Action Research in Graduate Teacher Education: A Review of the Literature 2000–2015

From Section:
Research Methods
Jul. 01, 2016
July 2016

Source: Educational Action Research, Vol. 24, No. 2, 280–299, 2016.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This literature review aims to investigate the goals and challenges as well as the policy and programmatic implications of action research in graduate teacher education. Specifically, this review looks at how action research is being used in graduate teacher education programs as a content area and as a methodology.


The authors examined the literature published from 2000 to 2015. Furthermore, they explored action research dissertations and theses published during this time period to offer additional insights into trends that are occurring in teacher education at the doctoral level.
This review includes forty-seven peer-reviewed articles. It also discusses 13 books and nine chapters from five handbooks.


Three goals for action research in teacher education programs
The authors identify three goals represented in the literature for including action research in graduate teacher education. 

1. Action research as reflective practice
It is argued in the literature that reflection is a cornerstone of any action research cycle, and the ability to reflect is often tied to quality teaching. Hence, teachers need the opportunity to practice authentic reflection through their own research, not simply through simulated experiences. Studies showed that in programs that guide prospective teacher researchers only through the planning phases of a project without implementation, teachers do not report significant impact on their growth as a reflective practitioner or researcher. The authors argued that these studies indicate that the action research experiences of graduate students in these programs consistently have an impact on a teachers’ ability to reflect on their own practice and use inquiry to address challenges in their classroom.

2. Action research as participatory, critical inquiry
Studies demonstrated that teachers reported that action research was a vehicle to establish more personal relationships with students and gave them a voice in the classroom. The authors argued that these outcomes emphasize the importance of building emancipatory and participatory experiences for both the teacher and the students.

3. Action research as teacher leadership: effects on schools and communities
Over the years, the graduate teacher education programs have been developed with particular attention to the roles that teachers with graduate degrees play in their schools. When the needs of schools and students grow, roles with titles such as curriculum specialist, and learning team facilitator indicate that teachers are moving into these positions and calling upon different skill sets from those they learned in initial teacher preparation courses.

At the same time, graduate teacher education programs have evolved to include complete programs or course work to address the needs of these new positions. In addition, the literature describes action research as an element in the preparation of teacher leaders and mentors at the graduate level. Studies propose that there are three specific roles for teacher leaders: as researchers of their own practice; as scholars with work disseminated in the field; and as mentors.

The authors suggest that action research is a successful tool to connect teachers with the literature and highlight the importance of examining published work before launching research to see what others have learned.

The authors conclude that this review has discussed the trends and challenges in teacher education programs with respect to the integration of action research. They have categorized the literature in terms of three themes that have characterized the goals and related structures for action research in graduate programs within teacher education. 

The authors propose three considerations for universities with respect to the role and purpose of action research in graduate teacher education programs.
First, graduate teacher education programs should articulate their goals regarding the relationships they aspire to support between colleges of education and schools. The authors suggest that action research can be an effective conduit for fostering such relationships to benefit all learners.
Second, policy-makers in colleges of education should consider how they perceive and teach action research for consistent integration of theory and practice.
Finally, the authors suggest that policy-makers give short shrift to the power of action research as participatory and emancipatory pedagogy if they do not demand quality criteria for such research in graduate programs. 

Updated: Dec. 12, 2019
Action research | Graduates | Literature reviews | Teacher education programs