3.4 Research & Knowledge Creation
Candidates use evidence-based, action research to collect data.
“I don’t have time to fit that into my course.” “I’m hard-pressed to cover the material in the curriculum guide as it is.” “I have too much to worry about with high-stakes testing.” “Young adult literature doesn’t provide academic rigor.” These are the all-too-common responses when high school teachers are asked why they don’t consider incorporating outside reading assignments into their course requirements. I began developing my action research project with the following problem statement at the core: The school librarian at Century High School has observed that requiring students to complete outside reading alongside curricular texts seems to foster leisure reading and promote student use of the library. She would like to see an increase in the number of faculty members offering such assignments, but most do not acknowledge the practice as valuable. I need to define the extent to which required outside reading assignments contribute to ninth and tenth grade students' academic habits, attitudes, and achievement. My action research plan with accompanying measurement tools demonstrates my ability to “use evidence-based action research to collect data.”
I developed three specific research questions for the given problem: (1) Is there a correlation between the assignment of mandatory outside reading projects and a student’s likelihood of reading for pleasure?, (2) How does the incorporation of outside reading assignments into the curriculum affect the student-perceived course relevance?, and (3) How does the academic success of students whose teachers incorporate outside reading assignments into the existing curriculum compare with the success of those whose teachers do not? I triangulated the data, planning to collect from three different data sources for each research question, thereby ensuring the validity of the study.
Throughout the development of my data collection tools, I found myself often anxiously revisiting the matter of the validity of the evidence I would collect. I considered, for instance, analyzing GPA records and standardized test scores to explore how the academic success of students whose teachers incorporate outside reading assignments compares with the academic success of those whose teachers do not. Ultimately, I just did not feel that I could justify the validity of such a source. Too many other factors go into test scores and GPAs for me to feel secure with illustrating any type of correlation between them and outside reading assignments. After all, a student may only have outside reading assignment in 1 course throughout an entire year. The connection just seems too tenuous. All throughout my development of the tools, I referred back to my trusty research questions, a great comfort when I began to feel as though my mind was turning to mush. Research questions are so essential in making sure you do not lose your way one you get into the thick of your action research planning.
Though I did not have the opportunity to implement my action research study as a part of my coursework, I hope to do so in the future. To address the first question as to whether there is a correlation between the assignment of mandatory outside reading projects and a student’s likelihood of reading for pleasure, I will collect evidence from an analysis of circulation data, an interview with the school library at Century High School, and a survey of students in both my control and experimental groups. I will examine individual circulation records for the students in my two control and two experimental groups and also analyze circulation data for the ninth and tenth grade populations as a whole. I will then compare the frequency of book circulation between groups to look for trends, asking “Do students whose teachers assign outside reading assignments in conjunction with curricular learning check out materials from the school library more frequently than students whose teachers do not?” and “How do the circulation habits of those students in the control and experimental groups compare with the circulation habits for their grade level as a whole?” To the school librarian, I will pose questions such as, “When students come into the library with their teacher to make outside reading selections for class assignments, what student comments do you overhear?” and “Do you see students who have come into the library with a class to select an outside reading book leave with more than one book? If so, are these students you see frequently in the library?” The student groups surveyed will respond to prompts such as, “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: In the past, reading a text for a required school assignment has made me want to read more.”
The second question, “How does the incorporation of outside reading assignments into the curriculum affect the student-perceived course relevance?” zeroes in on a major focus area of my current building. I will collect data through a survey of the control and experimental student groups, the observation of the control and experimental English 1 and U.S. History classes, and also through the analysis of student journaling. In the survey, students will be asked, “Does your teacher require you to complete outside reading assignments as a part of your coursework?” and will subsequently respond to items such as, “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: I can connect the things I learn in class to current events, the real world, and/or my future career.” In thirty minute sessions, I will observe each of the eight classes that are a part of my control and experimental groups four times over the course of the semester. My goal will be to compare the instances of student connection of course content with their own experiences and observations (including their independent reading) between the control and experimental groups. I will utilize a free-flow journaling method to make comparisons not only numerically, based on the number of times certain behaviors occur, but to also make observations and draw conclusions by evaluating the depth, quality, and length of the interactions and contributions. I will record detailed observations every time a student engages in a conversation with the teacher or peers that illustrates a connection between course content and current events; the real world; future application; or the students own personal experiences, observations, and/or feelings. Each time the students begin a unit that will incorporate outside reading into the curriculum, they will complete a cycle of journaling by responding to the four itemized prompts, reflecting on the start of the new unit, on their learning through course texts and classroom activities, on their outside reading books, and on the connections between their outside reading book and the course material.
The final question of the impact of outside reading assignments on student success would be addressed through a survey of the control and experimental groups of students, a survey of the control and experimental groups of faculty, and an analysis of course grade averages for the control and experimental groups. The student surveys will include response items such as, “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: I learn course material more easily when I have read about it in multiple, varied sources.” The faculty survey will feature prompts such as “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: My students' outside reading habits have a positive impact on their success in my classroom” and “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: My lowest performing students have difficulty connecting to the course material.” Over the course of the semester, I will evaluate the academic success of those students in my control and experimental groups by analyzing their grades in English 1 or U.S. History at four different intervals: Interim 1, Marking Period 1, Interim 2, and Marking Period 2. I will also then analyze their final reported transcript grades for the course. At each interval and most especially at the conclusion of the semester, I will study the data to look for trends, posing questions such as: “Which class has the highest class average at each checkpoint? Are there any patterns or notable consistencies evident?”
While planning the triangulation of each research question was an arduous process, I have come to respect and appreciate this standard of quality control. Conclusions drawn from three sources of information are much stronger than those drawn from only one, and at the end of the day, if a school librarian is to successfully encourage teachers to alter their practices for the benefit of students, that benefit better be clearly proven and articulated.
The course Action Research for School Libraries was a tremendous learning experience for me, having never before taken a course that allowed me to design my own research model, and I initially felt out-of-my-league. As a former English major, I had an analytical mind, but I had absolutely no background in collecting data from evidence-based action research. And I was not alone. For my classmates and I, much of the early class time was spent clearly defining for ourselves what exactly action research was. Action Research" is one of those buzz word terms that circulates in the educational field (i.e. "Oh, yes, of course, action research."), but not as many of us have as true a handle on it as we let on. I think that became very clear for most of us when the time came to conduct our interview with a practicing librarian; we found that most of them didn't really know whether they had ever done action research before. Through my course readings and my development of this action research plan and measurement tools, I came to define action research as a slightly more formal approach to what should be intuitive behaviors as a reflective educator. Action Research is based around a real-time problem or question pertaining to your library. A librarian approaches action research with the goals of ever working to improve both the library program and student achievement.
My Data Collection Tools Activity clearly demonstrates that I "use evidence-based, action research to collect data." Though the time constraints of the course Action Research for School Libraries were not such that I could implement my action research, I carefully crafted a realistic, highly valid and reliable plan for the conducting of research in regards to the coupling of outside reading assignments with traditional curricular material. My professor’s feedback stated, “You created a sound, meaningful study that could be implemented immediately.” I triangulated the data collection process for each of my three research questions, collecting data from three primary stakeholder groups (students, faculty, school librarian) and incorporating a variety of data collection methods (three surveys, one interview, researcher observation, student journaling, circulation analysis, grade analysis. The inclusion of control and experimental groups within my action research design is particularly strong, allowing for direct comparison between like students, some whose teachers incorporate outside reading assignments into the curriculum and some whose teachers do not, within two grade levels and two courses required for graduation.