Supporting The Teaching of Action Research (STAR) ARNA-STAR ARC - NoveMBER 2019 Newsletter


This is the fall 2019 newsletter of one of the Action Research Communities (ARCs) of the Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA). Our ARC is Supporting the Teaching of Action Research (STAR). A group of professors who teach action research have met between ARNA conferences over the last few years to think about strategies, issues, and resources to support the teaching of action research. We created a website (star-arna-arc.org) as a forum for our Learning Circle discussions (onlinelearningcircles.org) around our own teaching of action research. The website provides resources to help support the teaching of action research including supportive topics, syllabi, examples of how action research fits in different programs, and both teacher and student resources.

While we enjoyed seeing many of you at the ARNA Conference in Montreal we want to extend the discussion and invite all of you to join the STAR community. We invite your contributions to the ARNA-STAR Newsletter. Please submit short essays on any issue in the teaching of action research, your feedback on what you would like to see in the newsletter, or books, conferences, or resources you would like us to add. Please send your submissions to the STAR-ARC website and an editor will be in touch. We have also launched a blog to encourage more discussion around topics. Please join us at: https://actionresearchteaching.home.blog/

Featured Articles

November, 2019 Articles

This edition features three articles that are closely related around coaching, mindset, and action research project ideation. You will find Ferdi Serim's Spiral Learning Model of interest to action researchers in that teaching action research is like life coaching. Ferdi has created a model that helps support this aspect of action research. It provides a pathway for researchers who are starting their process to think about where they are in their own career trajectory and how doing action research will move them forward. The model provides a way for people to self-assess where they are as they begin action research and how they hope to make the shifts. Helping students take stock of their positionality, and what they hope to accomplish as action researchers, is a great way to begin your coaching journey with your students.

Linda Purrington's article on Developing the Central Question provides a context for framing an action research study central question using the growth/learner mindset and a scaffold for developing a breakthrough question. Teri Marcos's article provides a 5-Step Process to assist aspiring action researchers to engage their thinking around their topic and research question(s).

Spiral Learning Model - Support for Evidence-Based Coaching

By Ferdi Serim

Spiral-Learning Model

I’m excited most by being around learning. This lifelong love first awakened in me through music, transporting me to non-physical worlds, and transforming my connections with everyday life upon my return. When the opportunity to learn an instrument opened at the age of 9, I jumped at it, starting with drums.

By the next year, this extended to teaching, as Margot Ely, my fifth-grade teacher, allowed me to form a band, where I taught the parts to my classmates in our classroom before school. Margot said, “this isn’t my classroom: it’s our classroom.” We learned the music we heard around us, but which wasn’t being taught in regular band (Maria, from West Side Story, had just come out) and gave classroom performances. The musical immersion methods I discovered then planted seeds which guide my approach to teaching and learning to this day. When Margot and I reconnected 50 years later, she told me she’s not surprised by what I’m doing now, she saw who I could become way back then, and gave me the chance to “grow-for-it”.

All of this learning was ungraded. By that, I mean two things: first, the birth-year of the learner has minimal relevance, mastery doesn’t care how old you are, it’s about the performance; second, the value of the performance is often greater than its “letter-grade” given by the teacher. No grades have ever been awarded for the most powerful learning I’ve seen my students achieve. Lives changed, despite the absence of ways to document the power of this learning. But the absence of a common language and framework to share and deepen the practices of inquiry-driven competency-based learning has limited the evidence that could help more educators adopt them.

My goal in this present work is to provide learners, and the coaches who support them, with information they can act upon, to guide them in making improvements they’ve identified as crucial to meeting their current goals, and strategizing their actions to help them “become the best possible version of themselves.” This means being able to prove (first to themselves, and then to others) that they are ready for what’s next. Today’s learning environments require that we re-examine what readiness means, which includes facing new challenges we’re just finding out about. This is why learning how to learn is essential, and baked into the DNA of our the processes we support.

Teaching, Learning, Life and Art

“Unless we go to extremes, we won’t get anywhere” – John Cage

The disconnect between classroom and “real-life” can be traced back to efforts to objectify learning through assessment and represent it within the narrow confines of numerical scores or letter grades. Standardized tests (aka cognitive assessments) have their place, but this place is not universal and creates damage when applied beyond what they’re designed to do. (It’s important to remember that non-cognitive factors are “non-cognitive” only insofar as they are not measured directly by cognitive tests. In order to affect learning and academic performance, however, non-cognitive factors must engage a learner’s cognitive processes.)

Information to guide improvement is categorically different, and vital to coaching. I’ve been criticized recently for wanting to “heal” this disconnect, sarcastically being labeled the “John Cage of education assessment” and I’ve decided to wear this badge with honor. I want to share with you what I’ve learned about some new methods for approaching this challenge.

In the 20th century, John Cage struggled with a similar disconnect. A revolution was going on within the art world which had become so tradition-bound that established forms and norms made it difficult to use old creative languages to express new emerging realities. As a modern composer, John Cage was one of the first to explore the wisdom of Asia, very soon after Buddhism was brought to the west by D.T. Suzuki. The crux of his argument is that the separation of life and art is artificial and often harmful. His body of work was dedicated to opening our minds and hearts to experiencing what’s going on around us at all times. Similarly, not all learning is (or should be) the result of teaching.

Beyond Music (and Learning) Theory

Duke Ellington famously said, “there are only two kinds of music: good music, and bad music.” Whether you are a musician or not, as you listen you can tell whether it is in time, in tune and in key. Different styles of music sound the way they do because of cultural agreements about how to use rhythm, melody and harmony. When a performance goes outside the bounds of a style or genre, we notice it. Suddenly something doesn’t feel right. When the drummer loses the beat, everyone stops dancing.

Every sound has a frequency, and the start and stop of every sound is located in points of time. The notes that happen at the same time create harmony. The sequence of notes over time creates melody. The relationships of notes to the underlying pulse creates rhythm. It is the relationship between rhythm, melody and harmony that create the experience we know as music. The music is not the score, it is the performance.

The Spiral Learning model also combines three elements to create a living map of learning journeys. Where you are in space is defined by three dimensions (X, Y and Z). In our case, these dimensions are Experience, Task Use and Performance Quality. At any moment, a snapshot reveals the current state, but the most powerful context is to use the information to improve performance over time.

Essentials of the model: Providing a model that helps learners use evidence to chart their path, and benefit from coaching requires that it must be:

• Easily understandable

• Informative

• Flexible

The Spiral Learning model integrates practices from cognitive science, going back thousands of years, and is inspired by growth processes observed in nature.

It allows learners to chart their growth across three dimensions, tracking gains in Experience, Task Use and Performance Quality. Let’s examine how our three requirements measure up for each of these elements.

Easily Understandable

[He] has the mind of an expert. With that kind of mind, you can only deal with the past. You can’t be an expert in the unknown. – John Cage

Experience has four levels, which are inspired by the Buddha’s observation that a person can only be in four states (and is always in one of them): sitting, standing, walking or lying down (running is considered fast walking). Similarly, as a learner you are at one of four levels:

1. New to me - I can’t define or identify this skill, but I know that learning it will remove a barrier for me.

2. Awareness – I know all about this skill, but have no examples of having done it in real life.

3. Examples – I have personal examples of using this skill in real life.

4. Coaching – I have mastered this skill and have coached others in using it successfully.

Gains in Experience Level (Clockwise)

These criteria make it easy to understand which level you’re presently working at, and what the milestone is that represents your entry to the next level.

It also removes any stigma around not knowing. Anyone seeking to grow and improve inevitably bumps up against something they don’t already know. These days, what you need to know may have just been invented. The trick is not to know everything, it is to learn how to learn so that as quickly as possible you can move up the levels, moving from proficiency to mastery.

This is why we place such an emphasis on peer-coaching, within a community of practice. My personal experience of this, naturally, comes from music. My mentor was Dizzy Gillespie, who allowed me to take his big band charts into high schools and rehearse with the students for several months, until they were ready. Then, he’d come into the community where I was working and perform a concert, with the students playing his music. These concerts, held in the early 1980s continue to be cited by people (now adults) who say they changed their lives. I know they changed mine! Preparing to perform at mastery levels raises everyone’s game.

Coaching for Experience Level:

These lessons are applied today to instructional design for blended (face-to-face and online) learning, as learners build a body of evidence, proving to themselves (and others) that they’re ready for what’s next (including internships, apprenticeships and entry-level positions). They rely upon peer-coaching, supported by coaching from professionals working in the field the learner seeks to enter. Our tools and activities rapidly accelerate the path to mastery, using performance tasks designed to meet people “where they are” in their current state of skillset development.

Task Use: It’s how you use a competency that matters

Task Use has four levels, which are inspired by Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. When you make a claim for using a competency or skillset, your claim is based on the depth of its use. The verbs you use in tasks you complete to create your product help determine at which level you’re operating. These levels are:

1. Recall – tasks require students to recall or reproduce knowledge and/or skills.

2. Skills & Concepts - tasks include the engagement of some mental processing beyond recalling or reproducing a response.

3. Strategic Thinking - tasks demand a short-term use of higher order thinking processes, such as analysis and evaluation, to solve real-world problems with predictable outcomes.

4. Extended Thinking - tasks demand extended use of higher order thinking processes such as synthesis, reflection, assessment and adjustment of plans over time.

Experience Level 3 - Task Use

Coaching for Task Use

Encouraging learners to ascend the task use levels is centered on the activities they perform in completing their products. The charts below compare applications at Levels 2 and 3.

It’s important to note that almost all traditional school assignments happen at Levels 1 and 2. These levels are subject to instruction. The higher levels are only reached through application (using what one has learned).

When I’m coaching someone on creating a survey to determine how teachers are able to apply Universal Design for Learning, to make sure their assignments are engaging all three brain networks and removing obstacles that may limit access opportunities for some learners, we begin at Level 2. It’s essential to ensure that the learner is working from a complete and accurate basis of understanding. These activities happen within a domain, over a relatively short period of time. The verbs that could be used to show this understanding are included below:

Level 2

Once these understandings have been demonstrated (through a presentation, paper, video or other means selected by the learner, my task shifts to helping the learner apply these understandings in a “real-world” situation. We reach the next level by connecting across domains over a sustained period of time.

This often includes asking the teachers to review materials from CAST that compare traditional and UDL driven classroom practice, citing evidence and developing logical arguments on the benefits of making any required shifts.

Level 3

To summarize: we are working toward proficiency when we are providing examples of work at Levels 1 & 2; we are demonstrating mastery when we provide strong examples of work at Levels 3 & 4.

Performance Quality has four levels, inspired by Dr. Robert Marzano. These are:

1. Redo – three or more significant problems in the product. It’s better to start over.

2. Revise – one or two problems, which when fixed would result in a strong example.

3. Strong Example – factually accurate, clear, and convincing.

4. Best Ever – top 5% of all strong examples, as determined by field professional review. – one or two problems, which when fixed would result in a strong example.

Gains in Performance Quality (Outward)

Please note that Levels 1 & 2 (Redo & Revise) represent working towards proficiency, while Levels 3 & 4 (Strategic and Extended Thinking) represent using these proficiencies to work toward mastery. Just like the other dimensions, it is easy to understand where you are with respect to Performance Quality, and what to do about it.


Evidence = Artifact + Reflection + Validation. The artifact, or performance we’re looking at, is used to support a claim of mastery for a particular competency. Combinations of competencies form the skillsets required to succeed at a particular job or task. The story we tell about how the claim is supported by the artifact is the reflection. Validation comes in the form or peer review, and ultimately review by field professionals who decide which examples represent the “Best Ever” (top 5% of all strong examples in their professional domain).

The information coming back from peer review gives the coach evidence to guide the learner in deciding what’s most important to focus on next. We can support learners in developing proficiency through instruction (levels 1 & 2), which certainly is a pre-requisite for mastery. But mastery demands performances at levels 3 & 4, on all three dimensions. Does the focus need to be on increasing the depth of task use? Traditional school assignments align teaching and testing to the Recall and Skills/Operations levels. Coaching can help learners shift to the higher levels of complexity, by asking how the competencies being used relate within a skillset related to a particular job, or task required for success on the present project.


The model must be flexible enough to address any observable performance, especially in the case of non-cognitive competencies (aka “soft-skills”). In our experience, we’ve been able to use short (2-3 minute videos) presentations of learning to identify up to six competencies in a single performance. The six competencies typically are comprised of Career (employability and specific pathway), Academic (linguistic and non-linguistic) and Digital (ISTE standards). The wide variety of settings where these are applied have ranged from Information Technology projects , public health, digital media, economic development, instructional design.

As the intended audience is employers who are deciding whether the candidate is ready for an internship, apprenticeship or entry-level hire, the primary claim is centered on Career (employability skills and competencies within a related pathway). Each Career claim is supported by evidence of use of related Academic and Digital competencies. So far, if the performance is observable, it can be used in coaching within the Spiral Learning Model.

Who is the assessment for?

What matters most is the learner’s ability to apply what they know in “real-world” settings, and it is in this area that graduates (of both secondary and post-secondary education) fall short in the eyes of many employers. This is completely understandable, as the information provided by assessments can serve one of two masters: accountability or improvement. Design matters: traditional assessments measure the effectiveness of instruction; our model provides information learners and coaches need to guide improvements, within a community of practice.

Currently, assessments are gatekeepers that determine which paths open to the learner, course by course, pre-requisite by pre-requisite until graduation. Perhaps if accountability boiled down to a single question (are your students ready for what’s next?) our present concerns about students being ready for life would be less universal. But teachers and school leaders are judged based on how well students have performed on tests that may or may not measure how well the curriculum was “delivered.” The learner is on their own, unless they have a coach.

In the context where we use the Spiral Learning model, everyone is a coach and everyone has a coach. We use peer review to apply the model, helping each other decide what to do differently next time as we go through as many iterations as we need to reach mastery.

Please visit our blog to share your views on these ideas: https://actionresearchteaching.home.blog/


Contact Ferdi Serim


Developing the Central Question for Guiding Action Research Study

By Linda Purrington

A Central Question in action research is the foundational question that guides the overall study. Central Questions can be challenging to construct. In my work with graduate students, I have found it helpful to first talk about mindset and the importance of cultivating a growth/learner mindset as an action researcher. Next, we explore how questions determine mindset and influence our actions and how to get “unstuck” from single loop learning. We look at types of questions that promote progress and possibilities as contrasted with those that are more closed and certain. We then look at the criteria for developing Breakthrough Questions as criteria for constructing a Central Question for an action research study.

Following is a brief introduction to each of these ideas and references for related resources. For more expanded discussion, visit the STAR ARNA ARC website about this topic https://sites.google.com/view/star-arna-arc/teaching-topics/forming-research-questions

Growth vs Fixed Mindset

Mindset Matters In Action Research

Mindset is the way in which we view the world. Mindset influences the way in which we think about and respond to problems and challenges. Carol Dweck (2006) describes two contrasting mindsets, growth and fixed. The growth mindset presumes that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” and “everyone can change and grow through application and experience” (p. 7). The fixed mindset, on the other hand, presumes that “your qualities are carved in stone” and “you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character” (p. 6).

A growth mindset is key for engaging in action research. “Action research is a process of deep inquiry into one’s practices with others with the goal of evolving a deeper understanding of patterns of change” (Riel, 2019). Deep inquiry keynotes asking good questions, regularly revisiting and challenging assumptions, collecting and analyzing evidence, thoughtful sensemaking, and exploring new ways of thinking and new ways of acting. Action researchers are engaged in continuous learning.).

Deep Inquiry

Questions Determine Mindset

Marilee Adams (2009) posits that our mindsets are determined by the questions we ask and that mindset can be changed by changing the questions we ask. She describes two kinds of questions, learner associated with growth mindset and judger associated with fixed mindset.“Learner Questions are open-minded, curious, and creative. They promote progress and possibilities, and typically lead to discoveries, understanding, and solutions. By contrast, “Judger Questions”, are more closed-minded, certain, and critical. They focus on problems rather than solutions and often lead to defensive reactions, negativity, and inertia. Learner Questions facilitate progress by expanding options; Judger Questions impede progress by limiting perspectives”(Wharton @ Work, 2012). Following are examples of fixed mindset judger questions and growth mindset learner questions.

Judger and Learner Questions

Breakthrough Questions Promote Breakthrough Thinking

“Questions are this great launching point. What questions do is enable us to organize the way we attack a problem or the way we deal with the unknown” (Berger, 2019). In action research, we are conducting inquiry about an issue/problem for which we don’t yet have answers and for which we need to be open to possibilities and new ways of thinking. Breakthrough questions are a type of learner question and reflect a growth mindset. Breakthrough questions

-reflect a spirit of inquiry and curiosity

-assume positive intentions and are framed in a positive manner

-use plural forms, signaling the intention of choice and options

-use tentative language, conveying the intention of multiple right answers

-are open-ended questions rather than yes/no questions

-are delivered with an approachable, invitational voice (Jungwirth, 2012)

A scaffold for developing a Breakthrough Question is

Given my new learning today (positive intention) and knowing some (plural language) of my beliefs and practices (plural form) may be challenged with my new consciousness, how might (tentative language) I be more open to listening and reframing my thinking as we move forward in this work (positive intentions)? (Jungwirth, 2012)


Using Breakthrough Question Criteria To Develop Central Questions For Action Research

A central question is generated from the research issue and frames the entire study. Using breakthrough question criteria is one means of helping researchers frame good central questions. Following are a few examples of action research study central questions, developed by my former educational leadership graduate students, that utilize the scaffold for developing Breakthrough Questions.

Examples Of Action Research Study Central Questions

1. In light of our new learning, what are some means we might explore to increase high school seniors' knowledge of post-secondary options?

2. What are some ways that we might help increase the capacity of local visual arts educators to design and facilitate relevant professional learning opportunities for other visual arts educators?

3. Given what we now know, how might we better prepare teachers to more successfully transition and support students in early childhood settings?


The Central Question in action research guides the overall study. The nature of the Central Question is influenced by the researcher’s mindset. A growth mindset can be cultivated by asking Learner Questions. A breakthrough questions is a type of learner question, the format of which can be used to help develop powerful Central Questions. Teachers of action research may find it helpful to explore growth mindset, learner questions, and breakthrough questions with their action research learners as a precursor to developing Central Questions.


Adams, Marilee. (2004). Change your questions, change your life: 7 powerful tools for life and work. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Berger, Warren. (2019, May 14). How the Right Questions Can Lead to a Breakthrough [Online Blog]. Retrieved from: https://www.ideou.com/blogs/inspiration/the-power-of-questions

Dweck, Carol. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Jungwirth, Linda. (2012, June 28). Reframing Questions for Breakthrough Thinking. Retrieved from: http://conveningconversations.com/2012/06/reframing-questions-for-breakthrough-thinking/

Riel, Margaret. (2019, May 14). About Action Research [Online Tutorial]. Retrieved from https://www.actionresearchtutorials.org/

Wharton @ Work (2012, August). Re: Shifting mindsets: Questions that lead to results [Online Newsletter]. Retrieved from https://inquiryinstitute.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Wharton-NanoTool-August-2012.pdf

Image Source: https://unstick.me/qualitative-research-question-examples/

Contact Linda Purrington

Golden Ideation...

Golden is the Topic and Research Question: A 5-Step Process for Applied Culminating Project Ideation

By Teri Marcos

Aspiring action research students at the Masters and doctoral levels will often enter their capstone experiences not having clearly defined a researchable topic. They may have a general idea around what they wish to research and the broader strokes of possibilities in place, but are not clear at a more granular place on the specificity of their topic. I find this early micro level of decision making largely necessary for their eventual project completion but how do we get our new research students there? An early, and very simple question, ‘what is in and what is out?’ assists them to think narrowly while focusing their thinking as much around what they don’t want to study as much as what they do. Action researchers can assert a more streamlined workflow that ascribes the more ancillary project possibilities (which often prove not only unhelpful but even a hindrance to their completion) to the sidelines. Decision-making is key to evolving a doable topic for aspiring researchers. It is an improved decision maker, if not a fully effective decision maker, at multiple intersections of an action research inquiry, who can successfully complete the study.

The Orientation Reflex: What is In and What is Out?

As a university professor who teaches action research, I enjoy assisting my research students to engage an early idea, or two, of possibilities for study as a motivational head start for all that lies ahead. I have found that aspiring researchers generally grapple with what to study and how to create a research question from their big what. I find at this beginning point that the orientation reflex is clearly on (Simion & Shimojo, 2007; Bradley 2008; Polich 2003; Williams et.al. 2000; Sokolov 1960; Solkolov et.al. 2002). My students begin their early thinking within this phase around both seminal and historical literature, as well as the current literature that is available to support their review. They also begin to think broadly about data availability. Do data exist? Do they live in systems, or within humans? Are data available to both gather and report?

Anchoring an Emotional Response

One of my students’ favorite activities is the very first hour of the very first class within which students are provided a goldenrod piece of cardstock with five questions they both engage and subsequently share out their responses to with others. I term this activity Applied Culminating Project Ideation. Purposed to elicit an emotional response to a current professional condition of their organization aspiring researchers imagine a continuum, or spectrum, of feelings they encounter over a typical day, or season, within their organization. Without fail students pinpoint a program they love (passion) or a gap they see (perhaps an injustice) that beckons closer inquiry. As they verbalize their passions, or anger, they effectively pinpoint a possible topic for study. They then think broadly around the available data for gathering and reporting. Is this a program? A workflow issue? A project management challenge, or celebration? As data are determined available the excitement and energy grow as these aspiring researchers eagerly embrace this first ideation as a possibility for study. The motivational inferno gets hotter and hotter from here! The following 5-Step Process for Applied Culminating Project Ideation describes each phase of the activity as students record their responses on a piece of goldenrod cardstock (or a digital document whose author has selected the page color as goldenrod).


1. What are you passionate about within your workplace? What do you absolutely love about what you do every day? What organizational program do you want to know more about within your workplace? Is it working well or does it need a closer investigation from which findings may merit effective change for people or processes? Are data available to investigate and report?

2. What angers you within your workplace? What do you find as perhaps an injustice? What areas merit a closer examination to create positive change for people or processes? Are data available to investigate and report?

3. Imagine a spectrum with passion on the one end and anger/disillusionment/injustice on the other. What possible topic of inquiry can you identify from one of these two polar opposite areas of emotion, and, for which data are available?

4. What possible research question(s) can be created from your topic?

5. What literature is available?

The 5-Step Process Illustrated

Applied Culminating Project Ideation

Share Out

As students conclude this activity in their groups they begin to share out their key-learnings and decisions made along the way. One aspiring researcher at a time describes their passion, or anger, with a level of vulnerably that is fresh even to them. They describe what they are most passionate about or what angers them most. As they engage the continuum they begin to ideate around possible topics on the spectrum. As topics evolve with increasing clarity, the aspiring researchers, having learned much from each other, are ready to begin crafting their ideas for study into a research question, or two. We subsequently take a brief web-tour to discover what sources may be available in the literature to support the topic and question. Students generally leave on the first week (of a typically 8-12 week course) fully embracing their topic and question as well as several peer reviewed journal article sources recorded on their goldenrod cardstock. A digital version of the goldenrod paper is distributed electronically for digital storage and engagement over the course of their project.

Email List of Topics, RQ, and Two Literature Sources

As students complete the above activity in share-out mode as a large group they learn deeply from one another as they listen carefully to each individual place of passion, or injustice. Community shared topics and questions co-create new knowledge that multiplies rapidly around the room helping others to strengthen their own ideation of topic and research question. This intersection, I find, spurs the slower decision makers on as they grapple with their interests for research, too.

As the instructor facilitating their share-out I listen carefully, record their thoughts on a central shared document (usually projected from the computer at the front of the room, or via Zoom if teaching virtually), and send along through a document share, or email the document to everyone after the session. As students ideate aloud, and we co-arrive at a doable topic and research question, complete with measurable variables, I quickly begin a preliminary search for peer reviewed literature (through our university library portal, and journal portals such as ERIC) around their topic while they gaze on. This is a wonderful place to teach aspiring action researchers to insert a variety of terms to effectively operationalize their literature search in powerful ways. This may include, but is not limited to, determining those publications which have occurred within the past 1, 5, or 20 years, as well as to delimit those articles that are available in pdf for free download.

There is usually a good amount of literature available, thus I often copy/paste several URLs for my students’ interests to inquire right from the shared document with one click. As they receive the completed document in their inbox, or shared portal after our session, they are encouraged to re-anchor their original thinking back to this co-created document, and often, as they move forward with their study.

This single document becomes the golden nugget for the class! While they may possess their individually crafted goldenrod card stock generated through the Model of the 5-Step Process of Applied Culminating Project Ideation, their shared contributions to the collective document become a community nugget that is as large as the number of students enrolled. Shiny, huge, and helpful! Thar's gold in that thar' document! Golden it is, particularly, in that it moves the entire class forward, together in community, through their shared co-creation of knowledge, and learning, from each other.


While the early skillset of strong decision making is critical to the successful framing of an action research project it may also assist them toward the successful completion of their study. I find that my research students are well prepared to encounter the many possibilities they must consider over the life of their project by moving through this activity. While working closely with their faculty chair and committee, action research students refine their topic and research question(s) while adding literature specific to the intersection of the two. From their initial ideation to their arrival at this destination the 5-Step journey moves them incrementally toward a doable project. Golden is the topic and research question(s). Assisting our aspiring action researchers to make sound decisions about what is in, and what is out, is a gift we help them give to themselves over the life of their project.


Bradley, M.M. (2008). "Natural selective attention: Orienting and emotion". Psychophysiology. 46 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.2008.00702.x. PMC 3645482. PMID 18778317.

Polich, J. (2003). Overview of P3a and P3b. In J. Polich (Ed.), Detection of Change:Event-Related Potential and fMRI Findings (pp. 83-98). Kluwer Academic Press: Boston.

Williams, L; Brammer, M; Skerrett, D; Lagapolous, J; Rennie, C; Kozek, K; Oliveri, G; Peduto, T; Gordon, E (2000). "The neural correlates of orienting: An integration of fMRI and skin conductance orienting" (PDF). Brain Imaging. 11 (13): 3011–3015. doi:10.1097/00001756-200009110-00037.

Simion, C; Shimojo, S (2007). "Interrupting the cascade: Orienting contributes to decision making even in the absence of visual stimulation". Perception & Psychophysics. 69 (4): 591–595. doi:10.3758/bf03193916. PMID 17727112.

Sokolov, E.N, Neuronal models and the orienting reflex, in The Central Nervous System and Behavior, Mary A.B. Brazier, ed. NY: JosiahMacy, Jr. Foundation, 1960, pp. 187–276

Sokolov E N, Spinks J A, Naatanen R, Lyytinen H (2002) The Orienting Response In Information Processing. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Mahwah, New Jersey. London.

Contact Teri Marcos

ARNA - Action Research Network of the America's

Some of our Students' AR Studies

As faculty within the STAR-ARC we guide many aspiring Participatory and Action Researchers to complete fascinating, helpful topics, alongside others within their organizations. A sampling of our current studies include some of these new doctoral students' preliminary research questions:

What are the perceptions of teachers on the effects of the implementation of a social emotional learning program in 5th grade student performance indicators for mathematics/LA/attendance/behavior referrals?

What is the impact of program evaluation by decision makers on the reduction of homelessness within Imperial County?

What are the effects of a co-created (co-taught) SpEd and GenEd delivered (math/LA/social science/computer science/electives) curriculum on the (social emotional learning/performance indicators) of secondary students with severe autism?

What is the impact of increased transparency in mentor-mentee training on teacher retention and satisfaction in a large California County Office of Education?

What are the effects of providing increased student choice for the learning process on increased student happiness and passion for learning in 4th - 6th graders at a Title I school?

What challenges and barriers preclude access to higher education for first generation immigrant students in Los Angeles County?

What is the impact of implementing a multi-generational hiring process on the overall turnover/retention/attrition rates for a municipal swimming program in San Diego County?

What tactics/strategies contribute to improved conversations/coordination across affinity groups within staff, faculty, and administration at a large community college in San Diego County?

What is the relationship of mindfulness awareness training, independent daily meditation, and journaling, in reducing anxiety and fatigue while increasing motivation in elementary teachers?

How does productivity and employee performance [metrics] improve and optimize the process of property assessment and valuation within a large California Office of the Assessor?

What are the effects/impact of the implementation of supplemental instruction with an in-class and an online presence to support the English 101 Reading and Composition course on overall accomplishment and GE requirement of community college performance indicators?

What is the impact of planning and development of school projects on school operations and student learning in a Riverside County school district?

What is the relationship between 11th grade CAASP test scores and student attrition in at-risk students who are behind in credits earned within a large urban high school in LA county?

How do targeted pre-assessments in credentialing courses inform evidence-based targeted interventions in pre-service teachers?


Resources for Your Consideration...

Champion Teachers: Stories of Exploratory Action Research. The primary purpose of the present book is to provide examples to other teachers of what an exploratory action research project can involve. The nine stories included here also serve to show others in Chile and beyond what some of the Champion Teachers have managed to accomplish in spite of their difficult working conditions.

A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. This is a practical handbook, written in a non-academic, teacher-friendly style, to show teachers how they can engage in practitioner research for continuing professional development and for the benefit of their students. The book is unique in the literature on teacher-research in ELT in being particularly targeted at secondary and primary school teachers working in relatively difficult circumstances.

The Center for Collaborative Action Research (CCAR) affords action researchers 12 tutorials that were developed to support action researchers in their work. Each tutorial includes a video, activities, and supporting resources (https://www.actionresearchtutorials.org).

The Social Publisher's Foundation is a non-profit corporation organized for public and charitable purposes to provide support for practitioner-research projects for improved individual and social well-being within communities and to disseminate completed projects around the world. The Foundation is committed to establishing a global non-profit, open source network of practitioner-researchers engaged with sustainable and just social and human development in a variety of critical domains involving professional practices and citizen involvement.

Books to Explore

Books you will want to know about...

1. The Good Men Project is highly recommended for practitioners and scholars who work to provide learning opportunities to refugees, and it may also be a useful read for policymakers to consider opening up more learning spaces for refugees and asylum seekers.

2. Putman, M., Rock, T. (2017). Action research: Using strategic inquiry to improve teaching and learning. Thousand Oaks: SAGE ISBN-13: 978-1506307985 Acknowledging their experiences working with teachers, the authors describe that one of the principal reasons for writing their book was to address the needs of practitioners in the field. The authors note that the orientation of the book toward proactive planning as part of an organized, efficient process for developing and conducting an action research study will help readers at a variety of levels, including practicing teachers, pre-service candidates, educational leaders, and administrators. Acknowledging these different audiences the authors see the primary use of the text as a primary or supplemental resource in a graduate-level action research class or professional development seminar. Given the focus on methods and processes that incorporate formative data that is readily available to teachers, the authors note that practitioners will be able to make direct associations between classroom instruction and the action research process.

3. Zuber-Skerritt, O., Wood, L., (2019) Action Learning and Action Research: Genres and Approaches. Emerald Publishing Limited ISBN: 978178769538. Action Research (AR) is an ideal methodology to enable practical and emancipatory outcomes, as well as to generate relevant and authentic theory. Consequently, it has gained popularity worldwide. However, this emerging paradigm of AR in the Social Sciences has been widely misunderstood and misused by researchers, educators, and practitioners. The integration of Action Learning with Action Research deepens understanding and contributes to new knowledge about the theory, practice, and processes of both Action Learning (AL) and Action Research (AR). It clarifies what constitutes AL/AR in its many forms and what it is not. AL and AR enable participants to effectively approach increasingly complex global challenges confronting humankind in this twenty-first century, collectively achieve practical, emancipatory and sustainable outcomes and generate relevant, authentic theory. This book, written by internationally renowned experts, is the first to provide a comprehensive overview of the main genres and approaches of AL/AR. They explain the genre of their expertise, reflect on their rich experiences with it, and consider both the common features shared across the AL/AR paradigm and what is distinctive about the particular genre they overview. This book discusses the what, why and how of their particular approach and will prove invaluable for researchers and practitioners alike.

4. Fine, M., (2018) Just Research in Contentious Times: Widening the Methodological Imagination. Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition. Michelle Fine who gave the keynotes at the last two conferences has a new book - Just Research in Contentious Times: Widening the Methodological Imagination. Drawing from both personal and professional experiences, Michelle Fine focusses on how methodological imagination has served her well in crafting research with underserved communities. Fine shares her struggles over the course of 30 years to translate research into policy and practice that can enhance the human condition and create a more just world. The book examines a wide array of critical participatory action research (PAR) projects involving school pushouts, Muslim American youth, queer youth of color, women in prison, and children navigating under-resourced schools. Throughout her writing, Fine encourages the readers to consider the sensitive decisions about epistemology, ethics, politics, and methods; critical approaches to analysis and interpretation; and participatory strategies for policy development and organizing. This book is an invaluable guide for creating successful participatory action research projects in times of inequity and uncertainty.

5. Feldman, A., Herbert, A., Posch, P., Somekh, B. (2018). Teachers Investigate Their Work. an Introduction to Action Research across the Professions. 3rd ed. London: Routledge. Now in its third edition, Teachers Investigate Their Work introduces both the theoretical concepts and the practical methods necessary for readers wishing to develop their action research. Drawing from studies carried out by teachers and other professionals, as well as from the authors’ own international practical experience, the book provides detail on multiple educational contexts from primary education to university training and beyond. It contains practical methods and strategies to understand and conduct action research. It is a concise yet thorough introduction to action research and is an essential, practical, and easily accessible handbook for teachers, senior staff, and researchers who want to engage in innovation and improve their practice.

6. Rowell, L., Bruce, C., Shosh, J.M., Riel, M. (Eds.) (2017). The Palgrave International Handbook of Action Research. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN:9781138225756 The Palgrave International Handbook of Action Research offers a vivid portrait of both theoretical perspectives and practical action research activity and related benefits around the globe while attending to the cultural, political, social, historical and ecological contexts that localize, shape and characterize action research. Consisting of teachers, youth workers, counselors, nurses, community developers, artists, ecologists, farmers, settlement-dwellers, students, professors and intellectual-activists on every continent and at every edge of the globe, the movement sustained and inspired by this community was born of the efforts of intellectual-activists in the mid-twentieth century specifically: Orlando Fals Borda, Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, Kurt Lewin. Cross-national issues of networking, as well as the challenges, tensions, and issues associated with the transformative power of action research, are explored from multiple perspectives providing unique contributions to our understanding of what it means to do action research and to be an action researcher. This handbook sets a global action research agenda and map for readers to consider as they embark on new projects.

Upcoming Conferences

Conferences and Networking for Action Researchers...

An International Conference on Action Research in Foreign Language Classes, November 26-27 2019, The University of Gavle, Sweden. The conference sheds light on the challenges and benefits of taking action to solve problems that foreign language practitioners may face throughout their career as teachers and/or researchers. Teachers need to develop the ability to observe and analyze classroom practices and implement and evaluate courses, textbooks, and teaching materials. The conference is research-oriented and includes keynote speakers, individual presentations, panel presentations/workshops, and poster presentations. Click HERE for more information.

7th International Action Learning Conference 2020 – Action Learning for Social Action, 6-8 April 2020, Eldon Building, University of Portsmouth, UK. The world is ever more complex, divided and vulnerable and in need of innovative solutions. In a fractured world, at both a global and local level, we know that action learning is making a contribution in relation to the pressing problems of our time. Fresh questions, new insights, and imaginative conversations are now needed. The conference seeks to be a forum for sharing experience, insights, questions, and practice. Website: 7th International Action Learning Conference 2020

ARNA 2020: Co-creating Knowledge and Empowering Communities. The 8th Annual Conference of the Action Research Network of the Americas, June 3-6, 2020, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The conference will be co-sponsored by a consortium of local community agencies, including the Fundacion Punta de Mita, and La Red de Asociaciones Altruistas de Puerto Vallarta y Bahia de Banderas. The theme chosen for the conference is: The hope of the Conference Organizing Committee is that the focused theme, keynote speakers, and presentations will generate interest in the place of community-based participation in action research - CBPAR. Website: ARNA Conferences

Action Research and Action Learning (ARAL), 12-15 Jul 2020, DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld, Orlando, USA. The Action Research and Action Learning aims to be an integration of academic activities: research, education, and consulting/real-life problem solving, integration among disciplines: inter-disciplinary research, education, and communication, and integration among academe, industry, and society. Website: https://10times.com/aral

An Invitation from STAR-ARC...

The STAR-ARC invites the larger ARNA community to join us in expanding the site and discussing ideas, activities, projects and resources. Members have made the site available in Spanish, developing a blog to encourage feedback and working on an idea to offer STAR Conversations on issues related to teaching action research.

Thanks to all that joined us at the ARNA conference in Montreal. If you have ideas or professional needs as a teacher of action research, please come and share your ideas. We will evolve with all of you.


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