How I Have Been Doing My Action Research?

Work in progress by Ma Jianfu, Summer, 2003.

Foreign Languages Department, Guyuan Teachers College, Ningxia, P.R. China


Key Words: Paraphrasing; Action Research.



Action Research is a name given to a particular way of researching your own learning. It is a practical way of looking at your practice in order to check whether it is as you feel it should be. If you feel that your practice is satisfactory you will be able to explain how and why you believe this is the case; you will be able to produce evidence to support your claims. (Jean McNiff, 2002) In this paper, I shall respectively tell you my personal understanding and my development of AR (Action Research), how I have been doing my action research, under the help of Dr. Laidlaw (an action research expert working in Guyuan Teachers College from Voluntary Services Overseas), and other teachers in Action Research group in Guyuan Teachers College.


Introduction of Action Research


Action Research, in other words, is practitioner-led or practitioner-based research. It involves you thinking carefully about what you are doing, so it is also called a self-reflective practice In action research, researchers do research on themselves in company with other people, who are also doing the same. Action research involves learning in and through action and reflection. Action research is a form of practice, which involves data gathering, reflection on the action, generating evidence from data and drawing conclusions gradually through various evidences. To do action research, first, we should have our own questions, and then we should stick to the questions and research step-by-step to get an improvement with evidence. Action research goes through a cycle of planning, acting, observing, reflecting and planning again.


My Teaching Action Research in the circle of planning, acting, observing, reflecting and planning

   As a teacher, after my study of AR, I began to use the theory and approach in my teaching under the guidance of Doctor Laidlaw, my AR tutor. The following are the steps I have carried out in my field.


1.         What is the aim of AR in teaching field for teachers?

In teaching, AR could be used to help teachers that they are able to study AR theory practically both for their own further research and study, and their students’ skills of learning and learning itself. Each AR researchers should have a root question, which is deeply considered and related to his/her current study and teaching. The final goal for researchers, as I have mentioned, is to help students improve their skills of learning and learning itself.


2.         How do I learn AR in teaching?

(1)          AR, as a theory but very practical, is to have a precise research on teaching and learning procedures in order to find out both the weak points and good points, hence we can make good use of the latter as an opportunity to further develop our teaching and students’ learning in terms of quality and methodology, and avoid the first. The weak points should be seriously concerned. Actually, for our research, they are the very points we will take into consideration. Those are just what I have mentioned previously as the root questions we all will have respectively in our activities. For instance, my question is the weak point I have in my teaching, hence: How can I improve my “paraphrase” so that I can help my students improve their skills of learning and learning?


Then as researchers, we should pay more attention to the questions as periodic research with related questions, and put them into effect while teaching. To my personal understanding, AR is also a communication between teacher and his\her students. Closing door and making-up research will never solve the real problems. We have to keep in constant touch with students both in the class and out. Gradually, we are able to solve the problem with different small questions appearing and solved. What we have to know is we should never jump to the end and say I have found the resolution and my students and I are improved. We should prove them with very sound evidences. Evidence is very important. If there is no evidence, there is no resolution. Evidence always sounds louder than groundless speaking.


(2)           Keep deeply in mind that questions we have should never be forgotten and changed if we have not really solved them. In addition, what we should keep in mind is that we should find a question, which is really concerned in our teaching. The question we proposed will never influence our reputation. That is to say, please don’t be afraid that the question might low down our character at the presence of the students and colleagues as well.

(3)          What is my question and how have I acted in my research?

(4)          How can I improve my “paraphrase” so that I can help my students improve their skills of learning and learning?


Why do I choose the question?

I feel in my teaching, that I often have troubles in explaining some long and complicated sentences in English. I can paraphrase and explain, but they are not precise and proper as a language educator's should be. Before my participation in the AR group, I worried a lot about it, but I didn’t find a correct resolution to the question. Working in the group, I began to take my question into consideration. As a matter of fact, at the early beginning, I didn’t take evidence into consideration, and I just took it for granted. After a short time of study and research, I thought that I should have improved. The fact is far from that (how did I know? Because I still had the problem of dealing with difficult sentences). I only kept the question in my mind and seldom put it into effect and I didn’t always communicate with my students. Sometimes, although I had some ideas, they were very subjective.

(2) How have I been doing my research?

In other words, my question should have been “How have I been working on my question--- How can I improve my “paraphrase” so that I can help my students improve their skills of learning?  At the early stage, I wrote my question on the blackboard and told them that I was doing some research on paraphrase so that, all together, we improve together. After a short introduction of AR to my students, they were also very interested in it. (How did I know?)

 Evidence: They quickly noted down my words and asked me how they could help me (At that time, I was teaching Class 2,Grade 2 students). Hu Guomei wanted to borrow some books about AR. I told her to read a particular magazine as there was an article about it.

 Following how Doctor Laidlaw did her Action Research (Laidlaw, 2001,2002), I chose 4 students (Bai Liang, Hu Guomei, Ma Caixia and Ji Jianjun who are in different levels) from the class to help me. After each teaching for this class, I kept a journal of my problems, my improvement and their reflection.


How did I get the reflection? After my teaching, I asked them some questions related to the materials they learned in the text. If they were able to give me the correct answer, I could say my paraphrase, only in this unit of teaching, I got an improvement, or I would explain more and afterwards, marked the failure of my teaching through their response and thought over about it till they knew the answer. I carried my plan in a series of half a term.


Unfortunately, I was changed to give lessons to other class (Cl3, Gr2) in second term, and my work was stopped on the way. But it didn’t trouble me a lot. In this class, I explained them in the same way as I had done in the previous class, and I made it go on with my new class. And the result is acceptable. The following is my note at the beginning (observing):


Step1: My question is not changed, but my research goes into the question itself in more detail. I have changed the research-question and my own actions in order to deepen the knowledge which can emerge from it.

Notes: (why it goes into details)

1.         In the early stage, I focused only on the question on the surface, and I didn’t understand what I should really do to reach the aim of improving my students and I, our skills of retelling the sentences in the texts.

2.         After several weeks of experimenting and communication, I understood that paraphrase should be carried out from small pieces of words to whole sentences, even whole paragraphs. I started my research from the very small point---word retelling (ask students to tell me with some other words they have learnt to replace the new or difficult ones).

Evidence: I chose some sentences to check their understanding and improvement:

Example 1:Her style is restrained and understated (unit 9, Integrated skills of English Book II): style—way of singing. Be restrained—be limited. Understated—being simple and easy (They can answer even though not very correctly).

Example 2:Markets in dead wildlife reward its killing, foster its private ownership and manipulation, spawn disease and are open to corruption (unit 12, Integrated skills of English Book III)

Example 3: I relax and curl deeper beneath the blankets’ warmth (unit 2, Integrated skills of English Book IV)—can you tell me another word to explain “relax”? Can you mime “Curl” of your body in bed? What is the part of speech for “warmth”? what is the adjectival form of “warmth”? Can you tell me more examples for Affix of Adj.+ th-----N?

Result: Gradually, my students got used to my requests and were able to find some simple related words to replace the new and difficult ones, but they were not very precise and proper.

Evidence: Students were very active to participate and answer my questions if they were able to. (Question I still had: this work is complex, so I could not quickly draw a conclusion. In some simpler text, they could do as I asked, but in some difficult sentences, they were not happy to tell me. It actually is a life-long for studying English).


Step 2: sentences paraphrase

Often, before my explanation of the sentences, I gave them to my students, and I gave them more time to think and find out the words and sentences to explain. Sometimes they were able to do that together with their classmates if they were easy in terms of lengths, structures, and grammatical points and so forth. But in some difficult sentences, although they could explain some single words, they were unable to retell the meaning of the whole sentences because of the complicated sentence structure, grammar, tense and some special English expressions etc. Later, I gave them a new question: What are difficult for you to understand English sentences?

Answers: a. too many new words (they felt difficult to remember them and use in practice); b. very difficult sentence structures (too many clauses one sentence).

My resolution: I quickly corrected my understanding of “paraphrase.” It doesn’t mean to retell some difficult and new words only, complicated sentence structure and direct English understanding of the sentence should also be concerned.

What should be dealt with in a sentence?

a.          Can they definitely understand what are in a sentence Such as new words, tense, clause etc.

b.         Can they use their words to explain a sentence?

c.          Can they translate the sentence if necessary?

Conclusion for step 2 (reflecting): in the early time, they felt I was wasting their time, these should be explained by the teacher. What they should do is to get the answer from the teacher. Later, they were more active and they became quite interested in the activities and they were trying to explain, translate and understand the meaning of the sentence however difficult they were.

Evidence: I had a survey: They wanted to try by themselves or were given an answer by the teacher. They chose the first option.


My new plan for my question

After this circle of research, I have learnt the way to do AR, but there are still more questions I haven’t solved in my research and teaching. In other words, I have to say that I should progress to a further research to resolve my question. What is my new plan? How can I better my research and solve my problem? I shall find it in my teaching.


Problems in Action Research

As AR learners, on our way doing the research, we will have some unexpected problems existing on our way. For me, in the first round, I have met some problems. 1. I could not find the real question, and I wasted a long time to do it. 2.I wanted to find a resolution and jump to the conclusion nervously without specific evidence. 3. Because of various excuses, I was lazy in fulfilling my task. 4. I didn’t have objective evidence and sometimes I took them for granted so that I wanted to make up some evidence with which to draw a conclusion. 5. Sometimes students’ reflections were far from my expectations and I was disappointed. 6. I subjectively thought I was getting a great improvement but this was not always the case.



AR is not a short task to find a quick and achievable work. Patience and careful research is very necessary. Whoever, in whatever field, can use it to deal with the problems appearing in the work. Any jump to an end it is not acceptable. A long-term task and circular planning, acting, observing, reflecting are the basic requirements to carry the work out.



McNiff, J., 2002. http//

McNiff, J., 2002. Action Research: Principles and Practice. London and New York

Whitehead, J., 2002. or