Action research

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In journals, websites, or workshops we hear about new ideas or strategies and ask “Would that work in my classroom?” We read about student research projects, but this issue looks at teacher research—specifically on action research in the classroom. Action research is inquiry or research focused on efforts to improve student learning. It is usually designed and conducted by a teacher  or teams of teachers who analyze the data from their own classrooms to improve their practice. Action research gives teachers opportunities to reflect on their teaching, explore and test new strategies, assess the effectiveness of the new strategies, and make decisions about which ones to use (and with which students, subjects, or classes).
Action research can be as simple as a single teacher testing new ideas, or as complex as a schoolwide professional development project. My first attempt evolved from reading about “wait time.” I was skeptical that such a simple practice should have an impact on the quality of student responses. So I tried it with my own students and paid attention to their responses and reactions. I was astounded at the results—more students volunteering to participate, greater depth to their responses, and students interacting with each other in discussions. I was hooked—both on wait time and the action research process.
It’s really exciting to see an entire issue focused on this topic, with the lead article Action Research: Expanding the Role of Classroom Teachers to Inquirers and Researchers. The authors provide a graphic showing a spectrum of teacher inquiry from observation and reflection to more formal studies. You probably have used elements of the process without realizing it.

For additional perspectives on the process from real classrooms, see Making the Case for Action Research and Assessing Student Motivation, Performance, and Engagement with an Action Research Project.
I Want to Be Like… and The Benefits of Formative Assessment for Teaching and Learning show how action research can lead to more formal research opportunities for teachers. (One of my action research projects led to my dissertation). The authors of Uncovering Student Thinking in Science Through CTS Action Research describe a type of action research that focuses on understanding how students think, including indentifying student misconceptions (such as those described in Misconceptions in the Science Classroom.
The results of action research are often published in the NSTA journals. And every year at NSTA’s national conference there is a strand devoted to action research. Teachers have long been seen as consumers of professional knowledge. It’s time for teachers to become producers of professional knowledge, too.
The results of action research are often published in the NSTA journals. And every year at NSTA’s national conference there is a strand devoted to action research. Teachers have long been seen as consumers of professional knowledge. It’s time for teachers to become producers of professional knowledge, too.
See Lab instructions: Finding the right mix for how a project could be set up. Or try these SciLinks topics: Instructional Strategies, Teaching Strategies, or Assessment Strategies for ideas to investigate.

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