Action Research: Basic Understanding
*Dr. Laxman Gnawali
What is it?
That English language teachers particularly those who teach in the EFL contexts such as in Nepal come across pedagogical problems is a common phenomenon. One of the ways to tackle these problems is to undertake action reach. But, what is action research? Action research is an undertaking by the teacher in his or her real classroom. It includes diagnosis of the problem and an intervention in one’s own pedagogical practices to solve that problem. As the name suggests, it involves an action and research on it. The teacher takes an action and reflects on it to see its impact. In order to fully understand the concept of action research, one needs to be actually involved in it. A teacher from Australia shares her experience, “My experience of action research is that it is difficult to grasp or explain the concept until one is involved in the process of doing it. It is in the doing that it starts to make sense and become clear.”
Who is it done by?
Action Research is undertaken by an individual teacher in their own classroom. If it is collaborative action research, it is jointly undertaken by a pair or group of teachers. The teacher can also collaborate with other stakeholders such as the head teacher, the Head of Department or even trainers.
Why undertake it?
The main aim of undertaking action research is to improve one’s classroom practices: to make the pedagogical process better. When one feels that there are problems that need to and can be addressed, one initiates action research. This initiation brings about some kind of changes in the classroom process. Action research is particularly significant for EFL teachers, as they face a myriad of problems for which there may not a helping hand around all the time. The best solution to a problem one is facing is to do something to tackle it with the best available resources. Teachers who undertake action reach also grow professionally in their field.
Action research is also instrumental to introduce an innovation into the system. When a teacher has some innovative idea, they can inject it into the system through action research. This also helps to bridge the gap between theory and practice. The teacher can see the theoretical basis of the practice one is involved in and the practical side of the theory one has been introduced to. Action research is worth undertaking indeed for these reasons.
What is the process?
Action research involves small scale investigative activities in the teacher’s own classroom and these activities are organized in a cycle. Let’s take an example: A teacher selects an aspect of student behaviour to examine in a more detailed way. It could be a problem related to homework issues or vocabulary retention or something else. In order to improve that aspect, they develop an action plan in the form of a proposal. The action is implemented for a specified period of time following the plan-act-reflect cycle. During this cycle, they collect enough evidences and data to analyze what was going wrong, what was done as the intervention and what the outcomes were. The data are analyzed and a report is prepared and disseminated in the professional community.
How do I develop a proposal?
When you notice that something is going wrong, hold some preliminary discussions with your colleagues and also watch it carefully so you can decide it is indeed a problem. Review some literature in the area of the problem you have noticed. Once you make sure that you need to do something to tackle the problem, negotiate with your Head of Department or the Principal so you will get cooperation in your project. Once, you have got the permission, make a list of probable solutions and choose one that best fits the situation. You will need to consider resources available. Then write the proposal and submit to the Principal.
What are the components of an action research proposal?
You can design your action research proposal that fits your context. The following components are generally included in an action research proposal:
- a) Background
- b) Problem statement
- c) Objectives
- d) Significance
- e) Action plan :
- i) Step 1
- ii) Step 2 etc.
- f) Tools of data collection
- g) Timeline (Gantt Chart)
- g) Ethical issues, and
- h) Resources.
What can I read for more understanding on action research?
Burns, A. (2011). Doing action research in English language teaching: A guide for practitioners. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
McNiff, J. (1988). Action research: Principles and practice. London:Routledge.
(*Dr. Laxman Gnawali is Associate Professor at School of Education Kathmandu University. He also served as an Acting President of NELTA. )