Action Research: Expanding the Role of Classroom Teachers to Inquirers and Researchers

By Llewellyn, Douglas; van Zee, Emily | Science Scope, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Action Research: Expanding the Role of Classroom Teachers to Inquirers and Researchers


Llewellyn, Douglas, van Zee, Emily, Science Scope


NSTA is breaking new ground with this month's issue of Science Scope. For the first time, an NSTA journal is focused on action research and the role teachers play as classroom researchers. We are pleased that the editors are devoting space in this issue to this timely topic: an aspect of professional development that promotes both classroom research and curricula reform. This issue chronicles the challenges and journeys teachers take in using their classroom as laboratories to increase their understandings of the learning process. In this issue, you will read how ordinary classroom science teachers take on the extraordinary role of teacher-researcher to improve their professional practice and the academic achievement and performance skills of their students.

What is action research?

Action research is a purposeful, yet systematic and often collaborative inquiry, conducted by teachers and teacher-leaders for the intent of improving their practice and performance. Driven by a spiraling succession of issue recognition, data, and evidence gathered about effective instructional strategies, analysis, and reflection, teacher-researchers explore their pedagogical methods and how students learn best. This ultimately leads to increased student motivation and academic achievement, as well as improvement in curriculum and teaching.

As an inquiry- and reflective-based process, undertaking an action research project often commences with a single observation or phenomenon that arises from a classroom discussion or a student's comment. Like science inquiry, action research involves framing and eventually articulating a question, a problem, or identifying an achievement gap. For example, "How can math be applied to everyday situations that results in a deeper understanding of natural and human made events?" (See "Assessing Student Motivation, Performance, and Engagement With an Action Research Project" by Kathy Hoppe in this issue). Next, the researcher often reflects on the context of the question by asking, "Why is this question or problem important to me and my students?" A literature search for research-based effective strategies is the subsequent step for many teacher-researchers. Finding out what the research says about the focus question may lead the researcher to a recommended methodology that closes the identified achievement gap. The teacher then plans a means to study the phenomenon by designing and implementing an investigative strategy, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data related to the question or problem, and keeping journal notes and anecdotal records as evidence. Next, the teacher analyzes the evidence (in the form of student work, portfolio entries, or standardized achievement tests), reflects on the results, modifies classroom practice in light of the findings, and communicates his/her new understandings to colleagues in the form of conclusions, claims, and supporting evidence.

Like any form of research, the influential follow-up question immediately becomes, "Now what?" Asking how this new understanding will effectively improve student performance and comprehension prompts the goal of any action research.

What are the benefits of action research?

With the day-to-day demands teachers have placed upon them, one might expect that adding another task, namely conducting classroom research, would be the straw that broke the camel's back. Exemplary teachers, however, embrace the notion of the teacher as researcher and use their classroom as a laboratory for investigating both their profession and practice while acting as an agent of change within their school. Action research seems to have two essential benefits. First, as the primary audience, students directly benefit from the fresh and innovative strategies used by the teacher-researcher. Second, from the results of a focus group engaging in action research, there appears to be a feedback loop that transforms the attitudes and depositions of the classroom teacher. …

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