ERIC Identifier: ED401047
Publication Date: 1996-11-00
Author: Borgia, Eileen T. - Schuler, Dorothy
Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Action Research in Early Childhood Education. ERIC Digest.
Action research is an approach to professional development and improved
student learning in which teachers systematically reflect on their work and make
changes in their practice. It is sometimes difficult to convince teachers that
change is necessary or practicable when those promoting change are outside the
teacher's own classroom or when an innovation is imposed from the "top down."
Undertaken by practitioners, action research involves looking at one's own
practice, or a situation involving children's development, behavior, social
interactions, learning difficulties, family involvement, or learning
environments, and then reflecting and seeking support and feedback from
colleagues. Patterson and Shannon (1993) describe action research as "inquiry in
which practicing teachers try to understand the particular individuals, actions,
policies, and events that make up their work environment in order to make
professional decisions" (p. 8). Garner (1996) defines action research more
specifically as a systematic, reflective, collaborative process that examines a
situation for the purpose of planning, implementing, and evaluating change.
APPEAL FOR PRACTICING TEACHERS
Interest in action research
is growing partly because practitioners find they can be in leadership positions
as they plan, conduct, and evaluate research on their own practice, instead of
relying on library research or double-blind experiments. Good action research
integrates theory, practice, and meaningful, concurrent application of results.
While action research is a subjective study of one situation, and the results
may not be generalizable, many teachers and researchers now acknowledge that
wisdom can be found in the voices of individuals as they live their own
experience, reflect on its meaning, and take action to change what they perceive
to be in need of change. For example, early childhood educators often use
ineffective traditional rituals and practices, such as daily rote exercises
involving calendar and weather, holiday curricula, learning "a letter a week," and isolated skill-and-drill, in lieu of methods that result in meaningful
reading or mathematics learning. While it might be difficult to stop such
practices from the outside, a teacher is likely to discover their futility upon
closer investigation made possible through action research. Similarly, for
teachers who are expected to conduct academic tasks that are not appropriate for
young children, an action research study can assist the teacher in convincing
others of the value of using alternative, more meaningful methods. Several
additional benefits of action research have been cited:
* Teachers investigate their own practice in a new way, taking a closer look
at what children actually do and what they themselves do.
* Teachers develop a deeper understanding of children, of
teacher-learning process, and of their role in the
lives of children.
* Teachers are viewed as equal partners with their
in deciding what works best in their
thus reducing the possibility for unequal
relationships that might otherwise develop among
researchers, curriculum developers,
and teachers (McLean, 1995).
* Solutions are arrived at cooperatively.
* Teachers are often more committed to implementation of a
that they have been involved in designing.
* Action research is an ongoing process, rather than a
and its principles can be applied elsewhere.
THE PROCESS OF ACTION RESEARCH
Feldman (1995) and others
describe action research as a process; a unique orientation towards inquiry.
Garner (1996) proposes a cyclical paradigm: "To learn is to change; to change is
to create; and to create is to learn." Takala's (1994) steps in the process
include the following: identify the question; create a solution; implement the
solution; evaluate; and modify one's ideas and practice in light of the
evaluation. At each stage, there is considerable self-reflection, collaborator
reflection, and dialogue. Educators begin with a focus or question, which
frequently is modified as data are gathered and the process continues. After
reflection and discussion, a research question is conceptualized, and a plan of
action is developed. The teacher implements the plan, observing and keeping
detailed anecdotal records. Kemmis (1988) described a similar cycle as a spiral
in which each cycle increases the researcher's knowledge of the original
question, leading to its solution or to a new question. Gummesson (1991) noted
that within the process of action research, data collection, analysis, action,
decision making, implementation, and change often take place concurrently.
TOOLS OF ACTION RESEARCH
The research methods are selected
to respond to the particular question that is proposed. It is more common to see
qualitative methods, with an emphasis on discovery and interpretation, than to
see hypothesis testing, correlation studies, or other kinds of statistical
analysis. Preferred methods include in-depth interviews, participant
observation, case study, self-study, and telling of stories. Documentation
occurs through carefully detailed descriptions of people, events, and settings;
field notes; interactive journals; memos; minutes of meetings; transcriptions;
portfolios; photographs; films; and tape recordings. Validity in action research
is obtained when there are multiple perspectives. Typically it is helpful to
have at least three different data sources a method referred to in the
literature as triangulation (Smith, 1979). Quantitative methods, such as
surveys, checklists, test scores, and report cards, can provide another
COMPONENTS OF ACTION RESEARCH--FIVE C'S
action research includes Commitment, Collaboration, Concern, Consideration, and
COMMITMENT. Action research takes time. The participants need time to get to
know and trust each other and to observe practice, consider changes, try new
approaches, and document, reflect, and interpret the results. Those who agree to
participate should know that they will be involved with the project for a year
or more, and that the time commitment is a factor that all participants should
COLLABORATION. In action research, the power relations among participants are
equal; each person contributes, and each person has a stake. Collaboration is
not the same as compromise, but it involves a cyclical process of sharing, of
giving, and of taking. The ideas and suggestions of each person should be
listened to, reflected upon, and respected.
CONCERN. The interpretive nature of action research (for example, relying on
personal dialogue and a close working relationship) means that the participants
will develop a support group of "critical friends." This kind of relationship
requires risk taking, and a kind of vulnerability exists. Trust in each other
and in the value of the project is important.
CONSIDERATION. Reflective practice is the mindful review of one's actions
specifically, one's professional actions. Reflection requires concentration and
careful consideration as one seeks patterns and relationships that will generate
meaning within the investigation. Reflection is a challenging, focused, and
critical assessment of one's own behavior as a means of developing one's
CHANGE. For humans, growing and changing are part of the developmental cycle
of life. Change is ongoing and, at times, difficult, but it is an important
element in remaining effective as a teacher. Change is possible if one has the
right nurturing and support, and the results are worthwhile.
PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT FOR ACTION RESEARCH
Action research is
gaining support. In the metropolitan St. Louis, Missouri area, the Action
Research Collaborative sponsored by the Danforth Foundation has provided
financial and professional assistance through conferences and support groups to
hundreds of researcher practitioners. The Teacher as Researcher Committee of the
International Reading Association has also taken a leadership position on
encouraging action research among its members. Teachers Are Researchers:
Reflection and Action (Patterson et al., 1993) is a testament to teachers'
reflective genius as collaborators and students of their own teaching.
Enthusiasm for action research is growing as
people discover its value as a powerful vehicle for support, networking, and
school reform. Educators who have used action research say that it becomes a way
of life in their work. Classroom practice and children's experiences are
changed, and in the process, there is improvement in learning. Professional
development becomes an ongoing process in which educators and children are
concurrent learners and teachers. Action research is a positive, supportive,
proactive resource for change.
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