The main hypothesis of this action research project was whether the implementation of an inquiry-based learning unit could increase learner autonomy awareness. The results certainly support this hypothesis since students’ autonomy awareness increased due to the inquiry-based learning activities that encouraged students to search for information and discover knowledge on their own in and out of the classroom. My understanding of the impact of inquiry-based learning in students’ autonomy awareness led me to reflect on theoretical ideas, particularly related to teaching science as an inquiry-generating process which is influenced by a wide range of classroom factors. This understanding which proved to be very effective with this group of fourth grade students, also led me to changes in my science teaching approach in terms of methodology, tasks, materials and classroom interactions that other science teachers and I had overlooked because of our tendency to teach in a traditional teacher-driven way.
In this action research study, where I implemented an inquiry-based learning unit about the systems of the human body in order to increase the level of autonomy awareness in a group of twenty-two fourth grade students, my data collection and analysis revealed that:
1. The implementation of an inquiry-based learning approach to teach a unit about the systems of the human body led students to learn the basic concepts related to this topic successfully.
2. The inquiry-based learning unit promoted a student-centered classroom environment that favored the increase of autonomy awareness in most of the students.
3. The implementation of the inquiry-based learning unit encouraged students to inquire more than they used to about the subject matter of study leading to an increase of their autonomy awareness.
4. Students’ autonomy awareness increased due to the inquiry-based learning activities that encouraged students to search for information and discover knowledge on their own in and out of the classroom.
5. The implementation of the inquiry-based learning unit required students to look for information by observing, listening, reading, moving and touching, and this helped students identify their preferred learning styles better.
6. Despite attempts to make some students research more deeply about the systems of the human body at home, they did not do it as expected and this was reflected especially in their portfolios.
7. Despite attempts to improve students writing to solve open-ended questions, their different levels of language skill and proficiency made it difficult to show improvement in this aspect.
8. The students cooperated in joint inquiry-based activities and interacted generally and the classroom atmosphere was relaxed and motivating.
Regarding some recommendations for those who are interested in doing the second cycle of this study, they deal mainly with the data analysis process since this aspect turned out to be the most difficult one for me to deal with in the completion of my research project as it is the area of action research that is the least well defined making the issue of how action research data should be analyzed a very challenging one for any teacher researcher, including me (Burns, 1999).
First of all, I would recommend any other teacher researcher who decides to work on a similar project not to separate the processes of data collection and data analysis the way I did, because, in my practice, this proved to be difficult and unnecessary. In my case, I began analysis only when I had collected all the data, leaving aside an essential feature of action research which is the flexibility that results from cycling back and forth from data collection to analysis to further data collection and so on (Somekh, 2006).
Another aspect related to data analysis that I would like to recommend to other teacher researchers is to take into account from the beginning, that once there has been some overall examination of the data, it is absolutely important to develop categories or codes to identify the broad trends that have emerged from making some kind of sense of the data collected more specifically (Cohen, 2005). I took too long to start coding or attempting to reduce the large amount of data that I had collected with the data collection instruments I used, such as tests, surveys, portfolios and field notes, to more manageable categories of concepts, themes or types which would have made it easier for me to later compare the data and build interpretations. My recommendation for other researchers is to assemble all the data that can illuminate the research question, skim the data considering any and all categories for sorting, and creating their categories whenever they see repetition or a pattern emerges, giving a name to each category until they complete a list of them.
The idea that data collection, action and analysis are interrelated and recycle into each other when doing action research summarizes my recommendations for those teacher researchers who are willing to carry out the second cycle of this action research project. It is difficult as well as unnecessary to separate the process of data collection and analysis in an action research project like the one I already developed.