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Discussion: Exploring a Case Study

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posted by: Harold Mick on June 2, 2000 at 9:55AM
subject: Reflecting on the Case Study Method

I'm Harold Mick, a mathematics educator at Virginia Tech and Co-PI of
the LSC project, "Systemic Reform of Mathematics 6-12 for Rural
Virginia." This post is my response to the case study method and,
particularly, to the two case studies found in the paper, "The
Development of Professional Developers: Learning to Assist Teachers
in New Settings in New Ways," by Stein, Smith, and Silver. Gail
Paulin commented on this paper in her post.

The case studies present almost microscopic views, on the one hand,
and extended accounts (5-7 years) on the other hand. I thought
contrasting the situations at Riverside Middle School and Franklin
Middle School were particularly helpful. For instance, implementing a
given curriculum was helpful at Riverside, but Macia Evans and
Michele Gardner kept too distant from the teachers. At Franklin,
Kenneth Newton and Randi Miller kept close contact with teachers, but
professional development revolved around developing developing
curriculum rather than implementing curriculum. After five years,
both projects had limited successes at their respective middle

Upon reflection, I see more clearly that decisions about professional
development are best made in close collaboration between teachers and
professional developers. This may be obvious. However, it appears
less obvious how to balance the unique expertise of professional
developers and teachers in planning a comprehensive approach to
professional development. The studies show that it is not sufficient
for professional developers to come to know teachers in the context
of their day-to-day work; they must also critically confront teachers
regarding their improvement efforts. This suggests that professional
developers need to think about how they will manage the tension
between developing interpersonal trust and assisting teachers to move
to higher levels of accomplishment. And finally, I was struck by the
fact that professional development changed dramatically during the
third year in both middle school sites. (Our project is in its our
third year.)

In short, these case studies have given me a new perspective on
professional development. I hope to build upon it. Also, I look
forward to other case studies, particularly some that present
relatively successful professional development programs. -Harold
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