Saturday, 12 May 2012


1    Starting
Some key questions:
Barrett and Whitehead (1985) ask six questions which should help you start your inquiry:
  1. What is your concern?
  2. Why are you concerned?
  3. What do you think you could do about it?
  4. What kind of evidence could you collect to help you make some judgement about what is happening?
  5. How would you collect such evidence?
  6. How would you check that your judgement about what has happened is reasonable, fair and accurate?
What can I investigate through action research?
Action research can be used to investigate practical, everyday issues:
  • ‘Action research investigates everyday problems experienced by teachers’ (Elliott, 1981).
  • ‘All you need is a general idea that something might be improved’ (Kemmis and McTaggart , 1982).
  • ‘I experience a problem when some of my educational values are negated in my practice’ (Whitehead 1985).
Starting points might be of the following kinds:
  1. I want to get better at my science teaching…
  2. I’m not sure why my students don’t engage in discussion…
  3. I have to implement the speaking and listening guidelines, but I’m not sure what is the best way…
  4. How can we make staff meetings more productive?….
  5. I’ve seen something working well in school X; I wonder if it would work for me?…
  6. Is there anything we can do about our poor take-up of A level mathematics?…
  7. How can I promote more use of computers in the Humanities?…
  8. I wonder if I’m too focused on recording with my six year olds?…
It is important to choose an area that you can do something about. Some questions are not amenable to action research:
  • Is there any relationship between single-parent families and attendance?
  • Are tall children better at pole-vaulting?
  • Does ethnicity affect performance in SATs?
Remember that it is the ‘strategic action’ (Kemmis and McTaggart 1982) that you can employ to try to solve the problem that will give you the insights into the factors affecting your practice.
  • Jot down some preliminary ideas regarding possibilities for an action research project relating to your own practice.
  • Highlight those which might be the most feasible.

2    Focusing on a topic
Golden rules for selecting a topic
  • Keep it manageable – keep the focus small scale.
  • It should be interesting to you – you may need some perseverance to see the inquiry through!
  • It should be workable – you are not stumped for ideas, but can identify ways in which you might have a go at addressing your question.
  • It is not too disruptive of normal routines. (Important here to think not just of your own, but others’ that your actions might affect).
Once you have mapped out the general area of concern, you will need to focus specifically on something you can do something about. There may be many potential starting points within your inquiry; in a way, it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you consider that the action may be beneficial. In order to get to this point, however, you may need to spend sometime looking at your practice in a little detail, noting the various aspects which might be changed. This period of focusing is known as ‘reconnaissance’.
During this time, you may also employ other strategies to help you refine your focus. Winter (1989) suggests a range of writing strategies that may help you:
  • brainstorming ideas – looking for patterns, recurring ideas;
  • keeping an interest log/diary;
  • writing a letter about your concern to someone (no need to post it!);
  • writing a story about the situation – stories are a reflexive statement, in which you may express ambiguities and contradictions (they will need analysing – this is best done in the presence of a critical friend – see below).
Whichever method you employ, writing is frequently the most powerful way for helping you make sense of a situation. It allows you to work through ideas and explore possibilities and ‘maybes’.
Remember, the point of all of this is to help you clarify the issue and decide what your first change in action is going to be.

  • Practise Winter's technique. Write a letter to someone (real or imaginary) about a specific issue. Analyse your writing for patterns in the way you express the issue, ambiguities in what you say or concerns that you raise. Make a separate note of these.
  • Do they help you to focus your thinking?