Academic journal article Education

Using Action Research to Open the Door to Life-Long Professional Learning

Academic journal article Education

Using Action Research to Open the Door to Life-Long Professional Learning

Article excerpt

This paper describes a research study conducted at Nipissing University with preservice teacher candidates. The study explored effective means within a one-year, post-degree B.Ed. program to enable student teachers to begin to use action research. The findings describe benefits and constraints of using action research within the preservice context. The paper then explores the depth, direction, and orientation of individual studies and concludes with a set of standards of practice on action research for beginning teachers.

In Ontario, in response to calls to recognize the importance of the individual teacher in the change process (Hargreaves, 1994), increasing numbers of practicing teachers are using action research for the purpose of professional growth (Black, 1998: Delong & Wideman, 1998). However, demographic changes will mean that many of these teachers will retire from the profession over the next ten years (Smith, Herry, Levesque, & Marshall, 1993; Smith & McIntyre, 1996). To ensure that the beginning teachers who will replace retirees are able to use action research, it is important for faculties of education to investigate how to include action research in their Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) programs.

The Ontario College of Teachers (1999) has developed standards of practice for the teaching profession organized around the following five themes: commitment to students and student learning; professional knowledge; teaching practice; leadership and community; and ongoing professional learning. These standards, however, are general in nature and do not address the specific needs of beginning teachers in regard to action research.

In the context of increased accountability in education, the purpose of professional growth is to improve the quality of teaching and learning within the classroom, so that all students can achieve required learning expectations (Delong & Wideman, 1996). Action research is an approach to school improvement that honours teachers' professionalism and that has been used increasingly to address the relative ineffectiveness of traditional approaches to professional development in terms of affecting teaching practice (Bierly & Berliner, 1982). As reflective professionals, teachers use action research methods to investigate questions about their practice and to develop workable solutions that improve learning by all. They collect data to discover the impact of those changes. They record their studies and share the results with others (McNiff, Lomax, & Whitehead, 1996).

Methodology

In September 1997, forty-two elementary and secondary teacher candidates volunteered for the project and began to explore possible research questions. Each participant identified an action research question and individual projects were pursued in the autumn and winter practice teaching blocks. In early March, 1998, participants presented their studies, findings, and conclusions to other participants in small group settings.

The study was exploratory and, consequently, the general methodological approach was grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) with theory being generated directly from the data. A wide variety of data was collected with all group meetings and individual participant interviews being tape recorded. In addition, each participant kept a journal and submitted a written account of his/her study at its conclusion. Triangulation and discussion with participants and colleagues were used during the analysis process to verify the findings.

Findings

The findings of the study focused primarily on the benefits and constraints of participating in action research and the depth, direction, and orientation of individual studies.

Benefits and Constraints

Table 1 presents a summary of participants' questionnaire responses regarding the benefits of engaging in action research in the B.Ed. year. Action research provided a powerful means for improving professional practice by enhancing participants' sense of autonomy. …

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