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Resource 3: An introduction to action research in the classroom

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Resource 3: An introduction to action research in the classroom

Ben Goldacre (2013) argues that teaching should be an evidence-based profession and that this would lead to better outcomes for children. In particular, he suggests that a change in culture is needed, in which teachers and politicians recognise that we don’t necessarily ‘know’ what works best – we need evidence that something works.

The assumption is that the evidence-based practice is a good thing and that the changes advocated by Goldacre can be achieved through teachers researching their own practice. Indeed, where research practices are embedded in schools, there is a recognition that this can contribute to school improvement.

As a teacher undertaking a study in your own classroom, it is likely that it will be relatively small-scale and short-term and action research methodology works well in this context. Action research involves practitioners systematically investigating their own practice, with a view to improving it.

Action research involves the following steps:

  • Identify a problem that you want to solve in your classroom: This might be something quite specific such as why certain pupils do not answer questions or find an aspect of your subject hard or de-motivating, or it might be something more general like how to organise group work effectively.

  • Define the purpose and clarify what form the intervention might take: This will involve consulting the literature and finding out what is already known about this issue.

  • Plan an intervention designed to tackle the issue.

  • Collect empirical data and analyse it.

  • Plan another intervention: This will be based on what you find and will be designed to further understand the issue that you have identified.

Action research is a cyclical process (Figure R3.1). Through repeated intervention and analysis, you will come to understand the issue or problem and hopefully to do something about it.

Figure R3.1 Action research cycle

Having decided on the questions you would like to answer and the approach you wish take, you will need to collect some data that will enable you to answer the questions. There are three broad ways in which you can collect data, you can:

  • observe people at work

  • ask questions (either through survey’s or by talking to people)

  • analyse documents.

Figure R3.2 provides an overview of different data collection methods.

Figure R3.2 Overview of different data collection methods

You will need evidence from several sources of data in order to be confident in your findings. Each method will have advantages and limitations; you need to make sure that you act in such a way as to minimise the limitations.

You need to consider both the validity and reliability of the data that you collect. If something is valid then that suggests that it is true or trustworthy. It is useful to ask the following questions to test validity:

  • Can the results be generalised? Someone who hears about or reads about your research might decide that, based on their experience then it is authentic and seems sensible.

  • Does the data support the conclusions? This is more likely if there is more than one source of data collected over a period of time or if the findings have been checked with the participants.

  • Do the questionnaire or interview questions relate clearly to the research questions?

Reliability is a difficult concept as it is to do with repeatability and replicability. Reliability includes fidelity to real life, authenticity and meaningfulness to the respondents. Cohen et al. (2003) suggest that the notion of reliability should be construed as ‘dependability’ and achieving dependability relies on factors such as collecting enough data, checking your findings with the participants, and looking for evidence of the same idea from more than one data source.

(Adapted from Learning to teach: an introduction to classroom research)

Resource 4: Template for action planning

Name of teacher




Identified need or underused skill

How need will be met

Who involved

By when











Any other notes




Signature of school leader



Additional resources

  • ‘10 professional development ideas for teachers’: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/oct/22/teacher-professional-development-school-advice
  • Learning to teach: an introduction to classroom research, an Open University OpenLearn unit: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/learning-teach-introduction-classroom-research/content-section-0

  • ‘How principles can grow teacher excellence’ by Mariko Norobi: http://www.edutopia.org/stw-school-turnaround-principal-teacher-development-tips

  • ‘What is teacher development?’ by Linda Evans: http://www.education.leeds.ac.uk/assets/files/staff/papers/What-is-teacher-Development.pdf

  • ‘Theories on and concepts of professionalism of teachers and their consequences for the curriculum in teacher education’ by Marco Snoek: http://kennisbank.hva.nl/document/477245


Ball, A.F. (2009) ‘Toward a theory of generative change in culturally and linguistically complex classrooms’, American Educational Research Journal, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 45–72.

Borko, H. (2004) ‘Professional development and teacher learning: mapping the terrain’, Educational Researcher, vol. 33, no. 8. Available from: http://www.aera.net/uploadedFiles/Journals_and_Publications/Journals/Educational_Researcher/Volume_33_No_8/02_ERv33n8_Borko.pdf (accessed 30 July 2014).

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrision, K. (2000) Research Methods in Education. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Day, C. (1993) ‘reflection: a necessary but not sufficient condition for professional development’,British Educational Research Journal, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 83–93.

Eraut, M. (2004) ‘Informal learning in the workplace’, Studies in Continuing Education, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 247–73.

Goldacre, B. (2013) ‘Building evidence into education’ (online), March. Available from: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/17530/1/ben%20goldacre%20paper.pdf (accessed 20 November 2014).

Haigh, N. (2005) ‘Everyday conversation as a context for professional learning and development’, International Journal for Academic Development, vol. 10, no. 1.

Hudson, P., Usak, M. and Savran-Gencer, A. (2013) ‘Employing the five‐factor mentoring instrument: analysing mentoring practices for teaching primary science’, European Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 63–74.

Learning to teach: an introduction to classroom research, Open University OpenLearn unit. Available from: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/learning-teach-introduction-classroom-research/content-section-0 (accessed 22 October 2014).

National Council of Educational Research and Training (2005) National Curriculum Framework, National Council of Educational Research and Training. Available from: http://www.ncert.nic.in/rightside/links/pdf/framework/english/nf2005.pdf (accessed 25 September 2014).

National University of Educational Planning and Administration (2014) National Programme Design and Curriculum Framework. New Delhi: NUEPA. Available from: https://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/15368656/276075002/name/SLDP_Framework_Text_NCSL_NUEPA.pdf (accessed 14 October 2014).

Ulvik, M. and Sunde, E. (2013) ‘The impact of mentor education: does mentor education matter?’, Professional Development in Education, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 754–70.

Zwarta, R.C., Wubbelsb, T., Bergena, T.C.M. and Bolhuisc, S. (2007) ‘Experienced teacher learning within the context of reciprocal peer coaching’, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 165–87. Available from: http://expertisecentrumlerenvandocenten.nl/files/TTTP_collegiale_coaching_0.pdf (accessed 2 August 2014).


This content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), unless identified otherwise. The licence excludes the use of the TESS-India, OU and UKAID logos, which may only be used unadapted within the TESS-India project.

Every effort has been made to contact copyright owners. If any have been inadvertently overlooked the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.

Video (including video stills): thanks are extended to the teacher educators, headteachers, teachers and students across India who worked with The Open University in the productions.

Activity 1: Review of NCFTE (2009)


This activity aimed to help you to start thinking about how far your school currently works towards the practices highlighted and advocated in NCFTE (2009) to make ‘reflective practice the central aim of teacher education’ and to recognise that ‘[pedagogical knowledge has to constantly undergo adaptation to meet the diverse needs of diverse contexts through critical reflection by the teacher on his/her practices’ (pp. 19–20). Ideally your marks should all end up on the left-hand side where learning is active and interactive. The reality may be that your marks are on the right or in the middle. This gives you a direction in which to travel (and discuss).


Activity 2: Planning for a conversation about professional development


It may be that the culture in your school means that you already have regular professional reviews or appraisals where you discuss with your staff, individually, their professional practice and identify the focus for their future professional development. Your teachers may therefore be accustomed to these types of conversations. However, it is highly probable that they may be having such a conversation with you for the first time.

To better understand your teachers’ professional lives it will be very useful to prepare a meeting schedule with every teacher to discuss their support needs, interests and expectations. This should be a professional conversation but conducted in a non-threatening way, allowing a useful discussion that helps you to learn about your teachers’ professional lives. It may be that someone like Mrs Gupta would need some coaxing and reassurance to engage in the conversation, but there are strengths that you could identify that may open the door for communication. These initial conversations and the records should serve as a basis for future support and planning of development activities: they are the start of ongoing conversations that will, ideally, aim to make the teachers take responsibility for their own development.

The conversations can be linked with any observations of lessons you have done, or other monitoring processes you may have undertaken.

With time, a school may introduce peer observation and lesson review as a regular part of the PLD cycle, with colleagues contributing to the evidence that is used in appraisal conversations.


Activity 3: Identifying learning opportunities


You have probably thought about a range of opportunities for Mrs Gupta to develop her skills at the school. For example, you might have suggested that she observe a more confident teacher, teach those difficult science lessons, or that she be coached on the content by the science teacher to fill any knowledge gaps. You might also have suggested that the school should have a dance week next term when lessons are geared around this theme (anatomy, literature, geometry, music, etc.) and ask Mrs Gupta to take a lead in this. In addition, you may decide to observe one of Mrs Gupta’s lessons and then report back to her on the different levels of engagement between pupils at the front and back of the class.

The conversation about the challenges and solutions of multilevel classes could be widened to the cover all staff in the group, being a development opportunity for all. Mrs Gupta could refresh and strengthen her teaching practice and enhance her students’ learning as part of her school day, using colleagues around her, whether learning by doing or finding her own solutions. You might also have noted that Mrs Gupta is very good at making displays and that there may be roles for her in helping other teachers to develop these skills. The key is her motivation and this is why it is important to work together with Mrs Gupta on identifying needs and making a plan to meet them – she will engage more enthusiastically if she is involved in the discussions about her strengths and needs and agrees on priorities and opportunities.

Mrs Gupta may be a particularly challenging teacher to work with as she is well established at the school and so not necessarily interested in her PLD. But she has genuine strengths that are an asset for the school and need to be valued. The conversation about her PLD should be balanced between building on strengths and addressing needs – and not all needs have to be addressed at once.

You will have many teachers who embrace the chance to learn and improve and who will welcome your interest in their PLD.


Activity 4: Formulate an action plan


Once such a procedure has been incorporated into the school’s usual practice, the whole notion of PLD will embed itself, and everyone in the school will then see themselves as co-learners. With a general understanding of PLD in your school, you may be able to delegate the discussions to pairs or groups to find the opportunities, so developing a culture of sharing of expertise and co-development. If every member of staff, not just the teachers, can be involved in their own development, the students will also see how important it is to learn throughout their lives. It changes the ethos of the school.


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