TE 808 Inquiry into Classroom Teaching and Learning

Action Research Proposal

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808 Enquiry into Classroom Teaching and Learning

Sara Baquero-Garcia

Action Research Project Proposal

The Action Research Project that I want to pursue relates to my Immigration Project which I devised during my 807 class, and which I have been teaching (albeit in changed form) in my social studies classes for three years.

The question:

At this point I see elements of both, and open and a closed approach to my question.  On the one hand my question is a result of doing critical reflection about my unit.  On the other hand, I have reflected on the issues that trouble me about my unit, and have therefore tailored my inquiry with a specific direction.  Regardless of what type of question it is, I hope to be able to derive genuine observations and ideas from it, so that I can improve my teaching and my unit.

The question is:

How will involving my social studies students in researching their own family backgrounds (as regard to immigration) together with the rest of the unit affect their attitudes about immigrants in the United States?

Justification of my question choice:

I. Explanation of background:

One of the integral parts of our 8th grade social studies curriculum is the study of immigration.  Our central theme is the “American History: A Study in Conflict and Consensus.”  Based on this theme, the immigration unit focuses on the study of the conflicts that immigration has presented in the United States, and how the nation as a whole has dealt with the issue of immigration.  The students are given a brief summary of the movements of Nativism, followed by articles that are pro and against immigration in contemporary America.  After looking at these ideas, the students move to the project of the unit, in which they “become” immigrants themselves, and their task is to research and learn about their particular group (an example is: Italians) to then culminate their unit by doing a presentation for the rest of the class in which they teach the other kids about their group, their struggles and how they as “immigrants” (at least one of the students has to be “born” in the old country, and one has to be “born” in the U.S) faired in the United States throughout their life times in America.

II. My thoughts on my own understanding of the unit

Although I like the general project and the kids have also consistently evaluated it positively, I am not content with the lack of closure of the project, nor with the lack of understanding on my part as to how much learning or what kind of learning really takes place.  I have a definite personal agenda.  I would like my students to become not only more aware of the issues surrounding immigration, but also, and more importantly, to gain a sense of acceptance or at least empathy towards immigrants.  I would like my students to value the many contributions that immigrants have accorded the U.S. throughout the history of the country, and as a result, I would like them to have more understanding and respect towards immigrants today.

Combined with my own personal agenda, I would like the students to also gain more self-understanding of where they stand on the issues surrounding immigration, and I would like them to be able to articulate their views clearly by learning how to gather supportive and acceptable evidence, as well as having clarity of thought.    As the unit is taught now, I have no concrete evidence or sense of the outcomes of the unit in their mind, or what it is that they take from the unit other than enjoyment of the presentation and project.  Although having a unit that students enjoy participating in is very important to me, I would like to have more concrete ideas as to how the project is affecting their ideas about immigration.  This year one of the mayor school activities was to focus on the “Student Learning Outcomes” of our curriculum, and when I think of my unit, I cannot say that I really know what those outcomes are.  I do not know if there is a “performance Gap” involved in the project, because I have not studied any of the student ideas and changes of perception (if any) that the unit has on them.  I am assuming that there are gaps in the goals I stated above and the actual outcomes, but to even make such assumption is at this point invalid because I do not have any data.  This is the data I would like to gather so that I can then try to improve the unit.

III. Ethical questions regarding my research

The biggest ethical question for me is always whether it is right for me to try to convince my students of anything.  I am in the position of power in the classroom, and although I am usually successful at keeping my opinions to myself in class discussions, even though the students sometimes wish I did not, the very nature of the project has, as I have expressed before, a definite agenda.  Of course I realize that everything we do in school has an agenda, but I question whether this is ethical or not.  In the context of the school motto (creating compassionate individuals ready for international responsibility) I feel that my unit is very ethical and certainly within the bounds of the school’s mission.  Still, I wonder how I would react to having a completely anti-immigrant student who does not exhibit the “compassion” I would like to affect on them?

One of my group members also pointed out the question of parents and how having the kids ask about their family backgrounds might be an ethical issue as well.  I have to say I had not thought about this issue, and it is an important one.  At this point, I appreciate him making me aware of this issue, but I am deciding not to alter my question based on it for two reasons:  First, before we changed our curriculum four year ago, our class used to teach an extended unit on the family, and kids were deeply involved in researching their family background and roots.  During the two years I worked with the family unit, the responses from parents were extremely positive.  They appreciated the fact that their children were asking about their family roots and that they could relate very important family stories to their kids as a part of school life.  They felt “included” in their children’s education.  I am assuming at this point that if there are issues in the family history that the parents do not want their children to know, they will simply not relate these stories to their kids.  Perhaps it will be important for me, however, to tell the parents in our “Back to School Night” about the project and the fact that their children will be asked to do some research on their background, and to solicit input from them then.

The other reason why I do not feel that involving the parents from the beginning is necessary at this point is that I like to deal with my students first, and give them the opportunity to lead their learning without parent mandate.  I realize that my attitude constitutes a huge “leap of faith” that can be a very big ethical question, but I firmly believe that by the age of thirteen or fourteen, students should be given increasing responsibility for their own learning.  This is not to say that I do not consider parental involvement to be important.  Rather, I wonder how students can learn to be self-learners and be responsible students if we do not encourage them to take control of their own life?  I am making a big leap by assuming that learning about the background of the family will not be a negative experience for my students or their family, but I appreciate being aware of the issue and having that question in my mind.  The only possibility that concerns me at this point is the case of an adopted child.  Frankly, I had not thought about this question before reading one of the articles in our research search day.  I am having second thoughts about parental involvement as it relates to this issue, but I am not sure how I would respond to a parent not allowing the child to conduct this project because of secrets or problems with adoption ideas.  My only response would be to accept it, but I will talk to my classmates about this.

The final ethical issue that has come to mind so far is the one of telling them (or not) about why they will be asked to gather information about their family’s immigration background.  I think that letting them see the connections between units and their work is important, so I will tell them.  I will not tell then, however, that I want to see how their views may or may not change based on their research because I feel that changing an attitude about something is a very personal issue, and as I said before I do not want to force them to react in any fashion because of me, but rather react as they wish based on their findings, opinions and class discussions.

Research Methods

Since most Americans can trace their roots to another country, land or circumstance, I would like to have them look into their own backgrounds first, and then have them go into the Immigration Project with that self-knowledge to give a more personal dimension to the unit.  The Action Research Project will have to be altered in order to ascertain exactly how their ideas are prior to the start of the research, and then again, how they are after the unit ends.  The following are the methods that I plan t use:


a.The first questionnaire will ask students to write their opinions on immigration without any previous information.  I will only collect this one.

b.At the beginning of the year, I will ask students to fill out a questionnaire that relates to feelings or knowledge they have about their own family’s immigration.  Not only their ancestors, but also their own immediate family, as most students are expat children, or have lived outside of their own culture for many years.

c.The next questionnaire will be given to them after they have collected their family information, and it will ask them to process the information they gathered from their family research.  The goal of this second questionnaire will be to have them analyze any new or surprising information that they might have found out about their family’s history of immigration of which they were not aware in the past.

d.The forth questionnaire will ask them to write their opinions on the general issues of immigration in the United States as a whole.  This questionnaire will be given before the start of the actual Immigration unit.

e.The final questionnaire will ask the students to process the new information they gathered from the unit, and combine it with their other questionnaires to create a final analysis of their opinions about immigration, and to synthesize how it is that they view this issue and why.

2)Interviews: there will be many personal parent (family) interviews and three peer interviews conducted as an integral part of class discussion.

a.After gathering their questions (Journal b), students will be given opportunities to talk to their parents and family about the issue of immigration.

b.The first peer interview one will happen after the students have written their second questionnaire and they have gathered their family’s history of immigration.  The interviews will have as a base, the sharing of the backgrounds and the telling of at least one interesting story for each student in the small group where the “interview” is being conducted.  In “A Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Research,” Hopkins states on page 109 that: “Group interviews with three or four students [is] the most productive.”  As a result, I would like to tailor my interviews in that way, in the hope that all kids in the class will have a chance to speak about their stories in a more intimate level.

c.The second peer interview will be tailored as a discussion of how the kids feel or react to the movie “Mi Familia (My Family)” we watch at the beginning of the unit.  Questions will be tailored to focus the kids’ discussion on the issues behind the immigration story they have just watched, and the different opinions that they might have about what they saw.  Again, a small group discussion should be far more effective than a large group discussion led by me in getting the kids to really share their opinions openly with one another.

d.The final peer interview will ask students to talk with others from other immigrant groups (based not on their real backgrounds, but on the backgrounds they assumed for the project in class) about interesting or shocking things that they learned about their group.

3)Journal entries (Small Writing assignments).

a.The first journal entry will be given at the beginning of the year and will ask them to think in writing about what it means to be American or Japanese, etc.

b.The second journal entry will ask the students to write specific questions that they would like to ask their parents or grandparents about their family history as it relates to immigration.  These questions will form the basis of their research into their family history.

c.The third journal entry will have the kids gather the main ideas and topics that they gathered from their family stories, and will ask them to point out central themes of their family’s history.

d.The forth journal entry will ask the kids to explore any positive or negative factors that might have occurred to their family as a result of immigration.

e.The fifth journal entry will happen once the unit has began, and it will ask the students to identify any similarities and/or differences in the movie and in their stories. An analysis of why there might have been differences will be asked.

f.The sixth journal entry will ask the students to reflect on the writings presented in the class that support immigration to the United States.

g.The seventh journal entry will ask the students to reflect on the writings presented in the class that oppose immigration to the United States.

h.The eight journal entry will ask the students to synthesize the two positions, in light of the complexities of the issues.

i.A final journal entry will ask the students to gather their experiences and their current opinions (including at this point the last questionnaire) and make a clear position of where they stand on the issue of immigration and why.  This journal entry will serve as an outline for their final “Speech.”

4)My own notes:  I will keep a personal journal in order to gather my own observations of how the unit is affecting the students.

Justification of my methods

As it is, my immigration unit does not allow enough room for student reflection on the issue of immigration.  The above methods, I hope, will provide ample room for the kids to reflect on their own, with their families and with their peers about the issues behind immigration.  I believe that having the time and opportunity to talk to others about the topic will give the students a greater understanding of the issues discussed, and also a greater basis for their own thinking and opinions.  The above interviews and journal entries are geared toward these ends.  It is important to note that I do not plan to view their questionnaires except for the very first one, and the very last one.  The rest of the questionnaires and journal interview questions will be for either self-reflection, or peer reflection and conversation in class.  I am doing this because I want them to really come to personal answers and thoughts about their opinions on immigration, not mine.  As for the questionnaires, I hope to create questions that will help them to question their assumptions about immigration, or simply give them various perspectives so that they can form their opinions more clearly while giving me some ideas as to how their attitudes have changed or not.  The final “speech” will ask them to synthesize their experiences and opinions about immigration, from which I hope to learn their answers to my main question.  I also plan to read their journal entries, and note how their experiences may or may not be affecting their ideas.

The Analysis

Although at this point I am not aware of the reasons students might have to be either pro or anti immigration, I do have some possible reasons as to why they might be of either opinion.




An Analysis of Myself

Although I have tried to think of many personal and societal reasons why an individual might be pro or anti immigration, I must confess (as you am sure have already seen) that I personally subscribe to the belief that anti immigration feelings are learn from society, not innate in the nature of the child.  I have observed how very young children do not care whether the child they play with is brown or white or Latino, or even if s/he speaks the same language.  I have always been amazed when I see kids from totally different backgrounds and cultures playing together, and having fun.  Of course that there are fights and misunderstandings when kids play, but usually it is more from a human perspective of wanting the same toy, or feeling left out, than of a racial hatred or dislike.

Kids, I feel, are very perceptive to the expectations placed on them by adults.  If kids feel that the adult society expects a certain behavior, they are likely to adapt that behavior because it is very human to want to fit in.  It is from this belief that I feel anti immigration or pro immigration feelings stem.  Having said that, I look forward to seeing the different perspectives brought up in class, and I will do my very best to keep my opinions to myself so that kids in the classroom are not overwhelmed by my expectations or opinions on the subject.

Literature Review

I had a great time in class looking for helpful articles on the MSU database!  It opened up a whole new world of information that I had missed having since going to Smith.  Thank-you Lynn!  Having said that, I found a great deal of information on the issue of immigration in the United states as expected, but not much on the teaching of immigration to children (as far as similar projects were concerned).  I did find four articles that I will read which seem to be directly related to my topic.  They are:

 “Drawing on the Personal: ‘Roots’ Papers in the Teaching of American History.” Dublin, Thomas; The Social Studies (Washington, D.C.) v. 88 (Mar./Apr. 1997) p. 61-4.

            I want to read this article because it talks about a professor that asked college students to look into their own family backgrounds so that they could connect their own experience with the topic that they were studying in the text: immigration.  Since my action research project is very similar, I feel that I will gain some useful information, or at least validation of my methods for the project.

“It’s a Family Affair” Melendez, Ruth; Instructor (New York, N.Y.) v. 109 no4 (Nov./Dec. 1999) p. 6, Scholastic, Inc.

            This article is a teacher’s account of her family project in the fourth grade.  Although my project is for my 8th grade class, I want to know what she did in her class, how she handled the project and what the results were so that I can gain more insight into the questions I have for my own students and the project in general.

“Teaching History Through Immigration Stories” Lauter, Paul;    Magazine of History; Bloomington; v. 13, Issue 2, p. 10.  Winter 1999.

            This is another article based on a college class where a professor used specific immigrant stories and literature to inform the students about the lives and circumstances that the immigrants to the U.S. go through.  This is not an article that describes a project, but I hope that by reading it I will be able to find interesting titles of books or other publications that I can access to learn more about immigration and family history.

“Teaching Social Studies to Diverse Learners” Fuller, Chaulmaine.; Stone, Mary E.  The Social Studies (Washington, D.C.) v. 89 no4 (July./Aug. 1998) p. 154-7.

            To quote the authors: “This article contains suggestions for lesson planning and instructional strategies that are based upon individual students needs and high teacher expectations for success.” (end of first paragraph).  Although this article does not talk about any one particular project, I do hope it will give me good advice on how best to approach my project to gain helpful information.

“The Significance of Immigration in the Formation of an American Identity” Vecoli, Rudolph J.  The History Teacher (Long Beach, Calif.) v. 30 (Nov. 1996) p. 9-27.

            This article is not about teaching immigration.  However, it promises to be a very interesting and thorough article about the history of attitudes Americans have held over the centuries and periods of history about immigration.  I want to read it because I think that the more I know about the subject, the more I can be of help to my students.  Also, our curriculum stresses the idea of “Identity” so I thought it would be a helpful article from that perspective as well.

“Students’ Perception of Racial and Ethnic Tension in Pacific Region Schools”  Thomas, Lynn.; Willinsky, John.  Canadian Journal of Education, v. 22 (Fall 1997) p. 361-76.

            Our year in social studies is focused on the general idea of questioning and studying about stereotypes and assumptions.  I am interested in reading this article because I want to know what are some of the perspectives about race are across the pacific region.  At first, I thought that it would be only the U.S. Pacific coastal region, but it is actually an international study that includes countries from around the Pacific Ocean!  I was interested by this quote towards the end of the article: We have learned from this study that many students who perceive racial or ethnic tensions in their schools are able to recognize the policies and practices that make up institutionalized racism.” (p.7 of my printed article version).  This quote makes me want to read the article since I need more information about the perspectives that students have on the topic, not just teachers; that is after all, the essence of my action research project.

I look forward to reading all the articles above because I am hoping that they will give me various perspectives on teaching immigration, and also, more information on the subject itself.  I also think that they will point me to further reading and research materials that I can continue to draw from in the future.


Implementing the changes in the Immigration unit and understanding how the unit affects the opinions of the students are the first goals of the proposal.  After I understand the limits and/or successes of the unit as it is, I can then change the unit to improve outcomes in learning, or I will accept the outcomes as they are.  In the long term, I would like to share my unit and outcomes with other educators by publishing my work in Eric or another Publishing internet site for educators, and of course, the work on not only this unit but others that I am working one, will never end.

For myself, this project has meant that I have now a powerful tool to examine my own practices and teaching.  I would also like to conduct an action research project on my power relations in the classroom, especially as related to discussion time in the classroom.  In short, I am exited to work with this new tool for my teaching success, and I wish I had know about it, year ago!

Appendix:  The Questionnaires

Questionnaire #1                    Name:______________________  Date: _____________

  1. What is your nationality:__________________
  1.  How many years did you live in your native country:  All my life /  _______yrs.  (if you have moved back and forth, or have lived in other countries, answer the following regarding your overall experience there:
Country:________________: Great  /  So –So  /  Not good  /  Terrible

Country:________________: Great  /  So –So  /  Not good  /  Terrible

Country:________________: Great  /  So –So  /  Not good  /  Terrible

Country:________________: Great  /  So –So  /  Not good  /  Terrible

Country:________________: Great  /  So –So  /  Not good  /  Terrible

Country:________________: Great  /  So –So  /  Not good  /  Terrible

  1. Where are your parents from?  (Be as specific as Possible: not just country, but state, city, etc).


  1. If you have siblings, were they born in the same place as you?  Yes   /    No   (if not, please give details).

6. How often do you travel?

            Once per year

            Twice per year

            Three times per year

            Four  times per year

            ______times per year

7. What reasons do you have for traveling as much as you travel (from question above)?


8. Do you enjoy traveling in general?   Yes   /   Sometimes    /    Not really

9. Does your family as a whole like to travel?   Yes   / Sometimes   /   No

10. Why is your family in Japan?   We are Japanese / Job   /   Study   /  Other:__________

11. Does your family own a place in another country?   Yes  (Where__________)/   No

12.  What place is “home” for you? __________________

13. If not Japanese, did you want to live here?  Yes   /   Somewhat   / Not really

14. Do you enjoy living in Japan in general?     Yes   /    Sometimes   /    Not really

15. Do you feel accepted (welcomed) by our school community?  Yes  /  Somewhat  /   No

16. Why are you studying at and American school?


17. Do you feel accepted (welcomed) by your neighbors?  Yes   /   Somewhat    /   No

18. Do you know your neighbors’ names?   Yes  /  Only a few   /   No

19. Do you talk to your neighbors?   Yes to all  /  Only those that talk to me  /  Never

20. Are your neighbors friendly to you?   Yes  /  Only some  /   No

21. If your parents are not from Tokyo, why are they here?  Job / Study / Other________

19. Do you know where your grandparents were born?   Yes  /  Only some  /  No

(If “yes” or “Only some” Please write places and dates if you know them).

      Mom’s mother:                                     Mom’s Father:

      Dad’s mother:                                        Dad’s Father:

21.  Do your maternal grandparents live where they were born?   Yes   /   No  (If no,

please give details if you know them).


22. Do your paternal grandparents live where they were born?   Yes  /  No  (If no, please

 give details if you know them).


23. Do you often visit your family “back” home?  Yes  /  Sometimes  /   Never

24. Do you keep in touch with your extended family members?  Yes  /   Sometimes   /  No

25. Where do you want to live when you “grow up”? ______________________   Why?


26. What is most important when deciding where to live?  (rank in order of preference,

1 being most important, six (or seven) being least important.

                  _____Near family

                  _____Best economically (job, affordable, etc)

                  _____Near cultural opportunities

                  _____Prettiest area

                  _____Most convenient (shops, markets, etc)

                  _____Safest area (less crime, no natural disasters, etc)

                  _____Other _______________________________________

27.  If you had full choice, would you live in:   Japan  /  somewhere else


Questionnaire #2                                Name:_____________________ Date:____________

Note:  At this point, you should have received letters from your family members to whom you wrote for information, and you should have finished conducting interviews with your family members if you so planned.  It would be helpful for you to have your notes, and/or letters with you now to answer the following questions.

  1. What new information did you receive from your questions?  (Summary)

  1. What information was surprising to you?  (why?)

  1. From the stories that your family members told you, which one is your favorite?  Why?

  1. Were there any assumptions you had made about your family background that were incorrect?  How were they incorrect?

  1. Looking at the information you have now, what forces would you say have been important in your family’s decisions regarding where to live? (better job opportunities, near family,  better neighborhood, more/less cosmopolitan, etc)?  Were the reasons for choosing a place to live different from generation to generation?  If so, how?
  1. Looking at the information you gathered, what ideas seem to be most important historically for your family as goals to live by?
  1. What is most important to you personally regarding the place where you want to live?  Why?

  1. Has gathering information about your family’s background been interesting for you?  Explain.

  1. If your family moved from their original hometown or country, what were the main reasons for them doing so?

  1. If “yes” in #9, did your family experience difficult times as a result of their change in residence?  Explain.

  1. Looking at the big picture of your family’s moving (or lack of movement) in relationship to you, are you overall glad that they moved (or didn’t move)?  Why?

  1. What will you tell your children about their heritage?


Questionnaire #3                    Name:_________________________ Date:____________

1. You are born in:  The United States / Outside of the United States

2. You are:  American / Not American Citizen but Legal Resident / Foreign Citizen

3. In your American “hometown” most people are:  American / mixed-background / foreign

4. Your own “hometown” is: ethnically diverse / ethnically homogeneous

5. You personally know: (1 / 2-4 / 5-10/ more ) people from different countries.

6. You speak well  (one / two / three / more than three) languages.

7. What kind of incentive would convince you move someplace else from where you are? One (1) being the biggest incentive, Six (6) being the least important incentive.

            _____No incentive needed, I hate where I live

            _____More money opportunities

            _____Closer to family and friends

            _____Nicer place to live (safer, more convenient)

            _____More things to do (more cosmopolitan, more cultural outlets)

            _____Nothing could move me from where I live, I love it here!

8. If a person is suffering from political oppression in their country that person should:

            try to change the law (even if dangerous)/ hide from the authorities / leave the country

9. If a person is unable to find a job after looking for one for a long time, that person should:

            keep looking in the same area / look in other places / beg for money / rob others

10. If the area where a person lives is no longer safe (crime is up, natural catastrophe, etc), that person should:

            work to improve the area / move from that area / not worry and keep living there as is

11. People all over the world should:

            live where they want to live / stay where they were born / other_______________

12. It is better for my country to have:

            people born in the same culture / many, many cultures / only some cultures

13. If a country has the economic means to help people in other places it should:

            let them live in the country / give money to help their country / not give them any help

14. If resources (economic or otherwise) are limited, a country should:

            help the poor most / divide its resources equally / help business owners

15. The United States in your opinion is culturally speaking:

            a “melting pot” / a “salad bowl”

16. Write words that come to mind when you think of “immigrants”:


17. Based on your words above, immigrants in the United States are:

            (productive/ necessary/ destructive/ beneficial) members of American society.


Questionnaire # 4                   Name: _______________________ Date: ____________

This questionnaire is meant to help you synthesize all your ideas on the issue of immigration, and to give you ideas for your final speech on immigration.

Note: To answer the following questions you need to gather your journal (Where you answered the immigration questions I asked you to think and write about in class), your letters and or interview questions from your family (which you collected last semester), your three questionnaires about immigration, and your notes from our immigration project.

  1. Reading your ideas and opinions about your family’s history and your own ideas on immigration, where would you put yourself in the line of the idea of immigration in general?

pro                                     neutral                                            anti


  1. Where do you put yourself in the line regarding the idea of immigration to the United States?


pro                                     neutral                                            anti


  1. Would you say that immigrants to the United States have been:
(productive / necessary / destructive / beneficial / other_________________)


  1. If you are pro-immigration: What changes would have to occur for you to become anti-immigration?
If you are anti-immigration: What changes would have to occur for you to become pro-immigration?

If you are neutral, what changes would have to occur for you to become anti or pro?


5. Has your image of your family or yourself changed in any way by our exploration of your family background and/or the project on immigration?  Explain:


6. Since currently the U.S. limits immigration, What do you think are legitimate reasons to allow immigration (choose those that apply)?

_________ has family in the United States

_________does a job that people in the United States benefit from

_________has a lot of money

_________is suffering in home country economically

_________seeks religious / cultural freedom

_________is suffering political oppression in home country

_________just wants to live in the United States