Action Research Fellowships


For 16 years, CFE has offered Action Research Leadership Institute Fellowships to Chicago’s most outstanding PreK-12th grade teachers. Action research is the systematic process of looking closely at a specific aspect of one’s practice in order to improve student outcomes, improve the school environment, and make positive changes to one’s teaching. Fellows conduct action research in their schools, increase their leadership engagement, and use their findings to impact education policy.

The ARLI Program spans the full academic year, during which Fellows reflect on the strategies they are using to improve both the quality of their teaching and student achievement. Our Fellows participate in approximately 45 hours of whole-group and small-group meetings organized around the action research process.

ARLI Fellow Spotlight: Heather Duncan

Why It’s Important to Rethink Whole Group Lessons in Pre-Kindergarten

In their first school experience, preschool students must learn to navigate the world outside their homes and adapt to interacting with peers. Early childhood teachers like Heather Duncan of South Shore Fine Arts Academy are continually searching for ways to ease the transition for students while facilitating learning.

When faced with students who had an unusually difficult time sitting still in whole group instruction, Ms. Duncan recognized this as an ideal time to try a new way of using the classroom and seized the opportunity to study the outcomes.

Ms. Duncan applied to the Chicago Foundation for Education (CFE) for an Action Research Leadership Institute (ARLI) Fellowship and was awarded this prestigious grant. The ARLI program spans the full academic year, during which Fellows reflect on the strategies they are using to improve both the quality of their teaching and student achievement.


Ms. Duncan’s primary research goal was to find the most effective way to help her (antsy) students gain important knowledge about language, specifically letters, letter sounds, phonemic awareness and phonological awareness. At the conclusion of her study, she intended to share her findings with colleagues and work to effect change in early childhood policy.

Ms. Duncan wanted to shorten the time they had to sit still, yet cover the necessary content. To test her ideas, she spent less time in whole group instruction and added more partner talks. She expanded and changed the number of small group lessons. And she revised the way the small group work was implemented.

Utilizing journals and video, Ms. Duncan gathered data and tracked observations. In her analysis of the video footage, she looked for: engagement behavior (watching, responding to questions, sharing ideas); redirection (number of times for class, number of times for individuals); feedback loops (number of times I could use inquiry questioning before losing control of the group). She measured progress and growth using two skills: alphabet knowledge and recognition and extension of patterns.  In the past, she had always talked most about these skills in group settings with practice among individuals or small groups. “There was great value in changing how I ran the school day to meet the needs of my students,” said Ms. Duncan.

I feel that teachers should be trained to use multiple formats and trusted or coached to design the day that best teaches the group in front of them. I have added skills that I will be able to use in future classrooms and situations.

Dates and Deadlines

  • 2019-20 Application: CLOSED

  • Meetings and Research: September 2019 through June 2020