Two concepts that have caused much debate within education in the last 50 years have been those of reflective practice and action research. Both are considered critical to the professional development of teachers. The following essay will discuss how action research encourages and facilitates a teacher’s reflective practice. It will begin by discussing the concepts of action research and reflective practice, outlining some of the theories behind the principles and how they relate to teaching practice. Drawing on research of others, the essay will explore the positives and negatives of action research, and its effects on the practitioner’s professional reflective development Theorist, Kurt Lewin (1946) is credited with the term ‘action research’ after it first emerged in his research paper ‘action research and minority problems’ in the 1940s. Since this time it has been adopted as a research methodology by those wishing to investigate and improve professional practice within their field. Carr and Kemmis (1986) provide a classic definition of action research:
‘Action research is simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out’ (Carr and Kemmis,1986:162).
Action research is regarded as a research-and-development approach and its aim is to bring about change or improvement to a situation. It is achieved through a process of investigation, action and reflection, while at the same time recording the information in a way that may be useful to the project in hand, and potentially to outsiders.
Action research is a cyclical process and the critical point regarding the cycle, is to ensure that the research feeds directly back into practice and that the process is ongoing. Lewin (1952) described the process as a ‘self-reflective spiral’ consisting of five parts, observe-reflect- plan-act-evaluate. The cycle is a practical process that encourages self-evaluation and facilitates reflection on practice, and in turn increases knowledge and understanding. According to Whitehead and McNiff (2006) action research needs to ask questions of the practitioner ‘What am I doing? What do I need to improve? How Do I improve it?’ This is a particularly useful process for members of the teacher profession, as it helps them assess their own ideas and teaching practices, in turn improving the quality of their teaching. Day and Leitch (2000) suggest that examinations of action research literature show that action research is impossible without the ability to reflect on practice, they identify that the aim of both action research and reflective practice, is to facilitate change and improvement within a professional environment.
Reflective practice is the process of thinking about and critically analyzing our own actions, with the goal of changing and improving practice. This is a key skill in many professions, but has particular benefits to the teaching profession. Reflecting on day-to-day practices within occupational professions, enables practitioners to examine why and how things are done, encouraging consideration of different approaches, opportunities and possibilities, which may be more beneficial to both the teacher and pupil.
The term ‘reflection’ is not a new one as it was first used by John Dewey in 1903. His exploration of thinking and reflection, and the associated role of the educational profession, has continued to be an inspiration to many working within the teaching community. For Dewey reflection was more than just running through what was done. It involves producing ideas for future action from past experience and requires an open mind. It was Schön (1983) that popularized the vision of the ‘reflective practitioner’ by...