Action Research: How and Why is it for?

Action research helps teachers to solve various problems. Image source: Flickr
Action research helps teachers to solve various problems. Image source: Flickr
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

Teaching has always been a challenging task, and today, it is getting more challenging as students bring more problems into the classroom. Dealing with various types of students itself stands as a big problem. Along with it, teachers have to face administrative and societal problems as well. To continue their job of teaching, they need to know the nature of the problems and find out the solutions to those problems. In order to do that, they need to conduct research and particularly action research helps them solve these problems. In other words, they need to professionalize their job. Now, what is ‘action research’?

Action research can be defined as “an approach in which the action researcher and a client collaborate in the diagnosis of the problem and in the development of a solution based on the diagnosis”. In other words, one of the main characteristic traits of action research relates to collaboration between researcher and member of the organization in order to solve organizational problems. Action research is a form of investigation designed for use by teachers to attempt to solve problems and improve professional practices in their own classrooms.

It involves systematic observations and data collection which can be then used by the practitioner-researcher in reflection, decision-making and the development of more effective classroom strategies (Parons and Brown, 2002). Action Research is a fancy way of saying let’s study what’s happening at our school and decide how to make it a better place (Emily Calhoun-1994). Action Research is a natural part of teaching. Teachers are continually observing students, collecting data and changing practices to improve student learning and the classroom and school environment. It provides a framework that guides the energies of teachers towards a better understanding of why, when, and how students become better learners. (A. Christine Miller-2007). Action research, findings emerge as the action develops and takes place; however, they are not conclusive or absolute, but ongoing (Koshy, 2010, pgs. 1-2). Action research is a method of systematic enquiry that teachers undertake as researchers of their own practice. The enquiry involved in action research is often visualized as a cyclical process.

The following features of action research need to be taken into account when considering its suitability for any given study: (a)It is applied in order to improve specific practices.  Action research is based on action, evaluation and critical analysis of practices based on collected data in order to introduce improvements in relevant practices, (b) This type of research is facilitated by the participation and collaboration of the number of individuals with a common purpose, (c) Such research focuses on specific situations and their context. It has some advantages such as a high level of practical relevance, both qualitative and quantitative and the possibility to gain in-depth knowledge of a problem. Of course, it is not without disadvantages. It entails a delay in completion of the research because of a wide range of reasons, distinguishing the action and research and lack of repeatability.

The start of the process is usually an issue or situation that, as a teacher, wants to change. He/she will be supported in turning this ‘interesting problem’ into a ‘researchable question’ and then developing actions to try out. You will draw on the findings of other researchers to help develop actions and interpret the consequences. Enquiring into his/her practice will inevitably lead him/her to question the assumptions and values that are often overlooked during the course of normal school life. Assuming the habit of inquiry can become an ongoing commitment to learning and development as a practitioner. Action research may also be called a cycle of action or cycle of inquiry, since it typically follows a predefined process that is repeated over time. Here the cycle of action goes thus—(i) identifying a problem to be studied (ii) collecting data on the problem (iii)organizing, analyzing, and interpreting the data (iv) developing a plan to address the problem (v) implementing the plan (vi) evaluating the results of the actions taken (vii) identifying a new problem and (viii) repeating the process.

As the goal is to address practical problems in a specific school or classroom, less formal, prescriptive, or theory-driven research methods are typically used when conducting action research, rather than producing independently validated and reproducible findings. High absenteeism or why so many students of grade six don’t show interest in English class or why so many students have failed in Bangladesh and Global Studies might be examples of action research. It can also make meaningful contributions to the larger body of knowledge and understanding in the field of education, particularly within a relatively closed system such as school, the network of connected organizations or relations with the education officers. Educational action research can be engaged in by a single teacher, by a group of colleagues who share an interest in a common problem, or by the entire faculty of a school.

English is concerned with developing competencies in listening, speaking, reading, writing, and viewing. Speaking includes skills in using language expressions and grammatical structures correctly in oral communication, while writing skills include readiness skills, mechanics in guided writing, and functional and creative writing. When teachers redesign learning experiences to make school more relevant to student’s lives, they can’t ignore the assessment of each of these items. Action research is an approach to educational research that educational practitioners and professionals commonly use to assess and ultimately improve their pedagogy and practice. In this way, action research represents an extension of the reflection and critical self-reflection that an educator employs on a daily basis in their classroom. Educational stakeholders rely on research to make informed decisions that ultimately affect the quality of schooling for their students.

Accordingly, the purpose of educational research is to engage in disciplined inquiry to generate knowledge on topics significant to the students, teachers, administrators, schools, and other educational stakeholders. Just as educational research topics vary, so make the approaches to conducting educational research in the classroom. A teacher’s approach to research is shaped by the context, teacher’s professional identity, set of beliefs and assumptions that guide his/her inquiry. These will all be key factors in how he/she generates knowledge related to his/her work as an educator.

Finally, when modern teachers need to professionalize their teaching and enhance motivation, they definitely need to start doing such kind of research. Teachers have to meet the needs of a diverse student body every day, so they have to start researching to cater to the demands of the situation. Action research is also called teacher research and teacher as researcher. That definitely implies that teaching and research go hand in hand. Action research is a process for improving the educational practice of teachers. Teachers are the most precious resource of any school. The measure of a great school is its ability to recruit and retain great teachers who know their subject and craft, care deeply about all their students, and are passionately committed to their own development and the school as a community.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as an Education Expert in the BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and President of the English Teachers' Association of Bangladesh (ETAB), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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