Designing a Case Study from the Popular Culture Text Boston Public

Article excerpt

Andre: Yo! Yo. Y'all chill on that "You're a nigger, I'm a nigger," all right?

J.T.: Yo, Dre, chill man, it's just me and J.T. It's cool, man.

Andre: [Shoves Jordan hard] You gonna tell me what's cool?

Jordan: Damn, nigger, you ought to loosen up.

-Boston Public


In this article, I begin with a selective review of the case study literature that reveals that most case studies are based on "real," "actual," and "true" experiences. Next, I describe a case study that I designed from a fictional source-i.e., from an episode of the television series Boston Public. Then, I explain what happened when I incorporated this case study into my teaching of a methods course for secondary English preservice teachers in a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program.

Specifically, I discuss the preservice teachers' dialogue about the case study in terms of these two generally acknowledged claims (in the case study literature) about the productive potential of having student teachers interpret cases: (1) that the experience can become a communal, collaborative, dialogic one, and (2) that case studies can provide preservice teachers with the valuable opportunity to vicariously experience a situation they are likely to encounter later on in their teaching.

The purpose of this section will be to show that case studies based on fictional materials can have the same powerful effects on students as do case studies based on "real" (i.e., non-fictionalized) events. Finally, I suggest other fictional sources for readers to consider if they wish to design case studies for their own teaching practices.

It is important to acknowledge at the outset that I am not claiming to have been innovative in my use of a case study, nor in the effects it had on students. That said, I do think that my drawing upon a fictional source for designing the case study is innovative and makes a contribution to the case study literature by suggesting a new source material to tap into for designing case studies.1

Keeping It Real

Arguably, Lee Shulman's well-known Educational Researcher (1986) article titled "Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching" (the article was also his Presidential Address at the 1985 annual AERA conference) sparked the development of what is by now a voluminous literature about the production and pedagogical uses of case studies within the field of education. During the first wave of case methods publications, which took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many casebooks appeared, and the journals Teacher Education Quarterly (1990) and the Journal of Teacher Education (1991) devoted special issues to the case method. Furthermore, Sykes and Bird (1992) published an important chapter in the Review of Research in Education about the case literature of the time titled "Teacher Education and the Case Idea." Following that first wave, the publication of more casebooks relevant to teacher education continued throughout the 1990s and up to the present. Journal articles about the use of the case method in teacher education have also regularly appeared.

In my analysis of the case literature that has been published since the appearance of Shulman's (1986) article, I found that most case studies are typically described as being based on real, true, and actual teaching and learning experiences. For example, in the Teacher Education Quarterly (1990) special-theme issue on case study teaching, each article discusses cases based on real experiences (see Bartell, 1990; Doyle, 1990; Florio-Ruane, 1990; Florio-Ruane & Clark, 1990; Kleinfeld, 1990; Merseth, 1990; and J. Shulman, et. al., 1990). Some of the authors explicitly state this, such as Doyle (1990), who asserts that a case is "'real,' i.e., an actual instance of practice presented in much of its complexity" (p. 10). Another is Merseth (1990), who defines a case (in part) as "a document based on a real-life situation, problem, or incident" (p. …