Changing the way we research to make change

From working in Title I schools throughout my entire career, I have seen lots of ‘research’ being used to justify why we are making sudden changes to our methodologies and curriculum. However, it does not seem that those who are making these decisions are thinking about whether these changes make sense for our students. For example, did they ask questions such as what was the setting of the study? Did participants share a similar context to our students and teachers? With this in mind, I was pleased to see that our readings this week were connected to action research, as maybe I could find some evidence to support my feeling that action research or traditional research for that matter is not necessarily directly transferable to students within my own context.

To start, it was refreshing to see that the study conducted by Bautista, Morrell, Bertrand, D’Artagan and Matthews (2013), was rooted in the fact that low-income students of color are not only not given the same educational opportunities as higher income students, but that any research that involves these students “consistently lacks the voices of these students themselves” (p. 1). I agree with them on their points that traditionally, we have seen research that simply legitimizes the experiences of some and just ignores the perspectives of others (Bautista, et. al., p. 3). It is because of this that the researches suggest an alternative approach to action research, such as implementing participatory action research, where the subjects are directly involved and invested in the investigation process.

I absolutely can see why having the participatory action research approach is crucial in thinking about my own research agenda. I am interested in the best approaches to teaching kids how to read. I cannot be completely objective in researching these approaches if I do not include student judgment. From the research that is out there, students are coming from multiple contexts; who knows whether or not they are similar to those students that I am trying to help? As students are the ones who I want to help, shouldn’t they then have a voice in the process? Yes they should, as the point of action research is to identify a problem in a particular setting or community and to have the participants be the ones who give us the knowledge from the study (Bautista, et. al., p. 3).

There is absolutely an issue with our most disadvantaged students reaching their full potential due to the barriers associated with poverty. We can theorize and theorize for hours about how to solve the problem, but the reality is that it will not get solved unless those affected are participating in their own research to ensure that their oppressions are overcome (Bautista, et. al., p. 10). This is especially critical when we think about the power ownership of learning has on students and families. As Liou, Antrop-González, and Cooper (2009) show, high achieving low-income students of color identified family as the reason they are successful academically, above school (p. 541). These students had families who supported them because they believed they were going to college; they felt like they ‘owned’ this goal. Therefore, I believe this same notion could be applied to action research. Action research will only be successful if students and families play a key role in the process, as they do not see the school, as the largest influence. If we do not involve students and families, we researchers take the risk that the work we conduct will not increase educational access.


Bautista, M. A., Morrell, E., Bertrand, M., D’Artagan, S., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth : Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teacher’s College Record, 115(100303), 1–23.

Liou, D. D., Antrop-González, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347