Case reasoning


  • Analyzing and solving problems of practice
  • Applying professional knowledge to specific teaching situations
  • Increasing the range of students you can reach and the range of strategies you can use to reach them             


This project represents your application of case reasoning. The sequence of steps in reasoning (case reasoning) will support you as you study and reflect upon your management moves.


All of Make Me! (Toshalis) is about student resistance and how to understand and engage it.  For textual citations, you can draw upon this text or the supplemental readings in support of your work.


The steps in the case are these: (1) proposing a student or group of students you want to study and developing a careful description of the student and the behaviors that are frustrating you; (2) generating two or three alternative hypotheses that could explain why the student(s) behave this way; (3) generating options for responding to them

Because of time limitations for the summer course, you will not have the chance to do step four, but it would be an important part of the process (which you would enact during a regular school year

(4) implementing one of your options and evaluating its effectiveness; and reflecting on what you learned.


You will write a paper that has three sections or parts. Each part will identify step 1, step 2, and step 3. The paper should be between three to five (3-5) pages in length

Step 1: Propose and Describe Your Case

To select a problem to work on, think about as a problem of “students who . . . .”  For example, “a pair of girls who are always late and talk to each other throughout the class; or “a sullen boy who says he can’t wait until he is 16 so he can drop out, and who disrupts other students during class,” or “a senior whose grades are high and who is coasting through to the finish line,” etc. The focus of this case, then, is on a particular student or group of students who are not engaged with your class and whom you would like to try to engage.

Selecting a case is not as simple as it might seem.  You don’t want to pick a student whose behavior happens outside of class—the student misses class often, for instance, or never does homework—because you may not be able to influence events outside your classroom.  You may have a student who is so unusual that whatever you learn from studying that student may not help you much in the future.  An optimal case would be a student (or group) who are actually pretty typical of disengaged students all over the country, and whom you think, with effort, you could reach. 

 In this first stage of the assignment, select ONE case to carry out –

Accurate description of your case is also important.  Make sure you are actually describing real behaviors, rather than simply labeling the student as “rude,” “sullen,” “annoying,” or “spaced out.” Also, make sure you have identified the pattern correctly.  Does this student do this every day? Only on Mondays? Only when there is a test? Only at the beginning of a new unit?  Your description should provide an accurate summary of what the student(s) actually do, and when they do it and how often they do it. 

Write descriptive paragraphs of the student you will be focusing on tell why this student is an important and potentially productive case to work on.  Make your description objective and detailed as you can.

Step 2:  Analyze the Situation

Once you have identified your proposed cases, you can start the process of interpreting why the students behave this way.  There are at least four things to consider. 

First, you will want to reference what we have read in class as possible hypotheses that could explain these events. 

Second, you will want to do a content analysis of all the homework and/or test data you have on this student to see if there are some obvious missing knowledge or concepts that might be hindering the student.

Third, you will want to examine your own role in this student’s behavior by looking at what you are doing when the student does whatever he or she is doing and thinking about how your own actions might be triggering the students’ actions.  For instance, have you generated interest in the topics you are teaching?  Do you ask questions that provoke thought?  Do you move about the room? Etc.

Fourth, you will need to think about how the student gains from his or her troublesome behavior.  Is he being rewarded by friends?  Protecting himself from failure by never trying? Are there incentives in the social environment that might motivate this behavior?

Bases on your analysis of course readings and conversations,, the students’ work, your own behavior, and the students’ stakes in their behavior, construct two or three hypotheses that could explain the behaviors that are frustrating you. For instance, you might conjecture that your lecture is boring students and therefore the students begin talking to each other, or the school policy about tardiness actually encourages more of it by being so tolerant, or that the student is motivated by a fear of failure, etc. Your hypotheses need to be consistent with course readings and conversations and consistent with the patterns of the behavior you have seen, the circumstances you have described, and the stakes as you have laid them out. 

Write descriptive paragraphs about your interpretation of the situation and the stakes involved.  Lay out your alternative hypotheses, explaining how they are related to your interpretation of the situation.

Step 3:  Consider Alternative Solutions

Having described and interpreted the student actions that are troubling you, you will try to think of two or three realistic alternative courses of action that might solve this problem and compare the potential merits, drawbacks, and risks of these alternatives, relative to each other and relative to what you have been doing so far.  Then, choose or combine alternatives, and make a specific plan for working on the problem or issue.  Here, your logic might take this form:

To respond to this student I could do this … .  Or I could do this … .  Or perhaps I could do this … .   When I consider alternatives in comparison, I see these merits, drawbacks, and risks … .  So I choose to … .  Here’s my specific plan for doing that … .

From a whole-class standpoint, a more efficient solution might be one that involves varying your instructional approach, or changing your introductions to better get students’ attention, whereas a less efficient solution would be one that involves you meeting with your focus student(s) after school each day.  But not all problems can be solved in a whole class context.  Your solutions need to address the root of the problem, on one hand, but they also have to be feasible in your whole-class context.

Write about your search for options for action and your final plan– what you would implement in the classroom.


Due to the shortened summer course, you will not have time to enact and evaluate on your plan. However, this is an important step you would do if you had the time, such as if this was done during the regular school year.

Step 4: Evaluate

This final step requires another accurate description.  As you implement your plan, take note of any information that can help you to assess your effort. An especially useful strategy would be to videotape a few lessons so that you can study them and watch for subtle changes. Also take note of any adjustments you make as you go along. 

Once you feel that you have a good understanding of what actually happened, you can evaluate the success of your actions. Did your actual activity match the plan you devised during Step 3?   Did it address the hypotheses you generated during Step 2?  On the basis of evidence, how did your plan work out?  What is your current interpretation of the situation?

A normal part of learning is to be disappointed.  It may be that you will feel disappointed because your action plan did not yield the results you were hoping for.  Examining the situation again might help you understand why.  You do learn from mistakes and it is helpful if you can articulate what you learned from the project, even if it did not achieve what you had originally hoped.

In the future, you would write a reflection describing the outcome of your plan and how well the case helped you understand your students or learn to work with them more effectively.

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