Case-Based Methodology as an Instructional Strategy for Understanding Diversity: Preservice Teachers' Perceptions

Article excerpt

It is well-documented that preservice teachers have difficulty transferring their formal knowledge from teacher education courses to complex teaching practices (Black & Halliwell, 2000). Noting that teachers' knowledge is holistic, with much personal meaning that cannot be taught in a linear fashion, many scholars emphasize the importance of linking teachers' meaningful learning and application to practice within an educational context, rather than passive acquisition of educational knowledge (Elbaz, 1991; Harrington, 1995; Jones & Jones, 1998).

Added to the teacher preparation equation is that of preparing teachers who can function effectively in schools that are diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, ability, language, socioeconomics, family configurations, etc. Many times, the teachers who are being prepared to teach in these settings are limited in their understanding and appreciation of these diverse communities.

With the efforts of teacher educators to seek new directions for teacher preparation, case-based pedagogy is being advocated as a valuable method to prepare elementary teachers for the complex contexts of teaching and learning (Harrington & Garrison, 1992; Neuhardt-Pritchett et al., 2004) and as "a promising way of converting research and other knowledge of teaching into practice" (p. 716). Shulman (1992) and Berliner (1986) assert that opportunities to analyze, discuss and reflect on multiple cases are needed for teachers to promote their decision making by understanding theories, practice, and complex situations in classrooms.

Case-based Pedagogy

Case-based pedagogy focuses on teachers' problem solving, decision making, reflective practices (Carter, 1988; Koballa & Tippins, 2001, Neuhardt-Pritchett et al., 2004), and their own personalized theory about teaching and learning (Neuhardt-Pritchett et al., 2004). Cases in teaching and learning show educational problems and dilemmas where teachers need to make decisions within specific situations.

Research has shown that case-based pedagogy enables teachers to improve their actions in teaching and learning from multiple perspectives, reflective thinking (Shulman & Colbert, 1989), active participation and motivation for learning (Shulman, 1992), and intellectual strategies. Through case-based pedagogy, preservice teachers can learn the essence of educational dilemmas, seek the most appropriate solution in a given and informed context, assess the results of problem solving, and reflect on meaning (Ross, 1989). In this sense, cases mediate teachers' higher order thinking by applying and modifying the theories and practice in education.

As we think about the issue of diversity and preservice teachers, several key practical questions come to mind: (a) How are preservice teachers able to acquire deeper understandings about diversity that cannot be developed by taking written tests in teaching and learning? (b) What is an effective way to bridge gaps among preservice teachers' personal experiences, classroom lectures and textbooks, and problem-solving experiences in educational settings? (c) Are there ways for preservice teachers to practice their problem solving and decision making?

The main purpose of this study was to investigate preservice teachers' perceptions of case-based pedagogy as an instructional strategy for understanding diversity.

Methodology

Research Participants

This study employed purposeful sampling that is based on "the assumption that the investigator wants to discover, understand, and gain insight and therefore must select a sample from which the most can be learned" (Merriam, 1998, p. 61). Because all cases should meet the criteria for study, this study utilizes criterion-based sampling (Lecompte & Preissle, 1993).

Three female preservice teachers-"Kate," "Lisa," and "Shazia"-participated in this study. They were matriculating in an undergraduate teacher preparation program at a large university in the Southeast during the 2002-2003 school year. …