Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Knowing/Action Research
Teachers constantly test and adapt their teaching methods to ensure the best learning environment for their students because teachers know that not all accepted methods work for all students. After all, most educational research is conducted not in an actual classroom but in a controlled environment, yielding results that only theoretically work in a classroom. Teachers who want to prove what methods work with their current group of students can conduct research in their own classroom, referred to as classroom action research.
Conducting Classroom Action Research
Classroom action research is most often conducted collaboratively, but can also be used by individual teachers to answer a pressing question about learning in their classroom. Classroom action research can focus on an individual student, a group of students, or two or more classes. Educators pose a question and look for the answer within their classroom or their team, gathering data as they teach; in other words, action research is research that actively takes place in the classroom. When performing action research, “…the researcher wants to try out a theory with practitioners in real life situations, gain feedback from this experience, modify the theory as a result of this feedback, and try it again” (Avison et al, 1999, p.95).
Analysis of data will usually combine both qualitative (e.g. classroom discussions or student surveys) and quantitative (e.g. test scores or student averages) measures. Classroom action research can be instituted for as little as one semester or can take place over the course of an entire school year. Because the researcher is also the teacher and not an outsider collecting data for publication, findings from data analysis can be used immediately to share with other professionals and to decide what course of action to take in the classroom regarding the issue studied. In this way, classroom action research provides teachers an outlet to share common concerns and solutions to real classroom problems and helps to eliminate isolation that is common among teachers. Furthermore, classroom action research offers the teacher-researcher insight into what teachers know about how and what their students are learning in their classrooms.
Supporting the Research
|“||Ask a question, research accepted answers to the question, develop a research plan, collect data, analyze data, plan a results-based course of action, and finally, share the results.||”|
Many writers supporting classroom action research (e.g. Mettetal, 2002-2003; Johnson, 1993; Rinaldo, 2005) encourage teachers to participate in action research by equating the processes involved with action research to the behaviors of naturally gifted teachers because “…on a daily basis teachers design and implement a plan of action, observe and analyze outcomes, and modify plans to better meet the needs of students” (Anderson). Formally writing down these things essentially transforms good teachers' methods into research. Most research writers agree that successful research follows a set of clearly articulated steps that are easily manageable with other daily duties, even for the beginning teacher:
Overall, supporters for classroom action research want teachers to realize that teachers have the power to develop and implement best practices in their classrooms simply by turning their lessons or procedures into research and place importance on classroom action research as vital to educational reform. Supporters further argue that a teacher’s observations are more valuable than an outside researcher’s, given teachers’ real-life experience in the classroom, and subsequently hope in the future to see more teachers and schools involved in action research. (Mettetal, 2002-2003; Johnson, 1993; Rinaldo, 2005)
Questioning the Research
While supporters of classroom action research make some convincing arguments, those with doubts raise some interesting questions regarding the validity and ethics of classroom action research. Skeptics view the role of teacher-researcher as poorly defined in the absence of clearly stated guidelines for carrying out action research and argue for the creation of ethical and procedural standards specifically related to classroom action research. (Avison et al, 1999, pp.96-97; Bournot-Trites and Belanger, 2005, pp.197-215)
Standards and Ethical Policies
Most research standards and ethical policies are designed for medical experimentation and, therefore, do not readily apply to educational research. Bournot-Trites and Belanger argue that some modern day ethical principles designed for medical research are important to classroom action research. (2005, p.199) For instance, the Nuremberg Code, developed as a response to the inhumane practices of Nazi medical researchers and the basis for modern research ethics, dictates that a research subject must give voluntary consent upon being informed of the experimental procedures. However, classroom action research holds no standard for free and informed consent. Without free and informed consent from both students and parents, Bournot-Trites and Belanger worry that students’ rights, including ownership of intellectual property (i.e. written work) and entitlement to best possible instruction, could be overlooked. (2005, pp. 204-210)
Additionally, some researchers (Avison et al, 1999, pp.96-97; Bournot-Trites and Belanger, 2005, pp.197-215) believe that procedural guidelines must be established for classroom action research to be considered credible. The purpose of guidelines or standards for any documented undertaking is to quantify the quality of information being communicated. In other words, guidelines or standards allow us to judge the validity of one person’s research compared to another. In order “…for novice researchers and practitioners to understand and engage in action research studies in terms of design, process, presentation, and criteria for evaluation,” (Avison et al, 1999, p.96) guidelines must be developed. Moreover, these writers believe that with these necessary improvements action research could be a valuable tool that could improve education. (Avison et al, 1999, p.96)
In spite of their differences both supporters of action research and those doubtful of the current state of action research share the belief that classroom action research, when done properly, can make a difference in education. Teachers must weigh the benefits and consequences of conducting research in their classroom, not only the ethics and credibility of action research but also their ability as a professional to balance those two roles of researcher and educator. Although the practices of action research and a skilled teacher’s daily routine of observing, reflecting, and adapting material are similar, the ease with which a teacher can perform the additional task of consistently recording the data from these routine practices relies on solid time-management and multi-tasking skills. Poorly planned and executed classroom action research can jeopardize a student’s education, and teachers must remain cognizant of their duty to provide the best possible instruction for their students.
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- Anderson, Amy. An Introduction to Teacher Research. Retrieved Sept. 14, 2006, from LEARN North Carolina: K-12 Teaching and Learning Web site: http://www.learnnc.org/articles/print/research-intro1
- Avison, D, Lau, F, Myers, M, & Nielsen, P, A (1999). Action Research. Communications of the ACM, 42, Retrieved Sept. 13, 2006, from http://www.idi.ntnu.no/emner/empse/papers/avison.pdf.
- Berlin, D. F. and A.L. White (1993). Teachers as Researchers: Implementation and Evaluation of an Action Research Model. COGNOSOS: The National Center for Science Teaching and Learning Research Quarterly. 2, 1-3.
- Bournot-Trites, M, & Belanger, J (2005). Ethical Dilemmas Facing Action Researchers. Journal of Educational Thought. 39, 197-215.
- Johnson, Beverly (1993). Teacher-As-Researcher. ERIC Digest, Retrieved Sept. 16, 2006, from http://ericdigests.org/1993/researcher.htm
- Mettetal, Gwynn (2002). Improving Teaching Through Classroom Action Research. Essays on Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy, 14, Retrieved Sept. 18, 2006, from http://oira.syr.edu/sct12/Home/Teaching%20Support/Resources/Subscriptions/POS/TE%2...
- Rinaldo, Vince (2005, Oct., 01). Today's Practitioner is Both Qualitative and Quantitative Researcher. The High School Journal, 89, Retrieved Sept. 18, 2006, from http://elibrary.bigchalk.com/libweb/elib/do/document?set=search&groupid=1&requestid=1...