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Action Research for Classrooms, Schools, and Communities

reviewed by Taylor Norman - February 22, 2021

coverTitle: Action Research for Classrooms, Schools, and Communities
Author(s): Meghan M. Manfra
Publisher: Sage Publishing, Thousand Oaks
ISBN: 1506316042, Pages: 184, Year: 2020
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Upon initial review, Meghan Manfra’s Action Research for Classroom, Schools, and Communities has the potential to become a worn text in any action researcher’s library, specifically those researchers inquiring about educational policy and school reform. By detailing the practical nuances of action research for systemic change, Manfra offers a clear and coherent guide for constructing and conducting critical action research projects that investigate both local and global issues in American classrooms, schools, and communities. Directly, the text caters to graduate-level qualitative research methods courses by describing the steps necessary for planning theses and dissertations with action research as the intended methodology.

Manfra uses the contents within Action Research for Classrooms, Schools, and Communities to “engage practitioners as part of the research enterprise, first seeking to understand daily issues related to practice and then working to bring about change” (p. xiv). Recognizing the inherent separation between researchers and practitioners in educational research, the chapters of Manfra’s text detail practitioner-driven approaches to action research that encourage improved pedagogical content knowledge and established mechanisms for student advocacy within classrooms, schools, and communities. Specifically, Manfra’s text argues for a middle ground between practical and critical action research to “provide space for teachers and other practitioners to negotiate the tensions, practical concerns, and critical issues they face in their daily practice” (pp. 11–12).

According to Manfra, the trend toward high-stakes testing and teacher accountability supports the need for such a middle ground between practical and critical action research. Practitioners able to construct and conduct action research projects of this nature also learn the skills necessary for measuring and gauging student learning. According to Manfra, the knowledge of these skills is fundamental to school reform and improvement initiatives because it positions the practitioner as the researcher rather than the subject and/or participant. Essentially, Manfra argues that by knowing how to investigate issues in their daily practice, practitioners are able to critically contribute to reform and improvement initiatives in their schools and communities. This is the middle ground for which Manfra advocates. To do this, though, it is crucial that action research be facilitated by practitioners in the field rather than outside researchers.

Manfra’s past publications show her dedication to this type of action research. For many years, she has used the methodology to study critical issues in social studies classrooms, such as integrating technology and media literacy, with her doctoral candidates and in-service teachers. Moreover, she has been awarded a Spencer Foundation grant to oversee a large-scale action research project intent on studying the impact of the C3 framework in social studies classrooms. By partnering with practitioners to support their critical analysis of practical classroom concerns, Manfra’s bibliography supports the credibility and usefulness of this text’s contents and illustrates her propensity for working within the middle ground of practical and critical action research.

Overall, the single greatest strength of this text is its coherence. The contents are well organized, and the focus is logical and consistent. This is demonstrated in Part I. Chapters 1 and 2 detail what readers can expect from the text. In definite and understandable terms, Manfra assures her readers that she will present practical skills to a powerful research method that can be harnessed by practitioners to improve their classrooms, schools, and communities. Manfra explains the qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods approaches to action research in an easy-to-follow set of steps starting in Part II. In Chapter 3, descriptions and models are given for composing the literature reviews and theoretical frameworks for action research studies. Manfra emphasizes how to select relevant literature and details what theoretical frameworks are salient in action research projects. Chapter 4 provides tips about writing research questions and conducting ethical research.

Part III drives these ideas forward. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 distinguish the practical nuances extant when applying literature, theory, and research questions to the collection and analysis of action research data. Chapters 5 and 6 home in on qualitative practices of action research—first, on the processes of data collection in Chapter 5, and then on the purposes of data analysis in Chapter 6. Chapter 7 describes the collection and analysis of quantitative and mixed-method data. Manfra defends the need for two chapters to explain qualitative data by noting that action research is epistemologically oriented toward the constructivist lens, and although quantitative/mixed-method approaches have footing in action research, the methodology found its roots in qualitative practices.

Manfra’s purpose is further clarified by the text’s organizational thread. The five-stage model of action research runs throughout the text, which affords context for the proposed actions by explaining what researchers should do at each stage. Stage 1—Problem Posing—is given context in Part I. Stages 2, 3, and 4—Action, Observation, and Reflection—are outlined in Part II. The final stage—Sharing—is demonstrated in Part III. Adding to the text’s coherence, Manfra includes guiding questions and definitions of keywords at the start of all chapters, vignettes within the chapters, and reflection questions and practical activities at the end. Because of its explicit structure, this text will aid instructors looking to teach action research in a qualitative research methods class or practitioners searching for a way to create change in their classrooms, schools, and communities.

Although not directly addressed, this text houses chapters that undergraduate teacher candidates could use to frame their own action research projects. Manfra makes multiple references to teacher assessment exams such as edTPA but never mentions the power that this text could have in undergraduate research courses. In today’s educational environment, preparing preservice teachers to collect and analyze data is just as important as preparing them for professional exams. As Manfra argues in this text, current trends toward professional learning communities and school improvement plans suggest that teachers will continue to analyze and collect student and school data in order to bid practical solutions for school reform. Even though this is a point of discussion regarding graduate researchers, the transformative possibilities of this material are never considered for undergraduate researchers. This is not intended to deter readers, but to extend the intended audience for Manfra’s suggestions about critical action research.

Simply put, Action Research for Classrooms, Schools, and Communities includes practical tools alongside a smart analysis of action research’s potential and power in educational research. Manfra’s text will furnish readers, whether novices or experienced action researchers, with a clear and coherent explanation and description of action research for systemic change—particularly systemic change roused by practitioners who “make their craft knowledge more explicit and provide new ideas about ways to bring about change” (p. 16).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 22, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23609, Date Accessed: 3/4/2021 4:30:35 AM

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About the Author
  • Taylor Norman
    Georgia Southern University
    E-mail Author
    TAYLOR NORMAN, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of English language arts teacher education at Georgia Southern University. Her research interests include stories of teacher identity development, place-based learning, and socially just practices. She began conducting action research projects as an undergraduate teacher candidate; currently, she is in the “sharing” stage of an action research project that investigated the impact that sentence diagramming had on teacher candidates enrolled in her ELA methods course.
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