Educational Action Research has four main parts, each one vital to quality research. One case study is given as an example and the solution leads one in evaluating its successes/failures. This can be helpful when writing your own action research, or evaluating the success of someone else's. The case study evaluated is action research on classroom discipline and keeping "classroom transition times" more structured and under control. The findings from this research could also be helpful for teachers seeking help with classroom management.
Main Parts of Action Research:
When developing your own action research, make sure to include:
1) Develop a question to be answered. Ask yourself:
Is it relevant? Does the researcher stick to answering the question? Is it answerable?
2) Gather data. Ask yourself:
Did he/she seek data from a variety of sources? Does his/her research give her answers to her question?
3) Inpret data/make conclusions/reflect. Ask yourself:
Is the data organized clearly? Did the researcher answer the original question?
4) Act on your reflections. Ask yourself:
What should be done now based on the findings?
Focus of the Inquiry
My extended practicum began October 4, 1999. I was placed with a wonderful associate, Mrs. C., in the science department. Mrs. C. was very excited about science, had tons of experience, and was very laid back in her teaching approach. Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me from the first day I stepped into her office.
Mrs. C. encouraged me to begin teaching her Grade Nine Academic Science class on the second day of my placement. Thrilled to jump right into things, I began planning lessons and took over the class by the end of the week. One thing that worried me from the beginning was how I would fit into this class that was used to a teacher who was so laid back. As an inexperienced teacher, I wanted to have every minute planned, ensuring that things would be very structured so that there was a high degree of order in the classroom. Mrs. C., however, had already established the rules and expectations earlier in the semester. I felt that I should fit into these routines, and I tried to adapt my lessons accordingly.
I felt very uncomfortable with the way things were going early in the placement. I didn't like students talking out of turn, nor did I like the general 'disorder' in the classroom. After running one particular lab on Particle Theory, I was extremely frustrated. The students had been very noisy and things seemed to be chaotic. When I expressed my concerns to Mrs. C., she seemed surprised, assuring me that the class had gone very well. I began to second-guess my own gut feelings, deciding to continue on doing exactly what I had been doing.
On October 18 I decided to get some feedback from my students by having them do "Backtalk." I asked them to anonymously respond to several questions regarding what they had learned in the unit I had taught; then I asked them to give me some feedback as to how I could improve my teaching. Although several suggestions made by the students were positive, a few surprised me. Five students in class claimed that I was too nice and that I should be stricter.
The fact that students were telling me that I should be more structured and direct really opened my eyes. I knew that I did not feel comfortable with the class, but I hadn't realized that the students were also uncomfortable! I realized that although Mrs. C.'s style was amazing for her, it did not work for me. I wanted to learn from Mrs. C. and try some of her teaching strategies, but I would have to adapt them to fit my own teaching style in order to take control and feel more at ease.
The Researchable Question
As a result of the feedback I got from my students, I decided that I should focus on classroom management for my Action Research. Classroom management is a very broad topic, so I thought about the aspects of a typical class that seemed to bother me the most (my gut feelings had been right before, so I decided to follow them again). Getting the class settled down and focused at the beginning of class was difficult for me. In addition, I like to have my students involved in many activities in a period. A lot of time seemed to be wasted during "transitions," as my lessons switched between getting the students seated, thinking about puzzles, taking up homework, writing down notes, discussing ideas, doing lab work and group work, etc. According to Smith and Hutchinson (1995), "During every transition, the rules change concerning what teacher and students are doing." I wanted to find a way to make these "rule changes" occur in a more organized and productive fashion. Therefore, I formulated my initial question: What strategies can I use to make smoother transitions between classroom activities in this particular Grade 9 science class to reduce the amount of time wasted, thereby providing my students with a better learning environment?
Collecting, Analyzing, and Interpreting the Data
Once my Action Research topic had been decided, I began to keep a journal. I kept track of several things, including my gut reactions about things that happened in the classroom, student comments and progress, and advice from other teachers, including Mrs. C. I also began teaching in another Grade Nine Academic class with Mr. G. that was smaller, very well behaved and easy to manage. Since I taught the same lesson to both classes each day, making comparisons between what got accomplished in the classes gave me the opportunity to judge how various strategies were working.
Capturing Student Attention
The day after I received the Backtalk, I shared the results with the students (Figure 1). Some of the students were surprised with what their peers had said, accusing me of making up some of the comments. I assured them that all of the feedback was genuine. I then used the opportunity to talk to the students about my concerns. The class brainstormed strategies that I could use to get their attention when I needed it. Some of the students' suggestions included flicking the lights off and on, yelling at the top of my lungs (not my favourite idea), and clapping twice. After a vote, it was decided that clapping my hands twice would signal that I wanted everyone in the class to be quiet and listen.
This plan worked well for a little while. The students seemed to like the idea that they contributed to creating the rules in the class. Eventually, however, the effects of clapping twice began to wear off. Students would try to fool their classmates by clapping out of the blue. The noise level would remain high even after I would clap several times. I decided that I would have to look for another way to capture my students' attention.
In November I went to the STAO ...
This explains action research and what makes it successful. Action research on classroom management is not only shared, but evaluated. It gives questions you should ask yourself when writing your own action research, or evaluating someone else's action research. Helpful ideas and methods are given for student teachers and classroom teachers looking for help with classroom discipline as well.