ED6975 – End of Course Reflection
The Action Research (AR) process is an approach I have used throughout my career, both as an educator and (previously) as a chemical engineer. When I look back at my engineering career, my AR projects tended to be more formal, with thoroughly defined challenges and achievement targets, full literature reviews, and formal project write-ups at the conclusion of the project, including a presentation to my coworkers or superiors regarding the results. Since I have become a teacher, my AR efforts have been of the informal sort; more like combining ideas from other professionals and an article or two and then trying something to address a classroom challenge. The evaluation of the new ideas or interventions is these cases is completely informal (i.e. in my head). The AR project for this class gave me the opportunity to apply a more comprehensive approach that harkens back to my engineering experiences, and to see how useful this more comprehensive approach may be in the educational arena as a classroom teacher. Many researchers have found a formal AR process compelling. For example, Pellerin and Paukner (2015) found that teachers they worked with who used the AR process “agreed that the implementation of their AR had a direct impact not only on their teaching practice but also on their students’ motivation and learning.” (p. 53)
I will use this meta-reflection to share my thoughts on the effectiveness of the different phases of the AR process, both for my chosen AR project and for general use when future classroom challenges arise.
AR Component: Focus and Rationale Statement
My AR project focused on improving 5th graders’ abilities related to decimal multiplication and division. The development of a focus and rationale statement was very useful. While the indicators of the problem were fairly clear and present in my mind, the process of delineating sources of the struggle revealed information and ideas that had not fully coalesced up to that point. That is, I understood more about why my students were struggling with decimal operations. That “why” helped shape future plans. For example, the reliance on one strategy as a source of struggle was echoed by Rathouz (2011) who found that even teachers “rely on the rule that requires moving the decimal point in the product according to the number of decimal places in the factors.” (p. 2) Clearly, I will benefit from additional effort when addressing future classroom challenges on identifying sources of the struggle.
The final part of my focus and rationale was a listing of selected intervention strategies. The AR process cannot take place without knowing what you will try, and even a very quick and simple AR project undertaken in my classroom would always include clearly identified intervention strategies.
On the other hand, the identification of at least three district achievement targets is something I believe would be excessive and overly complicated for most school-year, in-class AR efforts. In our school-based data teams, we typically focus on one agreed upon assessment tool or measure for an intervention cycle, and we find it hard enough to gather and report this data in a timely manner! Since we are not academics, but classroom teachers, we usually try and simplify and reduce data collection when possible as opposed to increase it. The one exception to this may be including a “self-rating” in relation to a learning target along with an assessment. This self-reflective indicator from students can be helpful in gaging student confidence and also clarifying whether what they think they can do is what they can actually do.
AR Component: Review of Literature
The formal literature review was challenging because of the narrow nature of my AR topic, and the limitation of using recent peer-reviewed articles. I used the majority of the articles I found due to the low number of articles identified, and I was not able to be as selective as I would have liked. I also found the process of doing a formal literature review (including writings summaries) very time consuming. For future classroom challenges, I would tend to limit my literature review to a couple of articles after skimming possible sources, and I would not write up summaries unless I had to give a formal presentation on the content. I would also include peer teacher ideas as part of my broader “idea review” to compliment published literature.
I did encounter one concept during the literature review I did for this AR project that could be applied in any subject area; Brief Experimental Analysis (BEA). BEAs include “briefly testing a student’s response to an academic intervention prior to extended implementation.” (Reisener et al, 2016, p. 39) While it was difficult to implement given the time constrictions of this AR project, I look forward to trying to apply BEAs in a useful way on a future in-school AR effort.
AR Component: Data Collection and Analysis
The collection of data before and after the intervention period was critical in determining if any actions I completed had a positive impact on student learning. Collecting data and analyzing it has become standard practice in data teams throughout my building, and I will continue to use it extensively, even when interventions are attempted without the presence of a literature review. This AR project did little to change my views regarding data collection and analysis. In fact, it reinforced my previously mentioned idea that the quantity of data collection completed for this AR project would be greater than needed for most school-based projects.
AR Component: Reflection/Next Steps
Without this step, the entire AR effort becomes meaningless in terms of future benefit. Typically, this reflection and steps would be written up as part of a data team or, in the case of a solo effort, would manifest itself as modified materials or lesson plans to be used in the future. In the case of my AR project I was able to identify specific modifications that will be made to the unit on decimal operations that I will implement next year.
The AR project also reinforced the concept of always having a next step of sharing results. In my case, I will be sharing the results of my project with the 5th grade team (who knew I was doing an AR project but did not help carry out the plan).
Based on my experiences with this AR project, I have identified the following recommendations for my future practice related to in-school, teacher initiated AR projects:
- Include the identification of sources of struggle that clarify why there is a problem
- Be purposeful when adding multiple measures to a project, as this can require more time and energy. Make sure the extra effort will result in a meaningful benefit
- Keep formal literature reviews to a minimum unless a specific problem/challenge necessitates one. Focus on in-district teacher success stories/observations/ideas that took place using the same standards and curriculum already used
- Look for future opportunities to apply the concept of BEAs
- Continue to collect pre- and post- intervention data, and to share finding as broadly as feasible to maximize the benefit to students in the district.
- If an especially notable result is born out of an in-school AR effort, consider publication or contacting a researcher to see if more can be learned/shared beyond my school district.
Bringing some of the more “formal” elements of the AR process into my classroom teaching career when appropriate will help me and my teaching team continually improve and will have a positive impact on student learning. It is time to find some middle ground between my engineering approach and my teaching approach to AR projects.
Pellerin, M., & Paukner Nogués, F. I. (2015). Becoming Reflective and Inquiring Teachers: Collaborative Action Research for In-service Chilean Teachers. Revista Electrónica De Investigación Educativa, 17(3), 46-60.
Rathouz, M. (2011). Visualizing Decimal Multiplication with Area Models: Opportunities and Challenges. Issues In The Undergraduate Mathematics Preparation Of School Teachers, 2
Reisener, C. D., Dufrene, B. A., Clark, C. R., Olmi, D. J., & Tingstrom, D. H. (2016). Selecting Effective Interventions to Increase Math Computation Fluency via Brief Experimental Analyses. Psychology In The Schools, 53(1), 39-57.