Saturday, 16 November 2013

Action Research

I was introduced to action research as part of a session run by Zoe Elder at my school a few weeks ago (for a quick summary see her blog post This then linked in nicely with a session that I attended last week with the Teaching Leaders programme on action research and Building Learning Power by Bill Lucas ( In both sessions action research was described as practitioner led enquiry with the aim of 'becoming a better noticer'. Zoe Elder kindly stated that as long as you base your action research on your values as a teacher then you should be doing it right!

I've detailed the outline of my action research plan below using a combination of the 'Teacher Enquiry Action Plan' by The Expansive Education Network ( and the documents that Zoe Elder provided at our session. 

What is the stimulus for my action research?
What do I want to improve? After three years of teaching I feel comfortable with my subject knowledge and evidence would suggest that I know how to deliver an outstanding lesson which means that I can now start to really focus in on the students and the learning that occurs in my lessons. I've noticed that students are often overly dependent on using my teacher knowledge to help them when they are stuck. "Miss, Miss, Miss" from 30 students per class with just 100 minutes per lesson just doesn't work out in terms of time per individual student, and that's just 100 minutes a week (or 150 at post-16), what about all the other hours in the day when I'm not there? Inspired by "What's the Point of School" by Guy Claxton I've decided that my action research wants to work towards helping students to take ownership of their own learning and hopefully will allow them to become more self-motivated.

My hypothesis is that...
Maybe my students would benefit from helping themselves or helping each other so that they can develop better learning habits that will allow them to 'know what to do when you don't know what to do'.

What does the research say?
There were three areas that I've read a little into: Building Learning Power (specifically the 'resourcefulness' aspect'), Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck (in particular activity and action based feedback) and Visible Learning by John Hattie (the work on reciprocal teaching).


Building Learning Power (Resourcefulness) 

According to the literature...
"Resourcefulness is being ready, willing and able to learn in different ways - using both internal and external resources effectively, calling on different ways of learning as appropriate. Your resourcefulness is made up of... questioning, making links, imagining, reasoning, capitalising."

I initially thought about looking at the 'resilience' aspect of Building Learning Power but I now feel that the skills associated with 'resourcefulness' might be more beneficial to look at in my first bit of action research.

Growth Mindset (Activity or action based feedback)

Carol Dweck looks at the idea of talent vs. effort and suggests that we should praise effort rather than intelligence to encourage students to recognise that the experience of learning is just as important as the end result. I found at good summary at

Visible Learning (Reciprocal teaching)

Hattie ranks reciprocal teaching as 11th out of 150 interventions that have an impact on student learning. Reciprocal teaching occurs when the students act as teachers within a group, specifically predicting, clarifying, questioning and summarising when reading text. A useful set of questions to scaffold this process can be found at 

Reciprocal teaching - Questioner, Clarifier, Summariser, Predictor

What is my enquiry question?
Bill Lucas framed enquiry questions as:

What’s the learning power ‘y’ you are hoping to cultivate in your learners? 

What might you do – your ‘x’ – to bring this about?

In order to focus on the resourcefulness aspect of the 'learning powered mind' I have worded my enquiry question as:
"If I introduce the language of resourcefulness to A level students will they be able to show initiative in order to capitalise on learning opportunities around them?"

In my initial action research session with Zoe Elder we discussed considering student confidence and student willingness to take intellectual risks. I now feel like this is something that might need to follow on from initial action research on resourcefulness as I don't want to 'overload' my enquiry question.

What are my priorities? How does my research fit with the priorities of my school?
I am incredibly lucky to be in a school where we are focussing on action research as a whole school through our inspiring teachers groups which get together once a half term and also through the smaller group working with Zoe Elder that I mentioned earlier. Add to this the anecdotal evidence about teachers at my school being concerned that students struggle with the transition from KS4 to KS5 and it seems like I'm in a good position to start questioning whether we are preparing our students for the real world (either at University or in the workplace) in terms of their learning.

The intervention
When we discussed the intervention part of action research with Bill Lucas we considered that changes can occur in three areas:
1. The teacher as a role model
2. The language that we use in our classroom
3. The methods and tools we use in the classroom

Zoe Elder also gave the valuable advice to remember to reduce the variables, perhaps by making changes with the same group in the same lesson each week so that we can better notice any changes.

I wanted to find phrases and strategies that might help promote student resourcefulness and came up with four key changes that I would like to make.

Change 1: 4Bs before me 
Encouraging students to use their brain, buddy, book and the board before they ask me (the fifth B - Boss according to some sources!)

Change 2: Growth mindset phrases for praising effort
I want to start using phrases like: 
How did you do that?
That looks like it took a lot of effort
Are you pleased with what you did
I see that you... (be specific about an aspect of the work) 
Do you know why I'm saying it looks like you're confident with your learning there?

The last one is something Zoe Elder mentioned in our session so it's not strictly growth mindset but I felt like it fitted nicely with the other phrases.

Change 3: Identifying learning heroes 
I want to try and note down what happens in teacher/student and student/student dialogue as I circulate during a task and save up examples of resourcefulness to give as sentence starters or useful phrases for peer interactions.

Change 4: The language of Building Learning Power resourcefulness
I want to try and shift my mentality as a teacher a little more towards the language of building learning power.

Building learning power literature suggests that teachers should: 

  • Recognise and reward good questions as well as good answers
  • Encourage phrases like 'how come, what if, how might'
  • Develop activities that require students to make creative use of a range of resources
  • Use 'could be' language
  • Create scenarios for students to visualise or mentally rehearse 

Teaching for learning power also requires teacher to explain (be explicit about learning power), commentate (nudge students and evaluate student responses), orchestrate (select and arrange) and model (react to being stuck and demonstrate learning aloud). 

I'm going to try and introduce one change per week with my A level Chemistry classes and build on each one over the next few weeks. I feel like change 1 will be the easiest to implement and so I will do this first before moving through the other changes which (in my personal opinion) are gradually becoming more difficult to implement. I'm also thinking about designing some kind of poster or bookmark to serve as a reminder of the changes for students. I might try and design something similar to the amazing creations by 'Design thinking' found at

Evaluation methods
Essentially the outcome of action research is "I tried this and a change I noticed was..." but Bill Lucas outlined some useful evaluation methods that can be helpful when trying to notice the impact of a change. The few that I particularly liked (and felt would fit with my enquiry question) are below.

  • Holding an initial focus group to discuss the stimulus and hypothesis with students (this should be done before the intervention).
  • Conducting an attitude survey (phrases where students choose something like 'never, sometimes, always' as an answer) before the intervention and then again at the end of term with the end of term survey including the original scores for students to make comparison to.
  • Asking a colleague to complete an observation grid that would focus on the changes and the students and considering what the observer can see, hear and feel.
  • Using critical incident review/student case studies, perhaps including photos of student work and videos of student interactions.
  • And perhaps a little bit of school data just because I do love a good spreadsheet...

What is the time scale for my action research?
I have already identified phrases and strategies to encourage resourcefulness which I'm hoping to introduce to my classroom by Christmas before using the final evaluation methods by January.

I was having a conversation about blogging with a teaching colleague the other day and mentioned that I feel like blogging has been a really good opportunity for me to reflect as a practitioner as well as being somewhere to record ideas (like this outline for my action research) that might otherwise get lost amongst the seemingly endless piles of paper in my classroom. As my action research progresses I'm hoping to 'RED - reflect, evaluate and develop' through my blog, with my colleagues and with those in the twittersphere that would like to read and comment so that I can consider whether my changes are working (and how do I know whether they are working!)

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