ACTION RESEARCH TEACHING

Generally speaking, when I started this project, I wanted to dispel the idea that there are magical solutions in teaching. So much of the education community appears to be focused on finding that one weird trick that will solve all of their educational problems. And while I still do not believe that such a strategy exists, I have to admit if there was one, it would probably be Action Research. Action Research teaching, is the idea that teachers should use formative assessments, to create data as they teach. 


Within this model, teachers are then supposed to use this data collection to inform themselves, on what to teach and how to teach. For example, if a teacher is attempting to teach their class how to use commas and the formative assessment data shows that students are not making progress, the teacher should use this data to come to the conclusion that they need to change how they are instructing the material. Similarly, with these methods, if a teacher collects formative data that shows their students have mastered the material faster than expected, the teacher should use this data to inform themselves, to move on to new curriculum. These types of approaches, transform regular classroom instruction, into data/evidence-driven instruction. 


Action teaching usually relies on a complex framework, that guides the processes by which teachers use the approach. In Ontario, the Building Capacity series specifically advocates for the Collaborative Inquiry action teaching framework. However, this model of action teaching is actually fairly new and there exist many other frameworks, built on the same foundational principles. The Literacy Assessment, Planning, and Instruction Cycle (LAPIC) is another popular action framework from Ontario, and Response to Intervention or (RTI) is extremely popular in the USA and Australia.

These frameworks can appear to be very ominous and daunting because they essentially force the teacher who is using them to not only completely change how they teach in their classrooms, but they require the teacher to do this over and over again on a continual basis. However, there is also a lot of research supporting their efficacy. John Hattie has put the ES of RTI for example at, 1.29. It is also the highest-ranked teaching methodology on our list of Reading Instructional strategies, ranked according to meta-data. Indeed, it has a much higher ES than many other very popular, reading instructional strategies such as phonics, fluency interventions, or Reciprocal Reading.

Dylan Wiliam pointed out on our podcast, that while the average mean ES of RTI is very high that there are more RTI studies with a negative ES than positive ones. While this could suggest that the studies showing a positive benefit to RTI were statistical anomalies, given the extremely high number of studies on the topic, this appears highly unlikely. For example, the  Loan Tran, et al, RTI meta-analysis done 2011, looked at 107 different weighted effect sizes for RTI and still came up with a net positive ES of .76 with a 95% confidence interval. 


Moreover, their effect size appeared to be lowered by the fact that they had large differences between high responders and low responders, as well as the fact that they were measuring multiple different outcomes. For example, their high responders on Reading Attack and Word Identification were 1.28 and 1.53 respectively, compared to 1.10 and 1.06 respectively for low responders. More importantly, if we look at the low responders for reading comprehension, low responders had an ES of .43 compared to the high responders who had an ES of 1.43. Obviously, the outliers in the effect size for reading comprehension is creating an artificially low overall mean ES of .76, in this study. However, if we correct for this and average out all the effect sizes for just Reading attack and Word Identification we get an overall ES of 1.24. This ES is extremely comparable to John Hattie’s 1.29. 


Nonetheless, there does appear to be a large amount of volatility in the data when looking at RTI research. When we consider the fact that the average mean ES for RTI is so high, while most RTI studies show a net negative outcome, we must assume that in the studies where RTI was net positive, the results, were even higher than the mean ES would suggest. Personally, what I believe we are witnessing in this statistical volatility, is the impact of execution on a complex teaching intervention. RTI, requires a lot of effort and training for teachers, to effectively implement and ultimately, a lot of motivation. RTI is not an intervention that should be half-heartedly implemented, without serious intention. 


Personally, I received training on the RTI model, 6 years ago, while teaching in Quebec and have been using some form of action based teaching ever since. Action-based teaching has not only completely changed how I teach, but how I look at teaching practice. In my experience, it is easy to assume you are doing a good job, as a teacher,  or to at least think that you are doing the best you can, when you're not collecting data. But if you start with the assumption that all students are capable of higher learning and then collect data that shows your students are not successfully learning something, you have to assume the problem is not with your students, it’s with your methods. 


Over the years, I have developed my own Action Research teaching framework, which I personally believe improves upon the concept, by taking a more global perspective. However, at the end of the day, I do not think it matters, which Action Research teaching framework a teacher uses. Whether you use RTI, Collaborative Inquiry, or LAPIC, these models all lift the veil of secrecy between you and your actual successes or failures as a teacher. Once you start tracking real, objective, formative data, you know whose learning, whose not, what your students know, what they don’t, and just as importantly, you know how fast your students learn, when they are learning. Personally, I will never switch back to a traditional model of education again, as I no longer believe in the efficacy of a traditional model of education. I firmly believe that any teacher who uses one of these frameworks for a consistent period of time will at least double their educational results. 

References:


G, Nugent, et al. (2012). A Practical Guide to Action Research for Literacy Educators. International Reading Association. Retrieved from <https://www.literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/resource-documents/a-practical-guide-to-action-research-for-literacy-educators.pdf?sfvrsn=4>.

J, Hattie. (2018). Hattie Ranking: 252 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement Visible learning. Retrieved from <https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/>.

Tran, L., Sanchez, T., Arellano, B., & Lee Swanson, H. (2011). A Meta-Analysis of the RTI Literature for Children at Risk for Reading Disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(3), 283–295. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219410378447 

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