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21 Action Research Examples (In Education)

action research examples and definition, explained below

Action research is an example of qualitative research . It refers to a wide range of evaluative or investigative methods designed to analyze professional practices and take action for improvement.

Commonly used in education, those practices could be related to instructional methods, classroom practices, or school organizational matters.

The creation of action research is attributed to Kurt Lewin , a German-American psychologist also considered to be the father of social psychology.

Gillis and Jackson (2002) offer a very concise definition of action research: “systematic collection and analysis of data for the purpose of taking action and making change” (p.264).

The methods of action research in education include:

  • conducting in-class observations
  • taking field notes
  • surveying or interviewing teachers, administrators, or parents
  • using audio and video recordings.

The goal is to identify problematic issues, test possible solutions, or simply carry-out continuous improvement.

There are several steps in action research : identify a problem, design a plan to resolve, implement the plan, evaluate effectiveness, reflect on results, make necessary adjustment and repeat the process.

Action Research Examples

  • Digital literacy assessment and training: The school’s IT department conducts a survey on students’ digital literacy skills. Based on the results, a tailored training program is designed for different age groups.
  • Library resources utilization study: The school librarian tracks the frequency and type of books checked out by students. The data is then used to curate a more relevant collection and organize reading programs.
  • Extracurricular activities and student well-being: A team of teachers and counselors assess the impact of extracurricular activities on student mental health through surveys and interviews. Adjustments are made based on findings.
  • Parent-teacher communication channels: The school evaluates the effectiveness of current communication tools (e.g., newsletters, apps) between teachers and parents. Feedback is used to implement a more streamlined system.
  • Homework load evaluation: Teachers across grade levels assess the amount and effectiveness of homework given. Adjustments are made to ensure a balance between academic rigor and student well-being.
  • Classroom environment and learning: A group of teachers collaborates to study the impact of classroom layouts and decorations on student engagement and comprehension. Changes are made based on the findings.
  • Student feedback on curriculum content: High school students are surveyed about the relevance and applicability of their current curriculum. The feedback is then used to make necessary curriculum adjustments.
  • Teacher mentoring and support: New teachers are paired with experienced mentors. Both parties provide feedback on the effectiveness of the mentoring program, leading to continuous improvements.
  • Assessment of school transportation: The school board evaluates the efficiency and safety of school buses through surveys with students and parents. Necessary changes are implemented based on the results.
  • Cultural sensitivity training: After conducting a survey on students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences, the school organizes workshops for teachers to promote a more inclusive classroom environment.
  • Environmental initiatives and student involvement: The school’s eco-club assesses the school’s carbon footprint and waste management. They then collaborate with the administration to implement greener practices and raise environmental awareness.
  • Working with parents through research: A school’s admin staff conduct focus group sessions with parents to identify top concerns.Those concerns will then be addressed and another session conducted at the end of the school year.
  • Peer teaching observations and improvements: Kindergarten teachers observe other teachers handling class transition techniques to share best practices.
  • PTA surveys and resultant action: The PTA of a district conducts a survey of members regarding their satisfaction with remote learning classes.The results will be presented to the school board for further action.
  • Recording and reflecting: A school administrator takes video recordings of playground behavior and then plays them for the teachers. The teachers work together to formulate a list of 10 playground safety guidelines.
  • Pre/post testing of interventions: A school board conducts a district wide evaluation of a STEM program by conducting a pre/post-test of students’ skills in computer programming.
  • Focus groups of practitioners : The professional development needs of teachers are determined from structured focus group sessions with teachers and admin.
  • School lunch research and intervention: A nutrition expert is hired to evaluate and improve the quality of school lunches.
  • School nurse systematic checklist and improvements: The school nurse implements a bathroom cleaning checklist to monitor cleanliness after the results of a recent teacher survey revealed several issues.
  • Wearable technologies for pedagogical improvements; Students wear accelerometers attached to their hips to gain a baseline measure of physical activity.The results will identify if any issues exist.
  • School counselor reflective practice : The school counselor conducts a student survey on antisocial behavior and then plans a series of workshops for both teachers and parents.

Detailed Examples

1. cooperation and leadership.

A science teacher has noticed that her 9 th grade students do not cooperate with each other when doing group projects. There is a lot of arguing and battles over whose ideas will be followed.

So, she decides to implement a simple action research project on the matter. First, she conducts a structured observation of the students’ behavior during meetings. She also has the students respond to a short questionnaire regarding their notions of leadership.

She then designs a two-week course on group dynamics and leadership styles. The course involves learning about leadership concepts and practices . In another element of the short course, students randomly select a leadership style and then engage in a role-play with other students.

At the end of the two weeks, she has the students work on a group project and conducts the same structured observation as before. She also gives the students a slightly different questionnaire on leadership as it relates to the group.

She plans to analyze the results and present the findings at a teachers’ meeting at the end of the term.

2. Professional Development Needs

Two high-school teachers have been selected to participate in a 1-year project in a third-world country. The project goal is to improve the classroom effectiveness of local teachers. 

The two teachers arrive in the country and begin to plan their action research. First, they decide to conduct a survey of teachers in the nearby communities of the school they are assigned to.

The survey will assess their professional development needs by directly asking the teachers and administrators. After collecting the surveys, they analyze the results by grouping the teachers based on subject matter.

They discover that history and social science teachers would like professional development on integrating smartboards into classroom instruction. Math teachers would like to attend workshops on project-based learning, while chemistry teachers feel that they need equipment more than training.

The two teachers then get started on finding the necessary training experts for the workshops and applying for equipment grants for the science teachers.

3. Playground Accidents

The school nurse has noticed a lot of students coming in after having mild accidents on the playground. She’s not sure if this is just her perception or if there really is an unusual increase this year.  So, she starts pulling data from the records over the last two years. She chooses the months carefully and only selects data from the first three months of each school year.

She creates a chart to make the data more easily understood. Sure enough, there seems to have been a dramatic increase in accidents this year compared to the same period of time from the previous two years.

She shows the data to the principal and teachers at the next meeting. They all agree that a field observation of the playground is needed.

Those observations reveal that the kids are not having accidents on the playground equipment as originally suspected. It turns out that the kids are tripping on the new sod that was installed over the summer.

They examine the sod and observe small gaps between the slabs. Each gap is approximately 1.5 inches wide and nearly two inches deep. The kids are tripping on this gap as they run.

They then discuss possible solutions.

4. Differentiated Learning

Trying to use the same content, methods, and processes for all students is a recipe for failure. This is why modifying each lesson to be flexible is highly recommended. Differentiated learning allows the teacher to adjust their teaching strategy based on all the different personalities and learning styles they see in their classroom.

Of course, differentiated learning should undergo the same rigorous assessment that all teaching techniques go through. So, a third-grade social science teacher asks his students to take a simple quiz on the industrial revolution. Then, he applies differentiated learning to the lesson.

By creating several different learning stations in his classroom, he gives his students a chance to learn about the industrial revolution in a way that captures their interests. The different stations contain: short videos, fact cards, PowerPoints, mini-chapters, and role-plays.

At the end of the lesson, students get to choose how they demonstrate their knowledge. They can take a test, construct a PPT, give an oral presentation, or conduct a simulated TV interview with different characters.

During this last phase of the lesson, the teacher is able to assess if they demonstrate the necessary knowledge and have achieved the defined learning outcomes. This analysis will allow him to make further adjustments to future lessons.

5. Healthy Habits Program

While looking at obesity rates of students, the school board of a large city is shocked by the dramatic increase in the weight of their students over the last five years. After consulting with three companies that specialize in student physical health, they offer the companies an opportunity to prove their value.

So, the board randomly assigns each company to a group of schools. Starting in the next academic year, each company will implement their healthy habits program in 5 middle schools.

Preliminary data is collected at each school at the beginning of the school year. Each and every student is weighed, their resting heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol are also measured.

After analyzing the data, it is found that the schools assigned to each of the three companies are relatively similar on all of these measures.

At the end of the year, data for students at each school will be collected again. A simple comparison of pre- and post-program measurements will be conducted. The company with the best outcomes will be selected to implement their program city-wide.

Action research is a great way to collect data on a specific issue, implement a change, and then evaluate the effects of that change. It is perhaps the most practical of all types of primary research .

Most likely, the results will be mixed. Some aspects of the change were effective, while other elements were not. That’s okay. This just means that additional modifications to the change plan need to be made, which is usually quite easy to do.

There are many methods that can be utilized, such as surveys, field observations , and program evaluations.

The beauty of action research is based in its utility and flexibility. Just about anyone in a school setting is capable of conducting action research and the information can be incredibly useful.

Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (1997). The jigsaw classroom: Building cooperation in the classroom (2nd ed.). New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Gillis, A., & Jackson, W. (2002). Research Methods for Nurses: Methods and Interpretation . Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company.

Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems. Journal of SocialIssues, 2 (4), 34-46.

Macdonald, C. (2012). Understanding participatory action research: A qualitative research methodology option. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 13 , 34-50. Mertler, C. A. (2008). Action Research: Teachers as Researchers in the Classroom . London: Sage.


Dave Cornell (PhD)

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

  • Dave Cornell (PhD) 25 Positive Punishment Examples
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) 25 Dissociation Examples (Psychology)
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) 15 Zone of Proximal Development Examples
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) Perception Checking: 15 Examples and Definition


Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 25 Positive Punishment Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 25 Dissociation Examples (Psychology)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 15 Zone of Proximal Development Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link Perception Checking: 15 Examples and Definition

2 thoughts on “21 Action Research Examples (In Education)”

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Where can I capture this article in a better user-friendly format, since I would like to provide it to my students in a Qualitative Methods course at the University of Prince Edward Island? It is a good article, however, it is visually disjointed in its current format. Thanks, Dr. Frank T. Lavandier

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Hi Dr. Lavandier,

I’ve emailed you a word doc copy that you can use and edit with your class.

Best, Chris.

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4 Preparing for Action Research in the Classroom: Practical Issues


  • What sort of considerations are necessary to take action in your educational context?
  • How do you facilitate an action plan without disrupting your teaching?
  • How do you respond when the unplanned happens during data collection?

An action research project is a practical endeavor that will ultimately be shaped by your educational context and practice. Now that you have developed a literature review, you are ready to revise your initial plans and begin to plan your project. This chapter will provide some advice about your considerations when undertaking an action research project in your classroom.

Maintain Focus

Hopefully, you found a lot a research on your topic. If so, you will now have a better understanding of how it fits into your area and field of educational research. Even though the topic and area you are researching may not be small, your study itself should clearly focus on one aspect of the topic in your classroom. It is important to maintain clarity about what you are investigating because a lot will be going on simultaneously during the research process and you do not want to spend precious time on erroneous aspects that are irrelevant to your research.

Even though you may view your practice as research, and vice versa, you might want to consider your research project as a projection or megaphone for your work that will bring attention to the small decisions that make a difference in your educational context. From experience, our concern is that you will find that researching one aspect of your practice will reveal other interconnected aspects that you may find interesting, and you will disorient yourself researching in a confluence of interests, commitments, and purposes. We simply want to emphasize – don’t try to research everything at once. Stay focused on your topic, and focus on exploring it in depth, instead of its many related aspects. Once you feel you have made progress in one aspect, you can then progress to other related areas, as new research projects that continue the research cycle.

Identify a Clear Research Question

Your literature review should have exposed you to an array of research questions related to your topic. More importantly, your review should have helped identify which research questions we have addressed as a field, and which ones still need to be addressed . More than likely your research questions will resemble ones from your literature review, while also being distinguishable based upon your own educational context and the unexplored areas of research on your topic.

Regardless of how your research question took shape, it is important to be clear about what you are researching in your educational context. Action research questions typically begin in ways related to “How does … ?” or “How do I/we … ?”, for example:

Research Question Examples

  • How does a semi-structured morning meeting improve my classroom community?
  • How does historical fiction help students think about people’s agency in the past?
  • How do I improve student punctuation use through acting out sentences?
  • How do we increase student responsibility for their own learning as a team of teachers?

I particularly favor questions with I or we, because they emphasize that you, the actor and researcher, will be clearly taking action to improve your practice. While this may seem rather easy, you need to be aware of asking the right kind of question. One issue is asking a too pointed and closed question that limits the possibility for analysis. These questions tend to rely on quantitative answers, or yes/no answers. For example, “How many students got a 90% or higher on the exam, after reviewing the material three times?

Another issue is asking a question that is too broad, or that considers too many variables. For example, “How does room temperature affect students’ time-on-task?” These are obviously researchable questions, but the aim is a cause-and-effect relationship between variables that has little or no value to your daily practice.

I also want to point out that your research question will potentially change as the research develops. If you consider the question:

As you do an activity, you may find that students are more comfortable and engaged by acting sentences out in small groups, instead of the whole class. Therefore, your question may shift to:

  • How do I improve student punctuation use through acting out sentences, in small groups ?

By simply engaging in the research process and asking questions, you will open your thinking to new possibilities and you will develop new understandings about yourself and the problematic aspects of your educational context.

Understand Your Capabilities and Know that Change Happens Slowly

Similar to your research question, it is important to have a clear and realistic understanding of what is possible to research in your specific educational context. For example, would you be able to address unsatisfactory structures (policies and systems) within your educational context? Probably not immediately, but over time you potentially could. It is much more feasible to think of change happening in smaller increments, from within your own classroom or context, with you as one change agent. For example, you might find it particularly problematic that your school or district places a heavy emphasis on traditional grades, believing that these grades are often not reflective of the skills students have or have not mastered. Instead of attempting to research grading practices across your school or district, your research might instead focus on determining how to provide more meaningful feedback to students and parents about progress in your course. While this project identifies and addresses a structural issue that is part of your school and district context, to keep things manageable, your research project would focus the outcomes on your classroom. The more research you do related to the structure of your educational context the more likely modifications will emerge. The more you understand these modifications in relation to the structural issues you identify within your own context, the more you can influence others by sharing your work and enabling others to understand the modification and address structural issues within their contexts. Throughout your project, you might determine that modifying your grades to be standards-based is more effective than traditional grades, and in turn, that sharing your research outcomes with colleagues at an in-service presentation prompts many to adopt a similar model in their own classrooms. It can be defeating to expect the world to change immediately, but you can provide the spark that ignites coordinated changes. In this way, action research is a powerful methodology for enacting social change. Action research enables individuals to change their own lives, while linking communities of like-minded practitioners who work towards action.

Plan Thoughtfully

Planning thoughtfully involves having a path in mind, but not necessarily having specific objectives. Due to your experience with students and your educational context, the research process will often develop in ways as you expected, but at times it may develop a little differently, which may require you to shift the research focus and change your research question. I will suggest a couple methods to help facilitate this potential shift. First, you may want to develop criteria for gauging the effectiveness of your research process. You may need to refine and modify your criteria and your thinking as you go. For example, we often ask ourselves if action research is encouraging depth of analysis beyond my typical daily pedagogical reflection. You can think about this as you are developing data collection methods and even when you are collecting data. The key distinction is whether the data you will be collecting allows for nuance among the participants or variables. This does not mean that you will have nuance, but it should allow for the possibility. Second, criteria are shaped by our values and develop into standards of judgement. If we identify criteria such as teacher empowerment, then we will use that standard to think about the action contained in our research process. Our values inform our work; therefore, our work should be judged in relation to the relevance of our values in our pedagogy and practice.

Does Your Timeline Work?

While action research is situated in the temporal span that is your life, your research project is short-term, bounded, and related to the socially mediated practices within your educational context. The timeline is important for bounding, or setting limits to your research project, while also making sure you provide the right amount of time for the data to emerge from the process.

For example, if you are thinking about examining the use of math diaries in your classroom, you probably do not want to look at a whole semester of entries because that would be a lot of data, with entries related to a wide range of topics. This would create a huge data analysis endeavor. Therefore, you may want to look at entries from one chapter or unit of study. Also, in terms of timelines, you want to make sure participants have enough time to develop the data you collect. Using the same math example, you would probably want students to have plenty of time to write in the journals, and also space out the entries over the span of the chapter or unit.

In relation to the examples, we think it is an important mind shift to not think of research timelines in terms of deadlines. It is vitally important to provide time and space for the data to emerge from the participants. Therefore, it would be potentially counterproductive to rush a 50-minute data collection into 20 minutes – like all good educators, be flexible in the research process.

Involve Others

It is important to not isolate yourself when doing research. Many educators are already isolated when it comes to practice in their classroom. The research process should be an opportunity to engage with colleagues and open up your classroom to discuss issues that are potentially impacting your entire educational context. Think about the following relationships:

Research participants

You may invite a variety of individuals in your educational context, many with whom you are in a shared situation (e.g. colleagues, administrators). These participants may be part of a collaborative study, they may simply help you develop data collection instruments or intervention items, or they may help to analyze and make sense of the data. While the primary research focus will be you and your learning, you will also appreciate how your learning is potentially influencing the quality of others’ learning.

We always tell educators to be public about your research, or anything exciting that is happening in your educational context, for that matter. In terms of research, you do not want it to seem mysterious to any stakeholder in the educational context. Invite others to visit your setting and observe your research process, and then ask for their formal feedback. Inviting others to your classroom will engage and connect you with other stakeholders, while also showing that your research was established in an ethic of respect for multiple perspectives.

Critical friends or validators

Using critical friends is one way to involve colleagues and also validate your findings and conclusions. While your positionality will shape the research process and subsequently your interpretations of the data, it is important to make sure that others see similar logic in your process and conclusions. Critical friends or validators provide some level of certification that the frameworks you use to develop your research project and make sense of your data are appropriate for your educational context. Your critical friends and validators’ suggestions will be useful if you develop a report or share your findings, but most importantly will provide you confidence moving forward.

Potential researchers

As an educational researcher, you are involved in ongoing improvement plans and district or systemic change. The flexibility of action research allows it to be used in a variety of ways, and your initial research can spark others in your context to engage in research either individually for their own purposes, or collaboratively as a grade level, team, or school. Collaborative inquiry with other educators is an emerging form of professional learning and development for schools with school improvement plans. While they call it collaborative inquiry, these schools are often using an action research model. It is good to think of all of your colleagues as potential research collaborators in the future.

Prioritize Ethical Practice

Try to always be cognizant of your own positionality during the action research process, its relation to your educational context, and any associated power relation to your positionality. Furthermore, you want to make sure that you are not coercing or engaging participants into harmful practices. While this may seem obvious, you may not even realize you are harming your participants because you believe the action is necessary for the research process.

For example, commonly teachers want to try out an intervention that will potentially positively impact their students. When the teacher sets up the action research study, they may have a control group and an experimental group. There is potential to impair the learning of one of these groups if the intervention is either highly impactful or exceedingly worse than the typical instruction. Therefore, teachers can sometimes overlook the potential harm to students in pursuing an experimental method of exploring an intervention.

If you are working with a university researcher, ethical concerns will be covered by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). If not, your school or district may have a process or form that you would need to complete, so it would beneficial to check your district policies before starting. Other widely accepted aspects of doing ethically informed research, include:

Confirm Awareness of Study and Negotiate Access – with authorities, participants and parents, guardians, caregivers and supervisors (with IRB this is done with Informed Consent).

  • Promise to Uphold Confidentiality – Uphold confidentiality, to your fullest ability, to protect information, identity and data. You can identify people if they indicate they want to be recognized for their contributions.
  • Ensure participants’ rights to withdraw from the study at any point .
  • Make sure data is secured, either on password protected computer or lock drawer .

Prepare to Problematize your Thinking

Educational researchers who are more philosophically-natured emphasize that research is not about finding solutions, but instead is about creating and asking new and more precise questions. This is represented in the action research process shown in the diagrams in Chapter 1, as Collingwood (1939) notes the aim in human interaction is always to keep the conversation open, while Edward Said (1997) emphasized that there is no end because whatever we consider an end is actually the beginning of something entirely new. These reflections have perspective in evaluating the quality in research and signifying what is “good” in “good pedagogy” and “good research”. If we consider that action research is about studying and reflecting on one’s learning and how that learning influences practice to improve it, there is nothing to stop your line of inquiry as long as you relate it to improving practice. This is why it is necessary to problematize and scrutinize our practices.

Ethical Dilemmas for Educator-Researchers

Classroom teachers are increasingly expected to demonstrate a disposition of reflection and inquiry into their own practice. Many advocate for schools to become research centers, and to produce their own research studies, which is an important advancement in acknowledging and addressing the complexity in today’s schools. When schools conduct their own research studies without outside involvement, they bypass outside controls over their studies. Schools shift power away from the oversight of outside experts and ethical research responsibilities are shifted to those conducting the formal research within their educational context. Ethics firmly grounded and established in school policies and procedures for teaching, becomes multifaceted when teaching practice and research occur simultaneously. When educators conduct research in their classrooms, are they doing so as teachers or as researchers, and if they are researchers, at what point does the teaching role change to research? Although the notion of objectivity is a key element in traditional research paradigms, educator-based research acknowledges a subjective perspective as the educator-researcher is not viewed separately from the research. In action research, unlike traditional research, the educator as researcher gains access to the research site by the nature of the work they are paid and expected to perform. The educator is never detached from the research and remains at the research site both before and after the study. Because studying one’s practice comprises working with other people, ethical deliberations are inevitable. Educator-researchers confront role conflict and ambiguity regarding ethical issues such as informed consent from participants, protecting subjects (students) from harm, and ensuring confidentiality. They must demonstrate a commitment toward fully understanding ethical dilemmas that present themselves within the unique set of circumstances of the educational context. Questions about research ethics can feel exceedingly complex and in specific situations, educator- researchers require guidance from others.

Think about it this way. As a part-time historian and former history teacher I often problematized who we regard as good and bad people in history. I (Clark) grew up minutes from Jesse James’ childhood farm. Jesse James is a well-documented thief, and possibly by today’s standards, a terrorist. He is famous for daylight bank robberies, as well as the sheer number of successful robberies. When Jesse James was assassinated, by a trusted associate none-the-less, his body travelled the country for people to see, while his assailant and assailant’s brother reenacted the assassination over 1,200 times in theaters across the country. Still today in my hometown, they reenact Jesse James’ daylight bank robbery each year at the Fall Festival, immortalizing this thief and terrorist from our past. This demonstrates how some people saw him as somewhat of hero, or champion of some sort of resistance, both historically and in the present. I find this curious and ripe for further inquiry, but primarily it is problematic for how we think about people as good or bad in the past. Whatever we may individually or collectively think about Jesse James as a “good” or “bad” person in history, it is vitally important to problematize our thinking about him. Talking about Jesse James may seem strange, but it is relevant to the field of action research. If we tell people that we are engaging in important and “good” actions, we should be prepared to justify why it is “good” and provide a theoretical, epistemological, or ontological rationale if possible. Experience is never enough, you need to justify why you act in certain ways and not others, and this includes thinking critically about your own thinking.

Educators who view inquiry and research as a facet of their professional identity must think critically about how to design and conduct research in educational settings to address respect, justice, and beneficence to minimize harm to participants. This chapter emphasized the due diligence involved in ethically planning the collection of data, and in considering the challenges faced by educator-researchers in educational contexts.

Planning Action

After the thinking about the considerations above, you are now at the stage of having selected a topic and reflected on different aspects of that topic. You have undertaken a literature review and have done some reading which has enriched your understanding of your topic. As a result of your reading and further thinking, you may have changed or fine-tuned the topic you are exploring. Now it is time for action. In the last section of this chapter, we will address some practical issues of carrying out action research, drawing on both personal experiences of supervising educator-researchers in different settings and from reading and hearing about action research projects carried out by other researchers.

Engaging in an action research can be a rewarding experience, but a beneficial action research project does not happen by accident – it requires careful planning, a flexible approach, and continuous educator-researcher reflection. Although action research does not have to go through a pre-determined set of steps, it is useful here for you to be aware of the progression which we presented in Chapter 2. The sequence of activities we suggested then could be looked on as a checklist for you to consider before planning the practical aspects of your project.

We also want to provide some questions for you to think about as you are about to begin.

  • Have you identified a topic for study?
  • What is the specific context for the study? (It may be a personal project for you or for a group of researchers of which you are a member.)
  • Have you read a sufficient amount of the relevant literature?
  • Have you developed your research question(s)?
  • Have you assessed the resource needed to complete the research?

As you start your project, it is worth writing down:

  • a working title for your project, which you may need to refine later;
  • the background of the study , both in terms of your professional context and personal motivation;
  • the aims of the project;
  • the specific outcomes you are hoping for.

Although most of the models of action research presented in Chapter 1 suggest action taking place in some pre-defined order, they also allow us the possibility of refining our ideas and action in the light of our experiences and reflections. Changes may need to be made in response to your evaluation and your reflections on how the project is progressing. For example, you might have to make adjustments, taking into account the students’ responses, your observations and any observations of your colleagues. All this is very useful and, in fact, it is one of the features that makes action research suitable for educational research.

Action research planning sheet

In the past, we have provided action researchers with the following planning list that incorporates all of these considerations. Again, like we have said many times, this is in no way definitive, or lock-in-step procedure you need to follow, but instead guidance based on our perspective to help you engage in the action research process. The left column is the simplified version, and the right column offers more specific advice if need.

Figure 4.1 Planning Sheet for Action Research

Action Research Copyright © by J. Spencer Clark; Suzanne Porath; Julie Thiele; and Morgan Jobe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Action Research Guide and Examples for Teachers

Action Research

Every educator enters the world of teaching with a spark – a desire to make a difference, to ignite minds, and to shape the future. Yet, like any journey, the path of education is strewn with challenges, uncertainties, and countless moments of self-doubt. There was a point in my teaching career when I felt the weight of stagnation, wondering if I was truly making positive change. That’s when I stumbled upon the concept of action educational research. It wasn’t just another academic jargon or a fleeting trend; it was an invitation to embark on a journey of self-discovery and transformation.

This research method became my compass, guiding me through the intricate landscape of teaching and learning. It challenged me to be both the researcher and the subject, to question my practices, and to continuously evolve. No longer was I simply “teaching” – I was engaging in a dynamic dance of inquiry, reflection, and growth. And in this dance, I wasn’t alone. My students, often the silent recipients of teaching methodologies, became active partners, collaborators in this shared journey of discovery.

In this article, I hope to share the magic, challenges, and profound revelations of my experience with action research. But more than that, I aim to inspire you, my fellow educators, to see your classrooms as living laboratories, where every day presents a new opportunity to learn, evolve, and shine brighter. Join me as we delve deep into this transformative journey, exploring the boundless potentials that lie within each of us, waiting to be discovered.

At its core, action research is a reflective process that allows educators like you and me to investigate and improve our practices within our very classrooms. Think of it as a magnifying glass, honing in on specific aspects of our teaching, allowing us to see in detail and to understand more deeply. It’s not just about identifying what works and what doesn’t, but about understanding why certain instructional strategies succeed while others falter.

So, why is action research so pivotal in our teaching journey? The beauty of an action plan lies in its immediacy and relevance. It centers on real-world challenges and tangible solutions within our own contexts. While theoretical knowledge and external research studies offer valuable insights, action research empowers us with findings directly rooted in our classrooms. It bridges the gap between theory and practice, ensuring that our teaching methods are not just sound in theory but effective in real-world application.

In essence, embarking on action research is like setting sail on a voyage of enhanced self-awareness, with the following steps guiding the way:

Identifying a Problem: This is our starting point, our compass direction. What challenges or uncertainties are we facing in our teaching? What are we curious about?

Planning: With the problem or question in mind, we chart our course. How will we gather the information needed? What changes might we experiment with?

Action: With a plan in place, we set sail, implementing the strategies or changes we’ve identified.

Observation: As we navigate, we’re constantly watching the waves and the skies – in our case, gathering data and feedback from our actions.

Reflection: With data in hand, we drop anchor for a while, taking the time to think deeply about what we’ve learned.

Revision: In the final step, with fresh insights, we might adjust our course, refining our strategies based on our reflections, and begin sailing once again.

This cyclical process isn’t just about problem-solving. It’s a commitment to continuous growth, a promise that we make to ourselves and our students to be the best educators we can be. Through action research, we’re not just teaching; we’re evolving, learning, and rediscovering the joy of our profession every single day.

1. Charting the Course: The Art of Identifying a Problem

Finding the problem

The first and arguably most crucial step in the action research voyage is identifying a problem or pinpointing a question. This is where our journey truly begins. It’s akin to realizing there’s a distant shore we’ve not yet explored, a place where new discoveries await. But how do we find this shore? How do we articulate what we’re looking for?

Types of Problems to Explore

Start by looking at everyday challenges in the classroom. These problems can range from tangible issues like decreasing student engagement during specific subject matter or time of day, to more complex concerns like understanding why a specific subgroup of students struggles more than their peers. The key is to select a problem that’s significant enough to warrant investigation but also manageable given your resources and time frame.

Remember, your chosen issue doesn’t always have to stem from a negative challenge. Perhaps you’ve noticed an unexpectedly positive response from students during certain activities and want to explore why, aiming to amplify that success elsewhere.

Framing the Question

Once you’ve identified an area of interest, the next task is to articulate a clear and focused research question. This question should be open-ended, steering clear of simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. For instance, rather than asking, “Does using visual aids improve student understanding?” you might frame the question as, “How does the use of visual aids influence student understanding and engagement during history lessons?”

By framing our question in this manner, we’re setting ourselves up for a deeper dive, one that considers the nuances and variables at play.

Transitioning to Planning

With our problem identified and our question framed, the horizon is in sight, and it’s time to set the sails. But before we do, we need to gather our navigation tools. This means taking stock of the resources at hand and considering preliminary ideas about potential strategies or changes to implement.

To transition smoothly into the planning phase, start by:

Documenting Initial Observations: Make notes on the current scenario. This will give you a baseline against which you can compare post-action results.

Engaging Colleagues and Students: Share your observations and research questions with fellow educators or even your students. Their insights can often shed light on aspects you might have missed and can guide your planning.

Reviewing Existing Literature: While action research is primarily about your own classroom, drawing on existing studies or theories can provide foundational knowledge and inspiration.

With these transitional steps, you’ll find yourself better equipped and more confident as you step into the planning phase. Identifying a problem is not just about acknowledging a challenge or a question; it’s about reigniting our curiosity, remembering why we became educators, and setting forth on a transformative journey with renewed vigor and purpose.

2. Navigating with Precision: Crafting a Thoughtful Plan

After pinpointing our problem and framing our research question, we arrive at the pivotal phase of planning. Like a captain ensuring every instrument, map, and crew member is in place before setting sail, an educator’s plan is their beacon, illuminating the path ahead and minimizing unforeseen challenges.

Elements of a Robust Plan

Objective and Clear Goals : Start by defining what success looks like for your action research. Whether it’s an improvement in student achievement, better participation, or more positive feedback, having a clear goal will guide your every step.

Methods for Data Collection: Decide on the tools you’ll use to gather information. This could be student assessments, surveys, observation notes, or even video recordings. The method should align with the research question and be practical to implement.

Timeline: Construct a realistic timeline for your research. Define when you’ll start and finish the action, when you’ll collect data, and when you’ll analyze and reflect.

Resources: Identify any additional resources you may need. This could include technology, external expertise, or supplementary teaching materials.

Feedback Mechanisms: Plan for periodic checkpoints where you can gather interim feedback, either from students, peers, or through self-reflection.

Ensuring Success in Planning

Collaboration: Engage with fellow educators, seeking their insights or feedback on your plan. A second set of eyes can often identify potential pitfalls or areas of improvement.

Flexibility: While planning is essential, rigidly adhering to a plan without room for adjustment can be counterproductive. Be prepared to tweak your approach based on ongoing observations.

Alignment with Broader Curriculum: Ensure your action research plan doesn’t divert too significantly from the curriculum or educational goals. It should complement and enhance the broader educational objectives.

Knowing When the Plan is Ready for Action

Clarity and Vision: You should be able to succinctly explain your plan and its purpose to a colleague or even a student. If you can articulate it clearly, it’s a good sign you’ve thought it through.

Feasibility Check: Ensure that your plan is realistic. Do you have the resources, time, and support needed?

Positive Anticipation: If, after all the drafting and redrafting, you find yourself excited and optimistic about implementing your plan, it’s a good indicator that you’re ready to move forward.

Remember, a plan isn’t just a roadmap; it’s a promise – a commitment to our students and ourselves. It represents our dedication to enhancing our teaching practices and ensuring our best student outcomes. When the planning phase is executed with thoroughness and passion, the subsequent steps in our action research journey become more manageable and incredibly rewarding.

3. Setting Sail: The Vital Phase of Action in the Classroom

Setting Sail at Dawn

With our compass set and our maps drawn out, we step into the heart of our action research journey: the Action phase. This is the stage where our planning comes to life, our theories meet reality, and our classroom becomes the laboratory of educational innovation. Here, the rubber meets the road.

What Does Action Look Like in the Classroom?

Implementation of Strategies: At its core, the action phase involves bringing the planned strategies or changes into the classroom. This could mean introducing a new teaching technique, using a different form of technology, adjusting classroom seating arrangements, or integrating new types of learning materials.

Active Observation: As these strategies unfold, it’s vital to maintain an active observation stance. This means not just teaching but keenly watching and noting the students’ reactions, participation levels, and engagement.

Openness to Feedback: The action phase isn’t about getting everything right on the first try. It’s about learning and adapting. Be open to feedback, both from students and peers, and be prepared to make minor adjustments along the way.

Maintaining Consistency: While flexibility is crucial, it’s equally important to give your strategies enough time to truly take effect. Consistency ensures that the observed results are genuinely a product of the changes you’ve implemented.

Specifics of Implementing the Plan

Start with Clear Communication: Before diving in, communicate your intentions to your students. Let them know that you’re trying something new and that their feedback is crucial. This not only sets expectations but also fosters a collaborative environment.

Document Everything: Maintain a journal or a digital log to document daily observations, challenges, successes, and any unexpected occurrences. This documentation will be invaluable during the reflection phase.

Seek Peer Support: If possible, invite a fellow educator to observe a class session. Their external perspective can offer invaluable insights and provide an objective viewpoint on the efficacy of your strategies.

Stay Adaptable: If a particular strategy isn’t working as anticipated, don’t be disheartened. Remember, the action phase is as much about learning what doesn’t work as it is about discovering what does.

Maintain Student-Centricity: Always prioritize the well-being and learning experience of your students. Ensure that any adjustments made during the action phase align with the best interests of the learners.

In essence, the action phase is where our dedication, passion, and commitment are truly tested. But it’s also where we, as educators, experience the profound joy of discovery, the exhilaration of innovation, and the satisfaction of seeing our plans come to life. As we navigate the waters of our classrooms, every challenge encountered and every success celebrated enriches our journey, making us not just better classroom teachers but lifelong learners.

4. Observing with Intention: The Critical Lens of Data Collection

The canvas of our action research becomes vibrant as we immerse ourselves in the action phase, but the true depth of our insights emerges through the lens of observation. Observing is more than just watching; it’s a meticulous process of data collection, allowing us to gather evidence of our action’s impact. In this intricate dance of teaching and learning, observation is our spotlight, shedding light on both the expected and the unexpected outcomes of our efforts.

How Teachers Should Gather Data

Stay Organized: Organize your observation tools in advance. Whether it’s a digital tool, a journal, or a structured survey, having them readily available ensures you capture data efficiently.

Consistent Timing: Choose specific times for your observations. Consistency will help you understand patterns and changes over a period.

Diversify Data Collection Methods: To gain a holistic understanding, use a mix of observation tools and methods. This ensures you’re capturing a well-rounded snapshot of classroom dynamics.

Types of Data to Collect

Qualitative Data

Anecdotal Records: Keep a journal where you note down specific incidents, conversations, or behaviors that stood out during the lesson. This offers insights into individual student experiences and reactions.

Student Feedback: Collect feedback from students about their experiences. This can be done informally through discussions or formally through structured feedback forms.

Peer Observations: Invite fellow educators to your class and ask for their feedback. Their perspective can offer new insights or validate your observations.

Reflective Journaling: End each day with a personal reflection. How did you feel the lesson went? Were there surprises? What went well, and what could be improved?

Quantitative Data

Assessment Scores: Track students’ performance on tests or quizzes. This provides measurable evidence of learning outcomes.

Attendance and Participation Rates: Monitor if there’s a change in attendance or participation. Increased engagement or attendance could be a sign of positive reception to your strategies.

Time Tracking: Measure the time students take for specific tasks or the time spent on certain activities. This can show if students are becoming more efficient or if they are more engrossed in particular activities.

Surveys with Scaled Responses: Use surveys where students can rate statements on a scale (e.g., 1-5). This provides quantitative data on students’ perceptions and feelings.

Additional Considerations for the Observation Phase

Maintain Objectivity: As invested as you are in the outcome, strive for objectivity. Your aim is to understand the genuine impact of your actions, whether positive, negative, or neutral.

Ensure Confidentiality: If gathering feedback or noting specific student behaviors, ensure that data is kept confidential. Respect privacy and use data ethically.

Stay Open-Minded: Be prepared for unexpected outcomes. Sometimes, the most unexpected observations lead to the most profound insights.

Observation, when approached with diligence and intention, unveils the intricacies of our classroom dynamics. It offers us a mirror to see the results of our actions, a window into our students’ experiences, and a telescope to envision the future course of our teaching journey. In the vast ocean of education, observation is our guiding star, helping us navigate with clarity, purpose, and confidence.

5. The Harbor of Insight: Delving into the Reflection Stage

As our action research study begins to reach its crescendo, we find ourselves anchored at the reflection stage—a moment of pause, introspection, and insight. Like a traveler pouring over the pages of a travel journal, the educator now sifts through the collected data, seeking to understand, interpret, and ultimately chart the way forward. The reflection stage isn’t merely an endpoint; it’s a springboard for future journeys, a compass recalibration, ensuring our teaching sails are ever aligned with the winds of effective pedagogy.

Data Analysis

Descriptive Analysis : Begin by taking a broad view of your data. Lay out all the qualitative research and quantitative information and look for obvious trends, patterns, or standout points.

Comparative Analysis: Compare the data from different points in time. How have things changed from the start to the end of your research? Look for improvements, regressions, or constants.

Pattern Recognition: Especially with qualitative data, search for recurring themes or sentiments. Are students consistently expressing a particular feeling or opinion? Do certain topics or methods evoke similar reactions across the board?

Statistical Analysis: For quantitative data, employ basic statistical tools (mean, median, mode, standard deviation) to get a clearer sense of your results. Tools like spreadsheets can assist in visualizing data trends.

What to Do with the Data

Document Your Findings: Craft a comprehensive report or journal entry detailing your findings. This not only helps in organizing your thoughts but serves as a valuable resource for future reference or sharing with peers.

Evaluate Against Objectives: Revisit the goals you set during the planning stage. Have these been met, exceeded, or not reached? Understanding this alignment helps in measuring the success of your action research.

Seek External Perspectives: Share your findings with fellow educators, mentors, or even students. Their insights can offer additional interpretations or validate your conclusions.

Consider the Broader Implications: Think beyond the confines of your classroom. How might your findings impact the wider school community, curriculum planning, or even educational theory?

Guiding Questions for Deeper Reflection

  • How do the results align with my initial expectations?
  • Were there any surprises in the data? What might have caused them?
  • What were the challenges encountered, and how were they addressed?
  • How have my students truly benefited (or not) from the implemented changes?
  • What have I, as an educator, learned about myself, my teaching style, and my students through this process?
  • Given another opportunity, what would I do differently? What would I retain?

Reflection is a potent tool, transforming raw data into actionable insights. It challenges us, reaffirms our beliefs, or offers a fresh perspective. But, above all, the reflection stage celebrates the spirit of action research in education—the relentless pursuit of betterment, the unwavering commitment to growth, and the heartfelt dedication to our students’ success. With every cycle of reflection, we don’t just become better educators; we amplify our impact, one classroom at a time.

6. Recharting the Course: Embracing the Power of Revision

With reflection complete, the map of our action research is fully sketched, brimming with insights and discoveries. But like any map of uncharted territories, revisions are inevitable, even welcome. The revision stage is the alchemy of action research, where past learnings are transmuted into the gold of future strategies. It’s not just about identifying what went wrong, but more crucially, about envisioning how things can be even better.

Revising with Purpose

Identify Areas of Improvement: Using the findings from the reflection phase, pinpoint specific areas that did not meet expectations or had unintended outcomes. Highlight these as primary candidates for revision.

Revisit Goals: Sometimes, it’s not the strategy but the goal that might need reconsideration. Ensure your objectives remain relevant to the ever-evolving classroom dynamics.

Integrate Feedback: Take into account the feedback from students, peers, and your self-reflections. Feedback is the cornerstone for any revision process.

Seek External Resources: Dive into educational literature, attend workshops, or collaborate with fellow educators. Bringing in external insights can provide fresh perspectives for your revisions.

Feeding Back into Another Round of Action Research

Starting Anew, Armed with Knowledge: The revision essentially kickstarts a new cycle of action research. But this time, you’re not starting from scratch. You’re armed with past insights, making your next cycle more refined.

Refined Questioning: With the data and reflections from the previous cycle, you can frame more specific research questions, addressing nuances you might have missed earlier.

Iterative Process: Understand that action research is iterative. Each cycle of revision and implementation brings you closer to an optimal strategy. It’s about continuous improvement, not instantaneous perfection.

Building a Repository: With each iteration, you’re essentially adding to a repository of teaching strategies, observations, and reflections. This becomes an invaluable resource, not just for you but for any educator looking to embark on a similar journey.

Important Considerations for the Revision Stage

Embrace Change with Positivity: Revision isn’t an admission of failure. It’s a celebration of growth. Approach it with optimism and view it as an opportunity.

Maintain Student-Centricity: Always keep the students at the heart of your revisions. Any changes you introduce should foremost benefit their learning experience.

Pace Yourself: While the enthusiasm to correct and implement can be overwhelming, ensure you’re giving yourself ample time for revisions. Hasty changes might not yield the desired results.

Document the Process: Just as with the initial action research, document every step of your revision process. This creates a trail of your evolution as an educator and can be insightful for future reflections.

Revision, in essence, is the heartbeat of action research. It embodies the spirit of adaptability, resilience, and continuous learning. Each revision is a testament to an educator’s unwavering commitment to excellence, a nod to the belief that while perfection might be elusive, the next step is always worthwhile. And as the cycle recommences, each iteration, informed by the last, pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in our classrooms, one revision at a time.

10 Types of Action Research Projects That Might Interest Teachers


  • Differentiated Instruction: Research how implementing differentiated instruction strategies affects student engagement and understanding in a mixed-ability classroom.
  • Incorporating Technology: Explore the effects of integrating technology (like tablets or specific educational apps) on student motivation and comprehension in a particular subject.
  • Mindfulness and Student Behavior: Investigate the impact of daily mindfulness exercises on student behavior, attention span, and emotional well-being.
  • Homework’s True Value: Study the correlation between the amount/type of homework given and students’ academic performance and stress levels.
  • Effects of Outdoor Education: Explore how outdoor education can improve student confidence, behavior, and overall demeanor.
  • Peer Tutoring and Collaboration: Research the effects of peer tutoring or cooperative learning structures on students’ academic achievements and social skills.
  • Reading Strategies for Struggling Readers: Investigate the effectiveness of specific reading interventions on improving the fluency and comprehension of struggling readers.
  • Feedback Methods: Explore the impact of various feedback methods (written comments, grades, peer feedback) on students’ academic performance and their perceptions about learning.
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching: Research the outcomes of implementing culturally responsive teaching methods on the engagement and achievement of students from diverse backgrounds.
  • Classroom Environment and Learning: Examine how changes in the classroom environment (e.g., seating arrangements, use of visuals, ambient noise) influence students’ concentration, participation, and overall learning experiences.

Each of these projects can help educators better understand their students, teaching methods, and overall classroom dynamics. By analyzing and reflecting upon the results, teachers can refine their practices to better meet the unique ways our students learn.

An Example of Action Research Project for Differentiated Instruction

Action research project plan: differentiated instruction in social sciences.

1. Introduction:

Purpose: To enhance student learning and engagement by tailoring instruction to meet individual needs.

Rationale: Observations indicate a range of abilities and learning styles within the classroom. A differentiated instruction approach may better cater to this diversity, ensuring all students are given an equitable opportunity to succeed.

2. Research Question:

How does the implementation of differentiated instruction strategies impact student engagement, understanding, and achievement in a mixed-ability classroom?

3. Data Sources:

Pre-assessment Surveys: Administer surveys to gauge students’ prior knowledge, learning preferences, and interests related to the topic at hand.

Lesson Observations: Use a checklist or journal to record levels of student engagement and participation during differentiated activities.

Student Feedback: Use informal discussions, suggestion boxes, or structured feedback forms to gather students’ perceptions of the differentiated activities.

Assessments: Compare performance on standardized tests or assignments before and after the introduction of differentiated strategies.

Teacher Reflection Journal: Maintain a daily or weekly journal to record personal observations, challenges, successes, and unexpected outcomes.

4. Differentiated Strategies to Implement:

Content Differentiation: Provide materials at varying reading levels, offer video/audio resources, and use graphic organizers.

Process Differentiation: Introduce tiered assignments where students can choose tasks based on complexity, conduct group activities tailored to different skill levels, and offer choice boards.

Product Differentiation: Allow students to showcase understanding in various ways (e.g., presentations, written reports, art projects, group projects, project-based learning, research paper).

5. Implementation Timeline:

Week 1: Administer pre-assessment surveys and conduct baseline observations.

Week 2-4: Gradually introduce differentiated strategies, starting with content differentiation.

Week 5-7: Incorporate process differentiation while continuing to monitor and adjust content differentiation based on feedback.

Week 8-10: Introduce product differentiation. Continue all forms of differentiation, making adjustments as needed.

Week 11: Administer post-assessment tests and gather student feedback.

Week 12: Analyze data, reflect on findings, and start drafting the research report.

6. Analysis:

Compare pre and post-assessment scores to gauge academic growth.

Analyze observation checklists to determine patterns in engagement and participation.

Use student feedback to understand their perceptions and experiences.

Reflect on teacher (the action researcher) journal entries to identify challenges, successes, and areas for future exploration.

7. Conclusion and Future Steps:

Summarize key findings, insights, and implications of implementing differentiated instruction.

Outline actionable steps for further refining and expanding the use of differentiated strategies based on the findings.

Consider collaborating with colleagues or attending professional development workshops for additional strategies and insights.

8. Share and Collaborate:

Present findings at school meetings or professional development sessions.

Collaborate with other educators to expand on successful strategies and brainstorm solutions for challenges.

Consider publishing findings in educational journals or sharing on teacher platforms to contribute to the wider educational community’s knowledge.

By following this plan, teachers can systematically investigate the potential benefits of differentiated instruction in their classrooms, allowing them to tailor their teaching methods to better serve all students.

Concluding the Action Research Odyssey: Refining Education One Cycle at a Time

The realm of education is in perpetual motion, driven by an unyielding quest for methods that can uplift, inspire, and catalyze effective learning. Action research emerges as an invaluable instrument in this quest. By weaving an intricate tapestry of questioning, planning, action, observation, reflection, and revision, action research empowers educators to actively sculpt their instructional practices, honing them in response to real-time classroom dynamics.

From the initial stages of identifying pertinent issues—be it the challenges of differentiated instruction, the integration of technology, or the nuances of classroom environment—to the iterative cycles of revision and reimplementation, participatory action research is a testament to educators’ proactive and adaptive spirit. It’s not merely about identifying what works but understanding why something works and how it can be improved.

Every phase, from the clarity of planning to the meticulousness of observation and the introspection of reflection, fortifies the foundation upon which educators build their strategies. The revision phase, integral to the cyclical nature of the action research process, underscores the philosophy that education is not static; it evolves, mirroring students’ dynamic needs and aspirations.

In essence, action research topics in education is both a journey and a destination. As a journey, it offers educators a structured pathway to navigate the intricate corridors of pedagogy, seeking betterment at every turn. As a destination, it culminates in classrooms where both teaching and learning are optimized, where educators, armed with insights and refined strategies, are better equipped to steer their students towards success.

In wrapping up our exploration, it’s clear that the action research cycle is not a mere academic exercise but a potent catalyst for transformative change in elementary schools, middle school, and secondary schools. It beckons educators worldwide to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, forever striving, forever refining, and forever reimagining the horizons of what’s possible in our classroom practices.

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action research question examples for teachers

Action research in the classroom: A teacher's guide

November 26, 2021

Discover best practices for action research in the classroom, guiding teachers on implementing and facilitating impactful studies in schools.

Main, P (2021, November 26). Action research in the classroom: A teacher's guide. Retrieved from

What is action research?

Action research is a participatory process designed to empower educators to examine and improve their own practice. It is characterized by a cycle of planning , action, observation, and reflection, with the goal of achieving a deeper understanding of practice within educational contexts. This process encourages a wide range of approaches and can be adapted to various social contexts.

At its core, action research involves critical reflection on one's actions as a basis for improvement. Senior leaders and teachers are guided to reflect on their educational strategies , classroom management, and student engagement techniques. It's a collaborative effort that often involves not just the teachers but also the students and other stakeholders, fostering an inclusive process that values the input of all participants.

The action research process is iterative, with each cycle aiming to bring about a clearer understanding and improvement in practice. It typically begins with the identification of real-world problems within the school environment, followed by a circle of planning where strategies are developed to address these issues. The implementation of these strategies is then observed and documented, often through journals or participant observation, allowing for reflection and analysis.

The insights gained from action research contribute to Organization Development, enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. This approach is strongly aligned with the principles of Quality Assurance in Education, ensuring that the actions taken are effective and responsive to the needs of the school community.

Educators can share their findings in community forums or through publications in journals, contributing to the wider theory about practice . Tertiary education sector often draws on such studies to inform teacher training and curriculum development.

In summary, the significant parts of action research include:

  • A continuous cycle of planning, action, observation, and reflection.
  • A focus on reflective practice to achieve a deeper understanding of educational methodologies.
  • A commitment to inclusive and participatory processes that engage the entire school community.

Creating an action research project

The action research process usually begins with a situation or issue that a teacher wants to change as part of school improvement initiatives .

Teachers get support in changing the ' interesting issue ' into a 'researchable question' and then taking to experiment. The teacher will draw on the outcomes of other researchers to help build actions and reveal the consequences .

Participatory action research is a strategy to the enquiry which has been utilised since the 1940s. Participatory action involves researchers and other participants taking informed action to gain knowledge of a problematic situation and change it to bring a positive effect. As an action researcher , a teacher carries out research . Enquiring into their practice would lead a teacher to question the norms and assumptions that are mostly overlooked in normal school life . Making a routine of inquiry can provide a commitment to learning and professional development . A teacher-researcher holds the responsibility for being the source and agent of change.

Examples of action research projects in education include a teacher working with students to improve their reading comprehension skills , a group of teachers collaborating to develop and implement a new curriculum, or a school administrator conducting a study on the effectiveness of a school-wide behavior management program.

In each of these cases, the research is aimed at improving the educational experience for students and addressing a specific issue or problem within the school community . Action research can be a powerful tool for educators to improve their practice and make a positive impact on their students' learning.

Action research projects

Potential research questions could include:

  • How can dual-coding be used to improve my students memory ?
  • Does mind-mapping lead to creativity?
  • How does Oracy improve my classes writing?
  • How can we advance critical thinking in year 10?
  • How can graphic organisers be used for exam preparation?

Regardless of the types of action research your staff engage in, a solid cycle of inquiry is an essential aspect of the action research spiral. Building in the process of reflection will ensure that key points of learning can be extracted from the action research study.

What is action research

What is an action research cycle?

Action research in education is a cycle of reflection and action inquiry , which follows these steps:

1. Identifying the problem

It is the first stage of action research that starts when a teacher identifies a problem or question that they want to address. To make an a ction research approach successful, the teacher needs to ensure that the questions are the ones 'they' wish to solve. Their questions might involve social sciences, instructional strategies, everyday life and social management issues, guide for students analytical research methods for improving specific student performance or curriculum implementation etc. Teachers may seek help from a wide variety of existing literature , to find strategies and solutions that others have executed to solve any particular problem. It is also suggested to build a visual map or a table of problems, target performances, potential solutions and supporting references in the middle.

2. Developing an Action Plan

After identifying the problem, after r eviewing the relevant literature and describing the vision of how to solve the problem; the next step would be action planning which means to develop a plan of action . Action planning involves studying the literature and brainstorming can be used by the action research planner to create new techniques and strategies that can generate better results of both action learning and action research. One may go back to the visual map or table of contents and reorder or colour-code the potential outcomes. The items in the list can be ranked in order of significance and the amount of time needed for these strategies.

An action plan has the details of how to implement each idea and the factors that may keep them from their vision of success . Identify those factors that cannot be changed –these are the constants in an equation. The focus of action research at the planning stage must remain focused on the variables –the factors that can be changed using actions. An action plan must be how to implement a solution and how one's instruction, management style, and behaviour will affect each of the variables.

Developing a model for action research

3. Data Collection

Before starting to implement a plan of action , the researcher must have a complete understanding of action research and must have knowledge of the type of data that may help in the success of the plan and must assess how to collect that data. For instance, if the goal is to improve class attendance, attendance records must be collected as useful data for the participatory action. If the goal is to improve time management, the data may include students and classroom observations . There are many options to choose from to collect data from. Selecting the most suitable methodology for data collection will provide more meaningful , accurate and valid data. Some sources of data are interviews and observation. Also, one may administer surveys , distribute questionnaires and watch videotapes of the classroom to collect data.

4. Data Analysis and Conclusions

At this action stage, an action researcher analyses the collected data and concludes. It is suggested to assess the data during the predefined process of data collection as it will help refine the action research agenda. If the collected data seems insufficient , the data collection plan must be revised. Data analysis also helps to reflect on what exactly happened. Did the action researcher perform the actions as planned? Were the study outcomes as expected? Which assumptions of the action researcher proved to be incorrect?

Adding details such as tables, opinions, and recommendations can help in identifying trends (correlations and relationships). One must share the findings while analysing data and drawing conclusions . Engaging in conversations for teacher growth is essential; hence, the action researcher would share the findings with other teachers through discussion of action research, who can yield useful feedback. One may also share the findings with students, as they can also provide additional insight . For example, if teachers and students agree with the conclusions of action research for educational change, it adds to the credibility of the data collection plan and analysis. If they don't seem to agree with the data collection plan and analysis , the action researchers may take informed action and refine the data collection plan and reevaluate conclusions .

Making insightful classrooms observations

5. Modifying the Educational Theory and Repeat

After concluding, the process begins again. The teacher can adjust different aspects of the action research approach to theory or make it more specific according to the findings . Action research guides how to change the steps of action research development, how to modify the action plan , and provide better access to resources, start data collection once again, or prepare new questions to ask from the respondents.

Teachers developing professional judgements

6. Report the Findings

Since the main approach to action research involves the informed action to introduce useful change into the classroom or schools, one must not forget to share the outcomes with others. Sharing the outcomes would help to further reflect on the problem and process, and it would help other teachers to use these findings to enhance their professional practice as an educator. One may print book and share the experience with the school leaders, principal, teachers and students as they served as guide to action research. Or, a community action researcher may present community-based action research at a conference so people from other areas can take advantage of this collaborative action. Also, teachers may use a digital storytelling tool to outline their results.

There are plenty of creative tools we can use to bring the research projects to life. We have seen videos, podcasts and research posters all being used to communicate the results of these programs. Community action research is a unique way to present details of the community-related adventures in the teacher profession, cultivate expertise and show how teachers think about education , so it is better to find unique ways to report the findings of community-led action research.

Final thoughts on action-research for teachers

As we have seen, action research can be an effective form of professional development, illuminating the path for teachers and school leaders seeking to refine their craft. This cyclical process of inquiry and reflection is not merely a methodological pursuit but a profound professional journey. The definition of action research, as a systematic inquiry conducted by teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders in the teaching/learning environment, emphasizes the collaborative nature of improving educational strategies and outcomes.

Action research transcends traditional disciplinary practices by immersing educators in the social contexts of their work, prompting them to question and adapt their methods to meet the evolving needs of their students . It is a form of reflective practice that demands critical thinking and flexibility, as one navigates through the iterative stages of planning, acting, observing, and reflecting.

The process of action research is inherently participatory, encouraging educators to engage with their learning communities to address key issues and social issues that impact educational settings. This method empowers professionals within universities and schools alike to take ownership of their learning and development, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and participatory approaches.

In summary, action research encapsulates the essence of what it means to be a learning professional in a dynamic educational landscape. It is the embodiment of a commitment to lifelong learning and a testament to the capacity of educators to enact change . The value of action research lies in its ability to transform practitioners into researchers, where the quest for knowledge becomes a powerful conduit for change and innovation. Thus, for educators at every level, embracing the rigorous yet rewarding path of action research can unveil potent insights and propel educational practice to new heights.

Action research process

Key Papers on Action Research

  • Utilizing Action Research During Student Teaching by James O. Barbre and Brenda J. Buckner (2013): This study explores how action research can be effectively utilized during student teaching to enhance professional pedagogical disposition through active reflection. It emphasizes developing a reflective habit of mind crucial for teachers to be effective in their classrooms and adaptive to the changing needs of their students.
  • Repositioning T eacher Action Research in Science Teacher Education by B. Capobianco and A. Feldman (2010): This paper discusses the promotion of action research as a way for teachers to improve their practice and students' learning for over 50 years, focusing on science education. It highlights the importance of action research in advancing knowledge about teaching and learning in science.
  • Action research and teacher leadership by K. Smeets and P. Ponte (2009): This article reports on a case study into the influence and impact of action research carried out by teachers in a special school. It found that action research not only helps teachers to get to grips with their work in the classroom but also has an impact on the work of others in the school.
  • Teaching about the Nature of Science through History: Action Research in the Classroom by J. Solomon, Jon Duveen, Linda Scot, S. McCarthy (1992): This article reports on 18 months of action research monitoring British pupils' learning about the nature of science using historical aspects. It indicates areas of substantial progress in pupils' understanding of the nature of science.
  • Action Research in the Classroom by V. Baumfield, E. Hall, K. Wall (2008): This comprehensive guide to conducting action research in the classroom covers various aspects, including deciding on a research question, choosing complementary research tools, collecting and interpreting data, and sharing findings. It aims to move classroom inquiry forward and contribute to professional development.

These studies highlight the significant role of action research in enhancing teacher effectiveness, student learning outcomes, and contributing to the broader educational community's knowledge and practices.

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How Teachers Can Learn Through Action Research

A look at one school’s action research project provides a blueprint for using this model of collaborative teacher learning.

Two teachers talking while looking at papers

When teachers redesign learning experiences to make school more relevant to students’ lives, they can’t ignore assessment. For many teachers, the most vexing question about real-world learning experiences such as project-based learning is: How will we know what students know and can do by the end of this project?

Teachers at the Siena School in Silver Spring, Maryland, decided to figure out the assessment question by investigating their classroom practices. As a result of their action research, they now have a much deeper understanding of authentic assessment and a renewed appreciation for the power of learning together.

Their research process offers a replicable model for other schools interested in designing their own immersive professional learning. The process began with a real-world challenge and an open-ended question, involved a deep dive into research, and ended with a public showcase of findings.

Start With an Authentic Need to Know

Siena School serves about 130 students in grades 4–12 who have mild to moderate language-based learning differences, including dyslexia. Most students are one to three grade levels behind in reading.

Teachers have introduced a variety of instructional strategies, including project-based learning, to better meet students’ learning needs and also help them develop skills like collaboration and creativity. Instead of taking tests and quizzes, students demonstrate what they know in a PBL unit by making products or generating solutions.

“We were already teaching this way,” explained Simon Kanter, Siena’s director of technology. “We needed a way to measure, was authentic assessment actually effective? Does it provide meaningful feedback? Can teachers grade it fairly?”

Focus the Research Question

Across grade levels and departments, teachers considered what they wanted to learn about authentic assessment, which the late Grant Wiggins described as engaging, multisensory, feedback-oriented, and grounded in real-world tasks. That’s a contrast to traditional tests and quizzes, which tend to focus on recall rather than application and have little in common with how experts go about their work in disciplines like math or history.

The teachers generated a big research question: Is using authentic assessment an effective and engaging way to provide meaningful feedback for teachers and students about growth and proficiency in a variety of learning objectives, including 21st-century skills?

Take Time to Plan

Next, teachers planned authentic assessments that would generate data for their study. For example, middle school science students created prototypes of genetically modified seeds and pitched their designs to a panel of potential investors. They had to not only understand the science of germination but also apply their knowledge and defend their thinking.

In other classes, teachers planned everything from mock trials to environmental stewardship projects to assess student learning and skill development. A shared rubric helped the teachers plan high-quality assessments.

Make Sense of Data

During the data-gathering phase, students were surveyed after each project about the value of authentic assessments versus more traditional tools like tests and quizzes. Teachers also reflected after each assessment.

“We collated the data, looked for trends, and presented them back to the faculty,” Kanter said.

Among the takeaways:

  • Authentic assessment generates more meaningful feedback and more opportunities for students to apply it.
  • Students consider authentic assessment more engaging, with increased opportunities to be creative, make choices, and collaborate.
  • Teachers are thinking more critically about creating assessments that allow for differentiation and that are applicable to students’ everyday lives.

To make their learning public, Siena hosted a colloquium on authentic assessment for other schools in the region. The school also submitted its research as part of an accreditation process with the Middle States Association.

Strategies to Share

For other schools interested in conducting action research, Kanter highlighted three key strategies.

  • Focus on areas of growth, not deficiency:  “This would have been less successful if we had said, ‘Our math scores are down. We need a new program to get scores up,’ Kanter said. “That puts the onus on teachers. Data collection could seem punitive. Instead, we focused on the way we already teach and thought about, how can we get more accurate feedback about how students are doing?”
  • Foster a culture of inquiry:  Encourage teachers to ask questions, conduct individual research, and share what they learn with colleagues. “Sometimes, one person attends a summer workshop and then shares the highlights in a short presentation. That might just be a conversation, or it might be the start of a school-wide initiative,” Kanter explained. In fact, that’s exactly how the focus on authentic assessment began.
  • Build structures for teacher collaboration:  Using staff meetings for shared planning and problem-solving fosters a collaborative culture. That was already in place when Siena embarked on its action research, along with informal brainstorming to support students.

For both students and staff, the deep dive into authentic assessment yielded “dramatic impact on the classroom,” Kanter added. “That’s the great part of this.”

In the past, he said, most teachers gave traditional final exams. To alleviate students’ test anxiety, teachers would support them with time for content review and strategies for study skills and test-taking.

“This year looks and feels different,” Kanter said. A week before the end of fall term, students were working hard on final products, but they weren’t cramming for exams. Teachers had time to give individual feedback to help students improve their work. “The whole climate feels way better.”


Action Research

← explore all resources.

Action research is a method used by teachers to solve everyday issues in the classroom. It is a reflective, democratic, and action-based approach to problem-solving or information-seeking in the classroom. Instead of waiting for a solution, action research empowers teachers to become critical and reflective thinkers and lifelong learners that are dedicated to helping improve student learning and teaching effectiveness.

Teachers or program leaders can take on an action research project by framing a question, carrying out an intervention or experiment, and reporting on the results. Below you’ll find resources, examples, and simple steps to help you get started.

Action Research in Early Childhood Education

Steps for action research.

1. Identify a Topic

Topics for action research can include the following:

  • Changes in classroom practice
  • Effects of program restructuring
  • New understanding of students
  • Teacher skills and competencies
  • New professional relationships
  • New content or curricula
  • What problem do you want to solve? What information are you seeking?
  • What data will need to be collected to help find a solution or answer?
  • How will it be collected, by whom and from whom?
  • How can you assure that your data will be reliable?

3. Collect Data

A mixed-method approach is a great way to ensure that your data is valid and reliable since you are gathering data from more than one source. This is called triangulation.

Mixed-methods research is when you integrate quantitative and qualitative research and analysis in a single study. Quantitative data is data that can be measured and written down with numbers. Some examples include attendance records, developmental screening tests, and attitude surveys. Qualitative data is data that cannot be measured in a numerical format. Some examples include observations, open-ended survey responses, audio recordings, focus groups, pictures, and in-depth interviews.

Ethically, even if your research will be contained in the classroom, it is important to get permission from the director or principal and parents. If your data collection involves videotaping or photographing students, you should review and follow school procedures. Always make sure that you have a secure place to store data and that you respect the confidentiality of your students.

4. Analyze and Interpret the Data

It’s important to consider when data will be able to answer your question. Were you looking for effects right away or effects that last until the end of the school year? When you’re done, review all of the data and look for themes. You can then separate the data into categories and analyze each group. Remember the goal of the analysis is not only to help answer the research question, but to gain understanding as a teacher.

5. Carry out an Action Plan to Improve Your Practice 

After the analysis, summarize what you learned from the study.

  • How can you share your findings?
  • What new research questions did the study prompt you to research next?
  • What actionable steps can you make as a result of the findings?

Pine, G. J. (2008). Teacher action research: building knowledge democracies. Sage Publications.

Related Content

Data design initiative, webinar: child assessments: telling stories with data, data basics, data literacy credential, data essentials.



Action Research as an Inquiry-Based Teaching Practice Model for Teacher Education Programs

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  • Published: 21 May 2020
  • Volume 34 , pages 153–168, ( 2021 )

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  • Selda Aras 1  

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Although the role of action research is critically highlighted in research, it is not widely used by teachers in most schools. It may also be that our teacher education does not equip us with the necessary confidence to conduct much inquiry ourselves. This study aimed to investigate the experiences of early childhood preservice teachers. Participants were engaged in action research within their field experience and research project courses. Data sources for the study included observation notes gathered during weekly meetings with preservice teachers, observation notes from classroom discussions, and semi-structured interviews conducted afterwards. The study supports the call for enhancing the quality of early years education through inquiry-based approaches such as incorporating research tasks with practicum activities during teacher training.

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I would like to thank my dear students, the partners of this study, who are now all early childhood teachers.

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  • 10 Research Question Examples to Guide Your Research Project

10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

Published on October 30, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on October 19, 2023.

The research question is one of the most important parts of your research paper , thesis or dissertation . It’s important to spend some time assessing and refining your question before you get started.

The exact form of your question will depend on a few things, such as the length of your project, the type of research you’re conducting, the topic , and the research problem . However, all research questions should be focused, specific, and relevant to a timely social or scholarly issue.

Once you’ve read our guide on how to write a research question , you can use these examples to craft your own.

Note that the design of your research question can depend on what method you are pursuing. Here are a few options for qualitative, quantitative, and statistical research questions.

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  12. How Teachers Can Use Action Research for Professional Learning

    How Teachers Can Learn Through Action Research. A look at one school's action research project provides a blueprint for using this model of collaborative teacher learning. When teachers redesign learning experiences to make school more relevant to students' lives, they can't ignore assessment. For many teachers, the most vexing question ...

  13. Action Research Topics in Education

    Further, they should be of interest to the researcher and have the potential to lead to improved student learning. Action Research Topics Using Drawings: sample Action Research topics using drawings as a primary data source. Action Research Examples: examples of Action Research by practicing teachers using a wide variety of research methodologies.

  14. PDF Action Research: A Tool for Improving Teacher Quality and Classroom

    Specifically, action. research is defined as one form of meaningful research that can be conducted by teachers with. students, colleagues, parents, and/or families in a natural setting of the classroom or school. Action research allows teachers to become the "researcher" and provides opportunities for them.

  15. Action Research

    Action research is a method used by teachers to solve everyday issues in the classroom. It is a reflective, democratic, and action-based approach to problem-solving or information-seeking in the classroom. Instead of waiting for a solution, action research empowers teachers to become critical and reflective thinkers and lifelong learners that ...

  16. Action Research as an Inquiry-Based Teaching Practice Model for Teacher

    Action research offers an opportunity for systematic, regular and critical inquiry to strengthen teachers' practices (Ferrance 2000; Mitchell et al. 2009; Davis et al. 2018).It provides an opportunity to make a connection between research on one's own practice and actual practice (Ulvik 2014).Action researchers systematically gather information, carry out dialogue with others, and ...

  17. (PDF) Action Research: A Tool for Improving Teacher Quality and

    Action research is a tool that is used to help teac hers and other educators uncover strategies to. improve teaching practices (Sagor, 2004); it is a viable and realistic endeavor for all ...

  18. Posing a Researchable Question

    These questions serve primarily as a means to help children recall information, to check on children's thinking, and to assess children's understanding of certain material. Teaching questions. May be open or closed, but are usually closed. Are typically phrased as yes or no questions. Seek answers to specific problems.

  19. (PDF) Action Research entitled: Improving Classroom Participation to

    The aims and objectives of this action research are to: To improve students' active participation in classroom teaching and learning. To explore the reasons why students hardly take part in ...

  20. How to Do Action Research in Your Classroom

    Home How to Do Action Research in Your Classroom. This article is available as a PDF. Please see the link on the right. Audience: Faculty, Teacher. Topics: Other Topics, Research, Teacher Research. Advertisement. Advertisement. Action research can introduce you to the power of systematic reflection on your practice.

  21. 10 Research Question Examples to Guide your Research Project

    The first question asks for a ready-made solution, and is not focused or researchable. The second question is a clearer comparative question, but note that it may not be practically feasible. For a smaller research project or thesis, it could be narrowed down further to focus on the effectiveness of drunk driving laws in just one or two countries.

  22. Action Research Questions in Education

    The sample questions below are provided to get you thinking about how you might use drawings as a source of data in your own action research. You'll want to look at the scoring rubric and supporting instructions we developed for ideas on analyzing drawings. In our research we worked with teacher candidates and new teachers.

  23. Sample Action Research About Education

    by Mark Anthony Llego. Sample Action Research courtesy of Sir Kenneth D. Hernandez,CAR-PhD. (Admin TeacherPH Facebook Group) This is my promised Action Research by one of the teachers at Victoria Reyes Elementary School. Notice that it was conducted only for a week and the Statistics used are very simple yet the interpretation is meaty.

  24. Challenging harmful masculinities and engaging men and boys in sexual

    More research is needed to address the impact of harmful masculinities on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), according to a new priority research agenda drawing on a global survey of researchers that was published today in The Lancet Global Health. Harmful gender norms affect boys and men in many ways, for example by increasing risky behaviours such as substance use or ...