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Action Research Proposal: Creating a collaborative classroom.

Introduction
During my Professional Placement I discovered that creating a collaborative and cohesive
classroom environment led to a range of benefits for both students and teachers. This was
particularly evident when my mentor teacher conducted lessons in which the class worked
together displaying skills of team work, communication and problem solving. While the class I
spent time in was a Reception class, I observed a Year 4 and Year 7 class and found that the
collaborative nature of the classroom was evident in the school as a whole. However, when I tried
to implement the strategies that my mentor teacher used during my own lessons, I struggled to
feel in control. In addition to this, I found it difficult to interact and support all of the students
when they were working individually and in group work, finding myself only focussing on several
students during a lesson.
Research indicates that many preservice teachers are concerned about managing the classroom
learning environment, often feeling anxious and overwhelmed (Groundwater-Smith et al, 2011).
Classroom management is not just discipline but the actions teachers take to create an
environment that supports and facilitates both academic and social-emotional learning
(Groundwater-Smith et al, 2011, p.269). It is essential for preservice teachers to be knowledgeable
about management theories in order to develop their own approach to address the unpredictable
issues that may occur in the classroom. As a preservice teacher, it is my responsibility to ensure
that I research these strategies to ensure that I have my own technique to implement in the
future. Thus, the purpose of this study is to improve my capacity to develop a collaborative
environment which facilitates learning and is supportive for all students.
This study will be undertaken as action research, allowing me to reflect through a cyclical
sequence consisting of four basic characteristics being situational, collaborative, participatory and
self-evaluative (Burns, 2000). Action research is a disciplined process of inquiry in which one
conducts research to improve or refine their actions (Sagor, 2000, p.2). The proposed action plan
will allow me to enhance my pedagogies in relation to teamwork and cohesion in the classroom,
with a specific focus on creating a supportive and collaborative environment. Research has shown
that when students are grouped effectively, they have academic, social and personal growth, with
opportunities to challenge develop academic strategies and generate student discussion (Hallam
et al, 2003; Hallam et al, 2004; Maaz et al, 2008; Renzulli, 2012; Hallam & Parsons, 2014). I plan to
explore these benefits through the implementation of different grouping techniques and teaching
approaches.
The aims and focus of the research
Collaboration in the classroom can be achieved using a number of strategies. For the purpose of
this action research, however, grouping will be implemented in an attempt to increase
collaborative learning. Grouping students by ability, friendship or interest has been found to lead
to greater dialogue between students, enhanced collaboration and deeper learning (GroundwaterSmith et al, 2011). Additionally, it allows teachers to encourage peer-tutoring and self-regulation
skills (Maaz et al, 2008, Hallam et al, 2003; Groundwater-Smith, 2011) and gives teachers the
opportunity to meet the needs of the diverse social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds of each of

their students, rather than teaching to an imaginary average (Hallam et al, 2003; Renzulli, 2012;
Hallam & Parsons, 2014). Students are grouped in a number of ways in education including by
ability, age, gender, learning style, social group and interests (Groundwater-Smith, 2011; Hallam et
al, 2003, Gale & Densmore, 2002; Thompson, 2014).
Qualitative in nature, most of the literature regarding grouping focuses on data collected from fulltime teachers, often ignoring the strategies that relief teachers and preservice teachers can
implement effectively. In addition to this, much of the research is based on older children (ages
12-18) and conducted at schools in America (Gale & Densmore, 2002; Maaz et al, 2008; Lewis et
al, 2000; Smutney, 2004). Due to the lack of relevance and international nature of the majority of
the literature, it is evident that further exploration of grouping strategies is needed to relate to
Australian primary schools.
In addition to the lack of exploration in the current literature, my University degree has not
included education on strategies that I can implement to create a collaborative classroom. This is
concerning, as I feel unprepared for the Placement ahead in terms of managing a classroom. The
Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (2011) ask that graduate teachers can plan for and
implement effective teaching and learning by establishing appropriate learning goals and using
effective communication (AITSL, 2011). It is also expected that graduate teachers are able create
and maintain supportive and safe learning environments (AITSL, 2011). Due to this, the purpose
of this research is to enhance my pedagogy in the area of collaboration in the classroom, and
subsequently develop an environment in which I manage classroom activities (AITSL, 2011) and
support student participation (AITSL, 2011). This will be done through the investigation of one
key question, as outlined below:
Research Question: How can I develop a collaborative classroom environment in which I am
in control and supportive?
Through this study, I aim to explore different grouping strategies that encourage collaborative
learning. This will increase my knowledge, skills and strategies required to improve my practice in
managing a primary classroom. This will allow me to enter future schools with knowledge and
confidence in my ability to manage classroom environments, encourage collaborative learning and
be supportive. This will, in turn, have a positive effect on the academic, social and emotional
wellbeing of the students.
Underpinning literature
There is much controversy amongst modern educators about the most effective way to group
students to increase their academic, emotional and social success. Some believe that by grouping
by ability (streaming) can provide both challenges and opportunities to both students and
educators (Hallam et al, 2004; Hallam et al, 2004). Others, however, argue that grouping students
with their friends or encouraging collaboration through a student-centred approach has the most
positive impact on the climate of the classroom (Renzulli, 2012; Gagne, 2011). Generally, it is
proposed that streaming tends to benefit children academically, but the social and emotional
effects tend to make these benefits redundant (Gale & Densmore, 2002; Hallam et al, 2004).
Literature suggests that streaming causes watered down (Gale & Densmore, 2002) curriculum
and unsupported expectations which can lead to negative social effects such as bullying and stress
(Gale & Densmore, 2002). In addition to this, teachers often have inaccurate perceptions of

students' abilities and act accordingly to these, thus placing them in an incorrect group (Hallam et
al, 2004; Gale & Densmore, 2002). This labelling can lead to negative social effects such as an
unwillingness to participate in group activities and feelings of exclusion or additional pressure
(Maaz et al, 2008, Hallam et al, 2003; Hallam et al, 2004). It has been found however, that there
are minimised social effects if the students' ability level is closer to the norm achievement level.
Lower self-esteem and increased levels of social alienation have been found to effect those in the
lower stream and those at either end of the spectrum have less educational and personal
development as a result of the grouping. This also had an effect later in life, as the relationship
between a child's stream in primary school and their academic performance later in life remained
significant (Maaz et al, 2008). Thus, there is a general consensus that a student's social being
(Hallam et al, 2004) is healthier in unstreamed classrooms (Hallam et al, 2003; Hallam et al 2004,
Maaz et al, 2008; Thompson, 2014).
Grouping by ability does, however, have its advantages as it often matches group work to the
students' ability level which increases their work pace and saves teacher time (Hallam et al, 2003).
Further to this, it is argued that implementing group work into the classroom can increase the
teachers' effort to constructively manage students with a wide range of abilities and behaviours
(Gale & Densmore, 2002; Chessor & Whitton, 2008). By becoming educated about the challenges
that grouping can provide, teachers can implement strategies to prevent the negative effects. The
particular strategy that I aim to implement is collaborative learning. Collaboration encourages
students to work together, consider alternate points of view and develop personal opinions
(Renzulli et al, 2008; Doppenberg et al, 2012).
Research has supported the notion that preservice teachers need more education on how to
collaborate with students, colleagues and parents, in addition to learning about the power of
collaborative skills in students (Renzulli et al, 2008, Groundwater-Smith, 2011). There is a
significant amount of literature regarding the positive effect that collaborative teaching and
collaborative settings can play in the learning outcomes of students, but there is little on
collaborative learning as an academic focus. In addition, studies have often only explored the
relationships between collaborative settings, collaborative learning activities and learning
outcomes (Miles & Huberman, 1994 as cited in Doppenberg et al, 2012). This has motivated me to
explore how teaching students effective communication, team-work and collaborative skills can
affect the classroom environment. This will lead to a more manageable environment in which I can
support and encourage my students.
Methods and analysis
Methodology
The aim of this study is to examine the effect that different grouping techniques have on the
collaborative nature of a classroom. Due to the open-ended nature of the proposed research
question, a qualitative approach will be used. Qualitative research offers insight and investigation
of real-world contexts and often results in multidimensional studies (Leedy & Ormrod, 2010). In
addition, it is more inductive and subjective than quantitative research (Burton, 2010). Due to the
individual nature of each classroom environment, a considerable amount of literature surrounding
collaborative learning is qualitative, involving surveys, interviews and focus groups (Abadzi, 2015;
Hallam et al, 2003; Hallam et al, 2004).
In this study, an action research process will be followed. Action research is a flexible, cyclical

process which allows action and research achieved at the same time (Rotarova, 2002; Burns,
2000), in which a personal attempt is made to understand, improve and reform practice (Cohen
et al, 2011). Rather than being research on a setting, it is carried out from participants inside, thus
having an immediate and integral impact (Noffke & Somekh, 2005). In education, action research
sees teachers developing innovative strategies and analysing curriculum development through
evaluative research focused on improving learning and teaching (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999;
Zeichner, 2003 as cited in Noffke & Somekh, 2005).
Participants
The teacher and students of a Year 5 class in a Government funded, co-educational, Northern
suburbs based primary school in South Australia will be invited to participate in the study. Ideally,
this class will include students with various abilities, social strengths and learning styles.
Methods
The data for this study will be collected over a five week period (2/5/2016 to 3/6/2016).
Throughout this time, five different strategies will be implemented in mathematics lessons in an
aim to create a collaborative and cohesive classroom environment. These strategies will be
implemented in 5 stages, with one strategy per week. The following is an example of the order of
the strategies that will be explored. This will be dependent on the baseline data collected in phase
one. This is followed by a detailed description of the data collection methods used with a
justification as to the relevance of this method. This study will utilise a number of data collection
methods, resulting in triangulation. By using several perspectives, triangulation ensures a higher
level of validity, particularly in qualitative research (Weiten, 2010).
Week 1 (phase 1): Baseline data will be collected in phase 1. This will be done by observation of
peer relationships, group dynamics, seating and classroom setup and the presence of teambuilding skills. Data collection: interview, reflective journal, observation, questioning.
Week 2 (phase 2): Students grouped in social groups. The task will be introduced and students will
be encouraged to work together as a team. Data collection: Reflective journal, observation.
Week 3 (phase 3): Students will be grouped according to ability (streamed). Students will be
allocated to their streamed groups as a result of myself and my mentor teacher's perceptions of
their academic achievement levels. Students will be encouraged to work collaboratively on the
task. Data collection: Reflective journal, observation.
Week 4 (phase 4): 'Flipped classroom' - this learner-centred approach encourages active learning
and collaboration through problem solving, debates and project-based learning through
differentiated instruction (Groundwater-Smith, 2011; Flipped learning network, 2015). Students
will be encouraged to work together as a team. Data collection: Reflective journal, observation.
Week 5 (phase 5): Groups with pre-decided roles. These roles will include the team captain,
reporter, encourager, time keeper, risk assessor and materials manager. Students will be
encouraged to adhere to their role descriptions to increase collaboration. Data collection:
Reflective journal, observation.

Interview
An interview should be viewed as an interchange of views between people in which data is
generated through an individual and social standpoint (Cohen, 2011). An interview will be
conducted in phase one to explore the collaborative skills that already exist in the classroom. This
allows an in-depth observation and exploration of one person to collect data related to an already
existing phenomena (Burton et al, 2009). Questions such as those below will be used to explore
the presence of collaborative learning in the classroom and the teacher's personal strategies.
1)
2)
3)
4)

Do you feel your class is cohesive?


How can you increase collaborative learning in the classroom?
Do you think group work has more challenges or opportunities?
What can I do to encourage collaborative learning in your classroom?

These questions will be asked, followed by an informal interview in which more in-depth
information will be collected. This will be recorded, transcribe, thus identifying the current class
climate, providing a basis for phase two of the action research.
Reflective journal
A reflective journal will be completed over the course of the study. Reflection is a vital part of
action research, due to its self-evaluative nature (Cohen, 2011; Burns, 2000). Following each
lesson, I will record the focus and intent of my actions and the presence of peer relationships,
group dynamics and collaborative skills. In addition to this, I will note whether I felt in control or
supportive of all students. Data recorded in this journal will allow me to observe the effects of the
teaching strategies, reflect on my teaching pedagogy in regards to control and explore the
different group dynamics that occur in the classroom that encourage a cohesive classroom
environment.
Observation
Observation refers to the act of systematically watching and noting 'live' data from social
situations (Cohen, 2011). This enables researchers to move beyond perception-based data through
a 'live' situation (Cohen et al, 2011). Observations often result in access to data that would
otherwise be unconsciously missed (Weiten, 2010). It will be used regularly throughout the study
and include observations of my teaching practice by the classroom teacher and myself.
Observation will begin in phase one of the study, in an aim to gauge the presence of collaboration
in the classroom and will also be used to note personal pedagogical development. All instances of
collaborative behaviour will be recorded, including that displayed by myself, students and the class
as a whole. Observations on my level of support and classroom management, as well as the
cohesive nature of the classroom will be aided by observation checklists (Appendix A) completed
by myself and the classroom teacher after each lesson. The answers will be presented using a
Likert Scale to further improve validity of results.
Questioning
Informal questioning will be used in phase one of the study to gauge the students perceptions on
the importance of collaboration and how team-work could be implemented into the classroom.
Research has confirmed that data will be richest when children are used as the sources of

information about themselves (Cohen et al, 2011). Additional questioning will be implemented as
needed throughout the study to explore the students reactions to the strategies employed. This
will complement the other data collection methods and result in a thorough analysis. Questions
such as those outlined below will be used:
1)
2)
3)
4)

What is team-work?
Do you think your classroom is collaborative?
How can I help you work better together?
Do you think you work better with your friends or when you are with others?

Responses will be recorded and reflected on in the journal and will be thematically analysed in
conjunction with the interview to identify key themes and the collaborative nature of the class.
Analysis
Data will be analysed using mixed-method analysis. Interview responses will be content analysed,
with raw data converted into percentages. This will allow for themes and patterns to be identified.
The reflective journal, observations and any additional notes will be analysed thematically to
determine key words and themes which link to current research on collaborative learning. The
observation checklists (Appendix A) answers will be converted into percentages in order to easily
demonstrate the strengths of each strategy explored.
Ethics
Throughout the course of the study, precautions will be made to ensure that ethical practice
occurs. The confidentiality of the students will be protected throughout the study and when data
analysis occurs. In addition to this, students will be treated with respect and made aware of the
beneficence of the study to ensure that deception or secrecy does not occur. Further to this,
participants have the right to withdraw from the study at any time if they feel uncomfortable or
do not wish to partake in any particular phase.
Validity
The validity of the study will be ensured through a number of steps to decrease the presence of
interfering variables. Multiple measures will be employed in order to obtain an accurate
assessment of the variables and increase the validity of the study (Burton et al, 2009). Bias will be
reduced by ensuring that all observations and reflections do not involve generalisations, but rather
refer to the specific 'live' situation. Finally, the selection of appropriate methodology and
instrumentation for data collection appropriate for the paradigm selected will ensure that the
research question is answered.
Outcomes and future impact
Literature states that many preservice teachers feel anxious about providing support to all
students in the classroom and often feel overwhelmed (Groundwater-Smith, 2011). Although
grouping has been found to provide opportunities for academic development (Hallam et al, 2003;
Hallam et al 2004; Maaz et al, 2008), research has shown that there are often significant social and
emotional effects as a result of labelling students (Abadzi, 2005; Chessor & Whitton, 2008). Due to

this, it is vital that educators ensure that they group appropriately to minimise these negative
effects. It has been indicated that many educators find this difficult due to the lack of knowledge
about grouping techniques and creating a collaborative environment (Groundwater-Smith, 2011).
This has been confirmed by my own experiences throughout my University degree. I feel I have
not been presented with any opportunities to increase my knowledge, skills and strategies in the
area of collaborative learning. This has influenced my action research aim of increase my pedagogy
in this area.
By experimenting with different grouping techniques and strategies, I will be provided with an
opportunity to learn skills that will help me support my students through creating a collaborative
classroom climate. This will provide me with an increase in my confidence and capabilities, thus
building my self-efficacy in the area of collaborative learning. Further to this, by discovering which
strategies work best for me in a classroom environment, I will provide a more productive and
positive environment for my students, now and in the future. This will not only positively impact
my own professional pedagogy, but enable me to develop my students academic, social and
emotional identity.
Schools are communities that involve communication between teachers, students and parents.
Due to this, I will share my knowledge with my peers and fellow educators, in an aim to ensure
that students at all South Australian schools develop their capacity to work cohesively. In addition
to this, by teaching them collaborative skills, students will be able to develop their own self
efficacy in the area of team work. Through this study, I will gain confidence in my ability to provide
adequate support for my students through exploring different strategies to create a collaborative
environment. My methods of reflection will involve me with opportunities for exploration,
interpretation and reflection of my teaching pedagogy which will enhance my capabilities in this
area.
Word count: 3016 (without references).

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Appendix A: Observational checklists.


1) To observe my pedagogy. This will be completed by myself and the classroom teacher after
each lesson.
Frequency of behaviour
Asks questions
Shows an interest in students'
views
Encourages collaboration
Displays empathy
Assists students who need
extra help
Manages the classroom
effectively
Students are engaged
Looked/felt in control

Very
often
O
O

Often Sometimes

Rarely

Not at all

O
O

O
O

O
O

O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O

O
O

O
O

O
O

O
O

2) To observe the presence of collaborative behaviour amongst the students. This will be
completed by myself and the classroom teacher after each lesson.
Frequency of behaviour
Listens to the teacher
Shows an interest in other
students' views
Support each other
Offer opinions
Assists peers who need extra
help
Work as a team
Discuss effectively
Communicate well

Very
often
O
O

Often Sometimes

Rarely

Not at all

O
O

O
O

O
O

O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O

O
O
O