Musings about language and literacy and learning

A Healthy Diet of Openness and Skepticism Towards Education Research

I met Andrew Watson at a post Research Ed pub event in Philly a few years back. I’m an introvert and not terribly excited about talking to strangers in noisy settings, and saw Andrew standing there looking aloof, so he seemed like someone good to chat with. I had no idea who he was, just recall him saying something about neuroscience something or other and conferences, he may have had a card. I probably, in my naiveté, thought he was shilling for a company or something (lol). Anyway, I later followed him on Twitter, and over time began to really appreciate his wise and often sardonic takes on education and research, and made a note to check out his book, The Goldilocks Map.

I do take a while to get around to education related books, but I’ve been reading more and more research these days, and it seemed like high time to finally pick up his book, as I am a complete amateur in understanding methods or anything, really, beyond the abstract of most papers.

And I’m really glad I did, and I recommend you do, too. He’s got a dry wit that can make you laugh out loud, while at the same time dropping critical knowledge throughout in a clear and concise way.

The Goldilocks Map is about striking a just right balance of openness to new evidence-based teaching methods, while at the same time maintaining a disciplined skepticism to ensure that you are not jumping into the latest edu brain fad that will waste your, your colleagues’, and your students’ precious learning time.

Watson gives classroom teachers a step-by-step process for determining whether or not to listen to the latest wisdom bestowed upon you in a PD, starting with asking any source of a new practice, “What’s the best research you know of that supports it?” How your source responds to that question can immediately tell you whether or not to go further.

I’ve taken up this quest since reading his book, and I had a really great interaction with a well-respected researcher, in which he acknowledged that a particular passage in one of his papers may have been a bit over-emphatic, and pointed to some more nuanced research findings that complicated the issue. Boom. He has thus become a trusted source for me. As Watson puts it in his book, “Trustworthy sources want us to want more information.” Indeed.

Watson gives us questions, tools, and shortcuts for digging deeper into real research, and actually, part of the fun of reading his book is watching him surgically dissect key studies over the course of the chapters. It’s a tour de force.

One interesting personal takeaway I had from reading his book was that my purpose and methodology in reading education research is a bit different than some of these approaches–and that’s OK. I read research more like the former English major that I am — I typically read for thematic patterns, well crafted ideas, and arguments that accumulate across papers. And for my purposes — as someone now outside of the classroom less interested in specific practices I can apply tomorrow, and more interested in key frameworks and models that can help to inform district and school-wide approaches, as well as classroom practices, that can make sense.

That said, I took away sharp and insightful understandings and approaches to reading research with a more informed and critical eye. Watson is not afraid to get technical, and I’m going to need to go back and re-read the book to really internalize and apply some of his methods.

I highly recommend picking up this book and adding to your collection.

#bookreview #research #PD #evidence