Article Review: Action Research Is to Solve

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¶ … action research is to solve an immediate problem, or to reflect on a larger problem. The process may be individual or team oriented, but all designed to improve the way issues and problems are handled in specific situations. The overall paradigm for action research involves actively participating in organizational change while, at the same time, conducting research on the problem or issue. It is an interactive inquiry process that balances the way problems are solved with data-drive analysis that helps guide the research through knowledge. The difference between action research and traditional social science research is that active research moves beyond reflective knowledge created by others to real-time data collecting, inquiry, analysis and actionable items (Bradbury, 2007).

Diagnosis of the Problem -- New Zealand has had a self-managing school system in place since 1989. This essentially means that Ministry of Education policy makers cannot insist on particular programs or practices unless circumstances are dire. Instead, messages are communicated through certain documents. However, there are a number of layers between the Ministry of Education and the actual tactical implementation of issues within the classroom. This is particularly true within the literacy paradigm, in which it is not clear whether the initiatives developed and sent from the government are read, read and discarded, or read and implemented within the classroom. For instance:

The policy messages that the Ministry of Education seeks to convey are essentially simple, but their instigation requires some fundamental shifts in thinking. Teachers, school leaders, facilitators, and project leaders need to make some quite profound changes to the knowledge and skills they bring to their work. Sense-making theory offers a way of comprehending the depth of the learning that needs to take place for the policy message to be understood and implemented in practice (Ministry of Education - New Zealand, 2009).

Analysis of the Situation- In many ways, this is a classic example of the central-field-central theory; The Ministry of Education is the central location, clearing house and focal point for governmental and public information for education while the individual schools are the field in which the actual implementation of projects is completed; specifically within the classroom environment. This model is used in numerous organizational environments that have a situation in that an analysis begins with the situation as a whole (literacy or other pedagogical problems and challenges), then moves to the environment in which the qualitative and quantitative aspects of the research result in either a smooth and clear connection be implemented or not, or conversely a disconnect in which information is either unread or unconsidered at the field level. Further complications arise in this model when there are more than one aspect within the field area (see Figure 1) (Neumann, 2010).

Figure 1- Application of Lewin's Field Theory to New Zealand Educational System

The key participants in this study were the H. Timperley and the New Zealand Ministry of Education and teachers involved in interviews and observations within the study. The researchers interviewed a sampling of teachers, facilitators, project leaders, and policy makers during the end of 2007. The research was in line with the Literacy Professional Development Project, also with H. Timperley as the key author. The extent of influence is noted within the research and is hierarchical in nature; moving from students and teachers at the tactical level; school leaders, facilitators and project leaders at the mid-level, and the Ministry of Education at the top Level (Ministry, p. 16).

Contextually, the study was done using samples of educational professionals country wide, but there is no data or materials included to give the reader a breakdown of the number and type of the professionals, with the exception of quotations made throughout the study from the qualitative aspect of the research.

Key questions/Research Problem - The key questions regarding the research study are as follows:

What do individuals at each level of an educational learning project need to know in order to be successful?

What support mechanisms are necessary for the implementation of such issues?

How does one ensure that the individual learning is connected and aligned to others that may be in differing levels of a professional learning project?

How can the central-field theory be used to more proactively implement information or guidelines from research studies?

What is sense-making theory and how can it be used within an active research paradigm?

Essentially, each of these questions deals with movement from the central organization to the field organizations, and the manner in which that can be either expedited or enhanced. The efficacy of any program, research or data, is thus based on the ability for users to not only assimilate it, but to actively have the opportunity to utilize it within a realistic setting.

Evaluation of Existing Research -- The bibliographic references within this study are not particularly robust, with only four previous studies on the problem. The rest of the resources, (four) are curriculum and curriculum development materials dealing with overall educational issues New Zealand wide.

The research included is 75% from H. Timperley. The exception to this is a 2004 study in which the idea of reforming the pedagogical process through teachers' intentions is examined, attempting to ascertain the significant factors that teachers' use to respond to specific classroom challenges. This study is valuable in that it outlines the reason disparities may occur between teachers and reformers (the research name for anyone trying to use active methods to change the system). The challenge comes from an apparent dichotomy between the notion of curriculum content and an educational system in which constructivist principles allow learners to develop higher-level critical thinking, experimentation, and a movement up through the various ways of learning expressed in Bloom's taxonomy. The research finds that there is a critical balance between intentions in both reform and teacher thinking, often placing the two paradigms at odds. This is ironic because both groups of stakeholders actually hold the same overall goals, but one from a strategic the other from a tactical viewpoint. The author concludes with the statement that reformers may not necessarily face persuading teachers to change ideals or models, but simply to weigh importance to them and attempt to be open-minded when integrating research within the standard school day (Kennedy, 2004). This research is of particular relevant in that it is not that New Zealand teachers and stakeholders are unwilling to adopt new ideas within the classroom; it is that they tend to be bombarded by so many new models, some conflicting, that they must be hypercritical within the time constraints of the modern classroom. This is particularly true when comparing different levels of stakeholders, all who have somewhat divergent priorities (principles vs. teachers vs. upper administrators).

The rest of the research focused on previous studies from Timperley and focused on the way that sense-making theory. This implies that learners are not empty containers ready to be filled with knowledge from an alternative source, but using a constructivist approach to find ways of active understanding, growth, and development from instructor-to-learner as well as learner-instructor, and various permutations up the stakeholder hierarchy. For any learner to adapt to something new in a way that is active and will change the consequences, they must build upon past knowledge and move their experiential level into new areas (Timberley quoted within Ministry, pp. 10, 13-15).

From a theoretical perspective, the entire argument made about teacher understanding is very much like the original ideas of Vygotsky and Bronfenbrenner. In this, whether looking at new methods of enhancing pedagogy from the macro (central-to- field) approach, or the micro (field-to-field), it is through a zone of development (Vygotsky) that continues to drive learning by using a continual scaffolding approach. From Bronfenbrenner one finds that the environment, micro-to-macro, etc. drive learning through the relevancy of the information and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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