In our last series of Scéalta we focused on play; play in the outdoors and play in general. In our next series of Scéalta, we will turn our attention to action research and offer insights into how action research can be carried out by educators in their Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare settings.
Action research is any research into practice, undertaken by those involved in that practice, with the primary goal of encouraging continued reflection and making improvements. You may be wondering how action research differs from traditional research. The term itself already suggests that it is concerned with both “action” and “research,” as well as the association between the two. Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), a famous psychologist who coined this term, believed that there was “no action without research; no research without action” (Marrow, 1969, p.163).
The combination of the two, action and research, is what distinguishes action research from most other forms of enquiry. Traditional research starts with a theory, involves scientific methods of data collection and analysis and presents findings which are generalizable to the problem. And unlike action research, the researcher does not insert him/herself into the research but plays a more objective role.
Whereas action research, emphasises the insider’s perspective (educators in settings), and their role becomes more subjective. Essentially in ELC and SAC settings, it is similar to a planning cycle, such as plan, do and review, which many of you will be familiar with already. Educators think about what is happening in daily practice, why it is happening and then think about a course of action which will lead to improvements.
Action research usually starts with a question or an observation about a current problem. For instance, the problem may be that an area of the playroom is not being used as often as other areas. Then educators may ask the question, why is the area not being used by the children as much as the other areas? This is the problem, then make a plan (planning); how will we find out why this area is not working, what do we need to do, and what do we need to know. Then you take action, by observing this area more, thinking about the length of time you will observe, making observations, taking notes and perhaps, photographs and video recordings, and talking to the children, (these are your methods of data collection to investigate the question/problem).
The evidence collected, through your observations, notes, interviews, photos or video recordings), will provide information for you to analyse (reflect on) and help you to devise a solution to the problem/question. The solution may be to add new materials to this area or remove some materials. Looking back on previous observations of what children had been interested in before, this may help with finding a solution to the problem. When you are reflecting on your findings and suggesting possible solutions/changes to address the question/problem, it is good practice to refer to current literature, recent research papers or policy reviews, as to why your proposed changes are important and how they may benefit children. Through your reading, you can build up an evidence base for the change/improvement you plan. This is important. You then implement your plan (action), put the changes in place and reflect on how beneficial these changes have been. Your cycle of action research starts all over again!
Through this cycle of reflection, you may have a new question, is this solution that we introduced working, what evidence do we have that it is?
In brief, action research is more like a cyclical process, with the reflection upon your action and research findings affecting changes in your practice, which may lead to extended questions and further action. This brings us back to the essential steps of action research: identifying the problem, devising an action plan, implementing the plan, and observing and reflecting upon the process.
Finally, because educators are often in leadership positions within their own settings or rooms, they are ideally placed to carry out action research. Something you probably do on a daily or weekly basis, without realising that the reflections, data gathering, evaluations and implementation changes are all elements of action research. You are evaluating what is happening in daily practice, asking why, and determining an appropriate course of action to take that ultimately benefits children, families and the entire ELC or SAC setting.
Over the coming weeks through Scéalta, we will post examples of action research in practice. These posts will show how action research through the processes of reflecting on/in practice will highlight and enhance the quality of the learning and care experiences we provide for children.