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On the Case: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research


reviewed by Ted R. Purington - 2006

coverTitle: On the Case: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research
Author(s): Anne Haas Dyson & Celia Genishi
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807745979, Pages: 148, Year: 2005
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Admonitions to educational scholars to produce more rigorous scientifically-constructed research have proliferated under No Child Left Behind.  Although crucial in terms of defining education as a hard-core academic field—as well as building a better research base in general—alternative and mixed methods are essential to rounding out the human experience involved in all educational activities.  Otherwise, imagine if all educational research followed the principles of medical research, a much paralleled cousin.  The purpose of medical research is to show what works and what does not work in keeping human beings healthy and alive.  It is fairly simple:  Either one is alive or one is not.  In the field of education, we are still not even sure what it means to be educated (and truly, we may never need to come to consensus on this as long as the conversations persist).  Anne Haas Dyson and Celia Genishi write in this framework in On the Case: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research.  While the book is nothing more than an introduction to classroom case study research, it holds many gems on the necessity of case study to educational learning as well as the politics of the intersection between research and practice.  Additionally—and most importantly—this book provides tips from seasoned qualitative researchers on the pitfalls and procedures of classroom-based linguistic and literacy case study research.  In all, it is a helpful book for new qualitative researchers wishing to design a classroom-based study.


Using a fictitious researcher studying a fictitious girl, the book begins with a raison d'être for case study investigation.  The majority of the book, however, is a play-by-play of actual studies on which the two authors have worked in the past.  Little of their descriptions merit surprise—after all, this book is intended to be a primer in classroom-based case study—however, they do offer a few unique lessons rarely seen in other books, such as how to use electronic equipment (e.g., PDAs) to gather data.  Following this particular section, they discuss the data collection trade-offs of technology, time use, and convenience.  


In many ways, this new book would make an excellent text for a course in qualitative research as it does outline many of the steps in the process and the etiquette necessary in presenting oneself as a professional researcher.  However, one detail will almost surely slip past some students of qualitative methods: the order in which a research question is formed.  The authors on numerous occasions in the book recommend that a research objective is not formed until time has been spent in a classroom with particular students.  In other words, settings are chosen prior to conceptions of what the research will entail.  If public policy is to openly accept non-experimental methods, a finer structure is obligatory in even the most qualitative of studies.  


We are waiting to know so much in the field of education—about literacy, learning, instruction, policy, leadership, assessment, and more.  We do not have time to toil away at studies without knowing what we want to find.  Yet the authors do make very clear their rationale and modus operandi for following leads to unexpected areas as researchers encounter them in the field.  Overall, this text is a strong foundation for case study research; despite the potential of small philosophical differences with the research community at large, the book does call attention to the complexity of education that requires more than a simple mathematical answer to a simple research question.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 1, 2006, p. 121-122
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12052, Date Accessed: 1/18/2022 4:47:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Ted Purington
    Learning Point Associates' Center for Literacy
    E-mail Author
    TED R. PURINGTON, Ed.D., is an Associate with the Center for Literacy, Learning Point Associates, Naperville, IL. His current projects include adolescent literacy intervention, staff development in adolescent literacy, and social network analysis of teacher collaboration and information transfer between teachers.
 
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