This week I’ve been thinking a lot about my main issue with my dissertation at the moment– the fact that I have a lot of data sources and a virtually non-existent approach to looking at all of it. The first thing I do when I have an issue like this is to read what other people have done. I call this “reading for inspiration”. I actually spent a lot of time reading for inspiration this year just to get ideas. The most inspirational book I read this year was Bruce VanSledright’s In Search of America’s Past: Learning to Read History in Elementary School.
VanSledright went into a 5th grade classroom to teach the students historical inquiry and then measured what they learned from this approach. Replace “historical inquiry” with “project-based economics” and this is essentially my study. He appeared to be faced with the same amount of data sources I am, and I actually picked this book up again this week to look again at how he measured student learning, even though I first read this book in January. The cool part is that VanSledright got his PhD at MSU as well, studying elementary social studies with the late, great Jere Brophy. See? We’re academic soul mates! Anne-Lise ran into VanSledrght at AERA this year and talked to him about my dissertation. He agreed to chat with me on the phone about his work! Having someone like him discuss my work (even briefly in passing) and want to talk to me more about it is the nerd equivalent of meeting a rock star. So, I made up some questions to ask him about his data sources. How often can one talk to an author of an inspirational book of theirs?
I also find inspiration reading other things. My writing group friend and fellow “West Coaster” Erica sent me a syllabus and all her readings from a case study course she took, and I am going to conduct my own independent study of case study research. I also am reading a book on reading comprehension and inquiry circles for a class I’m teaching in a couple weeks (Comprehension & Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Stephanie Harvey & Harvey Daniels) and I found some good stuff in there, even though my dissertation topic is seemingly unrelated. I’m also making more of an effort to read fiction– just for fun. It’s important for me to remember that I also once enjoyed reading for fun instead of work; for entertainment instead of knowledge. This brain break I give myself very now and then is key for inspiration. I feel like I’m more ready to tackle the tough stuff after reading The Art of Fielding, or Hunger Games.
Hopefully I can chat with Bruce soon (I’ve already decided we’re on a first-name basis), but until then, back to the books.