Case stories useful in professional development

At one time professional development programs depended upon presentations by “experts.” Today’s professionals in business, medicine and law use the case study method as a means of self-education. During professional meetings, an individual case is presented for discussion. Colleagues brainstorm, problem-solve and acquire new information and insights into their practice through the study of a specific case.

Richard Ackerman, University of Massachusetts/Lowell; Patricia Maslin-Ostrowski, Florida Atlantic University; and Chuck Christensen, University of Massachusetts/Lowell, report on a variant of the case study, called the case story, that has been tailored for educators.

The difference between the study and the story is the process of narration. Participants in a typical case story session write a one-page narrative about a critical teaching decision or experience — a real-life event that presented them with a genuine dilemma.

In small groups, each person reads their story and identifies the central issue. Other group members listen without interruption and then pose questions to clarify the problem presented in the story. Together the group identifies and interprets the issues and discusses alternative solutions and the consequences of these solutions. The aim is to explore the alternatives, not to look for the one best solution to the case story.

The benefit of the case story, according to Ackerman and colleagues, is not only what participants learn about teaching or managing children, but also the interpersonal and critical thinking skills they gain as they work together to reflect on their teaching practice.

“Case Stories: Telling Tales About School” Educational Leadership Volume 53, Number 6, March 1996 pp. 21-23.

Published in ERN May/June 1996 Volume 9 Number 3


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