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