Calhoun’s Action research versus a cycles-and-epicycles framework

Since 1999 I have used Emily Calhoun’s 1994 book Action Research in the Self-Renewing School in a graduate course that has evolved and changed its name from Educational Evaluation to Evaluation of Educational Change to Action Research for Educational, Professional, and Personal Change.   The framework I introduce students to I call Cycles and Epicycles and the course now includes an activity in which students compare and contrast Calhoun and the Cycles-Epicycles framework.

It was noted this year that Calhoun may have evolved as well since 1994, so I conducted a web search.   This showed that she was most active in the 90s and co-wrote a 1999 book that is reviewed at  The review indicates that the book pays a lot of attention to the multiple players involved in making school change successful (aka “constituency building” in the Cycles-Epicycles framework).  She is still cited often (see and her work is included in a 2009 anthology on Practical Action Research edited by R. Schmuck (whose own text we now also use in the course).  The following interview suggests that her directional approach is central to her work: “Action researcher narrows focus to broaden effectiveness,”

Reviewing the students’ contrasts I arrived at the following schema:

Calhoun book vs Cycles-epicycles framework

1.  School change vs. Education, Professional, and Personal Change

2. Straightforward vs. Explicitly includes full dimensions of Action Research in practice
[Calhoun’s simple schema invites frustration when full dimensions are experienced]

3.  “Just do it!” versus room for development and evolution, for more people to be involved
[but see note above on the 1999 book]

4. Reflection & dialogue: incidental & not examined vs. Integral to AR & needs to be addressed systematically (i.e., tools are needed)

5. Data-centric vs. Data collection & analysis included inside evaluation of past & current action (see Evaluation Clock)

6. results dictate further action vs. constituency building increases the chances that results of your AR will be taken up and extended.


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