implementation, and reflection.  Lewin also believed that it is only “when we change social situations, that we begin to understand them.” 


The prevalence of action research dwindled in the 1970’s due to it being regarded as “unscientific” and common sense, but has it has reemerged since the 1970’s.



What Are The Steps of Action Research?

Although there are different ideas of what steps action research entails, the general format is:


1.     Identify the problem area

2.     Collect and organize data

3.     Interpret the data

4.     Develop and implement an action, based on the data

5.     Reflect upon the process

6.     Next steps, if applicable


Identify the problem area: Identifying a problem is usually stated in the form of a higher-order question, such as “How will XYZ school improve test scores for the 2011-2012 school year?”  The question should be short, meaningful, not already have an answer, and should be something that the individual or team actually has influence over.


Gather data: Data can be gathered through interviews, surveys, school records, observations, questionnaires, etc.  The individual or team will generally choose data that is the most appropriate for their problem area.  For example, school XYZ will probably gather the test scores for the past 5-7 years.  The school may also gather data from schools in the district as well.


Interpret data: After the data has been gathered, it needs to be looked over and analyzed for any major themes or trends.  Data can be quantified or summarized in tabular format.  For example, school XYZ can take the data of test scores, and graph it over the years.  XYZ can also see if there are any particular standard strands that had higher/lower scores than other strands, and if this trend is prevalent throughout the years.


Develop and implement the action: After interpreting the data, design a plan, and then implement it.  When designing a plan, it is important to only try to change one variable at a time, so that if change occurs, the change can be attributed to that one variable that was altered.  When too many variables are altered simultaneously, it is difficult to determine the cause of any changes that are seen.  For example, if school XYZ learned that its students always scored the lowest on strand 1.2 of language arts, the school will make an effort to give all staff professional development specifically on that strand, and have teachers deliberately use those skills in their classroom for the following school year.


Reflection and Next Steps: After implementing the action, evaluate and see if the plan improved the problem.  Collect any data, if possible, to see if the problem has improved.  If the problem has not improved, brainstorm new ideas to address the issue.  Go back through some of the steps of action research, if necessary. 


Below are two general illustrations of the action research process.  Note that both images show the cyclical, versus a linear, process.


(Illustration from E. Ferrance)

(Illustration from O'Brien)


Benefits of Action Research

There are many benefits to conducting action research, such as:

-The researcher(s) is/are in charge of the situation and become the decision-makers.  This leads to the potential to invoke major changes if the results of the action are positive.

-It gives the researcher the opportunity to reflect upon his/her own practice as an educator.

-It can increase collaboration among colleagues, if working on a school- or district-wide problem.

-The researcher(s) is/are able to grow as researchers and as professionals.

-The researcher(s) can develop a greater understanding of their own classroom, school, and/or district.



Learn More

Watch this YouTube video for a brief summary of Active Research.



Content Information:

elifegirl. (2008). Action research made simple [Video file]. Retrived from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg83f72_6Gw


Ferrance, E. (2000). Themes in Education: Action Research. LAB: Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University. Retrieved from http://www.alliance.brown.edu/pubs/themes_ed/act_research.pdf


Goodnough, K. (2004). Benefits of action research. Retrived from http://www.educ.mun.ca/sac/inquiryben.html


O'Brien, R. (2001). Um exame da abordagem metodológica da pesquisa ação [An Overview of the Methodological Approach of Action Research]. In Roberto Richardson (Ed.), Teoria e Prática da Pesquisa Ação [Theory and Practice of Action Research]. João Pessoa, Brazil: Universidade Federal da Paraíba. (English version).  Retrieved from http://www.web.ca/~robrien/papers/arfinal.html


Image Sources (if not obtained from content information):

[Untitled photograph of puzzle collaboration]. Retrieved from http://fsp.unl.edu/future_module5.html


[Untitled photograph of Kurt Lewin]. Retrieved from http://www.intelegant.org/category/futurism/


[Untitled photograph of Kurt Lewin commemorated on a plaque]. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-lewin.htm





Comments (5)

hborhani@csupomona.edu said

at 4:47 pm on Apr 27, 2011

Hi Teresa, great job, I just found some empty spaces between words and I fixed those. I was trying to find links for action research project pictures, but I was not able to do that. If you have a chance please submit that too.
Thank you.
Hooman Borhani

Teresa Tang-Quick said

at 6:09 pm on Apr 27, 2011

Hi Hooman,

Thanks for editing! What do you mean by finding links to action research project pictures?


Teresa Tang-Quick said

at 5:10 pm on Apr 28, 2011

Hi Hooman,

I added captions underneath the two pictures that you were concerned about. I wrote the name of the author in the caption, and the authors are found in the resources section.

Thank you for editing!

hborhani@csupomona.edu said

at 7:32 pm on Apr 28, 2011

Thanks Teresa, looks good

Isaim B said

at 10:58 pm on Apr 28, 2011

Hey guys, couldn't really see where to add information. Thought adding a picture of Kurt Lewin might help some. Also added the source at the bottom. Great joys!

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