Posted: March 25th, 2022
Collaborative Action Research as a means for Correcting Learning Inequities in Diverse Classrooms
A major problem facing many teachers and administrators today is ensuring equality in the level and efficacy of instruction that students from diverse backgrounds and with diverse abilities receive in the classroom. Cultural differences, gender differences, and individual learning styles can all affect the rate at which knowledge presented in a certain manner will be absorbed and utilized by each individual student, and educators must first be aware of these differences and then take steps to ensure that enough diversity is achieved in instructional methods and classroom learning activities in order to adequately and equitably meet the learning needs of each individual student. For a teacher new to the classroom, and even for many teachers with more experience but who struggle with this aspect of educating diverse student populations, direct collaborative action research conducted by an administrator and/or instructional supervisor can be a highly effective means of addressing the issue.
Collaborative action research takes place in the classroom, with the administrator/instructional supervisor observing instructor and student behavior in the classroom setting, then working with the instructor to develop different and more effective practices (Caro-Brice 2007). Such a method for achieving change requires some measure of foreknowledge regarding both the problem being addressed and possible solutions to the issue, as well as a dedication to accurate and comprehensive observation of the specific issues as they play out in the classroom (Mitchell et al. 2009). This paper provides a preliminary action research plan for correcting disparities in learning in different student demographics.
Action research has proven highly effective both in creating a greater equality in learning amongst traditional class structures and lesson plans, as well as in the design and implementation of new courses and new course models (Coles-Ritchie & Lugo 2010). In order for this level of success to be achieved, however, care must be taken both in the observations made by the instructional supervisor and in the recommendations made through the collaborative process with the teacher to ensure first that the classroom autonomy of the instructor is not negatively impacted, and that current knowledge and research is brought to bear on the issue (Caro-Brice 2007). Equipped with accurate and adequate information, it becomes much easier to handle issues of diversity as well as many other common classroom issues that create instructional difficulties; it is often a lack of knowledge and/or experience on the part of the instructor that creates a need for action research in the first place (Mitchell et al. 2009).
The first step in the action research plan, then, must be a review of current literature on the issue of classroom diversity generally and the specific problems being faced in a given classroom particularly (Coles-Ritchie & Lugo 2010). This will enable a more productive initial meeting with the instructor and reduce the potential for any accusatory appearances, as all initial suggestions, recommendations, and even definitions of observed problems will be located on a foundation of solid, empirical, and objective research (Coles-Ritchie & Lugo 2010). This will allow for a more open and direct process throughout the various stages and steps of the collaborative action research implemented to address diversity issues.
After conducting initial research into he area of concern, an initial meeting must occur with the instructor in question, establishing the need for change in and/or additions to the instructional methods employed in the classroom in order to foster greater equality amongst the diverse student population. Approaching the instructor with an attitude of providing assistance rather than correcting behavior, approaches, and theories will be a far more effective in bringing the instructor on board as a part of the collaborative process (Mitchel et al. 2009; Caro-Brice 2007). It is in this initial meeting that the tone for the duration of the collaborative action research process will be set, so it is essential to provide an atmosphere of support and true collaboration at this meeting; real collaboration will be lost — and the efficacy of the research plan and implementation of recommended changes will be diminished — if the teacher feels a great reduction in autonomy in the classroom (Mitchell et al. 2009).
After this initial meeting, classroom observation should be conducted by the instructional supervisor, with the instructor’s unaltered practices and the student’s responsiveness in terms of both demonstrable and observable attitudes and behaviors and in their actual learning progress during lessons should be measured (Caro-Brice 2007). This observational period is one of the most essential steps in the collaborative action research process, as it establishes the specific problems that will need to be addressed through recommended changes, and provides an understanding of the essential instructional style and perspective employed by the teacher (Caro-Brice 2007). Working with rather than against natural inclinations can lead to far more effective instruction (Mitchell et al. 2009).
After observation, of course, comes the development of recommended changes to the instructional method employed in the classroom, and the implementation of these methods. An effective means for implementing the changes, which should be based on the knowledge initially required though a review of current literature on the issue(s) being addressed, is to assist the instructor for a certain period, or even to take over instruction for up to several lessons with the instructor observing new techniques (Caro-Brice 2007). Demonstration will lead to a clearer understanding of the suggestions and recommended changes than simply stating these changes could, and also provides room for adjustment and increased specificity given the specific needs of the students in a particular situation (Mitchell et al. 2009). This demonstration must also be accompanied by observation of the changing learning patterns and rates of the diverse students in the classroom, ensuring that the new methods being employed truly are effective at creating greater equality in learning and making this increased equality and efficacy directly and explicitly apparent (Coles-Ritchie & Lugo 2010).
It is difficult if not impossible to develop a true collaborative action research plan in the hypothetical; many of the details of such a plan are necessarily dependent on the specific issues and features of a given educational situation (Coles-Ritchie & Lugo 2010). The basic outline provided herein, however, demonstrates the potential efficacy of this approach in dealing with the need for greater equality in instructional methods and learning rates.
Caro-Brice, C. (2007). Creating equitable classrooms through action research. New York: Corwin.
Coles-Ritchie, M. & Lugo, J. (2010). “Implementing a Spanish for Heritage Speakers course in an English-only state: a collaborative critical teacher action research study.” Educational Action Research, 18(2), pp. 197-212.
Mitchell, S.; Reilly, R. & Logue, M. (2009). “Benefits of collaborative action research for the beginning teacher.” Teaching and Teacher Education 25(2), pp. 344-9.
Appendix 1: Literature Review
There is abundant literature available demonstrating the efficacy and desirability of action research generally and collaborative action research specifically in relation educational and instructional practices at all levels of education, and in minor education (pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade) specifically. Some literature takes a fairly comprehensive view of action research practices and their potentials, while others — such as Coles-Ritchie & Lugo (2010) examine a highly specific instance of action research utilization. This study examined the use of action research in the creation and implementation of a Spanish for Heritage Speakers course at a high school that did not have such a course offering.
This study is especially useful for demonstrating the various process of the action research process in practice. The researchers were directly involved in identifying a need in the instructional schema of the school, of conducting research in the literature for means to addressing this need, and of implementing and observing practices in order to effect change (Coles-Ritschie & Lugo 2010). The author’s conclusions are highly case specific, but demonstrate the general effectiveness of the action research approach as well as its specific potential in diversity circumstances.
The case studies compiled and edited by Caro-Brice (2007) provide a somewhat broader perspective than the singular case study conducted by Coles-Ritchie and Lugo (2010). These studies are all geared towards promoting equality in instructional methods and learning rates in diverse classroom settings, however, making them directly useful in this review and plan development.
Some of the central common findings of the studies compiled by Caro-Brice (2007) and the lessons that can be drawn from these findings include the importance of attitude and interpersonal approach throughout the action research/instructional supervision process, especially in its initial stages, and the importance of demonstration and reevaluation during and following the implementation phase of the action research plan. The truly collaborative nature of action research in these contexts is also emphasized, and the reasons for this importance — namely increased efficacy and confidence — are clearly outlined.
Mitchell et al. (2009) examined the use of action research in the development and assistance of new teachers, which yields insights into other potential uses and effects of action research as well. Examining some of the typical identified problems that new teachers face and the abundant literature addressing most of these common problems, Mitchell et al. (2009) demonstrate effective means of action research interaction that is more case-specific and less general than typical seminars. This enables newer and less experienced teachers to more effectively identify and confront issues early on (Mitchell et al. 2009).
This study is especially useful for the details provided regarding the interaction of the instructional supervisor and the instructor during the action research process. The communication of information in this relationship is key to the process’ success, and the details provided by Mitchell et al. (2009) demonstrate a clear understanding and explanation of how this relationship best operates.
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