A teaching colleague recently told me how he had undertaken a highly successful action research project with his maths class. When asked, he explained how he had used a software programme to help his students learn 2D and 3D shapes. I thought the project sounded interesting and asked him to tell me some more about it. He explained how he was interested in using technology and decided to use the software to help raise students understanding of 2 and 3D shapes. He had done a pre-test and tabulated the results. He then introduced the students to the software and after a couple of weeks, administered a post-test. The scores showed that the students’ understanding had increased greatly and my colleagues was delighted.
I was disappointed when I realised that that was all he had done! In my opinion, action research encapsulates much more than trying out a new idea. While the aim of improving one’s practice is always admirable, I think that calling, what is basically an intervention, an ‘action research project’, demonstrates disappointing lack of understanding around the underpinning features of action research.
Maybe this is an opportune moment to remind ourselves what we mean by self study action research.
Undertaking an action research project assumes, for example, that one-
has an understanding of one’s educational values,
is living or trying to live, in the direction of one’s educational values,
has engaged in critical reflection on their practice,
experiences oneself as a ‘living contradiction’ (Whitehead, 1999)
is seeking to improve one’s practice or one’s understanding of one’s practice,
is aiming to generate a theory from one’s learning in the process of the project and
Engaging in action research allows the the teacher to be a researcher and a theorist. It encourages a dialectic between theory and practice. It enables the practitioner to assume a sense of autonomy over their practice as they develop theories and ideas from a personalised grassroots perspective. It enables practitioners to potentially transform their thinking, their practice and their sense of professionalism while generating educational theory from their practice.
So, while I believe that self-study action research can encompass the staging of an intervention or an experimentation with a new idea in one’s classroom, its essence is far greater and more powerful than that. Let us not reduce the power of action research to a hollow victory narrative based on increased test scores. Let us embrace self-study action research in its powerful, transformational wholeness and try make a sustainable difference in our professional lives!