Good teachers like to find out as much as they can about their classes and the teaching approaches that work best. This is often a very informal process. For example, it is very common to discuss the best way to teach a certain topic with other teachers. These same discussions might extend to other topics. Why is the attendance of boys in the school much poorer than the attendance of girls? In what ways can parents or guardians be encouraged to come and talk to us about their children’s progress?
This can become a more thorough process if you adopt the sorts of approaches and methods that researchers use. You can use what is often termed ‘action research’ to help improve your teaching and your school generally. The word ‘action’ is used to signify that you expect to gain information upon which you can ‘act’ fairly quickly.
Many books and publications now describe the ‘action research’ approach. Here we set out a very straightforward approach in just four stages.
Take the problem or issues you want to examine and formulate it in terms of a research question. For example, you may have become worried that some girls in the class seem to have problems doing homework. This worry becomes a question:
‘Why do some girls have problems doing schoolwork, especially homework, at home?’
You then have to think about the methods you use to explore this problem. For example, you could give the girls a short questionnaire asking them about working at home and the reasons why they experience difficulties. This assumes the pupils have reasonably good written skills. You could carry out individual interviews with the girls. In some situations, you might be able to visit the homes and interview the parents or guardians.
Find time to carry out interviews, observations or surveys. This is your research.
When you have carried out the research, it is a good idea to write up the findings. Sometimes teachers do this as part of a course (an upgrading course for example) and have to write things up in a formal way. Even if you are doing this for your own benefit, it is useful to note down your findings.
Interpret and reflect on your findings. Once you have the data, you need to think about what it means and what the implications are. For example, if the interviews with the girls revealed that some of them are expected to take over ‘childcare’ at home and find doing homework a problem, then you need to think about how you deal with this. Do you talk to the parents or guardians to stress the importance of the girls being able to do their homework? Or do you provide, for example, lunchtime opportunities for the girls to carry out their homework?
The research process then carries on as you evaluate the impact of the changes you have made.
Action research can be built into the general strategies for improving teaching and improving schools. It can be done individually but it is also very effective when groups of teachers work cooperatively to try to solve particular problems.