What Students Learned
Cases in  

 the Course
What Students  

Site Index

When I first sat down to watch the video of my case lesson, I attributed my bewilderment in the unfolding of the poetry discussion to a need for better time management. While time management is always a factor in teaching, I began to see that there were other factors of the discussion that could be adjusted to create a more fruitful learning experience for the class. I began to wrestle with what this lesson was a case of. The readings by Bruner, Norman and Ball…spoke to the crux of my case. --Jennifer, STEP '00

What I have learned is that every teaching event…presents layers of complex and interactive difficulties, successes and failures….I learned that my case was more than not giving enough feedback. I learned that I didn't know my students well enough. I didn't realize that I had to scaffold every piece of the complicated unit so that they could handle the research, performances, the groupwork, content, and the ethics for the diseases they studied. I have to be careful of my assumptions about my students in any class.--Liz, STEP '00

Towards Expert Thinking about Practice

An examination of students' case-writing (from outline to final draft), instructors' feedback, students' reflective essays, interviews with instructors, and interviews with students all provided examples of the ways in which students such as Jennifer and Liz demonstrated growing expertise about practice as their cases progressed. To examine this development in depth, we focused upon the work of four students who produced particularly powerful cases: Sonya, Mika, Rick, and Jessica. All these students' initial drafts and outlines demonstrated relatively simplistic conceptions of the problems and issues inherent in the incident they describe in their cases. However, in later drafts, they used key course concepts to analyze incidents, deepen insights, and to make realizations about their practice that went beyond lay wisdom about teaching. In particular, their thinking developed in four key areas:

  • Explanations of practice and teaching events;
  • Understanding of students and student learning;
  • Discussions of teaching goals and objectives; and
  • Ability to reflect more broadly beyond the immediate "here and now" as well as beyond their classroom walls.

For instance, in Sonya's first draft she provided few details and descriptions of her teaching activities and goals and objectives, little reference to theory or course concepts, and she attributed the difficulties she encountered in her teaching to "lack of planning." By the final draft of her case, she had moved to a sophisticated and theoretically informed explanation in which she demonstrated that the issue was not simply time and planning, but the kind of planning that was important--her ability to determine how to present a concept in a way that engages and addresses students' needs, interests and strengths. 

In Mika's first draft, she too began with an initially simplistic formulation of her case's focus upon teaching vocabulary as primarily students' failures to study, figure out parts of speech, and guess using context clues. Yet by her final case, she had developed a rich, expert understanding of the way her teaching, the curriculum, and the culture of the school may also have contributed to students' problems. Drawing upon course concepts such as transfer, cultural relevance, and the necessity for meaningful contexts for learning, Mika expanded her analysis to a rich and conceptually thoughtful analysis of her and her students' experiences with vocabulary tests.  

An analysis of all fifty-four students' reflective essays also revealed that many students felt that they had developed a deeper focus upon student learning, experienced a more effective reflective process through writing the case, and were able to appreciate better the connection between theory and practice. The analysis also suggested that it was not just these four students who came into a more expert thinking about practice; seventeen of the fifty-four students described how they began to look at their practice and classroom events in more sophisticated ways, providing powerful descriptions of how their thinking had developed over the case-writing experiences. Indeed, by linking their case incidents to the theoretical knowledge-base represented in the readings and concepts of the class, they deepened their explanations beyond lay wisdom toward expert thinking.

Like the students, we have also begun to look more closely at the feedback we provided to students as well as at the pedagogy of supporting case-writing.  We are in the process of examining whether and how instructors' and peers' feedback might have contributed to the development of students' thinking. Part of this initial analysis has already prompted us to review and edit our initial rubric for assessing cases with the students, together creating a revised rubric that focused even more attention upon student learning and connection to theory.  Furthermore, we are working on the development of a framework to describe the development and character of students' thinking in their case-writing that can serve as the basis for a more sophisticated rubric and more explicit scaffolding of students' growing clinical expertise.   

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.

[Introduction] [Background] [Cases in  the Course] [What Students  Learned] [Site Index]