The present (4th) issue of Action Researcher in Education includes nine papers chosen by an anonymous review process. Some of these papers discuss theoretical issues, some others refer to the prospect of using action research in various educational contexts and others to the mixture of action research with other research methodologies. The papers come not only from Greece, but also from Portugal, Spain, Great Britain and Canada.
The first three papers address theoretical issues of action research that could contribute to its better understanding.
In their paper, “The dialogic practices of educational action research participants as a means of supporting or undermining its critical orientation”, Evangelia Frydaki and Eleni Katsarou focus on the dialogic practices of a group of educational action research participants. At the beginning, they discuss the requirements necessary for dialogue to enhance the critical orientation of action research. Drawing on two areas of scholarship, dialogue studies and post-structural discourse analysis, the authors made a critical discourse analysis on the dialogic practices of a group of teachers and post-graduate students who conducted action research. By investigating the extent to which the participants in an action research challenge and problematise their personal tacit knowledge, they formulate a proposal for analysing teacher-researchers’ dialogic practices, as a process that could really empower them. At the end, the two authors reach the conclusion the teacher-researchers who engaged in action research developed dialogue practices that prevented them from supporting its critical orientation, reproducing dominant discourses and relations of inequalities instead.
In her paper, “Freirean Theory, Critical Pedagogy and Action Research: Common issues and views”, Danai Tsiami seeks the links and common views among Critical Pedagogy, freirean theory and Action Research. She tries to reveal their common epistemological grounds and dialectical approach, namely the dialectical nature of the relation between theory and practice, as well as between society and person. Besides, she focuses on the emphasis being given from every approach on the need for pedagogical theory and research practice to fulfill a deliberating role, in order for the emancipating person to conceive its active and participatory role on the understanding of social correlations and the nature of its engagement in the transformation of society. Critical, synthetic and reflective thinking, as well as the emphasis on the epistemological and methodological aspects of dialogue and the establishment of collaboration have been identified as crucial for the fulfillment of such an objective.
In her paper, “Pragmatic Action Research: John Dewey’s contribution to its formation”, Eleftheria Papastafanaki focuses on the influence that Dewey’s educational theory had on action research. Despite the fact that the two approaches were developed in different periods of time, there are many significant similarities between them. Particularly, the author tries to illuminate the similarities of the two approaches, focusing on the following points: the human experience, the relation between individual and society and the special attention of both approaches to a democratic school. The leading role that holds the evaluation of human experience in both approaches, shows the important position that teachers and students have in educational practice and in school life. Furthermore, the concern for the effective preparation of students for social life is certainly associated with the development of a democratic school.
The next two papers refer to interesting methodological issues of action research. The first one discusses the prospect of methodological enrichment of action research though the use of Arts, while the second focuses on the epistemological characteristics of the educational action research projects that have been conducted in Greece during the last 20 years.
In his paper, “Approaches to Action Research: Maintaining Integrity in Innovative Methodological Design”, Paul McIntosh discusses the ways in which Action Research and Reflection can be developed in new and innovative ways that utilise the fields of the creative arts, critical creativity, and arts-based educational research. The author considers that drawing on such theories can enhance understanding of experiences and provide new ways of doing if they are applied rigorously. The approach discussed is partly developed in response to an increasingly technical rationalist approach to teaching and learning, and the research used for development of teaching practice, and partly as an approach to methodological design for research and teaching. Finally, it examines the genre of Impressionist painting to explore concepts of reading images and the construction of reflective approaches from this.
Paris Papaioannou, in his paper “Epistemological Trends of Educational Action Research in Greece (1990 – 2010), reports the research findings of a study that focused on the epistemological characteristics of 36 educational action-research projects (e.g. PhD Dissertations, postgraduate research, collaborative research projects published in academic journals) which took place in Greece during 1990-2010. The analysis of these projects has been qualitative. Specifically, a content analysis method has been employed, based on the categories and sub-categories that derived from J. Habermas’ theory of cognitive interests (1965) - the technical, practical, and emancipatory interests - L. Stenhouse’s theory of curriculum (1975) and the criteria for categorisation of action research as developed by S. Grundy (1987) and B. Somekh & K. Zeichner (2009). This study suggests that the application of action research in Greek education during the last twenty years has been influenced by the dominant epistemological paradigm of positivism. The latter emphasises technical interests, effectiveness and evaluation. Although action research gives academic researchers the opportunity to collaborate with educators in practice, in the Greek educational research context it is used as a circular and experimental research methodology that aims to control the factors and variables which influence the verification (or refutation) of initial research hypotheses.
The next two papers refer to the essential role of reflection. The first one combines reflection with the process of mentoring and teachers’ learning in communities of practice, while the second one combines reflection with teachers’ narratives and stresses the crucial role of this combination for their professional development.
In their paper, “Collaborative Action Research Projects: the role of Communities of Practice and Mentoring in enhancing teachers’ Continuing Professional Development”, Soultana Manesi and Stamatina Betsi focus on the role of reflection in an educational action research, which they consider as an authentic form of mentoring and collaborative work in the context of a community of learning. The assumption that learning is a distinct and primarily individual process, a process initiated, controlled and completed as the result of teaching interventions, is reflected upon the typical design, development and management of educational institutions all around the world. Similar assumptions appear to apply for teachers’ training and development. Over recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest concerning the planning and implementation of collaborative action research projects, denoting the value and significance of such initiatives in the field of teachers’ continuous professional development. Action research is a reflective process of progressive problem solving and it seems that through action-based inquiry teachers are enhanced to better understand and extend their professional activity as well as reflect on their teaching problems. The authors try to reveal the way in which innovatory mentoring programmes combined with collaborative action research initiatives and communities of practice may help teachers to move from a position of dependency to one of greater independence and professional autonomy.
Three authors from Spain, Joaquin Paredes, Agustin de la Herran and Jose Miguel Correa, in their paper “New narratives to learn to discuss teaching in a faculty community of practice. Four case studies” discuss the interesting issue of the use of teachers’ narratives in projects of teachers’ professional development. The purpose of their study was to understand narratives generated as part of a training experience which involved a community for professional development. The methodology used included four case studies that composed of narrative biographical research techniques. Using the results, the authors built a report about the main problems of the community, the role of teachers and the way teachers learned to talk about their teaching. Bio-narratives and community of practice are creative methods to enhance teaching. The authors reach the conclusion that teachers –through their narratives in a community of practice- can offer new perspectives concerning topics such as diversity, overcoming difficulties, openness, how they view others, curiosity, reflection, and inclusion.
The issue’s two last papers concern the use of action research for the improvement of education in various contexts focusing on its positive consequences for the participants in an action research and for the contexts in which they work.
Jim Parsons, in his paper “Changing Self-definitions: The Agency of Action Research for Teachers”, makes a case that teachers who engage in site-based action research become more efficacious leaders. Based upon his twelve years as Director of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement at the University of Alberta, the author considers the impact of teachers’ work as site-based researchers on their personal growth, their self-definition as educational researchers, and their increased sense of agency gained from designing and conducting research. The article’s theoretical framework centers upon the theoretical work of Walker Percy to explore the ideas of engaged experience (in this case site-based action research) vs. “packaged” experiences (the study of others’ research and the attempt to apply the findings of their research to one’s own site). The author makes a case that working to solve personal and real on-site problems using action research can edify the entire community.
In the last paper of the issue, entitled “Collaborative Action-Research as Training Strategy for Conflict Mediation among Children”, Catarina Sobral reports on a work in progress about an action-research project in a collaborative setting in which she worked with a group of kindergarten teachers (from day care to preschool) - at a social care institution in the center of Lisbon – in order to investigate the occurrence of conflict situations among children. The practitioners used observations, group discussions and reflections to share experiences and improve practices. Several data was collected, from focus group interviews, taped and summary sessions, registrations of observations, reflections, and their analysis, summaries of the readings, finalizing with a synthesis of the sessions as well as follow up interviews, amongst others things. For this paper only analyzed data was used from the follow up interviews with the kindergarten teachers and from that data the following analysis system was created: organization and process of teacher education; interdependency between teacher education and other factors of professional development; changes in kindergarten teachers regarding both different areas and levels; changes in the institution; difficulties and constraints. The teacher education process contributed to a greater involvement between kindergarten teachers in both ways from different valances (day care and preschool) and within valances. Some kindergarten teachers have a different way of perceiving, reflecting and acting towards conflict situations, others were able to transfer knowledge from their professional to their personal sphere and others mentioned a self transformation regarding their own conflicts and how they deal with them. The major problem was, as always, the time factor and the major achievement, including all the processes, was the creation of pedagogical teams, providing kindergarten teachers a greater opportunity to share and reflect upon their daily practices.
Eleni Katsarou and Vassilis Tsafos