How do I improve what I am doing? Action research as a means of promoting teachers’ professional development.
Action research invites teachers to learn more about their classroom practice, enrich their pedagogical repertoire and reflect on the way they teach. Through action research, teachers’ attitudes, professional identities and expertise can keep evolving, as they consider their needs in their own context.
What is action research?
Classroom-based action research is different from other forms of research in that it is specifically suited for teachers seeking to reflect on their work, solve problems and come up with evidence-based improvements for their own practices and contexts. It involves systematic observations and data collection, which can then be used to make informed decisions and take more targeted actions. It is therefore considered a powerful tool for teachers’ professional development.
What are the features of action research?
Action research is practical, reflective and recursive. These characteristics are usually illustrated in a spiral indicating a continuous movement between planning, acting, observing, reflecting and so on.
The research process is practical in that it may have immediate benefits for teachers, schools and school districts.
Its reflective aspect lies in the action researcher turning the lens on his/her own classroom, school or practices.
Lastly, action research is recursive because issues and concerns are explored in an ongoing way by the action researcher.
What are the three types of action research?
According to Carr and Kemmis, action research may take the following three forms:
- Technical action research: refers to cases in which external facilitators (such as academics, researchers and institutions) work with teachers and others in establishing teacher-research projects. The aim is for the teachers to study effective practices, where the criteria for “effectiveness” are introduced by the facilitator. For instance, teachers may decide to test the findings of external research in their own practices, and the findings of these tests may feed into external research instead of the teaching practice itself.
- Practical action research: refers to cases in which external facilitators work with teachers and other practitioners to help them articulate their concerns, plan their action, implement changes, monitor the effects of those changes and reflect on their value. Although the facilitators may work with teachers on their common concerns, teachers are supposed to monitor their practices and develop their practical judgment as individuals. In other words, there is no systematic development of the practitioner group as a community.
- Emancipatory action research: refers to cases in which teachers take the responsibility of assisting their group, such as their pupils or their colleagues, in a collaborative self-reflection. In certain areas, the whole school may get involved in determining approaches to classroom interaction – for example, by adopting common assessment practices. This open and collaborative approach requires an understanding of the dialectical relationship between individual and group responsibility. Emancipatory action research may be seen as the next step from practical action research.
Action research is applied research that may be conducted individually or collaboratively. Collaborative action research is defined as teachers and researchers working together to conduct research in areas of mutual interest.
Often, action research is perceived more as an approach than as a method, because it may draw on a range of diverse designs and methodologies. Notably, action research may deploy both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. Even though the scope is different, both types of data are used by teachers or groups of teachers to collect evidence and provide answers to their questions. Therefore, a robust methodology that considers the scientific and ethical standards of research should be adopted.
Now, what is the reality of action research in education?
The recent School Education Gateway survey on action research found that most respondents are familiar with action research and believe it sharpens critical awareness and provides actionable results, but that further support is needed through asynchronous training, guidelines and hearing about other teachers’ experiences.
Classroom-based action research is a powerful tool in teachers’ professional development, as its focus is on improving teaching and learning (Tripp, 2005). It is based on a cycle of continuously planning, acting, observing and reflecting. It is different from other forms of research in that it is specifically suited for teachers seeking to reflect on their work, solve problems and come up with evidence-based improvements for their own professional practices. It involves systematic observations and data collection which can then be used to reflect and make decisions about adopting or developing more effective classroom strategies (Parsons & Brown, 2002).
This survey aimed to gauge views on diverse aspects linked to classroom-focused action research. It was open on School Education Gateway from October to November 2021 and attracted 144 respondents from 25 countries, 84% of whom were teachers or school leaders.
As a sum up of the conclusions drawn from this survey:
- The majority of participants are, at least to some extent, familiar with action research, and have conducted action research either as part of their initial teacher education or later on, as qualified teachers. Nevertheless, the survey results indicate that action research is not a very widespread methodology in respondents’ countries.
- According to this survey, action research is most valued for sharpening teachers’ critical awareness, bridging the gap between understanding and action, and providing concrete, actionable results. In terms of impact, respondents believe that action research improves teachers’ systematic thinking about their school or classroom, as well as their understanding of their students. Additionally, action research may help teachers to monitor complex situations.
- On the flip side, the three chief obstacles that prevent teachers from implementing action research are a lack of knowledge, time and guidance. In this respect, the respondents acknowledge that asynchronous training, guidelines and examples/testimonials from other teachers would support them.