Author Q&A: Todd Stanley Talks Case-Based Learning
Author Q&A: Todd Stanley Talks Case-Based Learning
PUBLISHED: Thursday, October 17, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

Case-based learning has long been an effective way to master knowledge and bring authentic, real-world learning to the classroom. Case Studies and Case-Based Learning provides strategies, examples, and resources for implementing case-based learning across the disciplines, helping teachers foster valuable thinking skills in their students. Learn more about the book and case-based learning in this interview with the author, Todd Stanley.

Q: What is case-based learning?

A: While researching my Authentic Learning book, I came across a method of teaching under the umbrella of inquiry-based learning known as case-based. It is used pretty heavily in the law and medical fields. This is when doctors look at medical cases to figure out what they could have done better, or when a lawyer looks at a past case to determine how to proceed with their own. Case-based learning involves learning from past mistakes or successes and either trying to avoid or replicate them respectively. Students are presented with a real-life case by the teacher and then must analyze it and decide what went wrong or right. This provides all sorts of learning possibilities. 

Q:How is case-based learning valuable for today’s learners?

A: It is valuable because it is relevant. Oftentimes in education we learn things out of context. We learn to work with integers but do not see how they are used in our lives, or we learn the value of being able to write complete sentences, but are not shown how this is used in the real world. Case-based learning is like the show Law and Order, ripped from today’s headlines. It takes a real-life situation, something that has already happened, and allows students to analyze it and then problem solve, all which access higher level thinking. Because it is from real life, students can better see the context of how what they are learning applies to their lives. 

These 21st-century skills translate to the workforce, where workers are called upon to be problem solvers. Someone who is able to problem solve well would be a very valuable employee. Because this is a highly sought-after skill by top businesses, equipping a student with this will prepare them for the job market. 

Q: What are some tips for any teacher new to case-based learning?

A: I would suggest three tips for someone who is trying case-based learning for the first time. Number one is to know that it is not going to be perfect the first time. As with any new teaching strategy, there is going to be a learning curve. The important thing is that you trust the process and go where the student learning takes you, following the steps to guide you as you go. 

Secondly, this strategy relies heavily on the teacher doing a lot of the work before the case begins. This is everything from finding the resources you want to base the case on to figuring out what skills will need to be taught in order for students to be successful. Once the case is handed over to the students, the teacher’s role is very different than a traditional classroom. The teacher becomes the meddler in the middle where he or she determines ways to challenge student thinking and have conversations to push ideas in interesting directions. This requires less planning and more thinking on behalf of the teacher, but giving up control to the students is essential for this to work. It sounds daunting, but it is really way more fun for the teacher. 

The third tip to consider is the importance of teaching students what good collaboration looks like. We often operate under the idea of putting students into groups and hoping for the best. We need to be more intentional about how students work in groups and what each person’s role might look like. A teacher should be willing to devote a decent amount of time before ever working on cases to making sure students develop coping skills for working in groups and learn strategies to create a product that is better than anything they could have produced by themselves. Because students will often be working together on cases, laying this groundwork will make for much smoother sailing.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work? 

A: As always, I want readers to take away something they can immediately begin using in their classrooms. I want to make sure I lay out the process clearly enough so they know how to proceed even though it might be unfamiliar to them. 

I also want teachers to take away the confidence to try this strategy because it is not one that is widely used in American primary and secondary schools. I found in my research that a lot of eastern hemisphere countries use this with younger students, so I am hoping that enough teachers decide to give this a try so that we can grow it in the United States.

Todd Stanley is the author of more than 12 teacher education books, including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st-Century Classroom and Performance-Based Assessment for 21st-Century Skills. He helped create a gifted academy for grades 5–8, which employs inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and performance-based assessment. He is currently gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local School District, OH, where he lives with his wife, Nicki, and two daughters, Anna and Abby.