Action Research Overview

Phase 1: Identifying a Classroom Problem

“A (classroom) problem adequately stated is a (classroom) problem well on its way to being solved.”
~ R. Buckminster Fuller

As an action researcher, teachers should begin the process by identifying an issue in the classroom that is an area of concern, e.g., a need that is reflected in a level of student learning that does not meet the teacher’s expectations. To adequately identify a classroom problem, an action researcher takes the needed time to investigate their initial areas of concern by collecting and analyzing information specifically aligned to the students’ learning needs. “Teachers who rush to complete the problem formulation stage are more likely to flounder in their later efforts, whereas teachers who take their time to reflect on and define their problem are more likely to pursue questions yielding meaningful results” (Sagor, pg 12, 1992).

To begin the action research process, teachers first observe, question, and reflect on the actual situation (the entire classroom or a group of students) in order to investigate the classroom concerns. By evaluating the current situation and comparing it to the expectations and curricular standards for all of the students, additional specific data will help identify the classroom problem or issue to study. This process may take time to observe and interview students while engaged in learning, to analyze their work samples, and to collect classroom assessments. It can be helpful to collaborate with another teacher, mentor, or instructional coach at this point – especially a knowledgeable resource that has observed the students in the class.

Phase 2: Developing & Implementing an Action Research Plan

Building the framework for action research is accomplished by developing an action research plan. Before engaging in the “research” of action research, it is helpful to outline actions by answering the “what?” the “how?” and the “when?” Hubbard and Power (1999) described the action research plan as a kind of backbone for the study – a skeletal frame on which to hang all emerging thoughts about the research question, data collection, and how to sustain the research. The action research plan is a blueprint or framework for change within the classroom. Before creating the plan, take time to consider different instructional approaches geared towards meeting students’ instructional goals. Many teachers work with knowledgeable resources during this phase while planning their implementation.

Phase 3: Collecting and Analyzing Data

“Schools are naturally data-rich environments, and simply opening our eyes to some of the most frequently used and easily obtainable sources of data can make planning the data collection process much easier.”
~Sagor, 1994

Meaningful action research should not depart from the daily work of classroom teachers, but become “a part of” their daily work. Hence, selecting the data collection strategies to use for study simply means thinking about life in the classroom/school and the ways life in the classroom/school can be naturally captured as data (Dana & Yendol-Silva, 2003). When conducting action research, teachers are continuously gathering and using data from their classrooms throughout each phase of the process. When considering data collection strategies, think about what assessments are already in place in the classroom and school. Before deciding on the specific tools, reflect on the following questions:
• What are three different sources of data that I can collect?

• What information do I need to collect to measure student learning aligned to my instructional focus?
• What data collection sources will provide me with the needed information?
• Are the data collection sources easy to administer, gather, and analyze?

Phase 4: Using and Sharing Results

“People without information cannot act. People with
information cannot help but act.”
~Ken Blanchard

After planning, teaching, and collecting data, it is very important to follow through by analyzing the results of the action research and making instructional decisions based on the findings. Analyzed data will guide this critical question in the action research process, “Where do I go next?” In the process of action research, analyzed data will determine whether to continue with current practices, revise the action research plan, or report the results of successes.

In order to determine the next step, think about and answer the following questions:
• Are students benefiting from the instructional focus that I have planned and implemented?
• Was the classroom problem solved?
• Did the instructional focus align to my students’ needs?
• Were all of the phases of the action research process followed?
• Was the plan completed as written (with the materials and time dedicated as outlined in the implementation schedule)?
• Were all the necessary materials (personnel and resources) available? Did I receive the support I need?
• Did the information (data) collected from the students provide the necessary evidence about the results of the efforts to solve the problem?

If teachers can answer “yes” to the questions above and have strong evidence of student learning resulting in meeting the stated goal(s) for improvement, the teachers are ready to share results and identify the next classroom problem for study. If the teachers cannot answer “yes”, the findings may lead to two choices: continue to implement the plan or revise the action research plan.