Using Action Research
One of the best ways to assess the value of the strategies that educational neuroscience suggests is to try them out in your own classroom or in any other location where you are teaching. Conducting this action research allows you to gather data to determine the effectiveness of new strategies and affirm those you already use, to acclaim and enhance the use of research in our profession, and to further your own professional development.
The classroom is a laboratory in which the teaching and learning processes meet and interact. Action research can provide continual feedback on the success of that interaction. Using a solution- oriented approach, action research includes identifying the problem, systematically collecting data, analyzing the data, taking action based on the data, evaluating and reflecting on the results of those actions, and, if needed, redefining the problem (Figure I.1). The teacher is always in control of the type of data collected, the pace of assessment, and the analysis of the results. This process encourages teachers to reflect on their practices, to refine their skills as a practitioner, and to direct their own professional development. This is a new view of the profession, with the teacher as the main agent of change.
In this post, I’m including one of my Practitioner’s Corner’s from How the Brain Learns, 4th, edition to help educators get started with action research. As we discover more about how the brain learns, we can devise strategies that can make the teaching-learning process more efficient, effective, and enjoyable.
Using Action Research
- Select the Research Question. Because you need to collect data, choose a research question that involves elements which can be easily measured quantitatively or qualitatively. Some examples:
- How does the chunking of material affect the learner’s retention? This can be measured by a short oral or written quiz.
- How does teaching material at the beginning or middle of a lesson affect learner retention? This can be measured by quizzes.
- How does changing the length of wait time affect student participation? This can be measured by comparing the length of the wait time to the number of subsequent student responses.
- Collect the Data. Remember that you need baseline data before you try the research strategy to provide a comparison. Plan carefully the methods you will use to measure and collect the data. Try not to use paper-and-pencil tests exclusively. You will collect pretrial and posttrial data.
Pretrial. Select a control group, which is usually the same group of students that will be used with the research strategy. Collect test data without using the research strategy.
Posttrial. Use the strategy (e.g., chunking, prime-time-1, wait time) and then collect the appropriate data.
- Analyze the Data. Use simple analytical techniques, such as comparing the average group test scores before and after using the research strategy. What changes did you notice in the two sets of data? Did the research strategy produce the desired result? If not, why not? Was there an unexpected consequence (positive or negative) of using the strategy?
- Share the Data. Sharing the data with colleagues is an important component of the action research process. Too often, teachers work in isolation, with few or no opportunities to interact continuously with colleagues to design and discuss their lessons.
- Implement the Change. If the research strategy produced the desired results, decide how you will make it part of your teaching repertoire. If you did not get the desired results, decide whether you need to change some aspect of the strategy or perhaps use a different measure.
- Try New Practices. Repeat the above steps with other strategies so that action research becomes part of your ongoing professional development.