Experienced educators point out that good teachers never stop being students. They seek to continuously improve their understanding of factors that influence the quality of their teaching. Action research can be an important tool in this endeavor.

Action research is defined as "a process where participants--who might be teachers, principals, support staff--examine their own practice, systematically and carefully, using the techniques of research." (The Action Research Facilitator's Handbook by Cathy Caro-Bruce)

Action research can offer multiple benefits to schools such as:

  • Helping teachers, or whole schools, focus in on an area of concern or collective interest
  • Serving as a form of professional development
  • In the case of collaborative projects, reducing teacher isolation
  • Developing evidence based strategies for action

Steps in Action Research:

1. IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM

  • First, choose a focus area
  • Use the Exploring the Focus Area tool to guide a discussion with others about what is going on in the focus area.
  • Choose a specific problem that you want to work on using action research.

Qualities of a researchable problem include:

  • It is important.
  • You don't already know the best way to address it.
  • It's big enough to be worth spending time on, but small enough to explore within the time available.
  • It's connected to the everyday concerns of the action researchers.

2. GATHER AND INTERPRET DATA

  • Identify available data that could cast light on your problem. Pull out any pieces of data that help you to understand the problem.
  • Find books or articles that have been written on this topic. Read the most interesting.
  • Think about what else you need to know to choose a course of action. Make a plan to gather data that will help you to fully understand the problem.
  • Write a summary or create tables and graphs that will help you make sense of the information you've gathered.
  • Consider splitting out some of your data points by sub-group (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, grade level)

Things to think about when gathering data:

  • Select the most useful data you can think of to shed light on your problem. It can be quantitative or qualitative.
  • See the data-collection section of this tool kit for more information on good research methods.
  • Consider using multiple data sources (sometimes called triangulation). You can have more confidence in your results if your findings are consistent across data sources.
  • Create graphs or tables if it will help you to see trends or themes.

3. ACT ON EVIDENCE

  • Based on what you've learned by gathering and interpreting data, come up an idea for something that you could do differently in your school or classroom (your action).
  • Get feedback from others on your idea and refine it.
  • Figure out indicators of success (data points that would show that the problem has been solved or lessened).
  • Implement your change.

What to consider in selecting your action:

  • Make sure that you choose an action suggested by your data.
  • Be fairly modest. If you change too many things at once, it will be hard to know worked!
  • Identify whose help you will need to make sure that your action works and get their commitment of support.
  • Figure out a workable timeline; consider trying your action on a small scale first.

4. EVALUATE RESULTS

  • Keep data on the indicators of success that you selected in planning your action. Figure out the best way to track changes in the indicators. You may want to keep a data dashboard.
  • If you're seeing evidence of improvement, keep going! Share your success with others!
  • If you're not seeing evidence of improvement, reflect on the reasons why? Does your Action need to be tweaked? Is it time to try something different?

5. NEXT STEPS

Think about what happens next. For example:

  • Did you see the change that you wanted? Why or why not?
  • Is there another, related topic that you want to explore using action research?
  • Would others benefit from knowing about your project? What could they learn?
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