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CAR Basics

What is Classroom Action Research?

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.

 Heidi Watts, Antioch Graduate School

What Classroom 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.

    Henry and Kemmis

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What do Teacher Researchers do?

Teacher researchers...

  • develop research questions based on their own curiosity about teaching and learning in their classrooms;

  • examine their underlying assumptions about teaching and learning;

  • systematically collect data from and with their students;

  • share and discuss their data and research methodology with fellow teacher researchers;

  • analyze and interpret their data with the support of their colleagues;

  • write about their research;

  • share their findings with students, colleagues, and members of the educational community;

  • discuss with colleagues the relationships among practice, theory, and research;

  • assume responsibility for their own professional growth.Source:

    Fairfax County Public Schools, Office of Research and Policy Analysis

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What are some effects of Teacher Research projects?

Some effects are:

  • increased sharing and collaboration across departments, disciplines, and grade levels;

  • increased dialogue about instructional issues and student learning;

  • enhanced communication between teachers and students;

  • improved performance of students;

  • revision of practice based on new knowledge about teaching and learning;

  • teacher-designed and initiated staff development;

  • development of priorities for schoolwide planning and assessment efforts;

  • contributions to the profession's body of knowledge about teaching and learning.

Source: Fairfax County Public Schools, Office of Research and Policy Analysis

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The 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?

- Adapted from the St. Louis Action Research Evaluation Committee

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Reasons to do Action Research

What works...

  • To figure out a particular "how to" of teaching

  • To demonstrate to principals, parents, students, ourselves that a teaching practice is useful


  • To have time to talk about teaching with our colleagues
  • To develop better overall relationships with our colleagues

Personal/Professional Development...

  • To be supported and pushed in our development as teachers
  • To recognize that growth doesn't just happen, that often we need more formal structures in order to grow
  • To enable teachers to engage in intellectual pursuits and become continuous learners

Starting where we are...

  • To start with the teacher that I am, not that someone else thinks I should be


  • To practice being a continuous learner, to live by what I am trying to help my students learn
  • To connect teachers in different roles, schools, districts

Challenging the norm...

  • To create new forms of professional development
  • To create new forms of research
  • To construct knowledge with teachers at the center

Robin Marion - Professor at National Louis University

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Descriptors of Action Research

practical   everyday life   action-oriented   evolving   intuitive   flexible   narrative
own words   reflective process   purposeful   exploratory   interpretive   interactive   holistic   qualitative   collaborative   heuristic   discovery   descriptive   accessible   open-ended   complex   relevant   
practitioner's point of view

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