Chapter 9






The Nature of Action Research

Action research is a type of practitioner research that is used to improve the practitioner’s practice; action implies doing or changing something. Practitioner research means that the research is done by practitioners about their own practice. Action research is a process in which individual or several teachers collect evidence and make decisions about their own knowledge, performance, beliefs, and effects in order to understand and improve them. Thus, the main reason for teachers engaging in action research is to learn and improve their own teaching activities .  Providing opportunities for teachers to conduct action research can lead them to re-examine their practice and alter their taken-for-granted beliefs and understandings. In action research, it is the teacher who identifies the research topic related to his or her practice, the teacher who collects information to investigate the topic, and the teacher who interprets and judges the research  results in terms of their meaning for his or her practice. The teacher is at the center of action research.

       Action research refers to teacher-conducted classroom research that seeks to clarify and resolve practical teaching issues and problems. The term “action research ” refers to two dimensions of this kind of activity: the word research in “action research”  refers to a systematic approach to carrying out investigations and collecting information that is designed to illuminate an issue or problem and to improve classroom practice. The word action refers to taking practical action to resolve classroom problems. Action research takes place in the teacher’s own classroom and involves a cycle of activities centering on identifying a problem or issue, collecting information about the issue, devising a strategy to address the issue, trying out the strategy, and observing its effects.

       Action research has the following characteristics:

  1. Its primary goal is to improve teaching and learning in schools and classrooms and it is conducted during the process of regular classroom teaching.
  2. It is usually small-scale and is intended to help resolve problems rather than simply be research for its own sake.
  3. It can be carried out by an individual teacher or in collaboration with other teachers.


       Action research is an iterative inquiry process that balances problem solving actions implemented in a collaborative context with data-driven collaborative analysis or research to understand underlying causes enabling future predictions about personal and organizational change (Reason & Bradbury, 2001). After six decades of action research development, many methodologies have evolved that adjust the balance to focus more on the actions taken or more on the research that results from the reflective understanding of the actions. This tension exists between

  1. those that are more driven by the researcher’s agenda to those more driven by participants;
  2. those that are motivated primarily by instrumental goal attainment to those motivated primarily by the aim of personal, organizational, or societal transformation; and
  3. 1st-, to 2nd-, to 3rd-person research (i.e. my research on my own action, aimed primarily at personal change; our research on our group (family/team), aimed primarily at improving the group; and ‘scholarly’ research aimed primarily at theoretical generalization and/or large scale change)

       Action Research is a process in which participants examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully using the techniques of research.  It is based on the following assumptions:

·         teachers and principals work best on problems they have identified for themselves;

·         teachers and principals become more effective when encouraged to examine and assess their own work and then consider ways of working differently;

·         teachers and principals help each other by working collaboratively;  working with colleagues helps teachers and principals in their professional development.


What Action Research is not

1.      It is not the usual things teachers do when they think about their teaching.  Action Research is systematic and involves collecting evidence on which to base rigorous reflection.

2.      It is not just problem-solving.  Action Research involves problem-posing, not just problem-solving.  It does not start from a view of problems as pathologies.  It is motivated by a quest to improve and understand the world by changing it and learning how to improve it from the effects of the changes made.

3.      It is not research on other people.  Action Research is research by particular people on their own work to help them improve what they do, including how they work with and for others.  Action Research does not treat people as objects.  It treats people as autonomous, responsible agents who participate actively in making their own histories by knowing what they are doing.

4.      It is not the scientific method applied to teaching.  Action Research is not just about hypothesis-testing or about using data to come to conclusions.  It is concerned with changing situations, not just interpreting them.  It takes the researcher into view.  Action Research is a systematically-evolving process of changing both the researcher and the situations in which he or she works.  The natural and historical sciences do not have this aim.



Five Phases of Action Research


Phase I - Problem Identification

·         Why do you want to do it?  Is it an important and practical problem, something worth your time and effort, something that could be beneficial to you, your students and others?

·         Is the problem stated clearly and in the form of a question?  Is it broad enough to allow for a range of insights and findings?  Is it narrow enough to be manageable within your timeframe and your daily work?


Phase II - Plan of Action

·         Will you develop and implement a new strategy or approach to address your question?  If so, what will it be?

·         Will you focus your study on existing practices?  If so, which particular ones?

·         What is an appropriate timeline for what you are trying to accomplish?


Phase III - Data Collection

·         What types of data should you try to collect in order to answer your question?

·         How will you ensure that you have multiple perspectives?

·         What resources exist and what information from others might be useful in helping you to frame your question, decide on types of data to collect, or to help you in interpreting your findings?


Phase IV - Analysis of Data

·         What can you learn from the data?  What patterns, insights, and new understandings can you find?

·         What meaning do these patterns, insights, and new understandings have for your practice? for your students?


Phase V - Plan for Future Action

·         What will you do differently in your classroom as a result of this study?

·         What might you recommend to others?

·         How will you write about what you have learned so that the findings will be useful to you and to others?



A Process for Analyzing Your Data

In using qualitative research, you will be collecting and analyzing at the same time.  These processes inform each other.  Be open to new ways of thinking as you learn more from your data.

1.      Go through everything you have collected.  Make notes as you go.

2.      Look for themes, patterns, big ideas.  Key words and phrases can trigger themes. Determine these themes by your scan of the data, not on your preconceived ideas of what you think the categories are.

3.      Narrow the themes down to something manageable.  (3-5 of your most compelling and interesting).

4.      Go back through all of your data and code or label information according to the themes in order to organize your ideas.  Some ideas may fit into more than one theme. Create sub-groups under each theme.

5.      Write continuously.  Jot down what you are seeing, what questions are emerging, and what you are learning.  Keep notes on those new ideas which are unanticipated. These may be findings or surprises which you had not planned.

6.      Review your information after it is coded/labeled to see if there is:

o   a frequency of certain items and/or

o   powerful, interesting, unusual comments or behaviors which are of particular interest to you.  

7.      Identify the main points which appear most frequently and are the most powerful.  It will be hard to let go of some of your information, but it is important to sift through it.

8.      Write up your major points.  You can write them up by

o   theme,

o   chronologically, or

o     the different modes you used for collecting information.

9.      Draw the information together to include some of the evidence which support your findings.



Techniques for Gathering Data

1.      Interviews with students, parents, teachers

2.      Checklists of skills, behaviors, abilities, movement, procedures, interactions, resources

3.      Portfolios of a range of work from students of different abilities around a particular topic; a representation of a total experience; a collection of documents for analysis

4.      Individual files of students' work (e.g., tapes, samples of work, art work, memos, photos of models/projects, reports), of students' opinions; of student attitudes, of students' experiences

5.      Diaries/journals written by teachers, students, parents, class groups, teachers

6.      Field notes/observation records - informal notes written by a teacher

7.      Logs of meetings, lessons, excursions, school expectations, material used

8.      Student-teacher discussion/interaction - records of comments and thoughts generated by students

9.      Questionnaires of attitudes, opinions, preferences, information

10.  Audiotapes of meetings, discussions in class or about data gathered, games, group work, interviews, whole class groups, monologues, readings, lectures, demonstrations

11.  Videotapes of classrooms, lessons, groups, demonstrations, a day in a school, lunch times

12.  Still photography of groups working, classrooms, faces, particular students over time, at fixed intervals in a lesson

13.  Time-on-task analysis of students, teachers; over a lesson, a day, a week

14.  Case study - a comprehensive picture/study of a student or a group of students



Guidelines for Data Collection

·         Asking the right questions is the key skill in effective data collection.

·         Be clear as to why you are collecting data.  Formulate good questions that relate to the specific information needs of the project.

·         Be clear about how you are going to use the data you collect.

·         Design a process to collect data.  Our beliefs and values affect this selection process.

·         Use the appropriate data analysis tools and be certain the necessary data are being collected.  The data:

    • must be accurate;
    • should be useful;
    • must not be too time consuming; and
    • must be reliable enough to allow you to formulate hypotheses and develop strategies with confidence.
  • Decide how much data is needed.  Ask:
    • what is an accurate sample size?
    • for how long should the data be collected?
  • Make sure that the data make your job easier.
  • Use multiple sources of data to increase the believability of the findings.  Collect data from more than two sources or points of view, each which provides a unique justification with respect to relevant information about the situation.
  • Present the data in a way that clearly communicates the answer to the question.
  • Be aware that how you set up the situation influences the results.
  • Review the data.  Ask:
    • do the data tell you what you intended?
    • can you display the data as you intended?
  • Do not expect too much from data.  Remember:
    • data should indicate the answer to the question asked during the design of the collection process.
    • you do not make inferences from the data that the data will not support.
    • data don't stand alone.  It's the meaning we apply to the data that is critical.  "Data do not drive decisions; people do."
    • the stronger the disagreements with the data, the bigger the learning potential.  It is important to validate the different views and try to come up with a world view.
  • Visually display the data in a format that can reveal underlying patterns.
    • Look for patterns related to time or sequence as well as patterns related to differences in staff and other factors.
  • Remember that your primary job is not data collection.  No research method should interfere with your primary job.
  • While good information is always based on data (the facts), simply collecting data does not necessarily ensure that you will have useful information.
  • The key issue is not how do we collect data, but how do we generate useful information?


Guidelines for Analyzing Your Data

·         Design a systematic approach to analyze your data.  This may develop as you become more comfortable with what you are learning.

·         Do not be afraid to let the data influence what you are learning as you go deeper with your analysis.

·         Look for themes and patterns to emerge.  Look for those unique ideas that you had not considered which may influence your thinking.

·         Make sure that you are organizing your data based on what you are actually learning from the data, not on the assumptions you bring with you to your analysis.

·         Don't censor the data, even if you don't like what you are learning.  Include data that doesn't necessarily reflect change or growth.  All of this is part of the learning experience and can still inform our practice.

·         Go through your data several times.  New ideas will occur to you with a fresh perspective.

·         Think about creating visual images of what you are learning.  A grid, an idea map, a chart, or some visual metaphor are all possibilities to help make sense of the data and display a powerful presentation of your ideas.

·         Write lots of notes to yourself (post-its work well) as you are sorting.  This kind of reflection will help you as you step back and try to look at the big picture.

·         Share your findings with a colleague.  Do new questions emerge from this discussion?

·         Let the data influence you.  Jot down ideas for actions you will take as a result of what you are learning.



Role of  Participants in a Group

·         The most important role of participants is to be good listeners and to ask the group member, who is talking about his or her study/research, good questions.  The intent of these questions should be to open up new possibilities and new ways of thinking for the person who is sharing.

·         If you, as a group member, have suggestions, new ideas, or solutions to offer...wait.  If you jump in with the strategies that you think will work, you are not giving your colleagues the opportunity to own and explore their situations deeply.  This is hard, but with practice, it becomes easier.


The teacher (or a group of teachers):

  1. Selects an issue or concern to examine in more detail (e.g., the teacher’s use of questions).
  2. Selects a suitable procedure for collecting information about the issue (e.g., recording classroom lessons).
  3. Collects the information, analyzes it, and decides what changes might be necessary in his or her teaching.
  4. Develops an action plan to help bring about the desired change in classroom behavior (e.g., a plan to reduce the frequency with which the teacher answers questions).
  5. Observes the effects of the plan or teaching behavior (e.g., by recording a lesson and analyzing the teacher’s questioning behavior) and reflects on its significance.
  6. Initiates a second action cycle, if necessary. (Richards & Lockhart, 1994, pp. 12-13)


Implementing Action Research

In planning action research, it is useful to keep these questions in mind:

  1. Purpose . Why am I starting this action research project? Is it to solve a problem that has occurred in my classroom? Or is it something else?
  2. Topic . What issue am I going to investigate? What is going on in my classes that is causing me concern?
  3. Focus . How can I narrow down the issue to investigate to make it manageable within a specific time frame? What is the precise question am I going to ask myself.
  4. Mode . How am I going to conduct the research? What data-collecting methods will I need and why?
  5. Timing . How much time will it take and how much time do I have?
  6. Resources . What are the resources, both human and material, that I can call upon to help me complete the research? How can my institution help?
  7. Product . What is the likely outcome of the research, as I intend it?
  8. Action . What action will expect to take as a result of conducting this research? How will I carry out this action?
  9. Reporting . How will I share the finding of this research with other teachers? What forum will I use for this and why?


Wed, 11 May 2011 @15:42




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