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Action Research 102

Definitions of Action Research

  • A form of investigation designed for use by teachers to attempt to solve problems and improve professional practices in their own classrooms. It involves systematic observations and data collection which can be then used by the practitioner-researcher in reflection, decision-making and the development of more effective classroom strategies. (Parsons & Brown, 2002)

  • A systematic inquiry conducted by teachers, administrators, counselors, or others with a vested interest in the teaching and learning process or environment for the purpose of gathering information about how their particular schools operate, how they teach, and how their students learn. (Mills, 2011, as cited in Mertler, 2012)

History of Action Research

Types of Action Research

Models of Action Research

The Action Research Process

Characteristics of Action Research

Getting EFL Students to speak: An Action Research Process

Talandis Jr, G., & Stout, M. (2014). Getting EFL students to speak: an action research approach. ELT Journal. doi: 10.1093/elt/ccu037


  • Researchers: Gerald Talandis Jr & Michael Stout

  • Participants: 160 Japanese university students enrolled in a first-year English course

  • Time Frame: 1 year (April 2011 – March 2012)


  1. Problem: Students were largely unable to use familiar everyday expressions, introduce themselves, and talk about personal details such as where they live and the people they know

  2. Purpose: To facilitate active participation in conversations and improve students’ speaking skills using an approach that students find more appealing and relevant

  3. Developed syllabus featuring spoken interaction around social topics, pair-practice activities, and frequent oral assessment


  1. Throughout the year, the teachers covered 6 personalized conversations on social topics (introductions, daily life, university life, skills, travel, money).

  2. Each topic was covered in three 90-minute classes, with a speaking test in the third class. Conversations consisted of 4-6 Q&A patterns that enabled students to talk for a few minutes. Each topic also contained approximately 80 lexical phrases and single words that could be inserted into the basic patterns.


Data collected through 3 sources: Bilingual questionnaires at the end of each semester to gauge student reactions, class notes during or after class to capture the teachers’ point of view, recordings of speaking tests to provide a record of students’ ongoing development


Three rounds of investigation and reflection, where results of one cycle influenced subsequent ones.

Cycle 1

Students’ reactions largely positive but mixed when grouping responses by class level. The higher the student level, the more positive their reaction. The researchers decided to make further changes to the syllabus to help the lower level classes improve:

  • Added variety to their language practice routine (card-based activities, games, and writing tasks) to stimulate more interest, hold student attention and provide more scaffolding.

  • Adjusted the testing format to encourage revision and fluency.

  • Students would now conduct a short timed conversation on a previously assessed topic.

Cycle 2

Given the changes made, the research focus had naturally shifted towards the lower level classes. The teachers designed the final bilingual questionnaire to help those students assess their own progress by listening to recordings of themselves speaking English. The percentage of these students indicating empowerment in areas of strategy use, accuracy, and improved vocabulary were high. 80% of them felt their English had improved and all of them noted that they liked speaking English more than before.

Cycle 3

Excerpts of recordings were analyzed to gauge the development of students’ language fluency and accuracy over the course of the year. While students’ were still not able to produce smooth conversation, their overall fluency and accuracy improved as the number of long pauses, grammar and usage mistakes and use of L1 had decreased.

Criticisms of Action Research (Norton, 2009)

  1. Action research is not “proper” research as seen in the positivist, scientific tradition

  2. Action research is too academic with regard to the research techniques and consequently too much of a burden for practising teachers.

  3. Action research is largely untheorized descriptions of practice.

  4. Action research is too problem-centered.

  5. The results of action research projects are limited.

Importance of Action Research (Mertler, 2012; Johnson, 2008; Clauset, Lick, & Murphy, 2008; Parsons & Brown, 2002)

  1. Connecting theory to practice

  2. Challenging existing beliefs, concepts and theories

  3. Critically reflective practice and self-improvement

  4. Improvement of educational practice

  5. Connection to school improvement

  6. Teacher empowerment – teacher as decision maker

  7. Professional growth and lifelong learning



Hendricks, C. (2013). Improving schools through action research: A reflective practice approach (3rd ed.).

New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Holly, M. L., Arhar, J. M., & Kasten, W. C. (2009). Action research for teachers: Travelling the yellow

brick road (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Johnson, A. P. (2012). A short guide to action research (4th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Loughran, J., Mitchell, I., & Mitchell, J. (Eds.). (2002). Learning from teacher research. New York, NY:

Teachers College Press.

McIntosh, P. (2010). Action research and reflective practice: Creative and visual methods to facilitate

reflection and learning. Oxon: Routledge.

Mertler, C. A. (2012). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators. Thousand Oaks, CA:

Sage Publications, Inc.

Mills, G. E. (2011). Action research: A guide for the teacher researcher (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Norton, L. S. (2009). Action research in teaching & learning: A practical guide to conducting pedagogical

research in universities. Oxon: Routledge.

Parsons, R. D., & Brown, K. S. (2002). Teacher as reflective practitioner and action researcher. Belmont, CA:

Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.

Schmuck, R. A., & Stevenson, J. M. (2010). Action research for higher educators: Collaborative principles and

practices for positive change. Palo Alto, CA: Academica Press, LLC.


Allwright, D. (2005). Developing principles for practitioner research: The case of exploratory practice. Modern Language Journal, 89, 353–366.

Bailey, K. M. (2001). Twenty questions about action research. PASAA: A Journal of Language Teaching and Learning in Thailand, 32, 1-18.

Bailey, K. M., Curtis, A., & Nunan, D. (2001). Action research: In-class investigations. Pursuing professional development: The self as source (pp. 133-156). Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle.

Dutertre, A. (2000). A teacher’s investigation of her own teaching. Applied Language Learning, 11(1), 99-122.

Edge, J. (Ed.). (2001). Action research: Case studies in TESOL practice. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Gibbons, P. (2008). “It was taught good and I learned a lot”: Intellectual practices and ESL learners in the middle years. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 31, 155-173.

Guazzieri, A. V., & Turchi, P. (2002). Action research for a more conscious teaching/learning process. Perspectives, A Journal of TESOL-Italy, 29, 109-118.

Rasulo, M. (2002). Sustainable teaching through action research. Perspectives, A Journal of TESOL-Italy, 29, 75-98.

Sellers, J. A. (2012). Using action research to improve teaching and learning. Language Educator, 7(5), 50-52.

Virga, C. (2002). Action research: An extra burden or a necessary tool for teachers? Perspectives, A Journal of TESOL-Italy, 29, 119-126.

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