Action Research: A Tool for Innovation
How can I better support this child’s development? How can I change the environment to encourage more exploration? More autonomy? How can I create a more inclusive and caring community? How can I more effectively teach a curriculum concept?
Questions are at the heart of effective Montessori teaching. Questions are at the heart of innovation. Answering our questions is the purpose of action research, a tool for innovation in teaching and school administration.
At its foundation, the dynamic Montessori method encourages a regular practice of careful observation and reflection; these practices inform careful decision-making that results in changes to environment preparation, curriculum delivery, communication, and relationships. Action research adds a dimension to these practices whereby the teacher researcher collects data in a systematic way to evaluate the innovations they are trying related to child and family education. Data will certainly include observational data, but might also include interviews, surveys, checklists and work samples. What makes action research so unique in the research world is that the researcher is at the heart of the study and involved in the study. Action research also tends to foster collaboration as teachers and administrators seek to work together and to focus on their questions and explorations through varied lenses.
Many Montessori teachers start using action research as part of their teacher education programs for their year-long projects; others are inspired to try the tool as a result in their participation in professional development (such as our own AMS Emerging Leaders Program) or perhaps by participating in Professional Learning Communities. When an educator begins to use the tool of action research to guide their innovation and decision making, they are starting a spiral of improvement which mirrors the recapitulation of the Montessori method–going more in depth as one refines one’s understanding. The teacher researcher questions, observes, acts (action includes implementing a change, gathering and analyzing data), reflects and evaluates, and then—based on that evaluation—derives a new related question, observes, acts and reflects.
Lower elementary Montessori teacher Markel Lockwood (2014) sought to build a respectful community in her classroom. Her initial research cycle introduced children to the vocabulary to use in acknowledging each other’s kindness and contributions to the class. Subsequently she introduced more peer tutoring and collaborative projects. Finally, what was now a harmonious classroom community took on a community service project.
If you want to begin using Action Research as a tool in your classroom, school or program, you might start by reading the AMS white paper Action Research in Montessori Classrooms. Although action research is designed to create change in a particular classroom or school and thus is not necessarily generalizable, Montessori teachers who share a pedagogy and philosophy often find that a solution or innovation applied to a classroom relates to their own circumstances (Ward& Miller, 2019). Thus, dissemination is very important at local, regional, and national conferences and in educator magazines and journals. There are several sample studies on the AMS website under the Research Library.
Action research is a tool that can help Montessori teachers to be innovative designers and problem solvers as they strive to support students in maximizing their potential in an ever-changing world.
In April 2023, AMS bestowed Dr. Ward with the 2024 Living Legacy Award, which honors an individual for their lifetime of dedication and service to AMS and the Montessori Movement.
Since the inception of this award in 1993, the Living Legacy honoree has played a critical role in helping to raise monies for AMS Teacher Education Scholarships, such as by serving as an inspiring speaker for fundraising events created for this purpose. The Living Legacy also delivers an address at AMS's annual conference, The Montessori Event.
Your donation in honor of the Living Legacy impacts generations of Montessori students and supports a cherished AMS practice: the awarding of scholarships to aspiring Montessori educators at AMS-affiliated teacher education programs.
Murray, A. (n.d.). Action Research in Montessori Classrooms. AMS White Paper Series. www.amshq.org.
Lockwood, M. (2014) Incorporating Peace Education into the School Curriculum: Building Empathy and Self-worth While Taking Ownership over Peace. AMS Research Library.www.amshq.org.
Ward,G. & Miller, M. (2019). Action Research: A Tool for Transformation. Montessori Life, 31(3), 38–43
Gay Ward, Ph.D.
About the Author
Dr. Gay C. Ward, has dedicated her career to the advancement of Montessori. For over 2 decades, she has been an ardent advocate for the American Montessori Society (AMS), advancing research and mentoring the next generation of leaders.
She earned her AMS Elementary I credential at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH, and taught elementary students in the United States and in Australia. She is currently a professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where she works as a Montessori consultant and academic faculty in teacher education and Montessori studies. Learn more about Dr. Ward and her continued and tremendous impact.
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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.