Beyond Actions: Psychology of Action Research for Mindful Educational Improvement
reviewed by Marilee Bresciani - May 20, 2016
Title: Beyond Actions: Psychology of Action Research for Mindful Educational Improvement
Author(s): Noriyuki Inoue
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433122545, Pages: 207, Year: 2015
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You are the most important researcher to study and improve your practice (p. 2).
Noriyuki Inoue begins Beyond Actions: Psychology of Action Research for Mindful Educational Improvement with a quote that frames the readers journey throughout the book. What follows is a chapter-by-chapter outline of how to embed action research or the intentional design, reflection, and analysis of practice into educational research in a manner that encompasses awareness of the humanity of the researcher and her students. Grounded in the books methodological approach to action research is an invitation for the scholar practitioner to engage in deep reflection. While reflective practice has been a long held value in the education profession, the way in which Inoue invites individual reflection as an integrated part of the research process also may not be so new. This discussion makes the book a potentially provocative read for any scholar who wants to critique the relevance and integrity of action research.
Following an introduction that explains how the book is designed and the dialogue it intends to foster, Inoue introduces and defines the term action research. The methodology and epistemology that support this definition are woven throughout the book in a thoughtful and engaging manner. In particular, I found the For Your Reflection questions that close each themed section within each chapter compelling. These sections are intended to integrate action research fundamentals with internal reflection on the experience of engaging in this process. They also invite observation of the researchers human experience as she discovers for herself what there is to learn from her practice and research.
The validity of the mindful action research inquiry process is introduced in Chapter Four; however, the concepts of subjectivity, objectivity, integrity, and validity are interwoven throughout the book. This allows the reader to continually question how an action research design differs from assessment, evaluation, or a different research design. Two questions kept arising as I read this book: What research methodologies and epistemologies are these action research practices predicated upon? How might these processes differ from outcomes based assessment? The author uses reflective learning theories to guide the reader back to the foundational underpinnings of action research.
A prominent theme interwoven throughout Beyond Actions is mindful reflection. The introduction of reflection makes this book stand out among action research methodology publications. The author does not hesitate to ask who are you as a researcher, a scholar, or a practitioner? More fundamentally, Inoue asks who are you and who are your students? The author also asks what is it you want to create? While the question of who you are as a researcher is not foreign to qualitative researchers, Inoue proposes a deepening and expanding to this line of inquiry. The invitation to engage in mindful inquiry as a researcher and practitioner is provocative and insightful.
Inoue describes mindful inquiry as the process of examining research questions and applied practice from all angles (p. 99). Several wisdom traditions are introduced to illustrate what this concept means in practice, the synthesis of which I interpret as the process of accepting that there is no separation of practitioner, researcher, pedagogical practice, content, outcomes, students, and inquiry from the practice itself. It hearkened to a Zen Buddhist teaching that asks, what is this? The response was it depends, who is asking? (personal teaching from Chade Meng Tan on February 20, 2014). As such, it is imperative that as the scholar practitioner engages in reflection on how her practice works and what it creates there is an interplay of deep personal reflection intricately interwoven throughout the process. Integrated reflection questions are constant, ask about who the scholar practitioner is as she engages in practice and research, and ask how researcher beliefs show up in the results. In addition, the mindful action researcher is consistently cultivating awareness of her students and how they interact with what they are asked to demonstrate. Furthermore, mindful inquiry takes into account the richness of the variety of cultures and beliefs that may be present in each classroom.
The meta-framework for the process of mindful action research is proposed in Chapter Nine. However, I do not recommend jumping to this chapter without reading the introduction and the first eight chapters; they are necessary to inform the context of what you will find in Chapter Nine. The redefining of educational research involves the synthesis of complex understandings of individual egos and awareness of how they are embodied in practice and inquiry for those engaged in the practice and inquiry at all stages. It involves the production of a paper (Chapter Ten) that mirrors what we are accustomed to seeing in research; however, the journey to produce that paper requires an approach that embraces the interconnectivity of all the elements within it. There are a number of questions that remain. How do we demonstrate that we continually engage in the proposed mindful inquiry process within action research? What will be different about the product that is produced from mindful action research? How will this research contribute to improved student and practitioner learning, development, pedagogy, and preparedness?
Inoue raises questions of validity and reliability that surround the human process of researching our own work. This is where I found the psychology of action research most prevalent. Neuroscience shows us that whatever an individual experiences is true for that individual (Bresicani Ludvik, 2016; Grossman, Niemann, Schmidt, Walach, 2004; Hanson, 2009; Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2009; Zull, 2011). With an individual instructor facilitating the discovery of other individuals, I wonder whether there really could be validity and reliability to any human inquiry process. But that is not the point of this thoughtfully constructed book. Its purpose is to cultivate the awareness that human inquiry is what we engage in when we seek to discover what our work creates. The practice of mindful inquiry can highlight where our egos may keep us from discovering what is possible, what can be improved, and what needs to change (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013). Perhaps we can demonstrate the extent to which we are engaged in this mindful action research by the questions we raise that remain unanswered. Beyond Actions will likely foster useful discourse regarding these questions and many more.
Bresciani Ludvik, M. J. (Ed.) (2016). The neuroscience of learning and development: Enhancing creativity, compassion, critical thinking and peace in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 3543.
Hanson, R. (2009). Buddhas brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Meng Tan, C. (2014, February 20). Personal communication from Chade Meng Tan.
Scharmer, O., & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the emerging future. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2009). The new science of teaching and learning: Using the best mind, brain, and education science in the classroom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Zull, J. E. (2011). From brain to mind: Using neuroscience to guide change in education. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.