Chapter 11: Action research

Activity 1

Read the short case study here before answering the questions.

Nuala works in a room with children 2–3 years old in a nursery. She wants to undertake a piece of action research with the purpose of enhancing snack times such as through the introduction of ‘real’ crockery such as china cups and serving dishes as opposed to the plastic crockery currently in use. The practitioners she works with are concerned about accidents and complaints from parents. Underpinning their concerns is a view of the children as ‘incompetent’ in using such equipment and needing to be protected at all times by the adults.

  • What might Nuala do to encourage the practitioners and parents that this is a worthwhile project to undertake?
  • How might she address the very real concerns of the practitioners (and possibly parents too) about safety?
  • How and why might it be useful to record these initial misgivings about the project?
  • What might Nuala do to evaluate how the action research project is progressing?

Click here to read some points to aid reflection.

In order to encourage participation in this action research project, Nuala might do a number of things:

  • Listen to the ideas of the parents and practitioners as to what they would like to see to enhance snack times. This might be done in the form of a meeting, which Nuala records (with permission) as part of the data collection for the project. Alternatively, a short questionnaire or brief interview might be employed.
  • Listen carefully to those who have misgivings and problem-solve how these might be allayed. Again, this might be useful in the form of a meeting, which Nuala records (with permission) as part of the data collection for the project.
  • It may take a while to change attitudes so perhaps Nuala might start small, for example with a china serving plate on a new tablecloth and see how this is received by children and adults before introducing other new items and ideas.
  • Provide a summary of her reading on the topic which might provide useful evidence to support giving the china crockery a trial.
  • Promise to record carefully any potential incidents and provide opportunities to reflect on these if they occur. Recording this part of an action research project would be important because:
    • It would provide data as to participants initial thoughts – positive or negative – about the area of practice Nuala hopes to develop. By doing this in a systematic way, later on – when she interviews participants again either individually or as a group (or collects data via a questionnaire) – she can compare how attitudes have changed over time. Perhaps ideas have not changed, perhaps they have become entrenched or perhaps a seismic shift has occurred in attitudes as the project develops. Unless there is some evidence (from data) of these initial thoughts there will be no basis on which to claim any shift in thinking.
  • Nuala would need to keep observational notes of the snack times over the course of the project. Again, this acts as evidence which will help her to show if there is any shift over time in snack time practice, for example do children enjoy having the china crockery? How is it used? How are they helped to appreciate that it is breakable and needs to be cared for?
  • Action research is usually considered to operate in cyclical form and sometimes as a series of cycles or spirals. Thus, at various points during the course of the research, Nuala will need to review the success of her new initiative. What has worked well? What has been less successful? What possible reasons are there for this? Alongside her observational data and interview data, perhaps gathered from meetings, she might keep a reflective journal. In this she could record her feelings on managing the project – perhaps there are things she might learn about leading change of practice in a setting.

Activity 2

Sage research methods content

Nah, K.O. and Lee, S.M. (2016) ‘Actualizing children’s participation in the development of outdoor play areas at an early childhood institution’, Action Research, 14(3): 335–51.

This paper documents an action research project undertaken in South Korea, which focuses on the participation of 5–6-year-old children as co-constructors of the project, involved at all stages of the project which sought to develop the outdoor area. The paper is of interest to those of you interested in children’s participation in research and reflects on issues of consent, data collection and analysis and how such issues were negotiated with the children.