These two scenarios describe the concept of action research. Action research or practice-based research, as it is sometimes called, is a form of applied research that helps change practices in teaching and learning where the instructor is actually the researcher. Simply put, action research is the study of a social situation with a view of improving the quality of action within it.
Action research was based on some earlier ideas in the 1940s and 1950s, developed by Kurt Lewin and his colleagues as a collection of problem-solving cycles for improving organizations. This term action captured the notion of a disciplined inquiry in the context of focussing efforts to improve the quality of an organization and its performance. Even today, the idea of action research remains a powerful tool for improving the practice of any given educational setting. For literacy instructors, action research promises progress in professionalization. The process allows them to experience problem-solving and to model it for their learners. As discussed in the next section, practitioners carefully collect data to diagnose problems, search for solutions, take actions on promising possibilities and monitor whether and how well the action worked. The cycle can repeat itself many times, focussing on the same problem or on another issue. This process can help develop a professional problem-solving ethos much needed in the field of literacy.
Understanding the Action Research Process
A novice reader to the action research literature will find it plentiful. All theorists of action research offer models or cycles in which thinking, doing, and watching are interwoven and repeated throughout the research activity. For this project, two models were selected based on their ease of use and were presented to the practitioners as a vehicle to conduct their action research project. These models are described by Altrichter, Posch and Somekh (1993) and Kuhne and Quigley (1997) and appear in a summary chart in Figure 1.
As can be seen in Figure 1, there are many common elements to both of these models. For example, action research can be seen as a process where instructors, teachers or employees become responsible for managing the process of change within any aspect of an organization. Anyone in a workplace organization can begin the action research process, but to be successful, that person must be personally interested in some aspect of the organizational process and taking action to improve the situation.
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