“Within all the definitions of action research, there are four basic themes: empowerment of participants, collaboration through participation, acquisition of knowledge, and social change” (Ferrance, 2000, p15). There are two different focuses in Action Research, one in the education industry and another in the social welfare sector (Smith, 1996). I will focus on the Action Research in the education sector.
"The primary purpose of action research is to produce practical knowledge that is useful to people in the everyday conduct of their lives" (Reason, Bradbury, 2006, p2). Action Research (AR) focuses on the realistic aspects and issues of educational professionals for planned and thoughtful exploration and investigation into classroom teaching and lessons. Action Research makes all of the members (the teacher, principal, students, and any other involved) feel powerful, because everyone is involved in changing and advancing the educational problem or issue. Therefore, all of the members are involved in the research process (Hopkins, 1993). Action Research particularly focuses on an organized examination completed by the teacher with the purpose that the research will educate and change her or his teaching procedures or styles in the future. The research is very specific to the teacher’s school environment. The topic researched will be very specific for each professional (Ferrance, 2000)
Kurt Lewin, a United States researcher in the 1940’s, is the person credited for coining the term “Action Research” (Ferrance, 2000). Here is a diagram of Lewin's spiral steps for Action Research, which is not linear:
1. Identify general idea
2. Fact Finding
4. Take First Action Steps
6. Alter Plan
7. Take Second Steps
At Teachers College at Columbia University, Stephen Corey was the first to use Action Research . He believed Action Research would allow teachers to gather information and create change and apply the research. In the 1950’s there was a decline in Action Research because it was deemed unscientific (Ferrance, 2000). Also there was a continued decline in the 1960’s due to radical political activism, and people were questioning who was conducting the research (Smith, 1996). Action Research is now used a lot in the education industry for professional development and school reform (Ferrance, 2000). The concept of action research has also taken hold in other parts of the world, including in China, Africa and South America. It has been used for peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.
Image from (Ferrance, 2000, p9)
The Process of CAR in Education
According to Ferrance (2000, p8), “Implicit in the term action research is the idea that teachers will begin a cycle of posing questions, gathering data, reflection, and deciding on a course of action.”
There are six steps to the Action Research Cycle:
1. Recognizing and establishing the problem.
The teacher needs to make sure that he or she can manipulate the problem.
2. Gathering and grouping information
The teacher must be sure to use several sources of information and a gathering method that is relevant to the problem.
3. Analysis and evaluation of information
Identify and analyze major themes of the data.
4. Change teaching practice based on the analysis of the information
Make a plan for the change, but only change one component.
While the one change is occurring, continue to document observations and information.
Determine if improvement occurred or not, and does the data support the findings.
6. Next Steps (then the cycle starts all over again)
Write down questions as a result of the Action Research and plan the next actions (Ferrance, 2000).