Putting the Research Where the Action Is

By Wendy Vaulton

It is often said that good teachers are good students. Action research, also known as collaborative inquiry, action learning, and emancipatory research, provides a valuable tool for teachers to become students of their own teaching practices.  Action research helps teachers and schools engage in a continual process of quality improvement through inquiry and reflection.

The action research process is relatively simple. First, you identify an area of teaching or learning that you want to understand and improve. It should be something that you feel passionate about, that is also within your control. That way, you can make changes and study the impact of those changes. Where traditional researchers take a “hands off” approach and try not to change the research environment while it is being studied, action researchers get to do just the opposite. In action research, the goal is that after you identify a focus or problem, you gather some information and make a change, solve the problem, or improve something. Once you’ve made the change, then you collect data to reflect and understand the effect of what you did. Finally, you lather, rinse, and repeat, creating a cycle of continuous improvement that is really the heart of action research.

What I love about action research is that it acknowledges the expertise of teachers and it puts them in the driver’s seat. You may be thinking it sounds like a lot of work, and I’d be lying if I said there isn’t work involved. But, it is the kind of work that pays off exponentially for you and your students. The work is directed toward something you yourself want to understand and improve, rather than something someone else thinks is important. So, each step in developing an action research project will have a specific payoff for you. Honing in on a question or problem helps you think deeply about the connections between your teaching and student learning, test out new ideas, and reflect on their effectiveness.

There are some great resources out there that can help you understand the value of action research and how to do it. One of my favorites is a guide to action research written specifically for literacy educators. You can find this guide at:

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