Action Research–Right before my very eyes~

How has collaborative action research been a part of your professional experience?  What can you do to make this convergence between research and practice a regular part of your approach to improving student learning?  What might bridge this practice to other members of the school community?

This week, I was truly inspired as I listened to the screencast and read the chapter on action research—primarily because both validate practices that feel very strongly about and spend a great deal of time and energy focusing on in my school setting. I found it especially interesting to read the other posts this week to see what types of action research teachers are conducting in other settings.

Initially, when my high school opened its doors in 2007, the principal envisioned that we would be a full-inclusion school and that special education services would be provided in the context of co-teaching arrangements in the general education classroom setting. Though we as special education teachers were open to co-teaching models, we raised the concern that students needed to be provided services “in the least restrictive environment” and that it was imperative for us to offer “a continuum of services”.  In retrospect, I believe that as a team we launched an action research project centered on the question, “What is the LRE–for each IEP student”?  Zepeda, in Figure 12.3 Overall Steps to Action Research, addresses many of the questions that my colleagues and I began to ask ourselves.

“Defining the focus…What is (our) concern? What kind of evidence to (we) produce to show (our) concern? Collecting the data…What types of data should (we) collect to answer (our) question (regarding what is the best LRE for each student)? How will (we) ensure that (we) have multiple perspectives? Organizing and analyzing the data…What can (we) learn from the data? What patterns, insights, and new understandings can we find? What meaning do these patterns, insights, and new understandings have for your practice? for your students (pp. 268-269)?

Clearly, our team realized that waiting for final or even quarter grades for our students who were placed within inclusion classrooms, was not an option. Instead I began to systematically collect and record percentage grades from the Skyward grading system—each week, for each of the 75 IEP students, in each of their six classes. (Note: the parent access side of Skyward, while noting specific assignments and corresponding scores, only shows the overall letter grade for each class, whereas my teacher access allows me to view both the letter grade, as well as the current percentage in the “snapshot” view of each students’ grades.) In terms of data collection, this is an important distinction. While parents can only see an “F” grade in Skyward, I can see the value of that “F”—whether it is 3% or 58%. This specificity is important when working with students and measuring what is sometimes “incremental” progress. I charted this data, week after week, as our team reviewed, analyzed, and reflected on the patterns that emerged.

As our team continued to regularly look at the ongoing progress data, much to our surprise, we saw many students (who in previous years/schools would have been recommended for special education English classes) actually perform successfully in general education English classrooms—with accommodations and modifications as needed. Also, however, we noticed that patterns within the math courses that first year were not nearly as positive, and that quite a number of students were failing with very “low value” F grades. As we crosschecked this data with attendance and discipline records to rule out other factors contributing to the failures, we could see that a specific group of students clearly needed a more intensive form of support—more than what could be reasonably offered within an inclusion classroom.

Next then invited our team of administrators (who were aware of and supportive of, our data collection process) to our team meeting—and we shared the “good news/bad news” data. Together, we could objectively look at the patterns that were emerging and problem-solve in order to meet the needs of individual students. In this particular situation, administration requested that the counselors create a new class section of SE Math, allowing us to hand-pick students to enroll.

Though that first year was incredibly stressful for all involved, we have now established the need for “a continuum of services”. Additionally, we have created an effective method—through maintaining a systematic cycle of: data collection, analysis and interpretation of data, and taking appropriate action—for responding to the needs of individual students.

Within this week’s screencast, Dr. Williams stated that, “Action research is done by the folks who can take action. People who have some control…” (2011). I believe that indeed, our team engages in action research which leads to positive changes for our students. Although the action research which is most central to the needs of students within our department focuses on grades—it is not about grades in their most simplistic form. Grades as listed on transcripts, while important when working with students as we evaluate their progress toward graduation, are summative in nature—and are only part of the larger picture of progress toward success. Quarterly grades, viewed by some as summative, can provide general formative information—useful to both students and teachers for the remainder of the semester. More importantly, however, I believe that regular and reflective student feedback—daily, weekly, or bi-monthly– provides vital and specific information that can serve students and teachers in their quest to improve student learning.  In chapter 12, Zepeda states, “Action research engages teachers in their own intentional actions of collecting, analyzing, reflecting, and then modifying practice. Action research is about change (p. 264)”.

I believe that the Exhibits I am creating and posting within my bPortfolio will serve to create meaningful connections between the examples of action research as described above and other members of the school community, and I look forward to expanding processes in both breadth and depth.

One of my colleagues in this course, underscored important information on this topic: “To involve other members of the school community, we could follow some of Zepeda’s suggestions. On page 265, she offers things teachers as action researchers can do (2008):

1. “Discuss with colleagues relationships among theory, practice, and research.”

2. “Systematically collect data and research methodology with fellow teacher researchers.”

3. “Analyze and interpret their data and research methodology with the support of colleagues and fellow teacher researchers.”

4. “Share their findings with students, colleagues, and members of the educational community.”

 

Resources:

Williams, T. (2011) Screencast, Action Research, retrieved November 15, 2011from SPU Blackboard.

https://learn.spu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_60188_1%26url%3D

Zepeda, S. (2008). Professional Development: What Works. New York: Eye on Education.Readings.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Yun Cheng on November 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    It is amazing how the “front line” workers, educators, clinicians, are often engaging in research and data collection but not aware of it. As Laurie eloquently stated, the best use of data collection is to guide our future actions. Laurie has spent countless hours organizaing and collecting student grades and performances weeks after weeks above her regular job duty. This effort has “paid off” significantly as the team can look at the data and “craft” what is the most appropriate intenventions for individual students and perhaps clusters of students as well. I have learned much from reading Laurie’s post!

    Reply

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