Teacher Action Research - Early Learning Community

EARCOS Teachers’ Conference
28 -31 March 2012
Donna Kalmbach Phillips, Ph.D.
Pacific University, OR USA
This interactive workshop is
designed to answer the question,
What is teacher action research?
Attendees will define action
research, understand the
usefulness of action research to
classroom teachers and gain a
broad perspective of how action
research is implemented.
What is teacher action research?
Exemplar of a Collaborative Teacher
Action Research Study
Reading Engagement, Achievement,
and Moral Development in Adolescence
Gay Ivey & Peter Johnston (2010)
• Small mid-Atlantic city, USA
•45% of students on free/reduced
price lunch
•All Grade 8 Language Arts Teachers
Paradigms (beliefs), Theory,
Research, Experience
Reading Engagement
Reading as Relational
How does full engagement in books that bear
relevance to young adults’ lives have
consequential implications beyond reading
words faster & increased comprehension?
Teaching Experience:
Young adults read
Social Imagination
Research Methods
“Formative Experiment” (Reinking & Bradley, 2008):
“This is an approach that is focused on changing and
improving pedagogical practices in order to reach specified
pedagogical goals or outcomes, and is thus helpful for
researchers who are committed to improving educational
outcomes for children as opposed to simply engaging in ‘pure’
or ‘basic’ research.”
1. Design: Increase engaged reading & social imagination
2. Intervention: Self-selected reading, “edgy texts”
3. Instructional Intervention: build engagement; reduce
whole-class teaching; daily read-alouds of student
preferred texts (strategy conversations)
Data Collected
•Student interviews
•Classroom observations (including audio/transcripts
or diction of student conversations)
•Reading logs
•Student writing
•State test scores
•Ongoing analysis to determine the “effectiveness of
the intervention and to identify ways to modify
instruction towards meeting the pedagogical goal of
increase engaged reading.”
(Reading Logs &
Test scores
•Increased reading volume
•Increased student
conversations about books
•Increased test scores
1. Social Imagination
2. Moral Agency
3. Personal Maturity
What is Teacher Action Research?
With a neighbor:
•How does this illustration add to your definition of
Teacher Action Research?
•What makes this exemplar of Teacher Action
Research seem reliable or not reliable to you?
Perspectives and Methodologies
Teacher Action Research
Basic Background Knowledge:
How Paradigm (Epistemology) Matters
There are key questions that frame every researcher’s
approach to a research project:
•What do you believe about the nature of knowledge?
•What do you believe about the nature of “reality”?
•What beliefs and values do you hold about teaching
and learning and schools?
•What is the purpose of the educational research?
• What is to be accomplished and for whom is the
research being done?
What Paradigm Determines
•Influenced by paradigm or epistemology, a
researcher chooses a methodology and approach to
conducting the research.
•Paradigm and methodology then drive the choice
of methods used to gather data.
•This, in turn, determines how the results are found
to be “true” or “valid” or “trustworthy.”
Educational research values multiple viewpoints as
evidenced in multiple methodologies.
So YOUR paradigm matters!
Paradigm Quiz
Total “Modern” statements (2,4,5,8,9,11,14,16,18) you agree with:
Total “Postmodern” statements (1,3,6,7,10,12,13,15,17,19) you agree
What your scores could mean:
•If your totals are different by more than three, it means you have a
propensity for one paradigm over the other;
•If you totals on both are less than four, you may be somewhat
noncommittal. You may find that your views swing one way or the other
depending upon situations;
•If you scored more than seven in either modernism or postmodernism,
you appear to have a very strong propensity for that paradigm.
•If you scored more than six in both paradigms, you may be confused or
well-balanced (depending upon your paradigm!)
Basic Background Knowledge:
Quantitative Research
• Uses numerical data collection techniques,
primarily through statistical analysis to prove or
disprove a hypothesis.
• School settings: Researchers who generally use
quantitative methods begin with the idea that
certain pedagogies can be proven useful in
teaching and learning to all students or a
particular group of students
Quantitative Research
Validity and reliability in quantitative research are
generally established by:
1. The presence of a statistically significant sample
2. The appropriate application of statistical
3. The identification of all critical and influencing
4. The objectivity of the researcher.
Quantitative Research
The “objectivity” of a researcher is highly
• How “objective” can a researcher be?
• Can a human researcher ever have a “god’s eye
view” that escapes beliefs and values?
• (Remember the lesson from physics)
The very act of choosing a research methodology is
an act of subjectivity; “reason” is suspect.
Example of Educational Quantitative
Research: Correlational
Example of Educational Quantitative
Research: Casual/Comparative
Example of Educational Quantitative
Research: Experimental
Quantitative Research
• What is useful about each of these designs?
• What is dangerous about each of these designs?
• What might make quantitative research difficult,
if not impossible, for a teacher researcher?
These are limited and very brief representations of quantitative research. Do you
want to know more? See any of these authors:
Coladarci, Cobb, Minium, & Clarke, (2004); Gall, Borg, & Gall (2003);
Goarard, (2001)
Qualitative Research
Qualitative research embodies multiple
methodologies – narrative, participatory,
historical, feminists (to name only a few) and
therefore defies easy definition.
• Qualitative research generally assumes the
nature of knowledge as fluid and subjective
(as opposed to fixed and objective).
• Reality is not only known quantitatively but
also constructed by culture, history, and
specific contextual settings.
(See Whitt, 1991 for more on this)
Qualitative Research
“Trustworthiness” (the generally used term to describe the
equivalent of “validity” and “reliability” in quantitative
research) is usually established through:
1.Multiple viewpoints as presented in data sets from multiple
sources (triangulation)
2.“Thick description” or research narrative rich with
contextual and situational details based upon welldocumented raw data
3.Deliberate and systematic data collection and interpretation
4.Clear connection to literature (research & theory)
5.Transparency of researcher’s beliefs, biases & positions
6.Practicing critical reflexivity
Example of Educational Qualitative
Research: Narrative Inquiry
Example of Educational Qualitative
Research: Participatory Inquiry
Example of Educational Qualitative
Research: Critical Inquiry
Qualitative Research
•What is useful about each of these designs?
•What is dangerous about each of these designs?
•What makes qualitative research more useable by
Teacher Action Researchers?
Interested in reading more about qualitative research?
Check out these authors:
Denzin & Lincoln, 2003; Johnson, 1997; Lincoln & Guba, 2003; Whitt, 1991)
Quantitative and Qualitative
are not always isolated.
Mixed methodologies combine quantitative
and qualitative methods.
Martha, a school district math curriculum specialist, became concerned about the
ways in which the district math curriculum was being implemented by the over 250
individual elementary math teachers in her district. She heard rumors and reports
that teachers varied greatly in their implementation of the curriculum, and wished
to gather information and be equipped to make recommendations to the
superintendent. She began by developing and administering a quantitative survey
in which teachers were asked to self-report, anonymously, their opinions and usage
of the district math curriculum. Results from the survey were tabulated and
statistics generated, showing means, trends, and correlations between the survey
items. Then, focus groups were held and recorded in which teachers discussed the
district math curriculum, including their opinions about what they would change,
what they like and dislike, and what they would need in order to be better prepared
to fully use the curriculum. These conversations were transcribed to help Martha
better read and understand the content, and a software application was used to
highlight words and phrases of interest. Finally, Martha used both the quantitative
survey results and qualitative analysis of the discussion data to draw conclusions
about the math curriculum and make her report.
•What was useful about the survey Martha
gave? How are the survey data limited?
•What was useful about the focus group
sessions Martha used? How are focus group
data limited?
•How was Martha’s work enhanced by her
mixed-methods approach?
•How could a Teacher Action Researcher use
mixed methods?
Some Standards of All Research
• Research must be grounded in literature (research &
• Because our understandings are limited, multiple
perspectives and methodologies builds a more trustworthy
knowledge base;
• Humans are limited in their ability to be “objective”’
• Vigorous debate of “results” is critical;
• Limitations should be identified;
• Any possible conflicts of interests should be acknowledged
(e.g. who funds the research, who profits from the
research, motives for doing the research).
Teacher Action Research
• Action research improves one’s own teaching
practice, increases the quality of education
for students, and, more holistically, makes
life in schools better.
• Teacher-researchers view teaching and
learning as a dynamic process that can be
informed, modified, and altered through
intentional planning, data collection,
analysis, and self-reflection.
Teacher Action Research
• School communities are recognized by
teacher-researchers as being complex; they
acknowledge that multiple ways of analyzing
issues, situations, and questions require
more than simple analysis of either
quantitative or qualitative data.
• The process of action research is the process
of co-creating meaning with others.
Example of Teacher Action Research:
Example of Teacher Action Research:
Example of Teacher Action Research:
Curriculum Analysis
Example of Teacher Action Research:
Integrated Action
How do these snapshots grow your
definition of teacher action
What are the unique
characteristics of teacher action
“Action research is a form of teaching; a
form of reflective practice and professional
learning founded on an ethical
commitment to improving practice and
realizing educational values. AR involves
individual and groups identifying areas for
improvement, generating ideas, and
testing these ideas in practice.”
Arhar, Holly & Kasten, 2001
“Action Research…is about taking
everyday things in the life of education
and unpacking them for their historical
and ideological baggage…It highlights
process with content, rather than
content alone. It allows for a focus on
teaching, in addition to student
outcomes, and on the interplay
between the two.”
Noffke, 1995
Common Themes of Teacher Action
Action research
1) involves a systematic or organized approach
to problem-solving
2) requires active engagement and interaction
between groups of people
3) insists upon reflection, critical analysis, and
revolving assessment
4) analyzes systems & structures of power
Common Themes of Teacher Action
5) deconstructs taken-for-granted assumptions
6) results in action as a practical outcome
7) results in transformation, in a rediscovered
or new sense of self and other, in
empowered teaching and learning
Common Themes of Teacher Action
8) relies upon democratic and ethical
principles that value and respect all
9) focuses on a single place of inquiry (context
10)features the teacher-researcher as
participant…and is, therefore, most likely a
combination of self-study, ethnography,
and integrated action.
Action Research is a Process
Becoming a
AR Design
AR Data Analysis
AR Data Interpretation
What I will
do in my AR
Collect Data Set
Interpretation Scaffold
Revisit, review:
reread ongoing data
analysis & memos
What data
will I collect?
Researcher’s Journal
Discover an
area of focus
How will I
collect the data?
How will I
the data?
AR Plan
Going Public
Expand your interpretation
Apply layers of
Return to the questions
Write AR memo
Draft synthesis statements
Critical Questions
Key Points
Create mind maps,
charts, and/or timelines;
generate categories
On-Going Analysis
Organize and read
the data
Think about the data
Chart, free write,cluster
process the data in the
researcher’s journal
Use AR question as
the Story
Draft synthesis
Web page
Newspaper &
Thinking Teacher Action Research
• What is your definition of teacher action
research now?
• Do you think you would want to engage in
teacher action research? Why or why not?
• Which approaches and methodologies align
best with your beliefs and context for doing
research? Please explain.
• What do you still need to know?
We research our own issues,
meaningful in our current life and
We pursue critical questions that
resonate with our professional
community and have the potential to
improve teaching, learning and life.
Teacher Action Research: Process Workshops
Framing the
Action Research
Data Analysis,
Discover an Area of
Criteria for
Data Analysis
Develop a critical
Research Design
Ongoing Analysis:
Cycle & Strategies
Research Design
Final Data
Literature Review
Going Public
………………………………………………………Critical Questions……………………………………………………………
Resources used in preparing this PowerPoint
Charts from Slides 20-11; 26-28; 33-39; 42-46:
Phillips, D. K. & Carr, K. (2010). Becoming a teacher through action research: Process, context, and self-study.
NY: Roultedge. (and just to make sure there is no conflict here, yes, the Phillips, is me.)
Quantitative Research References:
Coladarci, T., Cobb, C.D., Minium, E. W. & Clarke, R.C (2004) Fundamentals of statistical reasoning in education.
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Gall, M.E. Borg, W.R., & Gall, J.P. (2003). Educational research: An introduction (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Goarard, S. (2001). Quantitative methods in educational research: The role of numbers made easy. London:
Qualitative Research References:
Denzin, N.K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2003). The landscape of qualitative research: Theories and issues (2nd ed.).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Johnson, R.B. (1997). Examining the validity structure of qualitative research. Education, 118(2). 282-291
Lincoln Y.S., & Guba, E.G. (1985) Naturalistic inquiry. CA: Sage.
Whitt, E.J. (1991). Artful science: A primer on qualitative research methods. Journal of College Student
Development, 32, 406-415.

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