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My Journey Through the Action Research Process

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Mary Kendall

on 11 April 2013

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Transcript of My Journey Through the Action Research Process

My Journey Through the Action Research Process by Mary Catherine Kendall A little less than a year ago, I signed up for EDU 594, a research class for my graduate program. I had no idea what I would learn, or how beneficial the class would be. All I knew was that I had to "do" research, and in the past, when I "did" research, it amounted to a lot of reading and a lot of writing, but not a lot of "doing". Fortunately, this type of research was different.

We were going to be doing ACTION RESEARCH, which I learned is actually the same thing I do on a daily basis as a teacher, but with a little more structure to it. Action research is defined by Mertler (2012) as “research that is done by teachers for themselves” (p. 4). There are several benefits to Action Research, including the abilities to: Investigate classroom issues within the context of a real classroom Determine the effectiveness of instructional methods Contribute to knowledge of best practices within the teaching field - Pappas & Tucker-Raymond, 2011 At first, I was puzzled as I tried to decide what topic to choose. There were many that could be interesting, but I wanted to make sure I chose something really important and practical. My idea for research came to me after school one day as I thought back over what I did (and did not) get accomplished. I realized I always managed to get to reading and math, but didn’t always have time for other important subjects like science or social studies. I knew these were important subjects, but couldn’t figure out how to teach them when I already had a jam-packed schedule. The more I read about this topic, the more interested I became.

Research showed reading was given priority over most other subjects. "Reading, identified as the backbone of education in the United States, receives more instructional time than any other area."

-Hein and Sabra (1994), as cited in El-Hindi (2003) p. 536 While realizing the paramount importance of reading instruction, many sources lamented the negative impact the priority on reading has on other subjects, particularly content instruction.

-El-Hindi (2003); McDonough (2006); Ross & Frey (2002) McDonough (2006) suggested reading risks being seen as a "curricular 'bully' in today's schools, gobbling up so much of the curricular time and space as to effectively eliminate science social studies, and the humanities..." (p. 241). Suddenly, an idea came to me:

What if I taught content from one of those “neglected” areas during my reading time?

Could I do that?

How would it work? Now I had a research question: What are some effective strategies for incorporating science content with reading instruction? To investigate this question, I began to design a study using the students from my 3rd grade classroom. There were 19 third grade students who would be involved:
10 female, 9 male
16 Caucasian, 2 Hispanic, 1 African American
1 student with an IEP (Speech only)
58% performing at or above grade level in reading based on the MAP assessment I decided to break my 8 week study up into smaller mini-units of both science and reading content. My science content was derived from the Kentucky Core Content for Assessment because the updated Kentucky Common Core Standards for science were not yet complete. I decided on the following material for each 2-week long mini-unit: Unit 1: I can describe the Earth. Unit 2: I can describe our solar system. Unit 3: I can describe the properties and locations of the sun and moon. Unit 4: I can describe how the movement of the sun and moon affect the Earth. The reading content was pulled from the Kentucky Common Core Standards.

The first unit of reading lasted about 4 weeks, while the others took about 2 weeks each. I took more time with the first unit because it covered a large variety of topics, including many non-fiction text features. The 3 reading mini-units focused on the following topics: Unit 1: I can use text features to help me understand non-fiction texts. Unit 2: I can identify the main idea and supporting details of a passage. Unit 3: I can identify cause and effect in a passage. From the beginning, I developed a basic plan of how I wanted to integrate science content with reading instruction. First, I would activate the students’ prior knowledge. This would allow me to build upon what the students already know. Next, I would use interactive read-alouds to introduce the topic of the day, model reading strategy usage, and get students thinking about the content.
Read-alouds can benefit students by: Encouraging students to actively engage in the reading of a text Exposing students to texts above their independent reading level Fostering discussions among students on ideas presented in the text - Cervetti , Pearson, Bravo, & Barber, 2006; Heisey & Kucan, 2010 Then students would engage in non-fiction partner reading, allowing for more exposure to the content and a chance to practice the reading strategy. According to Heisey & Kucan (2010), “moving beyond a single text as a source for building students’ understanding is an important instructional approach” (p. 675). Finally, students would have time to read books independently, either about the topic at hand, or of their own choice. I also chose methods for gathering data before, during, and after the study. I used both measures of quantitative data and qualitative data to gain a complete picture of how my students performed over the course of the unit. Students completed a pre- and post-assessment for the study.

There was one assessment for reading skills and one for science content. Reading Assessment Both the pre- and post-assessments were exactly the same. There were 2 reading passages, 30 questions, and 3 short sections where students were given an example of a non-fiction feature (glossary, index, and table of contents) and asked questions about it. 15 questions were multiple choice, 2 were short answer, and 13 were either listing or giving a 1-2 word answer. The test content focused on reading non-fiction using text features, identifying main idea and details, and finding cause and effect relationships in a text. Science Assessment The pre- and post-assessments were exactly the same with one exception. I removed 1 question from the post-assessment because we did not have time to cover that concept. I made adjustments for this when scoring the pre-assessments. There were 22 questions in all. Of these, 12 questions were multiple choice, 5 were short answer, 4 were listing, and 1 was true/false. The test content focused on the main concepts taught in each of the 4 science mini-units. In addition, students completed short quizzes at the end of each mini-unit to demonstrate how well they mastered the content. Learning Logs Students used learning logs throughout the unit to record new information, ask questions, draw diagrams, and demonstrate their thinking. Observations During the unit, I used a video camera to record what happened during the lessons.

Video-taping provided me with a clear picture of my classroom during the study and allowed me to note details I may have missed out on while teaching the lesson.

Afterward, I was able to go back and transcribe my conversations with the class and with individual students, providing rich data about the students and their learning.

In addition, I reflected on each lesson and what I observed, allowing me to make important decisions about upcoming instruction. Field Notes Over the course of the unit, I took field notes to describe a variety of things in my classroom:
students' actions
students' words
lesson results Student Survey Prior to my study, I created a survey for my students to complete.

The survey asked students questions about their thoughts on current science and reading instruction and how I could improve it. The survey also asked students whether or not they enjoyed reading non-fiction texts and why.

Students were given the opportunity to either put their name on the survey or remain anonymous to help ensure students' honesty.

The survey assisted me in making decisions about how to teach science and reading based on the students' preferences. The Study The study started off well. My students were interested in the topics and they were excited about a new way of "doing" reading and science.

It didn't take long for the "honeymoon phase" to wear off, though... I began to notice my students were not nearly as engaged as I'd hoped they would be.

This happened most frequently during the read-aloud portion or the guided reading.

I decided something needed to change... At first, during guided reading, we tried to do some whole class reading and discussion with the text. This approach absolutely did NOT keep the students interested.

I wanted the students to do more reading with partners, but I struggled to find ways to hold them accountable for their reading. How could I do this? Ways to Promote Student Engagement Outlines Purpose for Reading Student Interest Use of Demonstrations Variety of Texts I gave students basic outlines of a text to read with partners. The pair had to work together to fill in key words and concepts from the text. This lead to lots of rich discussion between students about the text. I began to give students a specific purpose for reading. Maybe they were listening or looking for new words, specific content, or important concepts. This required them to think as they read. I allowed student interest to play a part in learning. For example, I would have students brainstorm questions they had about a topic and then we listened for the answers as we read. The students enjoyed seeing demos of science content (the movement of the moon and Earth, for example) but were a lot more engaged when THEY were a part of the demo. This held their interest and helped them learn. I used a variety of texts, both written, and non-written to teach my students. This variety helped keep their interest. Examples of texts I used were:
trade books
Internet sites
printable books for students to complete After implementing some of the previously mentioned strategies for improving student engagement, my students' interest picked up.

This progress was rewarding, but yet another challenge had become evident in the process. I became concerned I was not effectively integrating reading and science instruction, but instead was cramming two separate subjects into one block of time.

It was important for me to blend the two subjects into one cohesive unit. This would allow students to see how reading strategies could be applied to other content areas. Ways to Integrate Science and Reading Reading Non-Fiction Cause and Effect Main Idea and Details This was fairly simple. During the read-aloud (with science content), I used direct instruction about the text features and how they helped me understand what I read. When students read with partners, they were required to use all parts of the text to find important information, giving them a chance to apply what they learned. This was a little more difficult. First, I modeled during the read-aloud by finding the main idea of a section and telling how I knew.

Next, students practiced the skill in isolation, using different colored highlighters to identify the main idea and details of paragraphs.

Finally, students applied their knowledge by reading a science passage and sorting out main ideas and details and arranging them into paragraphs. This activity required application of the reading skill while reinforcing the science content. As with the other reading skills, I first modeled during the read-aloud by identifying causes and effects within the text we were reading.

After this, the students practiced the skill in isolation. They played games requiring them to match causes to effects and practiced finding these relationships within short texts.

Then students applied their knowledge by reading science texts and finding examples of cause and effect relationships within the passage. Through implementing these activities, I was able to do a more effective job of blending science and reading together.

The students demonstrated understanding that the reading skills could be used to help them better understand texts of all types. My Findings Data Analysis I analyzed my data carefully in several ways. First, I analyzed my pre- and post-assessments to determine whether students had made progress throughout the unit. I looked for trends and patterns in this data. Then I went back through my field notes and notes from my observations and looked for patterns. This was fairly easy because I typed all my notes out and had already made some comments and interpretations about what happened during the lessons. In all, I found 16 patterns and labeled them each with a code. Next, I consolidated and narrowed these codes down to 3 main themes found within the data. The themes from my data analysis supported 3 findings for how to effectively integrate science content with reading instruction. Student engagement is crucial! Using a variety of texts is important! Students must read with a purpose! If students are not engaged, they are not effectively learning. When my students sat and listened to material being presented, they retained little. When they read, asked questions about, discussed, took notes on, and really interacted with the material, they LEARNED and REMEMBERED it! Look how my students grew! Look how my students grew! Using only one text provides students with limited exposure to the material. Providing many texts of a wide variety (books, videos, Internet sites, etc.) gives students more opportunities to read about and interact with the material. Hmm... McDonough went on, however, to encourage educators to use reading as a curricular "buddy" to support other disciplines in school (2006, p. 241). When students read, they need to have a clear purpose in mind. If I simply instructed my students to read a passage, most had difficulty recalling important points afterward. When I asked students to search for specific information as they read, they were more likely to remember and make sense of the text. My students were more engaged and on-task when they had a purpose for reading the material. So. . .why is my study important? How can it help other teachers? 1. This study shows integration of science content and reading instruction is possible and can be done effectively. What other content areas could be integrated as well? 2. The study supports several practices for integrating science and reading instruction. These include keeping students highly engaged, using multiple texts of various types, and giving students a purpose for reading. 3. My study was completed successfully with third grade students. I believe teachers in other grades could integrate content with reading instruction by using the basic practices I outlined and modifying them so they are appropriate for their students' level. References Presentation Before my presentation to my graduate class, I was incredibly nervous. . . I was prepared and knew my material well, especially after spending so much time immersed in the study. I liked my study and thought my results were important. I was comfortable with my fellow classmates and knew they would be a great audience. I generally do well when I have to speak in front of others. Nonetheless, not much terrifies me (or others) as much as getting up in front of my peers (and instructor) and presenting. Fortunately, my nerves did not get the best of me, and the presentation went pretty well. I made a few notes about information to check on and changed a small typo I found on my presentation before I presented it at school. Before I presented to my colleagues at school, I was still nervous, but it was not nearly as bad as the first time.

Maybe it was because I had already had a trial run of the presentation and I had more confidence that it would go well.

Or maybe it was because I am good friends with most of the people I work with and did not feel as much pressure.

Either way, I was glad to not be so nervous and gave a great presentation. Presentation Strengths: Presentation was almost like a conversation about my study. It was very casual and easy for my colleagues to relate to.

The information presented could be used at various grade levels - several people there talked to me later about how they could see integration of content areas and reading in their classroom.

The graphs showing pre-assessments vs. post-assessments were very effective in showing student growth.

I was able to provide a little more information on some aspects of the study based on the questions from my grad school presentation. I discussed the makeup of the assessments more and was able to discuss my students' growth in reading non-fiction on the MAP test. Areas for Growth: I say "Um..." a lot. It is a nervous habit, but I would sound more professional without it.

I wish I would have zoomed in on some of the samples of student work I had. You could see them fairly well on the computer, but up on the bigger screen, you could not see details from farther away.

I am not sure if this is necessary, but I realized my presentation was not very interactive. My audience seemed interested, but I wonder what I could have done to have made it even better? A clip from my presentation: A few final thoughts from my journey. . . Successes Overall my students showed tremendous growth, especially in science. The process was very cyclic. I was able to try a method, evaluate it, and move forward from there. I was finally able to find ways to keep my students engaged during the lessons while also effectively teaching the content. Struggles Becoming accustomed to the video camera was difficult at first for the students. Keeping students engaged was a struggle for a while, but by using using what I already knew about teaching reading, I was able to keep them interested. My attempt to really "blend" science and reading together through using a main idea activity was a disaster. Students were gluing and cutting out sentences, sorting them out into main ideas and details, and then gluing them on paper to make paragraphs. The sentences I gave were too difficult and we had a chaotic mess of incorrectly glued sentences. What I learned I essentially do action research on a small scale daily. I teach, I modify, and then I teach again! I AM a researcher! I am capable of going through the process step-by-step, making changes as needed, and getting results. This is very empowering! The Action Research Process is very flexible. You develop a basic idea, knowing it can and will change as you go through the process. You do not have to have it all figured out from the start. Reading CAN be used to teach other content areas! Make sure students are engaged in the learning process, read for a purpose, and are exposed to the content through a variety of texts. Thank you for coming on this journey with me! Cervetti, G. N., Pearson, P. D., Bravo, M. A., & Barber, J. (2006). Reading and writing in the service of inquiry-based science. In R. Douglas, M.P. Klentschy, & K. Worth (Eds.), Linking science & literacy in the K-8 classroom (pp. 221-244). National Science Teachers Association.
El-Hindi, A. E. (2003). Integrating literacy and science in the classroom: From ecomysteries to reader’s theater. The Reading Teacher, 56(6), 536-538.
Heisey, N. & Kucan, L. (2010). Introducing science concepts to primary students through read-alouds: Interactions and multiple texts make the difference. The Reading Teacher, 63(8), 666-676.
McDonough, N. (2006). Treasures from home. In R. Douglas, M.P. Klentschy, & K. Worth (Eds.), Linking science & literacy in the K-8 classroom (pp. 207-220). National Science Teachers Association.
Mertler, C. A. (2012). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators, (3rd Edition). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Pappas, C. C. & Tucker-Raymond, E. (2011). Becoming a teacher research in literacy teaching and learning: Strategies and tools for the inquiry process. New York, NY: Routledge.
Ross, D., & Frey, N. (2002). In a spring garden: Literacy and science bloom in second grade. Reading Improvement, 39(4), 164-174.
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