Case Study: How to

How to Best Use the Real-Life Narratives Included in this Edition

We decided to include case studies at the end of each chapter of this edition of The More-Than-Just-Surviving Handbook to confront you with real-life kids, situations, challenges, and dilemmas and to help you think critically about what you might do should you be confronted with similar issues. The stories are of real kids, wrestling with real challenges, and they bring to life the issues we as teachers of English language learners grapple with daily. By using narrative to illuminate abstract theories of language learning, we are attempting to translate complex issues, goals, and ideas into vibrant reality.

These case studies, and the questions that follow each one, are meant to move you from the theoretical information we provide in the chapters to your own personal insight, and ultimately, to informed decisions that you can put into action. There are no right answers-you will not find quick yes-or-no solutions to the questions we raise or answers in the back of the book. These sections are meant to help you think through the education of your students and search for better ways to serve them.

Using case studies effectively takes practice and experience. Learning how to analyze them and formulate thoughtful and intelligent solutions doesn’t happen automatically. Allow yourself time to get past the uncertainty and the fumbling. These case studies are deliberately thought provoking, controversial, and designed with the notion that disagreement is good. They can be used to open discussion with colleagues and for other professional development initiatives. You can also discuss these issues with a larger community of ELL educators by leaving a comment on the publisher’s blog. They present urgent and serious dilemmas that need to be solved. Most importantly, they are generalizable: if you can think through the ideas you have to consider to reach your conclusions, then you can use those same thought processes when considering your own students.

There are clear steps that you can take to work through what’s important and what you should do when you are confronted with a challenging situation or student. It’s easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed, but working through the problem step-by-step makes it easier and clearer. The following framework1 will help you to work through any of the case studies we present in The More-Than-Just-Surviving Handbook and, ultimately, any real-life challenges that you face with your English language learners.

1. Review the case, and identify the relevant facts. When you are trying to find a solution to a situation or to answer a question, the first step is to identify the key facts so that you can figure out what is going on before deciding what to do. Read the case carefully. Identify what facts are relevant. Push yourself to find as many facts as you can. Try for 10.

2. Determine the root problem. Decide what in the case is contributing to the problem and/or is symptomatic of the issue. Ranking each fact or item of evidence will help you to decide how important it is and the order in which it should be addressed.

3. Generate questions about the case. Questions require you to express an opinion, make a decision about a future course of action, or propose a solution. Questions also call for you to explain your reasons. Ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • How could I approach this issue?
  • What would happen if…?
  • Would it help if…?
  • What else could I do?

4. Generate alternatives. If the case requires a solution, a decision, or an opinion then you need to consider all the options. Brainstorming will help you to generate a list of possible alternatives. In this step, you do not need to be judgmental. Virtually any idea goes; if you do not list it, you cannot then choose it as the best option.

5. Evaluate alternatives. Once you have listed all your alternatives, the next step is to narrow them down to those that seem most attractive. After you’ve screened your list, take the relevant facts that you gathered in step 1, and apply them to each of the remaining alternatives. This provides you with the necessary supporting evidence to reject most of the remaining alternatives and decide on the best one.

6. Choose an alternative. After evaluating all your options, choosing the best alternative is usually a straightforward next step, but it is also one that is often skipped. State your preferred solution simply and clearly. Then, justify your solution. Why is it more appropriate than the others? What reasons do you have for ruling out the other courses of action?

7. Plan to take action. This may not work for all cases, but in many you need to define how you will turn your solution or decision into action, how, when, and what you will monitor to ensure things are working out as planned, and what you will do if they are not.

8. Implement your plan. If the case requires a solution or a course of action, it is important to describe how you will execute or implement it. The following chart will help you do that:

Implement Your Plan

Implement Your Plan

9. Have a back-up plan. It can be a good idea to have a contingency plan in case things do not go as expected. Kids, parents, other faculty may not react the way you hope. What then? Will you make modifications to your existing plan? Will you start the process over? Will you choose some other alternative that you’ve already identified? What would that be?


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