Part of becoming a teacher leader means learning to be a critical, knowledgable consumer of educational research and learning how to conduct my own research in my classroom and school setting.
In EDU 6980 Applying Research to the School Settings, I learned how careful I must be as a consumer of educational research. By examining, analyzing, and critiquing research articles, I found that often researchers paint a picture that is not truly supported by the data. In many cases, data is twisted to tell a story that sells. EDU 6980 gave me the tools necessary to evaluate whether or not the methodology and findings of a study in fact support the authors’ claims. In my Research Article Critique, I analyzed two studies’ research designs, hypotheses, variables, assumptions, limitations, reliability and validity, data analyses, and conclusions. Because of my new learning, I can interpret statistical data in a study and determine if the researchers are accurately portraying it to support their argument. Just because a published article says a strategy is “best practice,” doesn’t mean it is proven to be true, nor will it necessarily be best practice in my classroom setting.
I was able to explore and apply the action research process in my own classroom during the course, EDU 6979 Action Research, by conducting an Action Research Project. What makes action research effective is that it is entirely personalized to the individual’s classroom and students and is driven by the researcher herself. I loved being in the driver’s seat for every step of the action research process. Ultimately I got to know my students on a deeper level and felt empowered by the impact I was able to make by being intentional in the classroom. This experience has had a lasting impact on me as a teacher and has strengthened my teaching practices as I’ve continued to use this process to solve problems in my classroom with my particular students.
My first step was to observe and wonder about what was bugging me my classroom. What wasn’t going well? What was frustrating me? I journaled everyday for several weeks throughout my action research. Taking this time to reflect allowed me to both feel proud of aspects I do have in place and confront areas in which I need to improve. As I learned in another course, Accomplished Teaching, reflection is key to personal and professional development. Among Safety Net students, I observed that many students don’t enjoy reading at home, that students have difficulty reading accurately, and that students feel anxious when reading aloud. I wondered about the self-esteem of my students as readers. I wondered if they felt confident in their skills. I also wondered about how hearing positive feedback, reading motivating texts, and reflecting on past experiences of struggle might impact students’ resilience and ability to attempt “tricky” words when reading aloud.
My next step was to make sense of the problem and decide what I was going to do about it. This is where the “research” part of action research comes in. Reading peer-reviewed articles to find research-based strategies around increasing resiliency, confidence, and accuracy in readers was eye-opening. Here are a few key findings from the research I conducted:
- According to Dweck (2007), “it matters greatly what students believe about their intelligence” (p. 6). The most resilient students are those who believe their effort and learning affects intelligence.
- “Poetry’s format is especially suited for struggling or reluctant readers, and enhances reading motivation” (Wilfong, 2008, p. 5-6) and “all students can benefit from fun texts and the intrinsic rewards that result from confident, fluent reading” (Wilfong, 2008, p. 12)
- When students were given increased wait time and when “children were allowed to work through one or more word identification strategies” (p. 13), reading scores were higher (Daniels et al., 2010).
Now that I had a variety of strategies to try, I made a plan to apply several strategies to increase resilience and confidence in my students as readers (Pawlina & Stanford, 2011). Achievement targets I was looking for were increased accuracy, signs of increased enjoyment of reading, and more awareness of students’ skills as learners. I hoped to develop a growth mindset in my students. Strategies I used included increased wait time, praising process and effort, explicitly teaching a decoding strategy for multisyllabic words, teaching about how the brain becomes stronger with challenges, and using positive self-talk.
As I collected data, I constantly monitored and adjusted my instruction based on how well my students were responding to the intervention(s). Below are some examples of the data I collected throughout my action research.
Clearly, my students not only became more accurate readers, but they enjoy reading more! One of my students told me, “I actually like reading at home!” Another journaled that he “knows he is getting better at reading because he can sound out tricky words and sounds smooth when he’s reading.”
Last, I reflected on my action research results and shared my learning with colleagues in an Action Research Presentation. I also presented several strategies that I discovered during my research project at my school’s Parent Literacy Night for families of Safety Net and ELL students. This event was well-received by my parent community, so I will likely do it next year as well. I shared correction strategies (Pany & McCoy, 1988) and proposed incorporating lessons that foster resilience and confidence in students who struggle in reading with my teammates.
The action research process allowed me to deeply reflect on what strategies were and weren’t effective in my classroom. After finding new strategies to try, I enjoyed going beyond my regular routine in my instruction. I learned that I have a significant, measurable impact on my students depending on the instructional choices I make. Moving forward, I will continue to use the action research process in my practice as a teacher. I will be a thoughtful, critical consumer of educational research and encourage others around me by sharing only high-quality research-based practices with my colleagues.
Beane, W. & Lemke, E. (1971). Group variables influencing the transfer of conceptual behavior. Journal of Educational Psychology, 62(3), 215-218.
Downey, J.A. (2014). Indispensable Insight: Children’s Perspectives on Factors and Mechanisms That Promote Educational Resilience. Canadian Journal of Education, 37(1), 46-71.
Dunston, Y. L., Patterson, G. C., & Daniels, K. N. (2010). Scaffolding the Home Reading Experience of African-American First Graders. Journal Of Language And Literacy Education, 6(2), 1-21.
Dweck, C.S. (2010). Even Geniuses Work Hard. Educational Leadership, 68 (1), 16-20.
Dweck, C. S. (2007). Boosting Achievement with Messages that Motivate. Education Canada, 47(2), 6-10.
Dweck, C.S. (2015). Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset.’ Education Week, 1-5.
Pany, D., & McCoy, K.M. (1988). Effects of Corrective Feedback on Word Accuracy and Reading Comprehension of Readers with Learning Disabilites. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 21(9), 546-50.
Pawlina, S., & Stanford, C. (2011). Preschoolers Grow Their Brains: Shifting Mindsets for Greater Resiliency and Better Problem Solving. Young Children, 66(5), 30-35.
Ravid, R. (2015). Practical Statistics for Educators (5th Edition). Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Wilfong, L. G. (2008). Building Fluency, Word-Recognition Ability, and Confidence in Struggling Readers: The Poetry Academy. Reading Teacher, 62 (1), 4-13.