In a nutshell, action research is acting on research. It is a continuous, cyclical, and systematic process of reflecting, evaluating, and improving the quality of professional practices and methodologies that are specific to a field or immediate environment.
Best Practices in Action Research
Action research is research followed by the application of findings into action. An action research philosophy, if you would, incorporates best practices that make action research — action research! The following is a summary of the philosophy of action research garnered from a broad gamut of resources focusing on the action research’s best practices:
Action Research Best Practices Statement
Action research is a balanced systematic process of visionary inquiry with participatory and ethical interaction that is executed in real-world circumstances and at the local level. Utilizing an iterative pattern, the process addresses an organizational concern or concerns by observing, data-collecting, reflecting, planning, acting, and sharing information. It is implemented by engaged and energized participants within a collaborative context characterized by collective decisions based on the data-driven research. Action research fosters a purposeful sense of what an organization is
and can become by seeking to find the strengths of an institution and its people
and subsequently discovering opportunities for improvement.
(Cooperrider & Whitney, 2004; LeBlanc, 2013; McNiff, 2014; Mertler, 2013; Mills, 2007; Reil, 2013; Stringer, 2014; and Walker, 2014).
Five of the best practices may be outlined as follows:
- Seeking the strengths of an organization and improving said practices (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2004; Koshy, 2005; Stringer, 2014)
- Conducting an exhaustive literature review and collecting data on a cyclic basis (LeBlanc, n.d.; Osborne, (ed.), 2008; Reil, 2013; Stringer, 2014).
- Ensuring a participatory and collaborative effort (LeBlanc, n.d.; Stringer, 2014; Whyte (ed.), 1991)
- Investing in people at the local level while still addressing ethical issues (Locke, Alcorn, & O’Neill, 2013; Stringer, 2014)
- Reflecting, sharing and reporting creatively (Furtado & Anderson, 2012; Mill, 2007; Stringer, 2014)
The Three Stages of Action Research
|Look||Diagnose the Problem||Perform a thorough analysis of the situation. Build a picture, gather information. Define, describe the issue, and investigate the context. Include what the participants have been doing.|
|Think||Generate Alternatives||Analyze and interpret the current situation. Explore what has been happening. Identify successes or deficiencies against a set of criteria. Theorize why or how come. Dream and establish what the future will look like.|
|Act||Design Action Plan||Plan a course of action to formulate solutions; implement the plan, and evaluate and judge the suitability and outcome of activities.|
Adapted from Stringer (2014) pp. 8-9; ARPP (n.d.). Clipart from http://office.microsoft.com
To illustrate how action research can be an instrumental tool in your teaching profession and organization and thus promote improvement, Stringer’s three basic phases of the action research process can be utilized. See Table 1.1.
First, the researcher seeks to discover an issue within his or her profession. I am the Student Services Coordinator in a small private school and an instructor at a Christian university. From working with my resource team at my school and interacting with my students from the university, it is clear that many educators do not have a firm grasp of incorporating differentiated instruction (DI) in their classrooms. This is evident in the Student Service Team meetings and from educator assignments that I grade. The teachers know and understand the importance of DI. They implement some DI into their lesson plans and strategies. However, there seems to be somewhat of a disconnect between head/book knowledge and an actual universal application of DI. I was like that. I argued that I embraced and utilized DI in my fourth grade classroom. I did not. Only after years of coursework, seminars, and research have I discovered what exactly DI is and how it can be incorporated into the classroom more effectively, specifically through Universal Design Learning. I have head/book knowledge, I have identified tangible strategies, but I have yet to see it played out in a classroom/school environment fully. I still have a lot to learn and I am by no way an expert. However, there exists an urgency and relevancy in the discovery of how to help teachers gain knowledge in this area and apply it more efficiently and regularly to their classrooms. An action research study could offer an improvement, a change, in how DI is carried out today in my organizations.
Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2005). Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution in change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D. K., & Stavros, J. M. (2008). Appreciative inquiry handbook: For leaders of change. Brunswick, OH: Crown Custom Publishing, Inc. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.capella.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.library.capella.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=260682&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Dick, Bob. Thesis resource paper. Action research and action learning for organizational change. Retrieved from http://www.aral.com.au/resources/arthesis.html.
LeBlanc, A. (n.d.). Action research paradigm protocol. Capella University. Retrieved from http://media.capella.edu/CourseMedia/ELM8102/actionResearchModel/actionResearch_wrapper.asp
Riel, M. (2010). Understanding action research, Center for collaborative action research, Pepperdine University (Last revision Sep, 2013). Accessed Online on May 2014 from http://cadres.pepperdine.edu/ccar/define.html.
Stringer, E.T., (2014). Action research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.