Action research is the inquiry part of a Professional Development School (PDS) model that all UNT elementary education, pre-service teacher/student interns complete with mentor teachers during student teaching. Approximately 300 projects were completed across four years in the Denton PDS. The 300 projects were examined to determine the trends in action research. Due to the qualitative nature of the study, there were no hypotheses, only assumptions that there were trends. The method used to examine the projects employed qualitative analysis techniques using the electronic program NVIVO. The results indicated that there were trends in questions that tended toward behavioral and transition issues in the classroom. The major research conclusion is that the Denton PDS follows the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) PDS Standards in the categories of “At Standard” and “Leading” in the area of action research implementation.
Table of Contents:
This research paper includes the history of action research in UNT/Denton ISD professional development school (PDS), an analysis of completed action research projects from 2008-2011, and a comparison of current UNT/Denton ISD PDS practices to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards. Action Research is the inquiry part of a PDS model that all UNT elementary education, pre-service teacher/student interns complete with mentor teachers during student teaching. Approximately 300 projects were completed across four years in the Denton PDS.
As simply put by Rory O’Brien (1998), “Action research is learning by doing” (p. 3). He came up with this definition through research on the evolution of action research. He examined the processes of action research across 60 years of the development, beginning with the work of Kurt Lewin, the father of action research. In the 1940’s, Lewin published a paper coining the term. Lewin characterized action research as “a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action, using a process of a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of the action” (O’Brien, 1998, p. 8).
O’Brien shows three different models that can be used for Action Research. A model is an overview of a plan that can be used to conduct action research. The first model was created by Stephen Kemmis and consists of four steps: plan, action, observe, and reflect. The second model was created by Gerald Susman and continues until the problem is solved or the question is answered. This circular model has the following steps: diagnose, action plan, take action, evaluate, and specify learning. The third model O’Brien discusses was created by Eric Trist and Fred Emery. It is called the “search conference” and must be done in a collaborative group. The main parts of this model are a pre- and post- conference, with three session groups, each of which is followed by a presentation plenary.
O’Brien goes on to describe four types of action research that can be applied to any of the three models. The types are listed below:
Traditional action research, created from Kurt Lewin’s work, is focused on social action. According to O’Brien, “this traditional approach tends toward the conservative, generally maintaining the status quo with regards to organizational power structures” (p. 8).
Contextual action research, or action learning, was derived from Eric Trist’s work. It centers on the participants in the research acting as the designers of the projects and as researchers. Everyone works in a group as a whole. This type of action research uses the search conference model.
Radical action research was created from the work of Antonio Gramsci. It focuses on overcoming power imbalances. Participatory action research also falls under radical research. This type works well for social transformation using advocacy.
Educational action research is based on the work of John Dewey and is ideal to use in an educational setting to help professional educators become involved in community problem-solving, including the development of curriculum, professional development, and learning.
These models are frameworks from which educators, working for the common good, can draw to study actions in social settings.
Action Research in a Professional Development School (PDS)
A professional development school (PDS) is a partnership between a university and a public P-12 school. In 2002, the NCATE presented to the PDS community a set of standards for the progressive development PDS. These standards help to prepare university students, candidates, or interns, to become effective teachers who meet the needs of a diverse classroom. Following and meeting the standards are important in order to improve the P-12 school and the university. In the work of the partnership, the standards indicate that there will be inquiry-based research projects that: “identify and meet students’ learning needs; affect candidate learning; and determine a professional development agenda” (NCATE, 2001, p. 4). Within the five standards, action research falls under Standard 1: Learning Community. Within each standard, there are elements that define the standard and are incrementally delineated across the developmental levels, indicating use of the element at the four different points of development. Table 1 shows the development of the standard regarding action research in a PDS. The standards were field tested in multiple, varied PDS sites for five years prior to the publication in 2001. The University of North Texas, Denton PDS uses the standards as a method of determining the level of development and growth of the program.
University of North Texas and Action Research
The UNT/Denton ISD PDS was formed in 1994 and reconstructed in 2002. The NCATE PDS standards were made public in that year, and served as a guiding document for determining the progress of the Denton PDS. In 2005, representatives of the teacher, principal, district, university supervisor, university coordinator, student interns, and outside national advisors convened to review the NCATE PDS standards to determine how well the UNT/Denton ISD PDS partnership was performing based on the NCATE PDS standards. It was determined at that time that the PDS was functioning at a Beginning to At Standard level across 15 of the 22 elements in the standards. At the time, action research was not being used, accounting for several of the missing elements.
Five years ago, the PDS was in its fifth year of reconstruction, and the partnership was poised for further development. In order to strengthen the PDS, the notion of action research was introduced to the school collaborators who embraced the idea of including action research as a component of the partnership. In 2007, when the PDS site coordinator and district partners began to look into making the PDS experience better, they first examined the program’s performance according to the NCATE standards. The coordinator noticed that the inquiry standards were not being addressed. It was proposed at the time that action research be included in the program.
To guide the implementation of action research into the PDS program, Towson University’s action research process was used as Towson had been a beta test site for the development of the NCATE PDS standards (Jones & Song, 2005). Both the Towson model and the standards were used to come up with a way to put this into the Denton ISD PDS at UNT. Towson University was one of the leading schools in action research implementation during student teaching in a PDS school. Every intern who goes through the program at Towson is required to do an action research project with a mentor teacher. Their supervisors are updated along the way and involved in the process as needed. This shows there is a partnership between the schools and university, which is recommended in the standards.
John Dewey’s research, as cited in O’Brien (1998), also supports the requirement of collaboration. Dewey believed that educators should “focus on development of curriculum, professional development, and applying learning in a social context” (p. 9). Action research takes place in real world situations and is designed to solve real world problems; the researcher and the members of the community affected by the problem participate collaboratively in the research process (p. 3-4). This model requires a close collaboration between the university and schools. This is noted in a review of the Towson University action research requirement.
The purpose of this study was to examine more than 300 completed Action Research projects conducted between the years 2008-2011, in the UNT/Denton ISD PDS. I will be examining trends in questions, methods, and findings reported by pre-service teachers (interns).
The question posed by this study is as follows: What are the trends in action research studies, conducted across multiple years in a PDS partnership? Due to the qualitative nature of the research, no hypotheses were related to this question.
Methods and Procedures
In each spring semester, beginning in the spring of 2008, UNT/Denton PDS pre-service teachers (interns), conducted action research projects with mentor teachers during their student teaching semester. The projects were generated by mentor teachers, school principals, and interns, and conducted in six-week blocks, producing approximately 50-80 completed projects annually. Interns completed an anonymous survey about their projects at the end of their student teaching that provided information about their action research projects, including the questions asked, hypotheses tested, the action research methodology, how data were collected, the major research findings, recommended actions based on findings, and the implementation of recommendations. Interns were also given space for any additional comments. The data included reports on 303 action research studies completed in the years 2008 through2011, each chronicling the elements listed.
In the analysis, data were sorted both by hand and using qualitative analysis computer tools. Projects with significant missing data were removed from the study. Throughout the four years, approximately 80 projects included questions, but no other data were provided. Some of the reasons the projects were incomplete were (1) not enough information was available, (2) there was no participation by the school, or (3) mentor teachers would not cooperate. This information was found in the comments area of the survey data. There were also approximately 20 projects that did not complete all questions in the survey. After removing incomplete projects, there were approximately 200 remaining action research projects eligible for analysis.
NVIVO is a software program used to analyze qualitative data. The program provides the qualitative researcher with the capacity to categorize non-numeric information such as words. The word data from the surveys were uploaded into NVIVO using all projects with meaningful data. Data were read, reviewed, coded, and categories developed using an emergent approach, which allowed categories to come forward naturalistically. NVIVO uses the term “nodes” to define categories. Within nodes, further categorization can occur. There were a total of fourteen categories, which were made into nodes in NVIVO. Subcategories were created in each node as needed to further sort the studies.
Emergent analysis categories. The component parts of the 200 Action Research projects were analyzed separately, and then combined for further analysis after each of the component parts was analyzed. The first analysis conducted was on the questions reported in the survey data. See Table 2 for the categories and subcategories that emerged from the analysis of the questions.
The nodes were used to look at specifics and connections between the data collected over the four years. There was subcategory (other) information that did not fit in the other subcategories. There were also projects that were placed in more than one category.
The methods used in the projects were also put into nodes/categories and subcategories using the information about the methodology, the data collected, and the findings in the surveys completed. See Table 3. The “No Data” category was added for the projects that did not include complete descriptions of the methods used.
Comparison analysis to NCATE PDS standards. Data were analyzed by comparing the Action Research studies to the NCATE PDS standards (NCATE, 2001), using the developmental levels, within Standard I, Inquiry element. To compare Denton PDS to the standards, two different types of analysis were used. The first was to compare the action research projects completed to the NCATE standards stated in Table 1. Many observations were completed in the current Denton PDS as a second way to compare the PDS to the standards.
Beginning. “The PDS participants articulate a shared goal of improving and assessing the learning of P-12 students, candidates, faculty, and other professionals. They express the belief that action research and other forms of inquiry are valuable tools in improving instruction (NCATE, 2001, p. 18). During 2006-2007, the university coordinator and principals discussed the inclusion of action research as a component of the PDS program. In the beginning stage the PDS coordinator looked to see if there was any inquiry based learning happening in the schools. It was apparent that none was being conducted and that the standard was not being met. As a result, action research was implemented in Denton PDS following a two-year conversation. Action research was implemented in the spring of 2008 as a trial run year. There were scattered data that year, and many projects were not completed fully. In 2009, more of the projects that were begun were completed.
Developing. “Inquiry and action research are being used in some classrooms, but there may not be a clear conception of connections among the learning of P-12 students, candidates, and experienced educators. Some university and school faculty visit classrooms to observe each other’s practice and to collect and share data; some use student outcome data to modify curriculum and instruction” (NCATE, 2001, p.18). Observation of the current PDS indicates that schools were visited by supervisors, professors, and cadre coordinators, seeking ways to help the action research process. This part of the standard was met as early as 2008, and continues today. The 2009 data continued to show that not all teachers were participating in the project, with approximately 80 percent working with interns to complete action research in their classrooms. Some schools banded together to create school projects, which seemed to ease the pressure to create single projects. The bi-annual in-service training provided by lead teachers and the UNT coordinator eased the teachers toward implementation, particularly when completed posters of projects from previous years were shared. The developing stage was sustained for several years.
At standard. The “at standard” stage includes two elements. First, practice in the PDS and partnering university is inquiry-based and an inquiry orientation weaves together learning, accountability, and faculty development (NCATE, 2001, p.18). Interns and mentors work together with UNT personnel on the action research project, focusing on learning, accountability, and faculty development goals. Second, inquiry is used routinely at all levels, including classroom, department, and school, to inform decisions about which approaches to teaching and learning work best (NCATE, 2001, p.18). Some of the comments posted in the survey confirmed that recommendations made by interns were carried out in the classroom after the action research project was completed. In 2009, an intern stated, “The mentor teacher will be stating the objective on the board in her classes from now on.” An example from 2010 states, “Teachers using the growth plan will continue to use it.” In 2011, one recommendation was singled out for implementation the following year. That recommendation was as follows: “The entire first grade team will use the program next year in order to produce exceptional readers.” At the end of the 2011, it was apparent that over 90 percent of the teachers were implementing action research projects, a practice the district adopted across all schools in 2012, using the PDS program as a model for that decision.
Leading. The leading standards require that sustained collaborative inquiry into improved learning for P-12 students be at the center of the partnership’s vision and practices (NCATE, 2001 p.18). This element was observed in all the projects reviewed. Teachers were very interested in students’ learning, as noted in the plethora of studies regarding methods of improving reading and mathematics. The PDS participants must also share their inquiry-based learning experiences and results with audiences beyond the local PDS partnership (NCATE, 2001 p.18). UNT interns, mentors, university faculty, and anyone else involved participate in an annual public forum where they share their action research projects with others. Mentor teachers and staff are thanked for their help and guidance throughout the year. Through the forum, UNT is able to share the collaborative works of research with members of the education community as well as with others outside the PDS partnership. Vehicles for sharing ideas and practices that have been successful in the PDS partnership are in place and are used to influence practice in the school district(s) and throughout the university (arts and sciences as well as professional education unit) (NCATE, 2001 p.18) although this part of the standard was not evident in the action research reports.
Discussion and Results
Trends in Models Observed
UNT/Denton mentor teachers and student interns currently use the educational model developed by John Dewey (O’Brien, 1998). The models used varied by the type of research conducted by the pre-service teacher and mentor. I will discuss three examples of models that were used in the action research projects reviewed.
The Kemmis Model−Behavior Category. This project was completed in a kindergarten classroom. The first plan of action was presented to the students with a behavior/reward chart. When the class filled up the chart, the class would receive a reward. While this model seemed to work at first, closer analysis revealed that the students figured out when they could get a sticker and when they could not and their behavior changed accordingly. The next plan of action was to use the same behavior/reward chart, but this time a sticker was only given when another teacher complimented the class. This plan produced better results, because the students did not know when they would have an opportunity to earn stickers. The behavior was more constant in this practice. This action research project was planned to be carried out in two rotations of plan, act, observe, and reflect just as the Kemmis model was developed.
The Susman Model−Nonfiction Reading Category. This project was completed in a fifth grade classroom. The problem identified was raising student reading levels with nonfiction reading. The action plan was conducted with all teachers over a six week period. The data were created and collected through documentation of books read, reading levels as measured by the Scholastic Reading Intervention (SRI) tool, and retest of reading level at the end of the six weeks. The data showed that reading levels were only raised when the nonfiction books read were on or above the current reading levels. The findings were assessed and the information was implemented in the classroom. The Susman model used the following steps: diagnosing, action planning, taking action, evaluating, and specifying learning.
The Search Conference Model−Copies with Bloom’s Taxonomy Category. This project was conducted throughout an entire elementary school. The administrators collected worksheets used in classrooms K-5 throughout the first half of the year. The preconference process was conducted before the interns were in the school. Once there, they were informed of the plan. The plan was to assess the importance of the worksheets being used according to Bloom’s taxonomy. Meetings were held throughout the research and reports created along the way for documentation. This was necessary to be able to get through all of the worksheets. The interns found that most copies were on Bloom’s level three and that number of copies was normal. Bloom’s level three is called “application,” indicating that the majority of the worksheets were being used for students to apply their knowledge (Overbaugh & Schultz, n.d.). The conference model helped in this action research project by allowing the interns to have collaborative support when completing their research.
Trends in Questions
In order to look at the trends in questions asked and researched, all of the coded information from NVIVO was used to create graphs for each year by of types of questions asked. A summary graph was completed for all years combined. The results are listed in Table 4.
The questions for the research related to student learning are posed by mentor teachers, working with interns, and are based on the needs of the personnel in the classroom, school, or district. Table 4 shows that bedtime was the least overall studied question, because it was only researched during 2009. This table also shows the subjects that were researched the most each year, and that, therefore, can be predicted to continue to be researched, are testing, repetition, behavior, reading, parent involvement, student involvement, and transition.
Behavior and testing were the most researched topics across all years, even though they were not always the most researched each year. Every child is different and behavior is something that plays a prominent role in every school. Each teacher has to evaluate the students in her classroom each year in order to determine what techniques will work best for that class. There might not be just one specific answer to behavior problems, but action research to address these questions will give teachers a place to start. Over the four years, questions related to behavior accounted for 18.83 percent of all questions in 2008, 11.43 percent in 2009, 26.67 percent in 2010, and 13.33 percent in 2011. Action research has been conducted on positive reinforcement, seating arrangements, one-on-one help, consequences, eating breakfast, and attire. Not all of these questions were researched each year, but each was researched at least once during the four year period under review.
Testing is an issue for all schools. Questions about how to get children ready for the tests are the same questions every teacher asks every year. Most of the test questions asked and researched over the past four years were about state testing. Testing questions researched accounted for 18.18 percent of all questions asked in 2008, 11.07 percent in 2009, 23.33 percent in 2010, and 6.67 percent in 2011. Using old action research results and questions gives teachers a place to start in determining what might work for their classes. Replication of programs that others had previously found useful was helpful to many teachers over the four year period.
Repetition is important to the learning process and is included in the current PDS. Sometimes the only way to understand a concept or skill is to practice it many times. Action research questions about repetition included questions not only about doing exercises over and over again, but also examined specific areas where repetition might be especially useful such as math and language arts. Repetition was used in fast math, daily practice, and weekly meetings. Each was examined and documented to determine the effects on children’s grades. Questions about repetition accounted for 12.99 percent of all questions in 2008, 22.5 percent in 2009, 3.76 percent in 2010, and 3.33 percent in 2011.
Transition is another potential problem in every class. The time it takes to transition from activity to activity, from the bathroom, special events, lunch, or recess back into instruction time is valuable. Cutting down the time it takes to transition throughout the day is an easy way to gain more time to meet the academic needs of students. Transition questions accounted for 1.95 percent of the research projects in 2008, 2.50 percent in 2009, 16.67 percent in 2010, and 26.67 percent in 2011. The main transition times researched were morning, during the day, and dismissal.
Trends in Methods
Information on methods used was put into NVIVO to determine which types of methods were used most often and which were used the least. The findings are shown in Table 5.
One trend was that in 2008, the first year of action research projects, many people provided no information about the methods used. Each year, the number of researchers providing no data decreased until 2011 when all the researchers provided information. This trend is indicative of the increasing research sophistication of the interns, schools, and the university on these projects. The progression from year to year of data collection suggests a higher level of comfort among teachers and confidence that the projects were valuable to classroom improvement.
Documentation was the most used method for collecting data across all four years. The types of documentation included written records, observations, tallies, timed events, and grades. Written documentation and tallies were the most used when looking at the combined information. Documentation done through observation could be collected by the intern assisting the teacher, or by the teacher while the intern was student teaching.
Comparisons were also used as a method of collecting data. Comparisons were done by having a baseline measurement of the criteria being studied, introducing an intervention, and then comparing before and after measurements of the criteria measure. An example of this type of comparison included baseline data collection of student reading levels at a baseline period, followed by a program intervention that included intense, silent reading, with new reading levels assessed at the six week mark. Baseline reading levels were compared with reading levels after the interventions to determine if reading levels had improved as a result of the program intervention.
Rewards, testing, and daily practice are used about equally and were used in most of the years. Most of the rewards were positive reinforcements. Testing was used with many different questions. Daily practice was mostly used in questions about repetition, student involvement, games, math, and forms of instruction.
Trends in Implementation
Each year the interns were asked how the implementation of their research went when working with their mentors. Interns could answer very smooth, smooth, somewhat smooth, with glitches, no implementation, and confused implementation. Figure 1contains a pie chart showing the percentages of each answer about implementation for all four years.
Figure 1 shows that almost 75 percent of the interns had either a very smooth, smooth, or somewhat smooth experience during their action research projects. This number will hopefully grow as the partnerships between the university, schools, and interns continue to grow. Examination of the data revealed that when the data or methods were not specified, or the interns indicated there was confused implementation or implementation with glitches, the projects were less likely to go smoothly.
Over the years, the “no implementation” and “confused implementation” has decreased. In 2011, there were zero “no implementation” and only two “confused implementation” comments. This illustrates that gains were made throughout the process on the methods for action research. From the comments made on each action research project, it was evident that there was a closer partnership between the faculty mentors and the interns when the interns reported that the implementation was smooth or very smooth. Having a close partnership is key to having successful and productive action research.
Current Practice: Action Research in 2012
Currently the Denton PDS has two cadre coordinators and approximately 30 interns in the program. There are two to three interns in each of the 14 elementary schools participating. Interns start rotations in the schools in mid-August. Most of the first semester is getting to know the schools and being exposed to multiple grade levels and types of classes. Interns only go to the schools two days out of the week, and have the opportunity to substitute teach in Denton ISD on Fridays. The interns also attend four, three-hour classes each week during the fall semester, learning the pedagogy of mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts. The first semester helps to get the interns ready for the experience of student teaching. Interns and mentors get to vote on who they would like to have during the student teaching process. Principals, with the recommendations from cadre coordinators, have the final say in placing interns with mentor teachers for a full, five day week student teaching experience.
During each six to eight week period of rotation through student teaching, interns complete one or two action research projects. The action research questions are created by the mentors and interns together. Interns have an idea of how each of the classrooms functions from first semester rotations. During the first rotations, the interns and mentors are able to create a relationship and will not have to spend time during the student teaching weeks to do this. The action research projects are something mentors look forward to as they have an extra pair of hands to complete research, observations, documentation, and analysis of the data. Action research is seen as a way to help the classroom and school fine tune their craft. Interns are additional members of the team who have ample time to begin their training toward being a teacher. When action research projects are completed, interns are given the opportunity to make suggestions of how to continue the research, or how to implement the findings. The pattern that was started in 2008 continues to be refined and defined based on the needs of the mentor teachers and interns.
Action research has been shown to be an important piece of the partnership between the universities and schools. Action research keeps communication open and strengthens the partnership between the universities and schools. This research has shown that the communication between the interns and mentors is key to the success of the research done in the classroom. Action research is also a key feature in the NCATE standards and must be completed in schools to meet the standards of a PDS school. This research has demonstrated that there are questions and methods that are predicted to continue to be used in action research in years to come. Action research is an integral part of the process through which the interns become teachers. Through action research, the ideas of the interns can be heard and implemented in the school. Action research should continue to be a vital part of student teaching.
- Jones, P. & Song, L. (2005). Action research fellows at Towson University.” Ontario Action Researcher 8(3).
- NCATE (2001). Standards for professional development schools. National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1-32.
- O’Brien, R. (1998). An overview of the methodological approach of action research. Retrieved February 28, 2012, from http://www.web.ca/robrien/papers/arfinal.html.
- Overbaugh, R. C., & Schultz, L. (n.d.). Bloom’s taxonomy. Old Dominion University. Retrieved April 1, 2012, from http://www.odu.edu/educ/roverbau/Bloom/blooms_taxonomy.html
|Work and Practice are Inquiry-Based and Focused on Learning.||
The PDS participants articulate a shared goal of improving and assessing the learning of P-12 students, candidates, faculty, and other
They express the belief that action research and other forms of inquiry
Inquiry and action research are being used in some classrooms, but there may not be a clear conception of connections among the learning of P-12
Some university and school faculty visit classrooms to observe each other’s practice and to collect and share data; some use student outcome data to modify curriculum and instruction.
Practice in the PDS and partnering university is inquiry-based and an inquiry orientation weaves together learning, accountability, and faculty
Inquiry is used routinely at an individual classroom, department, and school-wide level (at school and university) to inform decisions about which
Sustained collaborative inquiry into improved learning for P-12
Vehicles for sharing ideas and practices that have been successful in
PDS participants share their inquiry-based learning experiences and
- Loss of time
- Off Task
- One on One
- Positive Reinforcement
- Form of Instruction
- Math Games
- Review Games
- Study Island
- Extra Practice
- No Data
- Parent Involvement
- One on One
- Language Arts
- Student Involvement
- Encouragement and Motivation
- General Testing
- Types of Tests
- During the Day
- Asking or Surveying
- Daily Practice
- No Data
- No Data
|Daily Practice||11.04||Asking/Surveying||9.57||Rewards||11.09||Daily Practice||10.00|
|Rewards||5.90||No Data||6.79||No Data||6.05|