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Madison Metropolitan School District

CAR and Data

Starting Points

  • Ask individuals to complete the "Starting Points" questions (see below).  Tell them to think broadly about many areas for possible questions

  • Go around the group one at a time and list on a flipchart all of the different areas that surface from this handout.

  • Ask each person to take one of the areas from  the flipchart (could be an idea of theirs or someone else's) and practice writing a question in that area.

  • Go around the group, and one at a time, ask each person to read their question very slowly twice.  The group should listen to the questions.  Absolutely no comments are made after each question is read.

  • Ask the group to generate characteristics, qualities, and guidelines for what makes a good action research question.

1.  I would like to improve...
2.  I am perplexed by...
3.  Some people are unhappy about...
4.  I'm really curious about...
5.  I want to learn more about...
6.  An idea I would like to try out in my class is...
7.  Something I think would really make a difference is...
8.  Some I would like to do to change is...
9.  Right now, some areas I'm particularly interested in are...

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Guidelines for Developing a Question

  1. One that hasn't already been answered

  2. Higher level questions which get at explanations, reasons, relationships.  "How does...?", "What happens when...?"

  3. Not "Yes-No" question

  4. Everyday language; avoid jargon

  5. Not too lengthy; concise; doesn't have to include everything you're thinking

  6. Something manageable; can complete it

  7. Something do-able (in the context of your work)

  8. "Follow your bliss"; want to feel commitment to the question; passion

  9. Keep it close to your own practice; the further away you go, the more work it is

  10. Should have tension; provides you an opportunity to stretch

  11. Meaningful to you; provides you a deeper understanding of the topic

  12. Question leads to other questions

Generated by one Madison Metropolitan School District Action Research Group

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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?

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Data Collection: 5 W's and an H

WHY are we collecting this data?

  • What are we hoping to learn from the data?
  • What are you hoping to learn from using this particular data collection strategy?
  • Is there a match between what we hope to learn and the method we chose?

WHAT exactly are we collecting?

  • What different sources of data will allow us to learn best about this topic?
  • What previously existing data can we use?
  • How much data do we need to really learn about this topic?

WHERE are we going to collect the data and for how long?

  • Are there any limitations to collecting the data?
  • What support systems need to be in place to allow for the data collection to occur?
  • Are there ways to build data collection into the normal activities of the classroom?

WHEN are we going to collect the data and for how long?

  • Have we built into the plan collecting data at more than one point in time?
  • Are there strategies we can use to easily observe and record data during class?
  • Can you afford the time to gather and record data using the strategies you have selected?

WHO is going to collect the data?

  • Are there data which can be generated by students?
  • Is there a colleague who can observe in your room or a student teacher who can assist with data collection?
  • What can you do yourself without it being too overwhelming?

HOW will data be collected and displayed?

  • How will you collect and display the qualitative data? the quantitative data?
  • What plan do you have for analyzing the data?
  • To whom will you present what you have learned?

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Techniques for Gathering Your 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

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Writing Prompts for Classroom Action Researchers

Begin by visualizing what an observer might sense as they shadow you as you go about your work: the physical environment (sights, sounds, smells, arrangement of furniture, what hangs on the walls, from the ceilings); the interactions among individuals in the setting (students, teachers, administrators, support staff, and parents); and the activities (what are people doing.)  Write about this now, and then revisit the vision of your work environment later in the year.

Write a story about an event or circumstance that illustrates the issue(s) you are interested in studying.

What question(s) would you have to answer to understand your issue better?

How do you get at the "real" issue that interests you, how do you peel back the layers to reveal the root causes of the condition/circumstance/situation you would like to change or better understand?

Think about the kids of "evidence" that convince you that something is working...then answer: What data do I currently have about my students?  What feedback do I have from parents, administrators, and others which will influence my thinking?  Where are the gaps?  What do I do with the data?

How can I use the data I've collected to better understand my question?  My issue?  What do I do with the data?

What have I learned from the data I collected after reading through it, rereading it, looking for patterns, themes, curiosities?

How can I tell my story, what I have learned, to others?  What parts do I leave in?  What do I leave out?  What form should I take?  Who are the others who might/should/could see what I have written?

Revisiting September's writing...what would an observer sense as they shadow you going about your work...the physical environment, the interactions among individuals and the activities. Compare this with your September entry.  How has the vision changed?  How is it the same?

What is the action in your action research?

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