Phil Taylor is a teaching colleague who is an exceptional educator and researcher. At my invitation, he has contributed this guest post on teacher action research. Coincidentally, last month I wrote a piece for the British Council on the same topic focused on English Language Learners: Putting Teacher Action Research Into Action.
Phillip Taylor is an educator of 18 years. He wrote the English portion of the IB application and developed the IB curriculum for the English A1 program at his school site. He currently facilitates ongoing action research projects to investigate ways to improve student performance on the school’s IB English examinations. He is currently investigating the efficacy of different feedback approaches as applied to groups of 100 – 150 students.
Often, teachers today feel like data is “something that happens to us.” Teachers can often feel like the victims of research and of data that is gathered in their districts. District leaders often consult state examination results or interpret data gathered by an outside consultant to try to get a read on what is happening in their schools. Yet the “data” reported by these entities has no context. Such entities can’t see or factor in what teachers are doing, why they are doing it, and can’t factor in the challenges teachers face in order to accomplishing the myriad goals imposed upon them. This often leads to questionable interpretations and questionable curricular or pedagogical decisions. Teachers, however, can fix this!
Most research published in the field of education right now is what is called “action research” or “action learning.” This type of research is appealing to practitioners in the field because it examines real world conditions, not lab conditions. The great thing about action research, is that any teacher in the field can do it. Teachers can learn to do quantitative and qualitative research, or a mix of these methods in order to investigate their own practice as well as use these methods to solve problems at their school-sites. Getting published more broadly still requires certification by the International Review Board (IRB), but for the purposes of communicating results to fellow staff members, and to administrators and district leaders, learning to perform action research can begin to provide better ‘data’ than state examinations and outside consultants could ever generate because teacher’s experience and closeness to the actual situation being studied means they can ask the right questions and provide good context to interpret the data results accurately!
Such research practices can not only empower us to stay sharp in our practice, but by producing documents that report on the research we perform in our schools, we can generate more autonomy and have more say in the curricular developments in our districts. ‘Data’ doesn’t have to be something that ‘happens to us.’ By leveraging action research techniques we can have a powerful say in what happens in our schools.
This isn’t an unusual idea for a professional practitioner. Doctors are essentially practitioner researchers, and their day to day work often evolves and develops practices in the field. As a result, doctors in the field participate in how their professional field evolves. I believe we need to step up our own practice in order to bring our important and often underrepresented perspective to the table. We can do this through learning to perform action research.