Practitioner research involves one or more people who are both practitioners (e.g. Teachers) and are researching that practice. Unlike some other forms of research, practitioner research is intended to solve problems and enhance practice (rather than developing theory for example).
Action Research is one specific form of practitioner research. Practitioner research may be seen an effective model of inquiry-based continuing professional development (CPD), since it is one way to embody the notion of a teacher as a lifelong learners.
Some authors(for example Kemmis, 2006, 2009 and Bartlett & Burton, 2006) use the terms practitioner research and action research interchangeably. An important characteristic of practitioner/action research is the doer of the research; it is the teacher in his/her classroom rather than an outside researcher as is the case with most traditional academic (observational) research. Practitioner research is done by teachers and for teachers (though sometimes in collaboration with outside university-based researchers). It helps teachers understand and change their practice in a principled and informed way and create learning communities in schools.
Practitioner research as effective CPD
|Figure 1 The Vital Practitioner Research Cycle|
|Figure 2 The Vital Reflective Practice Cycle|
It offers teacher the chance to systematically investigate and continuously learn from their practices and come up with ideas and conclusions that enrich their understandings of their practices and enhance their teaching. Practitioner research could also inform policy through providing insights 'from the field' by those closest and most concerned with classroom life. An essential characteristic of practitioner research is that it is based on the principle of reflective practice. Through reflection, teachers figure out and prioritise what needs to be investigated in their teaching and through reflection they assess their practitioner research projects. One way of thinking about the relationship between Reflective Practice and Practitioner Research is that Practitioner Research is a form of Reflective Practice that engages with the community through (1) building on what is already known and (2) sharing the findings with the wider professional community. See Figure 1 (Vital model of practitioner research) and Figure 2 (Vital model of reflective practice), at right.
Another significant feature of practitioner research as effective CPD is that it usually involves collaboration among teachers in the same school for the purpose of understanding, changing and improving their practices together. In this way, practitioner research offers a precious opportunity for teachers to build inquiring communities that produce and debate knowledge that is relevant to their context and their practice and assist them in changing and ultimately improving teaching and learning.
Some forms of critical practitioner-led enquiries are thought to bring "unwelcome news" (Kemmis, 2006) by questioning and challenging the underlying assumptions and taken for granteds in various aspects of teaching and learning.
Why do practitioner research?
Practitioner research is an empowering and developmental tool for teachers. Through involvement in practitioner research, teachers can improve their practice and make their voice heard by systematically, and perhaps collaboratively, providing evidence from their teaching. The evidence teachers provide can guide and inform policy which ultimately empower teachers through being central in the educational decision-making process.
Key concepts in practitioner research
- Teacher-initiated: practitioner research is usually initiated by teachers from local issues arising from their practices. The driving force in practitioner research is an urge to improve practice and probably change it.
- Small-scale: practitioner research should fit within teachers' busy lives; it should be manageable and doable by teachers themselves.
- Collaborative: practitioner research is best done in collaboration as teachers in the same school usually have similar problems or issues. Also, doing practitioner research in collaboration makes it more feasible and enjoyable for teachers.
- Democratic: in the sense that those immediately involved with issues of teaching and learning (teachers, students, parents and headteachers maybe) voluntarily explore and examine issues of importance and relevance in their practice with the aim of improving them.
- Empowering: so that teachers become more responsible about their practice and give them a 'voice' in what they do. Informed and principled practitioner research, in this way, could inform school policies by providing a critical insider view of school life and experience.
- Open to public scrutiny: practitioner research should be made public through presentations, journals articles, blogs, etc. The purpose of publicising practitioner research is to share results with other practitioners who might find it adaptable in their classes/contexts, initiate a professional debate about the results and perhaps find ways forward.
How to do practitioner research?
- Identify an area of your practice that you would like to understand more, improve or change (remember it does not have to be problem or something completely negative in your teaching!).
- Discuss the issue that you have identified with all those involved (colleagues, students, headteacher) and do a preliminary reading to find out what others have already found out about the issue.
- Plan for action. This may involve formulating research questions, getting access and designing the study, among other things.
- Carry out the study in a systematic and organised way while being open to modifications and surprises!
- Reflect on what you have found from your investigation and how/whether these findings contribute to a better understanding or improved practice.
- Share your experience with other practitioners (through informal conversations with immediate colleagues, presenting your findings at a conference, blogging, or writing a paper for publication)
Below are some resources that help with the various stages of a practitioner researcher project
Here are some resources that help in the "Find out" stage.
- A free introductory unit from the Open University that helps in finding information regarding education in general and your project in particular.
- E4F (Evidence for the Frontline ): an open network; practitioners and researchers alike are encouraged to participate.
- BERA's special interest group on practitioner research, open to BERA members.
- IATEFL Research special interest groupwith an active Yahoo discussion group and frequent events.
Search engines and databases of research outputs
- Google Scholaris a useful tool for locating 'research' material online. Many of the sources returned are free to access, others require you to have a login (eg via an academic library) or charge you to download the article.
- Open Research Onlineis the Open University's repository of research publications (many of which are available to download in full or you can request copies from the author free of charge).
- The Education Research Global Observatoryprovides a list of open access (free) journals in education. They also provide a search tool for other education materials such as PhD theses.
- Best Evidence Encyclopaedia
- Curee research summaries
- DfE, Schools research news
- EdITLib Digital Library A US site run by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.
- Educational evidence porta
- The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre).
- LSIS Inside Evidence
- Practical research for education
- National College Research Associate Reports
- Scientific Annotated Review Database (SARD)A database of annotated reviews of projects/studies/research on mobile technology and life long learning. It includes studies of use of mobile technologies in schools.
A very significant issue to consider when planning a teacher research project is the ethical guidelines. In the UK, all educational research in general is expected to conform to the established ethical guidelines in the field. Teacher researchers are advised to follow the BERA ethical guidelines.
Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing: this is an overview of Kvale's book on interviews. The short overview helps the teacher researcher thinks about different aspects of interviews as a data collection methods and the types of questions to ask.
Observation Techniques: Provides an overview of different observation techniques followed by information on how to carry out observations. Prepared by Prof Andrew Hannan, University of Plymouth, 2006
- Questionnaire design: a good, concise guide that addresses many issues involved in the design and structuring of a research questionnaire. Produced by Loughborough University
- Designing Surveys and Questionnaires : A range of pages with advice about the design of questionnaires. 'Questionnaire Design - General considerations' is a good starting point. This site is packed with useful snipets of advice. Provided by StatPac, a commercial provider of survey software.
- Video extracts from Zoltan Dornyei's workshop last February at Coventry University on Questionnaire Design and Analysis. (watch complete playlist)
Developing your action plan
- An action planning template.
- User-friendly handbook for mixed method evaluations:a free online guide to using both qualitative and quantitative techniques in research.
- A concise summary of the Practitioner Research Stages: The Practitioner research process
- An example of a practitioner research project: Example of Practitioner research
- Vital is happy to publish practitioner research reports - email email@example.com for more information.
- Subject associations often publish journals (for their members) and are often on the lookout for relevant content. Click here for a list of subject associations which are members of the CfSA.
- Magazines and professional journals are often keen to receive articles from teachers. Some suggested magazines and journals are listed below:
- ICT for Education
- Advancing Education : This is the main Naace journal and is an eclectic mix of academic and action research papers, reports from sponsoring partners, indeed anything to do with advancing the use of ICT across education and reports covering all phases of education. As such it reflects the wide ranging interests of members and sponsors. The journal is published online three times a year. If you aren't a Naace member then try emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for details of how to submit an article.
- Networks is an online journal for teacher research. This journal welcomes accounts from teachers across all educational levels.
- Academic journals are much more difficult to get published in due to their rigorous peer-review processes (and higher academic standards). In the first instance I would advise co-authoring articles with an experienced author (actually I always think co-authoring is best, at least in part because I find it easier to stick to deadlines if I know that someone else is counting on me doing so!).
- Other sites often contain high quality content that may be relevant. For example:
- ICT in Educationhas useful articles (as well as lots of free resources).
- Wikipedia's article on reflective practice
- A very brief outline of practitioner research and how it relates to reflective practice by Peter Twining: what is Practitioner Research
- Some practical advice and examples from TeacherResearch.net
- A short explanation of what Action Research is and how it can be used in education. This piece was commissioned by Becta in 2005 and includes a section on Action Research and ICT: Action Research
- Provides an introduction to Action Research and how to implement an Action Research project. Includes criticisms and limitations of Action Research. By Dr Stephn Waters-Adams, University of Plymouth, 2006 : Action Research in Education
- Two ten minute videos by Jana Duganzic, Taryn Durrant, Leya Finau, Nicola Firth and Melissa Frank. Designed to introduce the theory, benefits and methodology of using Action Research in the classroom :
- BERA’s ethical guidelines for educational research BERA Ethical Guidlines for Educational Research
- From ERIC digest on Action Research by Richard Donato (2003) Action Research
- Author Jean McNiff's Concise advice for new action researchers*A comprehensive site maintained by Bob Dick.
- A research guide to help school practitioners compiled by WMCETT's(the West Midlands Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training) Action Research Co-ordinator Jill Hardman and is available here.
- Jack Whitehead's website contains information regarding the process of action research, along with a selection of extracts from theses that have used action research as their methodolog.
- Provides advice on preparing all the components of a research proposal, including a section on research questions.
- A comprehensive site providing resources about action research
- Etienne Wenger website for information and resources on communities of practice.
Action Research Networks:
- Action Research Network: A useful website for planning and conducting action research projects.
- CRAN: Collaborative Action Research Network, the UK's long established action research network.
- Bartlett, S. & Burton, D. (2006) 'Practitioner research or descriptions of classroom practice? A discussion of teachers investigating their classrooms', Educational Action Research, Vol 14(3).
- Kemmis, S. (2006). Participatory action research and the public sphere. Educational Action Research 14(4).
- Kemmis, S. (2009) 'Action research as a practice‐based practice', Educational Action Research, 17 (3).