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Information Literacy


As the previous page describes, all sources -- popular, practitioner, and scholarly -- may be useful, depending on your purpose for using the resource.

Scholarly sources may be the most difficult to read, but they also are the most nuanced and rigorous texts, as they demonstrate experts' perspectives. They can push your teaching practice, and can provide compelling justification for what you teach and how you teach. 

Types of Scholarly Sources

The following two slides list several different types of scholarly sources and how curriculum designers might use them. As with source format and audience, knowing the type of scholarly article you are looking for can help you find appropriate articles. For example, if you want a review, consider using the search terms "meta-analysis", "systematic review", or "literature review".

  Description When is this useful? Example
Original Empirical Research These articles describe original empirical research, which may be qualitative or quantitative. The sample size may vary, from a single classroom to thousands of classrooms over multiple years. These articles typically contain the following sections: introduction, methods, results, and discussion.

Original empirical research may provide justification for what you're teaching and how you're teaching, though it depends on how well-validated the research study is. A seminal research study may be very useful to cite; a new research study with a small sample size by an unknown scholar may be less compelling unless it is combined with other research studies that show similar results.

In fact, while original research is incredibly important, on its own, any given research study generally does not mean much: you must read multiple research articles to see the broader conversations and trends in the field and to see whether a given research study is well-validated and frequently cited. 

Reading original research is therefore most helpful to experts in the field, who are already aware of the context.  However, the "literature review" portion of research studies can sometimes be useful to non-expert readers, as it contextualizes the research within the broader conversation (see "reviews"  below). 

"Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale" by Angela Duckworth provides compelling evidence that the grit is useful for predicting success across contexts. The article can be cited as evidence for the importance of teaching grit.

Case Studies Case studies are a subset of original research that report on a single classroom, teacher, or school.

Individual case studies generally have too small of a sample size to provide a compelling justification for a teaching strategy on their own. However, given that they often provide more details about what an individual teacher did, they can be more readable than larger research studies. They can therefore be useful for finding practical examples for implementing an idea or technique. 

Reading the article "Teaching Social Studies for Newcomer English Language Learners: Toward Culturally Relevant Pedagogy" can give you a picture of what culturally relevant pedagogy could look like in a social studies classroom.
Theory These articles discuss abstract ideas and principles. They often provide a framework that helps to explain, predict, and understand phenomena. Theory and frameworks provide conceptual tools that help to organize our understanding of a topic. Therefore, it can be immensely helpful to present theory to faculty and graduate students (either in summarized or original form), so that they can better contextualize and reflect on what they are learning. Theory and frameworks should be balanced with more practical tools that help the learner to apply what they have learned. In the seminal article "Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy," Gloria Ladson-Billings defines culturally relevant pedagogy. A curriculum designer may want to provide graduate students with an overview of this theory before diving into practical strategies for culturally responsive teaching.
Commentary Some articles provide perspectives, opinions, or commentaries on a given topic. Some commentaries may not be peer-reviewed, even if other articles in the journal are. Commentary articles are useful for showing what scholars think about a given topic. These are often more readable than original research and theory, but are often still scholarly and rigorous. Reading a few different commentaries on a topic can expose you to multiple perspectives on the topic.  In "'There's Still That Window That's Open': The Problem with 'Grit'", Noah Asher Golden does not propose a new theory, but instead "challenges the education reform movement's fascination with 'grit'." Graduate students could read this article alongside a video of Angela Duckworth about the power of grit, and then discuss the implications for how they teach character.
Review These articles provide a comprehensive summary of research on a certain topic, and often give a perspective of the state of the field and where it is heading. Review articles are useful for giving you a general overview of the topic: what conversations are happening between scholars in the field, and what research studies have been conducted thus far. They are very useful in providing justification for what you teach and how you teach, as they can summarize several research articles that provide evidence for the efficacy of a technique. "The Theory and Practice of Culturally Relevant Education: A Synthesis of Research Across Content Areas" summarizes research connecting culturally relevant education to positive student outcomes. Reading this will give you an excellent overview of the scholarly conversations around the topic up until 2016.

Reading Scholarly Sources

Scholarly articles can be dense, technical, and lengthy. They are written for experts in a field, and often assume that readers are familiar with the field's jargon and research methods. Watch the video below for tips on how to read scholarly articles (you don't have to read them in order!): 

A transcript for the video above can be found here.

Additional Resources:

Evaluating Scholarly Sources