The Three Researchers I Sleep With

You, too, all fall asleep with educational journals bent back double on your chest. Don’t deny it.

We don’t spend enough time writing our own teaching Desideratas: that is, crystallizing our beliefs and our evidence about how and why kids learn what they learn. It’s a shame, because it’s the rock we stand upon. And once we get it clear for ourselves, it’s amazing how efficient we can get at judging what is truly valuable in a classroom, and what is simply the next textbook company’s shell game.

My first pick won’t be any surprise. Ed Deci (and partner in crime Rich Ryan), down the road at the University of Rochester, have worked for over two decades on researching and defining intrinsic motivation: how human beings feel competent, fulfilled, and connected. It’s their work that  first found that extrinsic rewards– money, gold stars, pizza parties, even praise and grades– can actually diminish a kid’s internal motivation to learn. Their stuff has been getting a lot more attention and validation in the past couple of years, and for that I can only dance.

The second is Stanford professor Carol S. Dweck— my editor at ASCD calls her “Dina’s girl” (ha). TOP SECRET PREVIEW: Dr. Dweck’s got an article coming out in this September’s Educational Leadership that nicely summarizes her work (check it out on line September 1st). For those of you who can’t wait, pick up her book (or mooch around on her website)  Mindset, a quick and life-changing read with kid-friendly web quizzes to boot. She’s also got curriculum available here.

The last is a newbie on my radar (mentioned here) who will be guest posting next week–  experienced education writer, action researcher, and good friend of Deborah Meier, Kathleen Cushman.  Kathleen has recently compiled several months’ worth of interviews with almost 200 students about their learning experiences– both inside school and out. She asked them a simple question: “How do you get good at something?”

Their answers comprise Fires in the Mind and additionally (yay for me) Fires in the Middle School Bathroom. I love the way this work dovetails with and grounds the psychologically-oriented, sometimes high-falutin’ science of Deci and Dweck; each reinforces the other.

Oh, and I have two other guys waiting in the wings: Jonah Lehrer, and Daniel Pink. I haven’t read their stuff yet, but they both continue to examine why and how we decide to do what we do– and love what we love, and excel how we excel—- from a metacognitive, brain-based perspective.

So it’s actually five researchers.

Yeah. I’m a floozy.

7 thoughts on “The Three Researchers I Sleep With

  1. Foundationally, yes. That’s all I’m talking about. There’s much out there specifically about schooling and school-based learning that I’m not getting into here. Although Cushman’s work is less psychological and more applied, as I mention.

    Should have mentioned this author as well: http://www.brainrules.net/

  2. Well, I guess our science is only as good as the sociocultural realities that the humans doing it exist within. I’m definitely not going to denigrate the psych here, you know that I’m a fan. But I find it interesting that your list is so heavily tilted in that direction. Just pointing it out.

  3. True. But I wonder what you would consider “good” sociocultural reality. And at any rate, you have to get around the vicious regress problem of subjectivity somehow, even if it’s by setting up some arbitrary rules. By the way, are you a second year doc candidate reading heavily in Foucault?

  4. But that’s the point. Broadly sweeping psych theories typically claim to know what is cross-culturally “good”. I don’t deny that there are sweeping truths across cultures, but I don’t think we should be putting eggs in one basket. As for Foucault, he’s so last year. Moving on…

  5. Cosmic confluence! Kathy Cushman also has an article in the Sept. EL. Forwarding it to you now, thanks for the Dweck shout out. I’m curious to see what you think about Dan Pink . . .

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