Action research is a process of deep inquiry into ones practices with the goal of evolving a deeper understanding of patterns of change. It involves taking action and collecting data to analyze and understand the actions from the perspectives of others and in relationship to a projected outcome. It is cyclic or spirals as the researcher moves through a period of thoughtful planning of the action, to taking action, then analyzing evidence collected to make sense of the action. The final step--critical reflection on what was learned--is used to create conceptual tools for planning of new actions. As one progresses through cycles, there is a continuous process of refining methods, making new decisions about data collection and evolving strategies for data

Definitions of Action Research

  • "Action Research is a three step spiral process of 1) planning which involves reconnaissance 2) taking actions; and 3) fact-finding about the results of action." Kurt Lewin (1947)
  • "Action Research is the process by which practitioners’ attempt to study their problems scientifically in order to guide, correct, and evaluate their decisions and actions." Stephen Corey ( 1953)
  • "Thus Action Research in education is study conducted by colleagues in a school setting of the results of their activities to improve instruction." Carl Glickman
  • "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 powerful tool for simultaneously improving the practice and health of an organization." Emily Calhoun (1993)
  • "In collaborative action research, the focus of the research is defined by the practitioners themselves. Two guidelines must be followed: 1) the phenomena chosen for study must concern the teaching/learning process, and 2) those phenomena must also be within the practitioner’s scope of influence." Richard Sagor (1992)
  • "Action Research is the process through which teachers collaborate in evaluating their practice jointly; Raise awareness of their personal theory; articulate a shared conception of values; try out new strategies to render the values expressed in their practice more consistent with educational values they espouse; record their work in a form which is readily available to and understandable by other teachers; and thus develop a shared theory of teaching by researching practice." John Elliott (1991)

What it is and What it is Not

Although research can be fairly straightforward process, it is sometimes misunderstood by educational practitioners (Merles & Charles, 2008). There are many aspects of this methodology that characterize its uniqueness as an approach to conducting educational research. It is imperative for educators to have a sound, foundational understanding of just what action research is and is not. The following list, compiled from several sources (Johnson, 2008; Mertler and Charles, 2008; Mills 2007; Schmuck,1997),is an attempt to describe what action research is :
  • Action research is a process that improves education, in general by incorporating change.
  • Action research is a process involving educators working together to improve their own practices.
  • Action research is persuasive and authoritative, since it is done by teachers for teachers.
  • Action research is collaborative; that is, it is composed of educators talking and working with other educators in empowering relationships.
  • Action research is participative, since educators are integral members -- not disinterested outsiders – of the research process.
  • Action research is practical and relevant to classroom teachers, since it allows them direct access to research findings.
  • Action research is developing critical reflection about one’s teaching.
  • Action research is planned, systematic approach understanding the learning process.
  • Action research is a process that requires us to “test “our ideas about education.
  • Action research is open-minded.
  • Action research is critical analysis of educational places of work.
  • Action research is a cyclical process of planning, acting, developing, and reflecting.
  • Action research is a justification of one’s teaching practices.

Of equal importance is that educators understand what action research is not (Johnson, 2008; Mertler & Charles, 2008; Mills, 2007; Schmuck, 1997):
  • Action research is not the usual thing that teachers do when thinking about teaching; it is more systematic and more collaborative.
  • Action research is not simplify problem solving; it involves the specification of a problem, the developing something new (in most cases), and critical reflection on its effectiveness.
  • Action research is not done “to” or “by” other people, it is research done by particular educators, on their own work, with students and colleagues.
  • Action research is not the simple implementation of predetermined answer to educational questions; it explores, discovers, and works to find creative solutions to educational problems.
  • Action research is not conclusive; the results of action research are neither write or wrong but rather tentative solutions that are based on observations and other data collection and that require monitoring and evaluation in order to identify strengths and limitations.
  • Action research is not a fad; good teaching has always involved the systematic examination of the instructional process and its effects on student learning. Teachers are always looking ways to improve instructional practice, and although teachers seldom have referred to this process of observation, revision and reflection as research, that is exactly what it is.

Short Introduction to Action Research