The Action Research Train

This week I have asked a colleague to contribute to our discussion of action research and education. Adam Cooper is an action researcher and an educator working towards completion of his doctorate at the University of Cincinnati. He has an amazing ability to draw out what is really happening in situations, has tremendous expertise in his field, and is an exceptional teacher. I hope his post today will generate some movement or reflection-or both.

From Adam:
I’d like to answer Dusty’s call for some metaphorical analyses of our work in action research. And so, as an educator, it seems apropos to consider mass transit, and particularly, to think about the train.
From all over the world and all over our society, we come together in the public schools to depart on a journey together. The assorted mix of interests that drive our educational system are so varied, sometimes so disparate, that it’s easiest to become reclusive. We jump on the train car together and pack ourselves in, but we seldom interact with anyone but those who boarded with us. Schools resemble a packed elevator, too, where numerous people are confined in a small space, but they rarely even acknowledge each other’s presence. It’s unnatural and it limits our potential.
Action research opens up the confined space; it facilitates interaction; it pushes all parties to reach their natural potential simultaneously.
I came into the Action Research fold by way of Kumaravadivelu (2001), who recognizes that pedagogy ought to be particularized. Teachers who seek some formulaic method for delivering instruction will always be disappointed, because no methodology addresses the needs of all learners, in all places, from all backgrounds. Kumaravadivelu (2001), therefore, encourages a post-method pedagogy that allows teachers to individualize instruction through action research.
Ironically, as an English teacher, the students who confounded me the most were disengaged English Language Learners. The language and cultural barriers prevented me from teaching in ways that had worked for me with other disengaged students. All teachers, and indeed all leaders, will undoubtedly encounter a population that seems at times to be unreachable. Too often, this population is dismissed and efforts are refocused on those who respond more positively. This approach may be easiest, but, again, it’s an unnatural approach to education and change. We cannot sit together in the confined space of a classroom and refuse to communicate our particular interests with each other, even if we are used to communicating in different languages. Instead, we can embrace the fact that we are all travelling together on the same bound train; we can use our finite time together to create the space for collaborative cycles of reflection, planning, and action, so that we can help each other reach the station as a strong community and as strong individuals.
I continue to be amazed by the dynamic potential of action research. As a teacher educator, I work with other teachers to examine their own practice in the classroom. In order to acknowledge and implement a post-method pedagogy, I also work with student groups in Youth Participatory Action Research Circles. Oftentimes, these projects co-exist in the same classroom. There are parallel investigations occurring simultaneously; they inform each other; they achieve different ends; but they bring everyone to the same place in the end: to a space where learning is meaningful for everyone involved. Incidentally, there is potential for other action research circles to travel with us here, as we invite students to include home and peer communities into the schools and as teacher educators work to facilitate this work in the most profound ways possible.
As we engage in our own action research projects, consider how others in our AR community travel with us, inform our own work, and how we can help them reach our shared destination as strong individuals.
Kumaravadivelu, B. (2001). Toward a postmethod pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly, 35(4), 537-560.