Monday, 15 December 2014

Classroom Action Research - a personal refresher

My school has recently encouraged teachers who are interested to do so to carry out some classroom action research. Therefore I thought this would be a good time to re-visit the theoretical background of this particular approach to education research. As with all educational research, classroom action research (CAR) begins with a problem, a lack of knowledge, or a desire to improve. This begins the process of formulating a research question.

A criticism of educational research has been that it is non-cumulative and fails to build on previous research (Hargreaves, 2007), something Boote and Beile (2005) argued it must do if it is to be useful and meaningful. I feel that this applies equally to classroom action research, which should ultimately include a literature review setting out the theoretical and / or methodological context for the research undertaken.

It is sometimes suggested that there is a large gap between educational research and education as practiced by teachers. However, Broekkamp and van Hout-Wolters (2007) noted that while the perceived gap between educational research and practice may not be as big as some commentators suggest, a commonly advocated solution to the problem is more ‘action research’ by teachers. Action research is usually carried out by practitioners to reflect upon, investigate and improve their own practice (Bassey, 2007; Kemmis, 2007).

Explicit links should be made between the design frame (in this case action research),  the theory and the methodology during the planning stages. Although action research is often viewed as being focused mainly on practice, Brydon-Miller et al. (2003) see practice and theory as a duality, each informing the other, but also note that much remains to be done in articulating strong theoretical foundations for action research. The objects of study in action research are educational practices, and specifically practices as informed, committed actions, or praxis (Kemmis, 2007). A variety of data collection and analysis techniques may be used within action research, although interpretivist approaches (e.g. interviews or observation) are more common than positivist, experimental ones (Kemmis, 2007). The key method of action research is a “spiral of self-reflection” (Kemmis, 2007, p.175), comprising planning, acting, observing and reflecting. It has been pointed out, however, that these cyclic processes rarely follow each other in a simple, systematic way (Halai, 2011), so teachers engaging in action research should be prepared for this, and given appropriate support.

Action research is an appropriate design frame for educational research in my work context, providing both a sound theoretical basis and a strong practice element.


Bassey, M. (2007). On the kinds of research in educational settings, in Hammersley, M. (ed.). Educational Research and Evidence-based Practice, London, Sage in association with The Open University
Boote, D.N. and Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher, 34, 6, pp.3-15
Broekkamp, H. and van Hout-Wolters, B. (2007). The gap between educational research and practice: A literature review, symposium, and questionnaire. Educational Research and Evaluation, 13, 3, pp.203-220

Brydon-Miller, M., Greenwood, D. and Maguire, P. (2003). Why action research? Action Research, 1, 1, pp.9-28

Halai, N. (2011). How teachers become action researchers in Pakistan: emerging patterns from a qualitative metasynthesis. Educational Action Research, 19, 2, pp. 201-214

Hargreaves, D.H. (2007). Teaching as a research-based profession: possibilities and prospects (The Teacher Training Agency Lecture 1996), in Hammersley, M. (ed.). Educational Research and Evidence-based Practice, London, Sage in association with The Open University

Kemmis, S. (2007). Action research, in Hammersley, M. (ed.). Educational Research and Evidence-based Practice, London, Sage in association with The Open University

Friday, 12 December 2014

When teacher thinks their idea is great – but…

I’m sure that this is an experience that most of us who are teachers can relate to. It certainly isn’t the first time it has happened to me. That great new idea you have, that’s going to be a fun, motivating, engaging activity – and then – crash and burn!

A few days ago I was introducing a new topic to my oldest group of biology students – Grade 12 or Matayom 6 here in Thailand. I told them that we would be studying hormones and the endocrine system, at which point giggling and whispers started going around the room. The cause of the amusement:  Hormones – The Series. This is a popular, somewhat risqué (for Thailand) teen-soap. According to Wikipedia, it takes some of its inspiration from the UK show Skins, which was also somewhat controversial in some of its portrayals of teen life.

Anyway, after class had finished I thought – what a great learning opportunity! Instead of what I had originally planned for the students to do over the New Year break - work in groups, do some background research on a hormone of their choice, then give a presentation based on their findings to the rest of the class – why not have them make a video! A scripted, acted play, in which group members took on different roles – one person would be the hormone, another could be the receptor molecule, the “villain” could be a disease associated with their particular hormone and so on. All good, 21st Century Skills; creative, collaborative stuff!

So I prepared a PowerPoint slide mock-up of publicity posters from Hormones – The Series. I prepared the outline brief for their task. I went to class and announced their next assignment, expecting an overwhelmingly positive response to my creative and innovative use of the learning opportunity that arose in our previous class. And was greeted by a chorus of groans!
“Make a video – really?” and “Why can’t we just take down notes?”

So, somewhat deflated – the “disease as villain” was an off-the-cuff addition to try and garner more enthusiasm for my idea – I pressed on regardless. To be fair to my students, many of them were fairly swift in beginning to storyboard an outline for their video – an example of something learned in English classes being transferred to science – so I don’t want to be too harsh on them. It’s just that moment when you realize that your own enthusiasm for a new approach to teaching the same material doesn’t necessarily always translate well for your students. I’m withholding judgment as to whether I will repeat this assignment until I’ve seen the finished products. Although I imagine they will produce some entertaining videos. If any of them are scientifically accurate enough I may even post them online…

The students in question listening to a guest speaker.