Case Assignment
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Below is a copy of the assignment we shared with students on the first day of class. We also passed out copies of the initial rubric.


What is a Case?

Cases are richly detailed narratives of teaching that are used to (a) guide reflection and (b) teach others. Although they are story-like, "cases are not simply stories that a teacher might tell. They are crafted into compelling narratives, with a beginning, middle, and end, and situated in an event or series of events that unfold over time. They have a plot that is problem-focused with some dramatic tension that must be relieved. They are embedded with many problems that can be framed and analyzed from various perspectives, and they include the thoughts and feelings of the teacher-writers as they describe the accounts. Some case writers describe problems that remain unresolved and end their stories with a series of questions about what to do. Others include solutions that may or may not have worked. They all include reflective comments about their accounts that examine what they have learned from the experience and/or what they may do differently in another similar situation." These comments should include the author's answer to the question, "What is this a case of?" The specific challenges, solutions, and experiences of a single case should be related to general issues and principles of learning, teaching, and instructional design, so that as a professional community develops its body of cases, it is also developing a more articulate understanding of the general principles of its practice.

In this case the problem focuses on student learning and seeks to understand what aspects of teaching, of the classroom, and of the broader environment may contribute to what students do and do not learn. The case should center on a series of lessons addressing a central concept, skill, attitude, or aspect of participation associated with your discipline or field of study (e.g. photosynthesis, the causes of the American Revolution, the concept of function, strategies for reading a new novel, evaluating explanations, engaging in productive discourse relevant to a particular domain, etc.) The substance of the case will discuss:

  • the context of your classroom (relevant aspects of the course, student population & school);
  • your intentions for student learning, i.e., your learning aims (including aspects of students knowing and learning associated with the development of skills, conceptual understanding, and participation);
  • your account of the learning problem you were trying to address, including your hypotheses about what your students knew and knew how to do (i.e. what you felt you could build upon), as well as what concerned you about what they did not yet know or know how to do;
  • what you and your students did in the course of the teaching event or process, what resources supported their activities, and how you organized and directed their activities;
  • what the activities required in terms of student participation, understanding, and skills;
  • what problems, dilemmas, questions, or puzzles you encountered;
  • what occurred as a result of your efforts — both intended and unintended consequences, including evidence about student learning;
  • your hypotheses about why these results occurred, with reference to what we know about learning and performance; and
  • your reflections about the event and what you learned, including what you might do differently when you teach this material again;
  • your answer to the question, "What is this a case of?" in terms that would help other teachers use your case report to inform their work when they encounter problems similar to the one you discussed.

Basic components:

Three components comprise a case report: (a) the case narrative, (b) the case analysis, and (c) two commentaries.

The Case Narrative (5-10 pages). Although there is no single formula, all case narratives will have some components in common:

Plot - Cases should have a plot. The plot often follows a pattern like the following: You plan to teach a particular concept or set of skills to a group of students in a specific setting. This sets a problem for you and your students. Your intentions include a rationale for teaching these ideas and a discussion of what you expect(ed) students to learn, an intended scenario for how the lessons and learning will unfold. When you teach, things don't usually go quite as planned. Either students don't respond as you expected, or some respond in different ways than others, or they know more or different things than you had predicted, or unexpected blessings or glitches arise. This requires that you adapt to the surprises or otherwise make sense of the events. You may then want to report on how the modifications went or simply on how you interpret what occurred -- your sense of why things unfolded as they did.

Context — Cases are situated in specific locations and at a specific point in time. Describe the particulars in the context. Tell us about the school, the community, the students, the history of the class, whatever details are relevant to help your reader understand the situation.

Problem — Embedded in any act of teaching is a learning problem. The problem for your students comes from their need to know, or know how to do, something that they do not already know or know how to do. The problem for you includes deciding on a set of goals or a standard that you will strive, with your students, for them to meet, deciding on how you and your students will know whether and how they are meeting these goals, and designing learning activities and resources for your students through which they can accomplish what you hope they will. In this case the problem is your sense of what students needed to learn and the questions you had about how to teach these things to them.

Analysis of the content and learning goals — Because your case is one of learning and teaching in your subject matter, include an analysis of the content material (e.g. negative and positive numbers, the concept of democracy and dictatorship, Romeo and Juliet) and what you want(ed) students to learn and learn to do, including ways that you want(ed) your students too participate in the learning activity and how you want(ed) them to learn to participate. Provide a rationale for why you wanted to teach this content, these skills and concepts, and these aspects of participation to this particular group of students at this point in time.

Intentions — Actions flow from intentions (whether conscious or unconscious). In your case, describe your intentions, your anticipations, your expectations. These typically flow from your rationale. What were you hoping to accomplish? What did you expect would happen in terms of how students would engage in and learn from the activities you planned? What reactions from your students did you anticipate and prepare for?

What happened — If cases were multi-course meals, this element would be the main course. Bring your readers into your classroom and help them vicariously to experience the unfolding events and the questions or dilemmas you struggled with. In developing the sequence of interactions you will want to include, not necessarily in this order, your first encounters, moments of tension, how you responded, how the students responded, and what the result was. What participatory, cognitive, and behaviorist processes do you conclude that the activities actually required as you and your students interacted when you taught the lessons? (This may differ from what you originally expected.)

Evidence of what students learned — You may discuss what happened in many ways — how you perceived what happened, how you felt about the process, how students were engaged, and how students seemed to feel — but you must include some evidence about what students actually learned in relation to your intentions. You can frame this discussion using samples of student work or assessment results (tests, papers, projects, exhibitions or other products); your own observations of their learning before, during, or after this teaching event; or students' reports about their own learning. You may also find that students' learned some things different from or beyond what you intended. This would be equally useful to note. Be sure to describe the variability in student learning outcomes (who learned what) as well as the norm.

The Case Analysis and reflection (3-5 pages). The case analysis may comprise a separate section or it may be woven throughout the case. A reflection will generally be found at the end of the case. The analysis should include:

Discussion of why events unfolded as they did — How do you make sense of what happened, based on what we know about participation, engagement, motivation, and learning? Consider both positive and negative outcomes and both intended and unintended consequences. Your analysis should cite to the research we have been reading in this class or other research as well as to your own well-reasoned opinions. You may find that other cases contribute to your understanding as well.

Your reflection on the event - How has this case affected how you think about students and their learning? About the content? What lessons do you take from this case for the future, both for teaching this topic and others in your subject matter? What is your answer to the question "What is this a case of?" What general principles of learning and teaching does your case illustrate, and what should another teacher understand about your experience to make use of what you learned?

Two Commentaries (1-2 pages each). Commentaries are relatively brief responses to a case that provide additional perspectives on what happened and why. The commentary is an opportunity to deepen dialogue, to raise additional insights or hypotheses, and to bring additional perspectives, experiences, or research to bear. Its major purpose is not to praise or condemn. Neither is it intended to provide editing advice. It may add to the interpretation of the case and/or explain how the case is a good illustration of particular ideas or concepts. It may also comment on the value of the case for the reviewer's own understanding of teaching practice.

One commentary should be written by a fellow STEP teacher. The other can be written by another teacher or administrator, an instructor, a parent, or even a student.

Copyright 2000, Karen Hammerness, Stanford University. All the material contained on this site has been produced by Karen Hammerness, Lee Shulman, Linda Darling-Hammond, Kay Moffett, and Misty Sato. These materials can be downloaded, printed and used with proper acknowledgement, including the name and affiliation of the authors and the web-site addess.

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