Action Research

An Introduction to Action Research
Jeanne H. Purcell, Ph.D.

 Your Options

  • Review Related Literature
  • Examine the Impact of an Experimental Treatment
  • Monitor Change
  • Identify Present Practices
  • Describe Beliefs and Attitudes

Action Research Is…

  • Action research is a three-step spiral process of (1) planning which involves fact-finding, (2) taking action, and (3) fact-finding about the results of the action. (Lewin, 1947)
  • Action research is a process by which practitioners attempt to study their problems scientifically in order to guide, correct, and evaluate their decisions and action. (Corey, 1953).
  • Action research in education is study conducted by colleagues in a school setting of the results of their activities to improve instruction. (Glickman, 1990)
  • Action research is a fancy way of saying Let’s study what s happening at our school and decide how to make it a better place. (Calhoun,1994)

Conditions That Support Action Research

  • A faculty where a majority of teachers wish to improve some aspect (s) of education in their school.
  • Common agreement about how collective decisions will be made and implemented.
  • A team that is willing to lead the initiative.
  • Study groups that meet regularly.
  • A basic knowledge of the action research cycle and the rationale for its use.
  • Someone to provide technical assistance and/or support.


The Action Research Cycle

  • Identify an area of interest/problem.
  • Identify data to be collected, the format for the results, and a timeline.
  • Collect and organize the data.
  • Analyze and interpret the data.
  • Decide upon the action to be taken.
  • Evaluate the success of the action.


Collecting Data: Sources

Existing Sources

  • Attendance
  • Attendance at PTO meetings
  • Grades
  • + and – parent communications
  • Office referrals
  • Retentions
  • Special program enrollment
  • Standardized scores

Inventive Sources

  • Interviews with parents
  • Library use, by grade, class
  • Minutes of meetings
  • Nature and amount of in-school assistance related to the innovation
  • Number of books read
  • Observation journals
  • Record of peer observations
  • Student journals
  • Teacher journals
  • Videotapes of students: whole class instruction
  • Videotapes of students: Differentiated instruction
  • Writing samples

Collecting Data: From Whom?

  • From everyone when we are concerned about each student’s performance.
  • From a sample when we need to increase our understanding while limiting our expenditure of time and energy; more in-depth interviews or observations may follow.

Collecting Data: How Often?

  • At regular intervals
  • At critical points

Collecting Data: Guidelines

  • Use both existing and inventive data sources.
  • Use multiple data sources.
  • Collect data regularly.
  • Seek help, if necessary.

Organizing Data

  • Keep it simple.
  • Disaggregate numbers from interviews and other qualitative types of data.
  • Plan plenty of time to look over and organize the data.
  • Seek technical assistance if needed.

Analyzing Data

  • What important points do they data reveal?
  • What patterns/trends do you note? What might be some possible explanations?
  • Do the data vary by sources? Why might the variations exist?
  • Are there any results that are different from what you expected? What might be some hypotheses to explain the difference (s)?
  • What actions appear to be indicated?

Taking Action

  • Do the data warrant action?
  • What might se some short-term actions?
  • What might be some long-term actions?
  • How will we know if our actions have been effective?
  • What benchmarks might we expect to see along the way to effectiveness ?

Action Plans

  • Goal
  • Target date
  • Responsibility
  • Resources
  • Evidence of Effectiveness

Action Research Handout


Brubacher, J. W., Case, C. W., & Reagan, T. G. (1994). Becoming a reflective educator. Thousand Oaks: CA: Corwin Press.

Burnaford, G., Fischer, J., & Hobson, D. (1996). Teachers doing research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Calhoun, Emily (1994). How to use action research in the self-renewing school. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Corey, S. M. (1953). Action research to improve school practices. New York: Teachers College Press.

Glickman, C. D. (1990). Supervision of instruction: A developmental approach. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Hubbard, R. S. & Power, B. M. (1993). The art of classroom inquiry. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.

Lewin, K. (1947). Group decisions and social change. In Readings in social psychology. (Eds. T M. Newcomb and E. L. Hartley). New York: Henry Holt.