Action Research (AR) is an approach to research conducted by a classroom teacher to find solutions to learning problems that arise in a particular class, be it face-to-face or online. But where does AR fit in the teaching process?
This question can be answered if we begin by asking ourselves a question: What is it that leads a teacher to consider doing action research? The answer to that question is: reflection; that is, reflectively evaluating what is going on in your classroom. Effective teachers do this constantly: they reflect before, during, and after a lesson, and it is after a lesson, as a teacher mentally evaluates what has just transpired in class, that he/she asks “What is going on? Why didn’t that lesson work?” Often teachers do this in the teachers’ room, and it may turn out that other teachers have the same concern. It is once the problem has become not isolated but repeated that a teacher begins to consider implementing a potential solution. This solution is a response to the problem identified.
Action research then, begins with reflection leading to a decision to respond, in some way, to a particular learning problem in a physical or virtual classroom. Let’s consider this in the wider context of the teaching process.
The teaching process for any course begins with the Planning stage before a course begins. The planning involves developing a syllabus and perhaps a full curriculum. The teacher, or planning committee, considers learners’ needs, and in response to that, course aims and objectives, and selects or develops materials for use in class, considering as well the teaching approach and types of activities to be used in class for introducing, practicing, reviewing, and reviewing course content, and for assessing the learners.. Once the course begins, this marks the Implementing stage where the teacher puts into action the planned teaching approach and activities.
Once implementing begins, the teaching process becomes recursive and cyclical, as the diagram above shows. During and after each class, conscientious teachers begin evaluating what is going on. Much of this evaluation is in the form of informal reflection as the teacher observes the students’ response to the lesson. Evaluation may become more formal if a teacher decides to change course during a lesson because an activity is not working, or because a potentially more effective activity has sprung to the teacher’s mind. This change in course is a visible form of Responding, the fourth stage in the teaching process. Most responding, however, takes place after a lesson, based on the teacher’s evaluation of what has transpired in class. This response could take the form of implementing a review activity into the next lesson, or, if things have gone well, proceeding as previously planned to the next lesson in a teaching unit, or the next unit entirely. When an assignment has been collected and is being analyzed, the teacher may decide that learners need to correct all the errors on a test or to have some of them rewrite essays that did not meet the determined standard. Or, in response to a recurring problem that the teacher deems requires a formal solution, the teacher may choose to engage in some action research. This will involve preparing an intervention (the treatment), be it the use of a new material or technique, designed to address the problem identified. Whatever response has been selected, the teacher will proceed once more to the Planning stage, and the recursive process continues throughout the course in question.