The following are some questions and answers on my own personal experiences with action research at the school level.
What are your experiences with Action Research/Reflective Practice?
1. What was the Project?
I have been involved in a few Action Research/Reflective Practices over the past number of years. As a teacher, I have been very interested in my students’ experiences with emergent writing, and as a result I had introduced writer’s workshop to my kindergarten students three years ago and I continue to offer it on an ongoing basis. I developed a way to monitor my students’ experiences through a table I created as well as through a checklist I adapted from Lucy Caulkins and Leah Mermestein’s Launching a Writing Workshop kit. I have also branched out to include book-making as the primary mode of writing we do in my classroom after having read research to support such in the book Already Ready by Matt Glover.
Currently, I am involved in a collaborative action research project through U.P.E.I. called S.A.C.K. (Schools Against Cancer- using a Knowledge to action process). We meet monthly during the school year, and have done so since January. Within this action research project, we have two facilitators from the university who come in and assist us as a team (a team representing both administration, teachers and students as well as one representative from Home and School) in finding ways to combat cancer and other forms of disease, as well as in finding ways to eliminate unhealthy living practices which might be evident within the school community, replacing them with the following: A 5-2-1 Almost None healthy living curriculum used within the classroom setting at the upper elementary level, continued offering of a healthy breakfast program to encourage healthy eating within the school community, the purchase of snowshoes to expand students’ interest in physical activity and the introduction of the Tribes program which focuses on mental health and well-being and which will be used in K-6 classes starting in the fall. Each member of the team is valued and has been given a role. This experience has been a very positive one for me personally in acquainting me with collaborative action research proper.
Our school undertook to launch a school-wide action research project in 2012-2013 with the introduction of the P.A.S.T. assessment. This assessment checks for phonological awareness in students and gauges their readiness for reading (or proficiency in reading) by providing a number of activities that would be appropriate at various grade levels. After standardized test results in literacy from the previous year were analyzed by the administration, the admin team consulted with our Speech and Language Consultant through the (at the time) Western School Board, Corrie-Urquhart Lynch. It was suggested that since phonological understanding was a foundation upon which all children learn to read, that all students in the school should be tested to see what their levels of readiness were. Throughout the year, we conducted analysis which was then plotted on a data wall and used to show growth. The project has given me personally the encouragement to follow through on the testing each year with my own new group of kindergarten students who enter the school each fall- testing them around each reporting period. Our school continues to use Data Walls to plot phonological readiness, reading levels and writing results from a writing prompt given to us by the ELSB.
- Who were the Participants?
I have already generally indicated the participants, but to reiterate: my students, a Literacy Coach and I were the participants in the first Individual Teacher Action Research project I was involved in. In the Collaborative Action Research project, it was two facilitators from U.P.E.I. and staff (one representative from the administration, four teachers, two students) as well as one representative from Home and School who were involved. And in the case of the School-Wide Action Research Project, it was the whole school, two literacy coaches as well as our school’s Speech Pathologist, Corrie Urquart-Lynch who were involved.
- What was investigated?
I have already expanded on this in my initial comments, in the first Individual Teacher Action Research project I was involved in the students were being investigated on their readiness to begin compositional writing at the outset and then throughout the school year. In the Collaborative Action Research project, it was our students and staff (together making up the school) who were being investigated for knowledge and evidence of healthy living practices as well as for awareness of the factors for prevention against cancer and how this can be done within the school setting. And in the case of the School-Wide Action Research Project, it was the students from K-6 who were being investigated for phonological readiness and competency as an indicator for why they might be performing poorly on the reading testing they had just come through during the previous school year as well as to promote phonological awareness for the current school year within which we were testing.
4. How was it investigated?
In the first case, I investigated my students using anecdotal notes, informal records as well as case conferences and then later analysis of the data I collected. I also leaned on the ‘second voice’ of our school’s literacy coach in assisting me in this endeavor. I suppose you could say that the research I read was the ‘third voice’.
In the second instance of action research to which I have referred, the investigation took place primarily within a focus group where we were shown data on our school obtained (I believe) through S.H.A.P.E.S. research through U.P.E.I.. Using this data, we were able to make informed decisions about which routes toward wellness we wanted to pursue within our school.
In the third case of action research, the preliminary investigation took place at first during the administration meetings to analyze/discuss the previous years’ test results on reading scores at the Grade 3 and Grade 6 levels and then the investigation branched out to include the voices of our school’s Resource Department Heads as well as those of our school Literacy Committee. We discussed possible routes to pursue and decided to access the help of our Speech Pathologist who then suggested we introduce the P.A.S.T. test to every student, using it as a baseline. We took a day in the fall where the school’s two Literacy Coaches along with our two resource teachers took students out of classes one by one to conduct the test. The results were plotted and then shown on a data wall to create a visual reminder of students needing extra supports.
- How successful was the research?
In all cases, the research was successful. In my own classroom, I have seen great growth and development in my students which I attribute to the early introduction of writing workshop in the kindergarten classroom. These four and five-year old children are amazing writers. I have been asked to be part of department level kindergarten writing workshops for other K. teachers so as to tell them about the success my students have seen. It has been a very positive experience all around.
In the second case, we have not yet implemented any of the recommendations suggested by the team. We are planning on starting this in the fall. We have been allotted about $1,000 so as to get things rolling. We plan to get things moving again during the first month we are back at school.
With regards to the third action research project, there have been great improvements in our school with regards to reading scores. We have gone up in almost every case. So, the success of the P.A.S.T. clearly shows up in higher test results for our children. Furthermore, our students are also writing better as well, even though this was not shown to be directly impacted.