Action Research

Teacher Action ResearchIntroduction

Recently, teacher action research has become more visible as teachers work to make changes in education (Noffke, 1995).  According to the literature, the definition of teacher action research is the process of recognizing a problem or asking a question about classroom practice, then moving to systematically research that particular issue as it happens in the classroom (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009; Costello, 2011; Noffke, 1995).  The result of action research can lead to teachers becoming more reflective about their practice, can lead to school improvement, and can create systems where there is more meaningful professional development (Costello, 2011). This review of the literature will show how teacher action research can give teachers autonomy, promote collaboration, and give a foundation for its importance.  By combining this review with the creation of action research communities in schools and districts, positive disruption can happen and changes for the better can be made.

Teacher action research has many different definitions, this review will define teacher research as systematically collecting and analyzing data, making changes based on this analysis, then sharing what was learned with others (Shagoury & Power, 2012).  Working from this starting point, teacher action research can be broken down into a cycle of repeating actions: planning, acting, observing, reflecting, and creating a new plan (Costello, 2011).  This gives a basic framework to develop action research in the classroom that teachers can fold into their classroom cultures.

Background of the Research

This review will use articles that have been published in scholarly journals or peer reviewed book chapters that show the benefits and implications of teacher action research.  Three books are used that present outlines for the importance of teacher research and provide frameworks for teachers to use as they pursue action research.  Costello (Costello, 2011) and Shagoury and Power (Shagoury & Power, 2012) give in depth analysis to developing an action research study that educators can use in their classrooms.  Cochran-Smith and Lytle (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) share the importance action research through the action research of educators. Castle (Castle, 2006) provides a strong voice for teacher autonomy through her article, and Noffke (Noffke, 1995) discusses the importance of teacher action research in a democracy in schools.  Collaboration is also mentioned in several different places as an important piece to teacher action research (Castle, 2012; West, 2014).  Several other articles support the importance of teacher action research and their contributions to educators (Barrett-Mynes, 2010; Harland, 2003; Heyborne & Perrett, 2016).

Teacher Autonomy

Engaging in the practice of teacher action research gives teachers the “the knowledge and confidence to act as responsible professionals” (Castle, 2006, p. 1096).  Teachers who ask questions are looking for answers, those answers will help improve what happens in the classroom (Castle, 2012).  The understanding that educators develop in their local schools and communities and the professional knowledge that comes from this interaction and relationships was completely left out of the No Child Left Behind Act (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009).  Through action research, educators have the opportunity to reclaim their profession.  Action research that is published can challenge current thinking on education (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993).  Educators who share their experiences with action research contribute to the collective voice of educators who are frustrated with a test, sort and punish system and seeking change.  “Teachers are among the most important, if not the single most important factor, in educational change (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009, p. 152).


Teachers who engage in action research have more opportunities than ever to connect to a like-minded community.  Through blogs, social media, and research communities – there is a place for educators to seek feedback or help (Shagoury & Power, 2012).  Schools that develop strong and stable staffs often provide the opportunity for meaningful conversations.  When school leadership is shared inside of the school community, amazing things can happen (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009).  In these communities teachers are encouraged to seek knowledge from several different places, including: professional journals, scholarly literature, and the experiences of peers (Castle, 2006).  Through collaboration, teachers can develop a focused research design that will answer the questions that they are asking (West, 2014).  The process of revising a research design is improved as teachers can talk about how best to approach the problem they are interested in researching.

Importance of Teacher Action Research

When teachers go through the process of action research, they are able to develop pedagogy that impacts student learning in a positive way.  A teacher researcher examined using graphic organizers and read-alouds, and through the systematic study of her students was able to develop a teaching strategy that she can use in the future (Barrett-Mynes, 2010).  A topic right now that is receiving attention with educators is the flipped classroom.  Action research can share the experiences of those who have flipped their classroom, with those who are interested in doing so.  In an action research article about the flipped classroom, the authors concluded that although there were not significant gains, student perceptions were better compared to lecture style (Heyborne & Perrett, 2016). Action research that looked into developing student autonomy with zone of proximal development led to an unforeseen outcome, in that once the students understood enough and worked well enough as a group, they no longer needed as much assistance from the teachers (Harland, 2003).  This is a small sampling of teacher action research, yet offers a glimpse into the importance of sharing results.

PD Timeline

The context for this professional development series is to organize and grow collaborative research communities in a school or district.  The PD for teacher action research will be broken into four different days spaced through one school year.  The overall goal is to establish communities that are self-sufficient and regularly sharing their research.  Each of the following PD days will be led by a facilitator, with an understanding that these days will be peer led the following year.

Day 1
Prior to teachers reporting back to their school sites, there will be an organized professional development day.  All teachers in the district will be invited to attend and see what teacher action research looks like.  There are three goals for the day:

  1. Defining Teacher Action Research
  2. Develop ideas for Teacher Action Research
  3. Organizing Collaborative Research Communities

In defining teacher action research, we will look at some exemplar pieces.  These pieces will provide a foundation for the discussions that will follow.   There will be time individually for teachers to reflect on their practice and the questions that they have.  Following this individual time, teachers will move into small groups to discuss those ideas.  The purpose for this collaborative time is to give teachers the opportunity to find a research partner with similar questions and to give/receive feedback of those ideas.  The day will end with teachers organizing themselves into collaborative communities and developing a timeline for meeting to talk about research.  If time allows in this first day, there will be a period to research relevant literature on those topics that are most interesting for the teachers.

Day 2
This session will take place one month into the school year and after the school day has ended.  It will be focused on teachers organizing their research plans and starting blogs.  Teachers will work in small groups to help each other develop the research process and ensure that there are as few “holes” in the design as possible.  The second half of this session will be the establishment of a blog space for teachers to use as they move through the research process.  Blogging will be encouraged as a mode of reflection on the process and to be a place for feedback or critiques of the research as it unfolds.

Day 3
This session will occur after the end of the first semester and will have a focus on looking at some of the preliminary data, it will occur after the school day.  Teachers will work in small collaborative groups to share some data that has been collected.  These groups will serve as a source of feedback on developing patterns and trends.

Day 4
A celebration of the year!  This session will be focused on the final research results and feedback on each action research project.  Teachers will give Ignite presentations (5 minutes with 5 slides) and provide feedback for each presenter.

Here is a very handy infographic that will help organize all of this.


Barrett-Mynes, J. (2010). Supporting struggling readers: Using interactive read-alouds and graphic organizers. Voices of Practitioners, 5(2), 1-12. doi:10.1111/(issn)1548-7423

Castle, K. (2006). Autonomy through pedagogical research. Teaching and Teacher Education, 22(8), 1094-1103.

Castle, K. (2012). Early childhood teacher research: From questions to results: Routledge.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1993). Inside/outside: Teacher research and knowledge: Teachers College Press.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation: Teachers College Press.

Costello, P. J. (2011). Effective action research: Developing reflective thinking and practice: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Harland, T. (2003). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and problem-based learning: Linking a theoretical concept with practice through action research. Teaching in higher education, 8(2), 263-272.

Heyborne, W. H., & Perrett, J. J. (2016). To Flip or Not to Flip? Analysis of a Flipped Classroom Pedagogy in a General Biology Course. Journal of College Science Teaching, 45(4), 31.

Noffke, S. E. (1995). Action research and democratic schooling: Problematics and potentials. Educational action research: Becoming practically critical, 1-10.

Shagoury, R., & Power, B. M. (2012). Living the questions: A guide for teacher-researchers: Stenhouse Publishers.

West, J. (2014). SoTL in Teacher Education: Layers of Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2014(139), 49-60.

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