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Action Reseach for Teachers Preparation


In the preparation stage of action research, you are deciding on the focus of the action research project by narrowing down to carefully selected topic. After reflecting on your work, you’ll identify areas that you would like to improve your practice. Choose an area where you have control over the outcome and you can try a new approach after reading and talking with others about an approach to the problem that is likely to be effective. You may need resources and the cooperation of colleagues in order to continue with the approach you have selected. This is the stage where the background work and decision-making happens.


Reflect on student learning and teaching

Start by reflecting on your day-to-day experiences in the classroom. Do this by stepping back and taking time to observe students in the learning environment. This may be accomplished by video taping yourself while teaching a lesson. Then, by reviewing the tape, evaluate the teaching and students simultaneously. Dig deep and ask yourself these things: Why do I do things in a certain way? Why are certain programs used? Are there things that could be done differently? If you could wave your magic wand and instantly change something that professionally concerns you, what would it be? Are there things you would like to try? What do you think would help you do your job better?


Where do I start?

"What is my concern in my practice?" is where you begin. It should be a concern that YOU can do something about. It should not depend on others. Notice that the word "concern" calls attention to personal values, and you should select some aspect of your teaching that relates to what is important to you about your students' learning. It would be very helpful to discuss your concern with fellow educators in your school, to let them help you focus your concern, and to let their concerns help you find yours. If two or more people have similar concerns, so much the better!


Identify a problem or area for improvement in your own teaching

After reflecting on student learning and teaching, now ask yourself is there a practice, issue (ex. resources or time), or behavior you can improve? Is there a problem you can solve? Is there something you can change that might help to enhance understanding for your students? Are you able to identify strengths and weaknesses in your school or program? What do you hope to change and why? Once you have an idea of something that can be improved, ask yourself these questions.

  • Is there some way to measure the problem such as: student test, audio or videotape, survey results, other statistics or sample?
  • Do you have control over any aspect of the problem?
  • Is the problem something that is manageable and practical?
  • Is it something you can apply now?
  • If you answered "yes" to the above questions, proceed to step three. If not, go back to the beginning of step two.


Learn what is already known about this problem in other contexts

You can interview experts that have had similar problems and find out the things they have tried. You might also discuss the problem with other teachers you work with and find out if they are having similar issues. How have they handled it? Watch relevant videos and/or explore literature to find out if any information exists about the problem you are dealing with. You might choose to gather information by doing background surveys. Search the Internet to find out information that is available in the area you wish to explore. Read book chapters, articles, research journals, and reports.


After you have explored your topic and gained enough knowledge to feel comfortable to move forward, you should begin to brainstorm.


Brainstorm 5-10 possible solutions

In step 4 of preparing to do action research, you will need to think about the problem/concern you will be focusing on and brainstorm as many solutions to improve the problem/concern. Maybe when you were exploring the different sources for information on your problem/concern, you came across something you would like to try. Continue to think about as many different ways to address the problem until you come up with at least 5 or 10 solutions.


What do I do next?

Once you find a focus, the next question is "What am I going to do about it? Ask yourself if there is some relatively modest change you could introduce to your students that would help you help them improve the quality of their learning. If you need to know more before you DO something, then talk with them to get a sense of how they see the quality of their learning. ("Quality" is a wonderful word because it is so broad -- learning has so many different qualities -- yet it also points in the direction of improvement. Parents, teachers and students all prefer high quality over low.)


Select a possible solution for the action research project

In this step, you will need to take a look at the brainstorming list and select a possible solution for the concern. You will need to formulate a hypothesis about the possible source of the problem and how to address it.


The choice of the solution must be one that is obtainable. Along with your strategy for a solution, you should also consider what you will be measuring or collecting to determine success.

Educational Research Designs/Methods

Main Categories


Quantitative: Uses numbers and statistics; designed for objectivity

Qualitative: Analyses words and documents; acknowledges subjectivity.


Many subcategories exist. Quantitative Designs: Identifies a research purpose or question, often in the form of a hypothesis or prediction. Quantitative designs are Designs that manipulate variables (attributes that can change and be measured)

Between Groups

  • Experimental-comparison of “treatment” effects on groups; random assignment to groups
  • Quasi-experimental- comparison of groups; uses intact groups
    • Example: compares the effects of two teaching strategies on mathematics achievement
  • Factorial-studies interaction effects
    • Example: looks for differential impact of teaching strategies on sub-groups of students
  • Time Series: studies effects of one treatment on one group over time
    • Example: impact of feedback on group achievement
  • Repeated Measures: studies effects of more than one treatment on one group over time
    • Example: impact of feedback and group discussion on achievement
  • Single subject designs-studies impact of intervention on one student or small group of students
    • Example: study impact of behavioral intervention
Designs that relate or summarize variables
  • Correlation: finds relationships among variables
    • Example: relationship between self-concept and achievement
  • Survey: finds attitudes, opinions, or behaviors; looks for trends; uses questionnaires or structured interviews; often includes demographic information
    • Example: assess student attitudes toward science

Qualitative Designs

  • Collect data based on a “central phenomenon” to be studied, as the interactions in a third grade classroom or lunch room behavior
  • Does not manipulate variables
  • Uses observations, open-ended interviews, analysis of documents, analysis of audio-visual materials
  • Applies codes to long text documents and lets themes emerge
  • May result in theory development (grounded theory), description of culture (ethnography or case study), stories
  • Researcher acknowledges his/her role in study
  • Sampling is purposeful rather than random

Action research is a practical, dynamic process that an educator uses to improve his/her practice. It is practical and often collaborative. Action research may “mix methods” for analysis.


Develop a specific focus/research question

Step 6 is the final step in the preparation portion of action research. You will need to develop your research question in this step.

  • Keep your question open-ended. Start with phrases such as: What happens when .? How do .? What is the role .? What procedures.?
  • Consider your first attempt at question writing as a first draft, and then revisit what has consistently intrigued you in your role as a teacher.
  • Does the question respond to this issue?
  • Remember that question writing is part of the learning process. No question will be perfect the first time it is written. You may have to leave your question in rough form and return to it later to revise it after a period of reflection.
  • Share your question with others who may play a significant role in the inquiry process. Does the question make sense to them? Do they understand the focus?
  • What is the effect of an altered curriculum on student performance?
  • What impact, if any, does Family as Faculty have on teacher attitudes towards parents of children with disabilities?
  • How do Mentoring Pods impact stress levels of teachers?

Example Format

What is the effect of ______ (solution) on ______ (student description) when learning ______(topic description)?


Example Questions

  • What is the effect of an altered curriculum on student performance?
  • What impact, if any, does Family as Faculty have on teacher attitudes towards parents of children with disabilities?
  • How do mentoring pods impact stress levels of teachers?