An Introduction to Action
The following was a guide I composed while
I was teaching high school as a way of organizing myself to begin a research
project that never got off the ground. Oh, well. I polished
this up a bit to make it more presentable, so anyone who wants to get started
in this area can pick up where I left off.
What is it?
It is the study of educational
phenomena in which the teacher assumes the role of the researcher rather
than leaving research to academics in higher education. Research
is conducted at the level where the researcher has the greatest degree
Why do it?
The need for action research:
1. Benefits you as a professional,
both as a classroom teacher as well as a selling point for your resume.
2. Benefits your campus by adding
to the prestige in the district by having a "teacher as research" on your
3. Benefits your profession by having
new knowledge disseminated through professional journals and other publications.
Unlike standard research articles, action
research is not constrained to a number of more traditional models of research.
Action research need not follow traditional
formats for reporting. Those formats help standardize the way information
is laid out so that the reader can more easily access the sections he/she
desires. You are free to manipulate the format as you desire unless
you wish to have your work published, in which case consult the appropriate
journal for models.
Action research can be entirely qualitative
in nature just as easily as quantitative. In fact, because of the
subjective nature of education, qualitative sections frequently accompany
what would be considered quantitative research.
Whereas traditional research usually takes
an objectivist approach, action research may come from the insider's perspective.
Since you, the teacher/researcher understand your classroom in ways an
outside research could not, you are allowed (expected) to offer that insight
in offering your analysis of the results and explanations of why you chose
Pick a topic. This should be
something you have already found you have an interest in or a talent for
analyzing. If you do research in areas outside your interest, this
will be work!
Consult the literature. This
will help you organize your thoughts on the topic and give you a good idea
how to frame your argument. Also, the literature will explain what
methods have been used most productively in pursuing knowledge in this
Narrow your topic. Focus in on
what you can cover. Put aside the excess for another research project
at a later time.
Generate the documentation you need.
This includes your instruments (surveys, interview questions, etc.), your
participant consent forms, and a proposal to conduct your research if such
an item is required.
Recruit your participants, obtain their
consent, etc. Whatever is required before you begin your "fieldwork."
Begin your research. Record your
observations throughout. Take notes on every aspect of what you are
doing. Metacognitive notes can be particularly helpful as these lead
to connections between your data and the literature. The more you
can document, the better. You will want to have a rich source from
which to draw when you pull your findings together.
Analyze your data. This could
take a number of forms depending on the nature of the research and the
methodology employed. Consult the literature for the best ways of
approaching your data and presenting your findings.
Refine your report. Pull everything
together into a professional looking package. This isn't the last
step, however. You simply want to have something to sculpt to a publisher's
Of course, it would be unwise to think of
this outline as a sequence. Quite the contrary; it is a recursive,
iterative process. Every step should require you to go back and adjust
what you did before. Think of it as teaching a unit. You don't wait
until the last minute to make up the test. During the course of the
unit you look at which objectives you will test your students on, how you
might word those questions, etc. In research, do the same.
Submit for publication. Do not
submit to more than one publisher at a time. Editors devote quite
a bit of time to reviewing papers for publication. They do not want
to hear from you that you already found a publisher after they went to
the trouble of suggesting improvements.
As you review the literature, it is conceivable
you would find a more interesting topic, one altogether different from
the one you chose at the beginning. If it interests you, go for it.
If you do not have a topic already in mind,
here are some example areas of research.
Classroom Methods - Basically, how
to teach, conduct activities, maintain discipline, approach assessment,
Misconceptions - How to overcome naive
misunderstandings children cling to in spite of what is presented to them.
This area is particularly well studied in science education at all levels.
Teacher Education - Facts that emerge
in new teachers which indicate how to improve pre-service service at the
Overall there are two categories of research:
and qualitative. The former refers to research in which statistical
data is collected. The latter refers to virtually everything else.
Methods which fall under each of these categories may be combined to compliment
one another and give the most meaningful detail to your data.
Case Studies - These are conducted
by collecting data on one or more subjects over a period of time.
In education this could last the course of a semester, a year, or many
years (as determined by the topic under study... and your funding).
These are distinct in that single subjects are analyzed more closely rather
than populations whose data is then pooled.
Dialogue Journals - An on-going conversation
or interview with students that is handled out of synch rather than via
one-on-one verbal communication. This has the advantage of allowing
greater introspection on the part of both researchers and participants
as well as resulting in its own transcription (unlike audio tapes!).
Students are especially comfortable with this approach when mediated electronically
Journal Analysis - Similar to the above,
but typically less (or at least more general) prompting via direct questions.
This method is especially useful in following students' perceptions over
a period of time.
Ethnographies - A method borrowed from
cultural anthropology in that it emphasizes descriptive documentation of
cultures. This approach is applied to determine the commonalties
across a sub-class of students.
Surveys - Can be open-ended questions
(although this will commit you to considerably more work as well as more
subjective interpretations) or can be more quantitative as with a Likert
scale (i.e., numbered 1 through 5; "strongly agree," "disagree," etc.).
Statistical Analysis - May be applied
to the above to varying degrees, but works best with purely quantitative
data. For example, comparisons of scores on students' assessments
before and after the application of a novel teaching method.
The following may be used as templates
for presenting your research report. These templates are also useful
in helping to coordinate your research efforts in that they indicate areas
that require attention.
Note that if you are seeking publication,
check the submission guidelines in the journal(s) you are considering.
Many even illustrate the format they prefer on-line.
format for research
(center justify the following)
An Action Research Report
Title of Study
Grants (if funded)
Co-workers who reviewed your work or otherwise
Administration (if they allocated time and/or
resources for this research)
A brief paragraph discussion the purpose,
methodology, and results of your research.
Table of Contents
Outline of your headings below
Purpose of research and background.
Statement of Problem
Purposes of Study
Value of Study
Review of Related Research (i.e., the lit
review; whatever research has already been conducted in this area that
is relevant to the reader in interpreting your findings)
Other methods tried
AKA Research Procedures
This section is typically an inventory of
methods and approaches used in collecting your data. However, it
may take the form of a narrative chronicling how this report came into
being (i.e., "First, I obtained permission to conduct this research from...,
This section should also explain the rationale
for the methodology employed. In other words, why did you approach
your topic as you did? Why did you reject alternative approaches?
My Research Perspective (background about
the research; e.g., "10th grade biology teacher with ten years experience...")
Participant selection (Where did they come
from? Why were they included?)
Design (Why was this particular methodology
Instrumentation: interview questions, etc.
(Refer reader to the appropriate appendix)
Data Collection and Analysis- how you did
The data obtained during the research.
Analyses should be reserved until next section
unless you combine both sections (if so, make this known up front, both
in the title of the section and in the text of the section itself).
Think of this section as the facts and the next section as opinion
and interpretation of what they mean.
Profiles of Participants
Findings (format will be determined by topic
and methods employed)
What did you learn?
Why is this important (i.e., how will it affect
your and others' practice)?
What might have been improved the quality
of the research?
V Summary, Conclusions, and Recommendations
Primarily an inventory of the implications
This section can (and perhaps should) include
personal take (in an emotional sense) on the experience of conducting the
research and what you gained from it.
Which sources did you use?
If you mention discussions with colleagues
it is appropriate to cite them as sources in addition to print and electronic
APA is almost always the accepted style for
Appendix A: Participant Consent Form
Appendix B: Interview questions, survey form,
etc. (whatever instruments were used)
"For questions or comments about this article,
please contact me at email@example.com."
(This is the form I developed and used
for my thesis research. You can view the entire thesis including
my completed version of this form here.)
Title of Study: xxx
Project Director: (this is the
person overseeing the study; a graduate professor, for instance)
Principal Investigator: You
Purpose of research
A brief paragraph on what you hope to
Procedures of the research
What methods you will use which will involve
the participants (e.g., surveys, interviews, etc.).
Potential risks and protection of confidentiality
A statement indicating that, should the
participant feel uncomfortable for any reason, he/she may withdraw participation
in your research without fear of consequences. Further, you should
indicate that names nor any other identifying information will be used
in the publication of your report on this research.
While it is unlikely that your research
will provide any direct benefit to the participants in your research, you
may provide information and insight which will benefit the teaching profession
as a whole.
Statement of consent
have been fully informed of the above-described procedure with its possible
benefits and risks and I give my permission for my participation in this
Begin with a pilot study. Don't
try to do the whole study all at once. A small "trial run" can flush
out errors that may have corrupted your data if you had begun your research
already. For example, give out copies of your survey to a small group
who will not take part in the study (so as not to bias those students who
do participate). You may find that the answers you get do not adequately
address the topic you want to study. Now you have time to revise.
Chapters. Sections of your report
should be thought of as "self-contained." Don't worry about "over-loading"
one section. Your literature review can be quite lengthy and your
conclusion very brief. Or the other way around. This is your
research. If you submit it for publication it will pass through a number
of editors who can suggest changes. Though it may be regarded as
unprofessional it is advisable to include a note to the editor indicating
that you are a beginning action researcher, and would he/she take the time
to make suggestions for "streamlining" your article for resubmission in
Peer reviews. When you are all
through with your first draft, peer review your work within your staff
or consult with an "expert" in higher ed, maybe a former professor who
has experience publishing.
Publishing. Now you have something
you may want to publish. If you feel you have something of interest
to the entire educational community you can begin searching for a publisher.
If you don't have a particular publication in mind, check with Ulrich's
International Periodical Directory, a list (by topic) of all the publications,
their focus, and contact information.
for Professional Growth and Development Form
Should you require additional
time to conduct research off-campus, the following form is a very profession
way of approaching a request for a personal day. Indeed, this may
count as professional development hours, depending on the nature of your
research and the atmosphere of your district.
Proposed Area of Study and Time Requested
I will be going to ______ University in
______ to collect research materials for my literature review. I
will make copies/print-outs of whatever is available and bring those articles
back to campus with me.
To search the databases of the library
In the short term, this review of the
literature will guide my thinking about my area of research, my experimental
design, and other area in which I may look in the future. These will
be collected in a working, reflective document. In the long term,
this work will be transformed into a formal research report and will be
subsequently refined as an article for publication.
Research Guide - Similar to this document, but focuses more on
the philosophy of action research than providing practical tools.