I just finished my first official action research study in my classroom. I wrote “official” because I have realized that I do this type of research all the time. I may not always (or ever) write a report or keep as detailed data as I did for this project, but I hypothesize and collect data all the time.
This time was different though. It really opened my eyes to a few things.
My study was about leveled readers and literature circles and which was better for struggling readers. I progress monitored them after four weeks of instruction using each of the interventions. Everyone increased a reading level when we used leveled readers and only my two lowest students increased a level when using literature circles. Of course, the study was invalid. I could have conducted it much much better by completing the study forwards, backwards, multiple times, and so on. I also could have completed it when we DIDN’T have a three week track out in the middle of the time frame.
Anyways, I don’t trust that the results from this data accurately show that (for my class) leveled readers or literature circles are better than the other and so on. I didn’t learn or find a solution or answer to my research problem because there were so many issues with the internal and external validity of my study, but I did learn one important thing: When you talk to your students about their achievement and their results and discuss progress they take ownership of their learning.
Like I said, overall my study was a borderline joke, but I did some great things in the classroom. I discussed with my students the type of instruction they were receiving (leveled readers) and why (because we wanted to get better at reading) and then we tracked our progress throughout. At the end of our four weeks with leveled readers we progress monitored (using TRC) and celebrated our success and then we moved on to literature circles and had the same conversations. We then progress monitored and discussed why or why not we moved up another reading level and celebrated our hard work. Students then took a survey and I was amazed. They articulated what they liked and disliked about each type of instruction. They described their own individual progress (and were extremely accurate) and then they set new goals for themselves. They knew exactly what strategies they needed to use to keep progressing and to keep getting better at reading.
No one cried when they didn’t go up another reading level. No one said, “Aw, man!” or pouted or anything. They just acknowledged that they had to keep working. We looked at the data together and students understood that even if their reading level didn’t improve, their fluency increased, or their accuracy rate was better, they were analyzing the data. Eight year olds were analyzing their data. Eight year olds were proud of their data. I was proud of my eight year olds.
For this study I worked with my struggling readers, but I began using the strategies that I developed with my next reading group (the “bubble” group… the one where they are right on track, but they could swing either way… the inconsistent group) and I started seeing the same kind of progress. The teaching strategies that I discovered when doing this project are great for all readers, not just those that are struggling or may struggle.
My students each set reading goals, but I need to do a better job at progress monitoring each and every one of them. “That’s more work than you need to do!” is what some may say, but not if it creates student ownership.
Think about it… if you go to school everyday and work hard every day, wouldn’t you want an update more often than the beginning, middle, and end of the year? I would!
Yes, I know how to properly conduct an action research study now. I even know what makes a study invalid, but more importantly, through this process I discovered that students want to know, need to know, and deserve to know how they’re doing. They need to know why they’re doing how their doing. That’s when they can own it!