My Reaction Paper: Building Blocks and Learning.

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Case Study Research: Building Blocks and Learning

In the social and life sciences case study is a research method involving an up-close, in-depth, and detailed examination of a case. Generally, a case can be nearly any, including individuals, organizations, events, or actions. Case studies can be produced by following a formal research method. These case studies are likely to appear in formal research venues, as journals and professional conferences, rather than popular works. Case study research can mean single and multiple case studies, can include quantitative evidence, relies on multiple sources of evidence, and benefits from the prior development of theoretical propositions. Case studies may involve both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Case study research has had a prominent place in many disciplines and professions, ranging from psychology, anthropology, sociology, and political science to education, clinical science, social work, and administrative science. In this article: Building Blocks and Learning, the focus of the case study is in education. Holland’s model of complex adaptive systems is used to explore how nonnative speakers of English learned to participate and to write in a first-year university rhetoric and composition course.

            Learning about case study research was interesting. For me so far, grounded theory and case study research have been the easiest to comprehend. I can see myself using it in my own research process going forward. I’ve already started to brainstorm and take notes for my research question and the pros and cons of each method I have learned thus far. I was excited to see that this article focused on the field of education, specifically pertaining to writing composition in native and nonnative speakers. Last semester I took a World English linguistic course with the amazing Dr. Griffith and learned a lot about L1 and L2 speakers and the complexity of their experiences. In the introduction it states how various scholars described the differences and similarities in L1 and L2 learners:

“Vygotsky’s influence has led L2 composition researchers to investigate aspects of the social construction of texts and to assert that writing takes place in socially situated contexts and learning to write occurs through participating in communities of practice. This strand of research has endeavored to make visible the implicit, thus enabling language learners to participate in their academic and career communities.” (Nelson, 40).

I agree with Vygotsky’s theory, as an educator I believe that there is no one way to learn or to teach. That learning is a continuing process and as Dr. Nelson states in this article: “an ongoing emergence of new building blocks.” I could appreciate this metaphor and it made some of the complicated terms and analysis easier to break down and understand. In general, the strands of research discussed in this article, along with others, have been more descriptive in nature rather than explanatory. Considerable information exists describing how people write in L2 languages but very little is known about how people learn to write in L2 languages, or how teaching might influence this. The lack of explanatory research in L2 composition research is a curious phenomenon because although various theories exist they are used sparingly as explanatory models in literature on L2 writing. (Nelson,41).

I was interested to continue reading on to see how Holland’s model of complex systems might play a role in explaining how people learn and not just how they write. Holland proposes that all complex adaptive systems have four properties: aggregation, nonlinearity, flows, and diversity, and the three mechanisms: tagging, internal models, and building blocks. In my presentation I will highlight these terms and more, linking them to the building blocks and learning case study. Hollands model of building blocks differs from most teachers who hand out

a standard instruction of writing for students, who in turn learn to write in a limited linear manner. In this complex modeling system, Holland is interested in interactions, adaptation, and emergence. The interactions we begin to see being played out in this case study, can generate real learning. In the method and context portion of the article we learn specifics about the actual case study. It was a very mixed and diverse group of students. Their age ranges varied greatly as did their writing experience levels. They also came from very diverse ethnic backgrounds. In my presentation I break down the specifics of what was expected of the students over the course of the entire semester. In the article Dr. Nelson states that this was a theory-informed case study, so his approach to selecting data for analysis was to look for patterns of interactions, relationships, and adaptations among the students with each other and their teacher. When it came to determining patterns two approaches were used: one was treating each student as individuals, focusing in on their own words in order to develop a description of their perspectives. Two was applying Holland’s model to their perspectives and patterns to evaluate the usefulness in explaining them.

What struck me most was the Cross-over and Recombination portion of the article. This is where I began to really see how each student was evolving and growing into their own unique writer and it also highlighted how all students learn differently. I began to connect the dots so to speak. Again, as an educator and working between the age ranges of pre-k students and college freshman I have seen firsthand how unique and distinct each individual student is and how their experience in learning is just as distinctive. No matter how old they are, no matter their ethnic or socio-economic background, each case is unique. There is no real blueprint to teaching or to learning and I think that’s what I will take away most from this article. I loved the human side to this research case study, I like to learn about the human experience, not just about numbers and data charts. Ahmet’s story struck me most, but I did also enjoy reading about Yiping from China who used her love of music to help her build her blocks to learning and writing in English. Back to Ahmet, I liked reading his midterm self-evaluation and then his final self-evaluation months later. Such growth in him as a student and a writer, it was inspiring to read how self-aware and confident he had become over the course of the semester. Lastly I enjoyed reading how the students’ optional presentations had evolved. When Maria decided to change it up and use a Power Point presentation she took charge and realized as a computer science major that this was something important for her to learn to utilize for her future career goals. Soon enough other students followed suit and the presentations grew more sophisticated and their performances became more persuasive. For me crunching numbers and data in research is something I will have to learn to get used to. I’m not a numbers and charts kind of girl, but I’m trying to learn, adapt and grow into a more informed and enlightened graduate student. Research and Methodologies has been quite the challenge so far, but I’m ready for it. I’m slowly stacking my blocks, one by one hoping to build something great!

* I embedded a short video below that might help you understand case study better! Good luck!*

Case Study and Building Blocks

A case study is a “systematic inquiry into an event or a set of related events which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest” -Bromely.

When I hear the word case study, the first thing that comes to mind is this must be boring (yawns). 

Five components of a case study include:

  1. Research
  2. Questions
  3. Propositions
  4. Unit of Analysis
  5. Measurement of data linked to propositions to interpret findings

There a several types of case studies that can take place, depending on the purpose, such as actual, interpretative, and evaluative. As stated above, the researcher comes up with a question, which is accompanied by possible sources of data. The research must then map the data from multiple sources, assemble charts, color code it, and lastly, the data is read, summarized, and organized. 

A case study, in a way, reminds me of the grounded theory method; both of these methods rely on interviews as the primary source of data collection. Another similarity I found between the two practices is they both require the researcher/student to move in and out of data as needed. I also found that both studies have boundaries when selecting in-depth information to discover concepts. Am I wrong to compare the two? It makes me wonder if the two studies can ever co-exist? 

The text states, “the utility of a case study is that it encourages educators to consider additional steps in a caring educational curriculum that emphasizes communication and relationships between human beings (Scott, 2005). I wonder if using a case study would be valuable when conducting my study for my thesis paper. 

The article “Building Blocks and Learning” by Dr. Nelson explores how nonnative speakers learned to write in first-year university courses. Every day, students in classes around the world produce massive amounts of work in the form of written assignments. The question then is how we can move the purpose of student work from proving mastery to improving learning? 

There is a massive difference in writing when comparing English speakers and other language learners. My homeroom is 12 general education students and 12 ELL students who have graduated from ESL. What I noticed is English writing depends on the native learner’s specific features and native language. It also differs from person to person because they carry on aspects of their native language into speaking and writing English. I am in no way prepared to teach these students; all I have is a list of accommodations I should be supplementing into my lesson plans. Even then, I feel super unprepared to teach these students to my fullest extent. I do not have a degree in ESL, despite this I feel 

the bar for teacher training remains elusive across multiple levels of school governance.,

The article suggests the Complexity theory is a suitable method to move composition towards an explanatory model of learning to write in another language. It studies the dynamic process; independent agents dynamically interact and adapt to one another, which helps students self organize emerging in new patterns and behaviors. The four properties are of complexity theory are:

1. aggregation

2. nonlinearity

3. flows, 

4. diversity

Holland explains complexity theory as an internal model in three steps: reproduction through fitness, recombination via cross-over, and replacement. This process means students continue to use the schemas that work while incorporating new concepts or replacing them with new schemas. 

Nonnative speakers, from the cases I’ve seen, do replace schemes to acclimate to the American classroom. And that is what Holland suggests building blocks is, instead of focusing on a predetermined piece of writing, where the student produces exactly what the teacher wants, we should focus on interactions, adaption, and emergence. I am guilty of being the teacher who expects my nonnative speakers to produce correct essays. I feel like that is the only way I know/knew how to teach ELL learners, by giving an assignment with exact directions, and as long as they produced something even close to that, I am ok with that. 

Dr. Nelson’s case study examined his own first-year rhetoric and Composition students, with 13 students from eight different counties. The students wrote three argumentive essays throughout the course and self-assessed, providing rigorous explanations as to why they earned that grade. Some students were found reproducing inappropriately because learning in different counties is varied from leaning in America. This is interesting to think about; the text says some countries require students to find the meaning of the text themselves. As per my students, they can’t find the meaning of the text until I break it down and sometimes even bring them to the answer with precise questions. 

Building blocks serves as an excellent way for anyone to raise awareness of their own practices within and across class boundaries. The teachers job is then to help the writer build confidence and be alert of what they already know and to encourage them to use it.

Work Cited:

Nelson, C. (2004). Building blocks and learning. Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education 1, 39-56.