How to writing action research proposal, how to write a literature review for an action research paper research how to make an action research paper
for Alberta Teachers
PUBLIC EDUCATION WORKS…
Action research is a strategy teachers can use to investigate a problem or
area of interest specific to their professional context. It provides the
structure to engage in a planned, systematic and documented process of
This resource is intended to help you plan a self-guided action research
project. As an educator, you are faced daily with challenges as you
work to provide an effective learning environment for all the students
in your classroom or school. These challenges surface in your
reflections as questions that you attempt to answer to improve your
What can we
do to eliminate
the school? Can high school
student achievement be
enhanced through the
use of portfolios?
I improve my
Will using a
improve junior high
Action Research is a process of systematic
inquiry into a self-identified teaching or
learning problem to better understand its
complex dynamics and to develop strategies
geared towards the problem’s improvement.
(Hamilton 1997, 3)
The action research process can result in:
can focus on
enhanced personal awareness
improved practice and process.
Action research is one form of applied research.
Because action research draws on a range of designs and
can be used to
methodologies, it can provide teachers with the opportunity to examine
solve a problem
a practical problem within a classroom or school setting. Action
research has the potential to greatly enhance both teacher professional
development and school improvement initiatives.
The following three forms of action research have been used extensively
1. Individual: an educator works on a personal inquiry
can be used to
2. Collaborative: a team or group focuses on an issue
3. Schoolwide/districtwide: a community of practitioners works to
solve a problem or make a change
Research design is largely predetermined
Emphasis is on measurement of quantifiable
Often, reliance is on control variables
Research design is somewhat
and one manipulated variable
flexible and adaptable
Results are analyzed statistically
Emphasis is on describing
Researchers are frequently
external to the context
Controlling all variables is difficult
Results are interpreted from a variety
All participants in the research
have a voice
Action research provides teachers with a systematic process to reflect,
consider options, implement and evaluate potential solutions. Action
research differs from the day-to-day decision making that teachers do.
Consider this example.
During our high school staff meeting in June the vice-
principal expressed frustration over the number of discipline
problems that occur over the noon hour. The staff discussed
the issue for 10 minutes and then one staff member made a
motion to reduce the length of the lunch hour from 55 minutes
to 40 minutes. The rationale given for the motion was that it
would reduce the time students had to get into trouble. After
some discussion the motion was put to a vote and was carried.
The 40-minute lunch break was implemented in September and
school was dismissed 10 minutes earlier every day. It now
seems that fewer students participate in intramural and school
clubs. The Students’ Council had to adapt its activities to the
shorter time. No one can really say if there are fewer discipline
problems now because we don’t know what the statistics were
for last year.
4In this situation the teachers did not have the opportunity to reflect on
and examine the issue closely. A solution was implemented that focused
on dealing with the “symptom” and as a result there could be a new and
more serious problem to deal with. If they had taken the time to design
and implement an action research study the teachers in this school
would have learned more about the discipline problems, why they were
occurring, what the students thought about the issue as well as other
aspects of the problem. This might have led to a different, perhaps
Action research is a valuable form of
inquiry for educators because it is...
Practical: practical improvements are the focus.
Participative: teachers, administrators, teacher assistants, students
and parents can all be involved in meaningful ways.
Empowering: all participants can contribute to and benefit from
Interpretive: meaning is constructed using participants’ multiple
realities in the situation.
Tentative there are not always right or wrong answers; rather, there
are possible solutions based on multiple view points.
Critical: participants look critically at specific problems and act as
self-critical change agents.
(Schmuck 1997, 29)
5Questions of Ethics
in Action Research
As action researchers, teachers are knowledge
generators rather than appliers of knowledge.
At its core, action research encourages teachers to share their
experiences about how they have worked through an educational
concern. Anyone who has spent time in schools will immediately
recognize the issues that might emerge. The notion that teachers not
only apply knowledge but produce knowledge can throw teachers into
interesting waters. By its very nature, action research produces data and
information that at times challenge us and our colleagues. Consider the
predicament of these teachers.
It all started when we were reviewing our notes on a
technology-integration action research project in our school.
After meeting for over six months, it was clear that, no matter
what we tried, we could not get approval for any further
funding for release time from the school’s PD budget. One day
someone from the school’s PD committee picked up a piece of
paper from the recycling box in the staff photocopy room. On
the back of the paper was a copy of a teacher’s journal entry
that was from one of our action research team meetings. In her
notes, the teacher had written about her personal frustrations
with the lack of PD funding in the school and with the
committee’s decision. When the PD representative asked the
teacher about the notes her response was quite defensive:
“How dare you spy on us. This is our group and you have no
business reading our material.”
This anecdote raises important questions about action research in
schools. First and foremost, teachers are bound by common principles
that guide how they relate to each other as professionals. In Alberta, the
6Code of Professional Conduct does much to inform teachers about what
constitutes appropriate collaborative relationships and ethical practices.
Yet a code of conduct, or indeed any ethical practice, cannot be viewed
as a simple formula or a checklist of do’s and don’ts. Schools are
complex social environments, and because action research affects the
quality of relations with colleagues, it is important that
we avoid looking for simple rules of thumb
or lists of do’s and don’ts.
A more helpful approach
is to consider examples of ethical questions that might inform
your action research project. These might be questions a critical
friend could pose as you move through your project.
➜ How might the intended changes from your project affect others?
➜ Who has an interest in being informed about your project?
➜ Who will own the information generated by the project?
➜ How does the project express an ethic of caring for others?
➜ In whose interest is the change you are proposing being made?
➜ Who will own the success/failure of the project?
As with any teaching practice, questions of ethics
are central to all aspects of action research in schools. The previous
questions can be further informed by four types of ethical practices:
1. Ethics of hope: Action research is motivated by an interest in
making schools better places for students. However, improving
schooling is much more than making technical changes to the ways that
schools deliver curriculum. Action research should be informed by a
concern for the broad range of needs of students and the school
2. Ethics of caring: It is far too easy to see getting the project
done as the central purpose of action research. At all times, the general
welfare of both students and teachers must be kept at the fore.
+ 3. Ethics of openness: Action research can unwittingly create
insiders and outsiders in a school. It is important that both the
questions and the ways that teacher-researchers work through them are
made clear to colleagues and school members.
4. Ethics of responsibility: As professionals, teacher-researchers
must be committed to principled action. The welfare of students and
the need to maintain collegiality must be kept in mind at all times.
These four practices, developed by Carson et al (1989), remind us that
ethical issues are often too complex for simple rules or procedures. The
best practice is to be mindful of the ambiguities that confront us in the
complex life of schools.
Teachers must consider The Freedom of Information and the Protection of
Privacy Act (FOIP) as they develop their action research project plans.
Most classroom-based action research projects will involve collecting
personal information about students, including their demographic and
achievement data. Parents must give prior approval for this type of
information to be collected and, if necessary, reported or published. The
following questions can serve as a guide for writing a letter to seek
parental permission in light of FOIP:
Why are you collecting the information?
What information will be collected?
How will the information be used?
Who will be the audience for the information?
Parents must also give prior permission for teachers to use photographs
or video tape students involved in the action research project. Use the
previous guiding questions to write a letter of permission and include
reassurance that neither the child’s identity nor any personal
information will be used in conjunction with the photograph.
For more information about FOIP, consult:
your school principal,
the school district FOIP coordinator or
the Alberta Teachers’ Association website at
Where do research questions come from? Simply put, action research
questions originate in a teacher’s reflections. Everyday there are
situations that cause you to reflect later. You might ask yourself...
Why did it What was
Strategies you can use to develop
a research question
Keep a journal for at least one week, preferably two
Set aside 10 minutes to write at the end of each day.
At the end of two weeks, read your journal, looking for
significant ideas and themes.
Brainstorm a list of things that you would like to investigate.
Review the list and write a first draft of your question.
Write a paragraph of supporting rationale for your question.
Reflect on your question.
(Patterson et al 1993, 23–25)
Focus on your classroom or role in the school and complete the
following sentence stems.
One thing I would like to change is...
9My practice could be improved by...
The students I work with need...
I would like to know...
I wonder why...
The most important thing about teaching is...
The best learning environment for students is...
I need to learn how to...
My students would do better if...
Affinity charting (for collaborative action research)
➜ Brainstorm issues of concern or interests relating to your
educational context. Record each item on a separate note.
➜ Group your items using affinity charting. Place the most diverse
statements on the table in a row. Place items that have a common
theme or focus in each column.
➜ Review and reflect on the placement. Do some items fit better in
a different column?
➜ Develop a draft research question that reflects the key issue in
➜ Choose the question that most interests you and is possible to
10Points to consider in
developing a good question
1 Studying this question will enhance my professional practice.
This question will be of value to my classroom, school and/or
3 The climate of my classroom and school will be supportive of this
4 The question focuses on an important issue.
5 The question can be studied in the time available.
6 I can access literature or other resources that will provide
7 The data needed to answer this question is accessible.
8 The question is of personal interest to me.
Reflect on Your Question...
Which of the following words best describes your research question?
What does this word say about your assumptions regarding the question?
Status Quo Change
+ The Action
The action research process can generally be described as a series of
four steps: planning, action, observing and reflecting on the
results of the action. Depending on the research question, purpose of
the study and number of researchers involved, each of these steps can
be expanded. A single teacher researcher studying a classroom issue
may work through the steps of the process in a relatively short time. In
contrast, a collaborative group of researchers focusing on a school
improvement initiative may engage in an in-depth study taking the
entire school year to complete.
The action research process lends itself to a spiral of cycles, with the
researcher reflecting on each stage of the process. When the results of
the first action have been studied, the researcher then plans the next
series of actions. Each reflective phase yields more information about
the issue and increases the researcher’s understanding. Sometimes the
information gained leads the researcher to refine the question with a
different focus. The most important skill the researcher needs in action
research is the ability to engage in reflection. Reflection moves the
practitioner from one stage to the next; thus, action is based on
reflection. The diagram below illustrates the notion that the action
research process is a series of steps or actions, propelled by reflection.
One of the first tasks in your project should be to develop an outline to
guide your activities and describe the various steps in your action
research process. The process you design will depend on the nature of
your research question and the context of your study. For instance, if
your project is to study the impact of two different computer-based
math programs, you will not need to spend much time reviewing the
research that supported the development of computer-based math
programs. You are primarily interested in which program will give the
best results in your school. However, if your study is to increase student
achievement in mathematics, your research design will need to include
an extensive review of different teaching and learning strategies to
identify the strategies most likely to have a positive impact in your
classroom. Engaging in an extensive literature review and seeking out
expert information will help to ensure that the interventions you choose
to implement will have a positive impact.
n 1996, the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation
sponsored the Common Curriculum Innovation Fund Project,
I which brought together teachers, principals and superintendents
from four boards of education. Their action research projects focused
on the implementation of the Common Curriculum. These teachers
used the following key questions to help guide their action research.
1 ➢ What is the problem?
2 ➢ What are some possible solutions?
Solutions may be self designed, learned from colleagues or from reviews
of educational literature.
3 ➢ What is the possible solution I want to investigate?
4 ➢ How do I make the solution work?
Test the proposed solution and modify it as needed.
5 ➢ How do I record data and reflect on it?
Keeping a journal and discussing it with a critical friend are
6 ➢ How do I share my experiences with others?
This is how the practitioner demonstrates and models his or her
professional development and contributes to the improvement of
educational practice. Holding a meeting, conducting a workshop,
or writing a paper are possible ways of fulfilling this responsibility.
7 ➢ What is next?
Action research is an open-ended, ongoing, cyclical process. The
solution one develops to the initial problem will generate the next
problem to be addressed. This is the catalyst to continuous
professional improvement. (Halsall and Hosack 1996, 16)
r. David Townsend, a professor in the Faculty of Education
at the University of Lethbridge, has made extensive use of
D an 11-step process with teachers in Alberta.
1 ➢ Define the Focus or Problem
• Ask the right questions.
• Reflection begins.
2 ➢ Collect Information
• Read the literature, consult colleagues, talk to experts.
• Reflection continues.
3 ➢ Make Sense of the Information
• What is relevant?
• What is doable?
• What can be modified and adapted to suit the circumstances?
4 ➢ Share the Information
• Share your preliminary conclusions with your team.
• Be prepared to deal with conflicting information.
5 ➢ Plan Action
• Share individual intentions with members of the team.
• Build personal commitment and group support.
• Develop a plan of action.
6 ➢ Take Action
• Start putting your plan into effect.
• Begin to think otherwise about what is happening and why.
• Reflection in action and on action will make your efforts more
7 ➢ Collect Information
• Let your students see you as a learner.
• Gather data to answer your research question and document carefully.
• Meet regularly to share your experiences and re-focus as necessary.
8 ➢ Analyze
• Use the collective knowledge of your group to make sense of what’s
happening and why.
• Compare the pre- and post-intervention data.
9 ➢ Assess Your Achievements
• Think about evidence-based practice.
• Your conclusions are supported by the data collected.
10 ➢ Publish
• Commit yourself to making conclusions about the impact of your efforts.
• Share these conclusions with the group.
• Be prepared to disseminate your report beyond your group and beyond
11 ➢ Future Action
• Celebrate. Relax. Reflect.
• Take time to consolidate your learning and your gains before you start
chool districts across Alberta have organized school
improvement projects on a range of topics. Action research
S can be applied to many of these initiatives. J. Glanz (1998) in
Action Research: An Educational Leader’s Guide to School Improvement
describes a four-step process for action research to examine
educational problems in school settings.
Steps in Action Research
1 ➢ Select a Focus
Includes three steps: a) know what you want to investigate, b) develop
some questions about the area you’ve chosen; and c) establish a plan to
answer the question. As you focus on a problem, begin to pose some
questions that will serve to guide your research. Developing guiding
questions will eventually lead to specifying research questions and/or
hypotheses. Selecting a focus also includes developing a research design.
152 ➢ Collect Data
Once you have developed the research question you can begin to collect
data that will provide evidence of the effectiveness of the intervention.
You may administer tests, conduct surveys and interviews and examine
documents. Collected data must be transformed into a useable form.
3 ➢ Analyze and Interpret Data
Once the relevant data is collected, you need to begin the process of
analysis and interpretation in order to arrive at a decision.
4 ➢ Take Action
The research question is answered based on the data collected and a
decision is made. Three possibilities exist: a) continue the intervention,
b) disband the intervention, c) modify the intervention in some way(s).
Action research is cyclical – the process doesn’t necessarily have to
stop at any particular point. Information gained from previous
research may open new avenues of research. (Glanz 1998, 24–26)
you plan the steps...
in your action research process, consider the context of your project.
You will need to take many factors into consideration. For example:
What is the purpose of the research project? Are you trying to solve a
problem, implement a change or make an improvement?
To what degree are different stakeholders aware of the issue?
How much time is available to engage in the various aspects of the project?
What financial resources are available to support the project?
What is the desired impact of your project? Will the project be replicated in
other classrooms or schools?
How manageable is the project? What is the scope? How many
people are involved?
Who else has a legitimate right to be involved or
should be involved in the project?
Knowledge of the Issue
Once the research focus has been identified, the next step is to learn
more about the issue. The amount of time spent on this initial review
will vary depending on the amount of information available and how
specifically the issue has been defined. People experienced in action
research say that time spent on this activity is time well spent.
Developing your knowledge of the issue and finding out what others
have experienced will help you to refine your research question and to
focus on the most likely solutions or interventions.
There are three strategies to use in
developing your background knowledge.
Seek out expert knowledge from every available
source. Begin your search in your school district.
Who has taken courses, attended conferences or applied this
information in the classroom? Contact the universities and ask for the
names of professors or graduate students working in the area. Contact
staff at the Alberta Teachers’ Association and regional consortia in your
area to ask for names of people who have offered workshops on the
topic. Contact these people by telephone or e-mail to arrange a meeting
or to ask for advice.
Accessing published material can be a challenge
because of the volume of reference material. Your
teacher librarian or the library services at the Association can assist you
in designing an efficient search of print and web-based materials. Refer
to the bibliographies of material you find valuable to identify additional
sources of information, such as writers working in the field.
Conferences, workshops and courses are
excellent networking opportunities. These
events can provide skills training and valuable materials to assist you in
implementing your intervention or strategy. Just as valuable, however, is
the experience of being immersed in the topic and discussing the issues
with others interested in the same topic.
During the learning phase develop a plan to save time and focus your
research activities. Use the mindmap format below and brainstorm to
identify potential sources of background information related to your
A standard format makes it easier to compare materials and share
information with others involved in the project. Many action researchers
use recipe cards to collect and organize information. Use the following
template to summarize the information; note three or four points under
Information Highlights — What did the author say about this issue?
Implications — What action do you recommend based on this information?
Further Investigation — Is further investigation required in relation to this information?
Phone / Email
19If you are working on a collaborative action research project, share the
background research activities with members of the team. Plan to meet
as a team every one to three weeks to share the information you have
gathered. At these meetings take a critical stance in the discussion and
challenge the information. Frequently you will discover conflicting
information that you will have to evaluate. Your research plan may need
to be modified to address the new knowledge you have gained.
Documenting your information is
important for a number of reasons:
It creates a permanent record for future reference.
It helps to build continuity for the project if the participants change.
This information is valuable if you plan to share your work with
It can be used to support applications for funding.