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.
* 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
the teacher-learning process, and of their role in the
educational lives of children.
* Teachers are viewed as equal partners with their
collaborators in deciding what works best in their
situation, thus reducing the possibility for unequal
power relationships that might otherwise develop among
university researchers, curriculum developers,
administrators, and teachers (McLean, 1995).
* Solutions are arrived at cooperatively.
* Teachers are often more committed to implementation of a
project that they have been involved in designing.
* Action research is an ongoing process, rather than a
program, and its principles can be applied elsewhere.
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 consider carefully.
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 craftsmanship.
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.
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Garner, Betty. (1996, May). Using Action Research: Challenges and Opportunities for the Beginner. Paper presented at the Greater St. Louis Sixth Action Research Collaborative Conference, St. Louis, MO.
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Patterson, Leslie, and Patrick Shannon. (1993). Reflection, Inquiry, Action. In Leslie Patterson, Carol M. Santa, Kathy Short, and Karen Smith (Eds.), TEACHERS ARE RESEARCHERS: REFLECTION AND ACTION, pp. 7-11. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. ED 356 452.
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