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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Meeting the Needs of All Learners: Implementing Action Research

By Peter DeWitt — December 20, 2011 3 min read
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Don’t keep moving forward toward the iceberg when you know it’s going to sink your ship.

This past semester I taught a graduate course in action research. Action research is completed by a classroom or general education teacher. Teachers take an issue they are having in their classroom and research methods to improve it (i.e. struggling learners, technology, behavior issues, co-teaching, homework, etc.).

Many school districts have adopted goal setting between staff and administration as a teacher evaluation tool. Goal setting is a year long method of making improvements in the classroom. It provides a focus for teachers and can be beneficial regardless of how many years a teacher has been teaching. For schools that participate in goal setting, action research is a research-based method of setting a goal for the year.

Action research can be used to work on student behavior issues as well as engagement issues teachers may be having with students. Just like when students are engaged in their own learning when subjects are student-centered, teachers are more engaged in their own learning when they choose the action research topic.

First and foremost, teachers need to identify the problem or they can identify the area that they would like to improve. It does not necessarily have to involve an issue as much as it needs to involve an area that teachers want to improve. Even the most successful practices need improvement.

Secondly, educators need to search for articles about the issue. For example, if they are trying to find the best ways to incorporate technology into the classroom they should search data bases for the most current research. The best place to start is their alma mater. After all, teachers paid all of that money to get the degree; once they graduated they became a lifelong member. Use that membership to keep current in your practice by reading educational articles.

College databases are the best place to find current research and educators can search by subject or journal. Find the ten best resources and you are on your way to improving your practice as an educator. Research based articles are a simple and effective method to add professional development to your daily life as a teacher (Every principal should get into the habit of sending their teachers articles to inspire thought-provoking conversations between colleagues).

Once teachers find the best method to improve practice they need to take the time to implement the practice in the classroom. All teaching practices need good data so it is important for teachers to begin taking anecdotal notes of their observations to see if there are changes in student behavior. In these days of data driven decision making, collecting data on action research is important. It offers a good way to practice collecting and using data.

The implementation stage of a new intervention takes a great deal of time. The old adage that it takes thirty days to change a behavior rings true when implementing action research. When implementing the change it is important to remain open to teacher biases. It is additionally important to make sure that teachers remain open to the possibility that they need interventions may not work with that particular class or grade level. The idea behind action research is to make improvements in teacher practices. If the interventions do not improve teaching practices or student engagement teachers need to stop implementing the change. Don’t keep moving forward toward the iceberg when you know it’s going to sink your ship.

What do students think?
Action research can also involve the use of student or parent surveys as well as student and parent interviews. Students and parents can offer great insight into why an idea is working or why it is not. Considering the ultimate goal is for teachers to make their classrooms student-centered, involving students in the process is an important part of the research.

Unlike graduate level research or doctoral research, action research is not harmful to students, so teachers do not need Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. However, it is always a good idea for teachers to share their plan with their direct supervisor. After reviewing all of the data that was collected in the action research project, teachers can make the final decision on the validity of the intervention that was implemented.

Ultimately, teachers want to increase student engagement whether it is through behavior modification or more engaging educational practices. Action research allows teachers the opportunity to research ways to best meet the needs of all learners within their classroom.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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