What is Action Research?

Action research, in my own understanding, is the gathering and analysis of information in order to develop a plan of action to correct a discovered deficiency.  In the classroom this can focus on various facets such as teaching methodology or curriculum.  Where do we as teachers fall short in our technique?  Where does a certain curriculum fail to live up to the standards?  Action research can be used to identify and analyze problems in the classroom such as these with the end goal of developing a process for correction.  The process for action research is broken down into five steps.  They are: Problem identification, plan of action, data collection, analysis of data, and a plan for future action.

My simple explanation could never take the place of expert opinion.  I’ll start with Sharan Merriam (2009), who asserts that research in general is the inquiry or investigation into something in a systematic manner.  She follows this up with a more narrow treatment of action research, which has the “goal to address a specific problem within a specific setting, such as a classroom, a workplace, a program, or an organization.”  This is not necessarily for the experts only, but for anyone interested in improving something.

For our particular interest in the subjects let me shift the focus to the classroom.  A by-product of action research conducted in the classroom is the impact it has on teachers and their students.  The transformation takes on positive qualities when teachers take an honest, objective look at their own practices.  Action research according to Rogers et al. (2007) involves the teacher studying their own teaching to arrive at critical reflection and provides the platform to go beyond this reflection.  The individual student is drawn into the picture when we realize that action research more often than not helps the teacher gain a better understanding of the student as a learner.


Merriam, S. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rogers, D., Bolick, C., Anderson, A., Gordon, E., Manfra, M., & Yow, J. (2007). “It’s about the Kids”: Transforming Teacher-Student Relationships through Action Research. Clearing House, 80(5), 217-222.


2 thoughts on “What is Action Research?

  1. Kevin,
    Your definition for action research spoke common sense to me. I enjoyed reading your post. I thought the definition I provided appeared overcomplicated after I read your blog. I liked what you said, “correct a discovered deficiency.” This definition does seem to sum up what action research is. I also liked how you put it as a simple explanation. Simple is good. What I enjoyed reading the most was your follow-up comment to Merriam about how action research methods are for “anyone interested in improving something,” not experts only. True story.
    Great thoughts,

  2. After reading this I began thinking of reading and math interventions. We use progress monitoring to track, progress and keep data on these two topics because we are trying to “correct a discovered deficiency.” I am not sure why I didn’t see this before but I have been in action research for over a year now in my district and though I may not have direct control over what programs are used for intervention I am part of the data collection and collaboration on a certain level. We have also implemented CHAMPS a positive behavior management tool school wide and now district wide. Again I was not involved in choosing this but part of implementing, collaborating with my cohort on what it will look like int grades 3-5 and then data collection. maybe that beautifully simple explanation that you gave was just what I needed to fell more comfortable with this class, thanks.

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