Case Studies in the Writing Classroom
Theory and Practice
I attended a conference on college teaching in May of 1995 at which Rita Silverman, a professor of teacher education at Pace University, gave a workshop on case-based learning. When I was asked if I would attend, I demurred. I was skeptical of a case-based approach for a number of reasons. As an English professor teaching writing at the undergraduate and graduate level, I felt pretty sure that I was already providing my students with ways to produce and critique, rather than simply receive, knowledge. Moreover, I associated case-based learning not only with schools of education but also with law and medicine, postsecondary schools that had traditionally been associated with the lecture, the one-way street in which students learned and teachers taught, schools in which case-based learning was a much more radical departure from tradition than it would be for a compositionist whose field had, for the last thirty-five years, been looking for ways to engage students in actively participating in the construction and critique of new knowledge.
The workshop convinced me, however, that case-based learning could be useful in writing courses not because it is so well suited to such courses but because it lays bare some rhetorical problems of constuctivist writing pedagogies. Because case studies are so focused upon solving problems—because “it raises questions and provokes action on the part of the participants” 1—but not necessarily upon how the discursive/rhetorical situations and the writing of the participants in the case are involved in the solution, case-based learning nicely points up the distance between what individuals know, what individuals say, and what individuals do. What I found, in writing a number of cases and using them