Single Case Study In Education


Case study methodology has long been a contested terrain in social sciences research which is characterized by varying, sometimes opposing, approaches espoused by many research methodologists. Despite being one of the most frequently used qualitative research methodologies in educational research, the methodologists do not have a full consensus on the design and implementation of case study, which hampers its full evolution. Focusing on the landmark works of three prominent methodologists, namely Robert Yin, Sharan Merriam, Robert Stake, I attempt to scrutinize the areas where their perspectives diverge, converge and complement one another in varying dimensions of case study research. I aim to help the emerging researchers in the field of education familiarize themselves with the diverse views regarding case study that lead to a vast array of techniques and strategies, out of which they can come up with a combined perspective which best serves their research purpose.


Qualitative Research, Case Study Methods, Epistemological Foundations.

Author Bio(s)

Bedrettin Yazan is an assistant professor at the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. His research interests include language teacher identity, case study methodology, English as an international language, collaboration between ESL and mainstream teachers, and sociocultural theories in second language acquisition. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Bedrettin Yazan at, 223B Graves Hall, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487 or via Email at


I am grateful to my dear professor, Dr. Betty Malen, for her comments on an earlier draft of this paper and for her invaluable support throughout the process. I am also thankful to the TQR Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Ronald Chenail, for this review and constructive feedback, which led this paper to become much stronger.

Publication Date


Recommended APA Citation

Yazan, B. (2015). Three Approaches to Case Study Methods in Education: Yin, Merriam, and Stake. The Qualitative Report, 20(2), 134-152. Retrieved from

Hello everyone, and welcome back.

In this session, we're going talk about the single case method approach for

studying resilience.

This method has been very important in the history of resilience.

At the very beginning of this field, case studies are what

attracted the attention of scientist to study resilience.

They were studying children at risk and

they realized that there were individual cases of,

of children who were doing much better than they expected in their risk group.

They were showing resilience, and they began to study these individual cases to

get some clues about what might be important in their research.

There also have been some systematic studies of resilience.

I'm going to present one for

you in this session of a published case of a resilient child.

And these single cases I think also can help us disseminate what's been learned

in the science of resilience, because there, they bring the science to life.

They provide very compelling stories about the research that we do.

My mentor, Norman Garmezy, was one of the leading

pioneers in the study of resilience in the very beginnings of this science.

And he was very interested in the single case.

Even published a paper called, The Case for the Single Case.

Approach in science published quite a while ago in 1985.

And he also liked to tell stories about resilient cases when

he would teach classes or give lectures.

One of his favorite stories came from a newspaper article that was published in

this area in 1978, and this was the story of a little girl who was 11 years old and

she was kidnapped by a stranger and locked into the trunk of a car and

left there overnight, and she was freezing in this very cold car.

And this little girl was a big fan of Nancy Drew mystery stories, and

when she was in the car, locked in the trunk,

she started thinking about what would Nancy Drew do in this kind of a situation.

And she decided to try and figure out how to escape from that car trunk, and

she unscrewed the light fixtures in the back of the car from the inside, and

escaped out through the trunk of the car and saved herself from this kidnapping.

He also liked to talk about historically famous cases of resilience, and

one of his favorite examples was about a story of

a little girl who's father killed her mother.

This girl was imprisoned for many years, and

she grew up to be, Queen Elizabeth I in Great Britain.

Now I want to tell you about a published case of a little girl,

her, the case is called Sara, but that's not her real name.

The name was changed to protect her identity.

And this is a case that I was involved in when she, this child was hospitalized and

we later did a follow-up study to see how she was doing.

This child I met when she was hospitalized.

She was two and a half years old, and she was not doing well at all.

She had very strange behaviors.

She had fallen behind developmentally, and she was not growing very well, and

we had to answer, I was part of a team working on this case.

We were asked to figure out what should be done for this little girl.

Should she be placed in an institution because of her difficult behaviors, or

should she be adopted?

That's an extremely important question for this child's life,

and a whole team of people tried to figure out what to do for this little girl.

What would explain what was going on with her and what could we do to help her.

And I want to begin here by showing you her growth chart.

This is a typical chart showing how a child is growing and

the top line represents Sarah's height, how tall she was.

And the bottom line represents her weight.

And what you can see in this drawing is that around the yellow time,

where the yellow arrow is, Sara's growth radically slowed down, and for

about a year up until the time she was hospitalized, her growth got so

slow that her doctors were very worried.

And her, her percentile on this chart kept falling and falling.

And so we had to figure out what's going on here.

And we looked at her history because we could find no

evidence that there was anything wrong with this child.

She seemed to be, have normal capabilities, but

still she wasn't doing very well.

But we looked back into her history, and

this provided some important clues about what might be happening with her.

This child had been adopt, not adopted, but

placed in a foster home when she was one day of age.

She was born to a street person, a mother who lived on the streets,

who was homeless and had mental health problems.

And this child was placed in a foster home for

care because her mother was unable to take care of her.

And she did very, very well in that initial foster home.

She flourished, and there were good records on her because she

was a child in custody of the state she lived in.

And she, was growing and learning to talk and everything was going well, and

then the foster father suddenly became ill and

died when this child was about one year of age.

And her mother, the foster mother,

had a very bad reaction to the loss of the father and she realized, the mother,

that she was unable to care for the foster children she had in her home.

And so suddenly one day, when little Sara was 15 months old, this mother asked

the welfare department to come pick up the children in her home and take them away.

So, little Sara was picked up by a stranger from the only home she ever knew,

and moved to another stranger's home,

a second foster home at the age of 15 months.

And she went into a developmental tailspin.

She stopped developing, she had terrible reaction to the move.

She had been developing well, but now she struggled.

She didn't like to eat, she stopped walking, she stopped talking.

She sat, in fact, in the window and cried a lot waiting for her family to come back.

Well it didn't go very well for along time, and the social workers and

doctors were growing more concerned about this little girl this was

clearly not working for her.

There were probably too many other children in the foster home she was in.

So a decision was made to hospitalize her and try to figure out what should be done.

Well we had a very rare opportunity here.

Probably the only opportunity I'll ever have in my whole career to think

about what does a child need to turn her life around.

We realize that the, that we didn't think anything was really wrong with this child.

That what she needed was a new family.

And she needed a family that fit for her, a loving situation.

And we asked ourselves the question: what qualities do we want in a family for Sara?

What would help her recover and grow?

And I'd like you to think about that, too.

If you were writing a prescription for a new family for

Sara, what would you put on your prescription?

And we figured out what we wanted, and we gave our prescription to a social worker,

who made, was determined to find a really good family for Sara, which she did.

She found a family that we though was a perfect fit for little Sara.

And Sara was adopted right out of the hospital.

In her growth chart, the rest of her grow, growth chart here, you see the blue line,

which represents where, the time when she was hospitalized.

And then she was adopted from the hospital by

a lovely family who wanted a little girl and adopted her.

And she made a spectacular recovery.

And in this grow, growth chart you can see that Sara,

her growth picked up and the rate picked up and

accelerated and her, she got back onto a normal growth trajectory.

But she also perked up in many other ways as well, she began socializing and

talking like a normal two and a half year old.

And we later followed up and

did study of how this child was doing a few years later.

And people tested her who didn't know anything about her background, and

they concluded that she was doing well.

And I've stayed in touch with this family over the years, and

this little girl continued to do well.

She grew up and became perfectly ordinary teenager, and successful young adult.

The single case, like the case of Sara, can provide a very compelling story and,

and important clues to what may make a difference in understanding resilience and

interventions to promote resilience.

But single case studies have limitations.

It's hard to know whether a single person's life represents

general truth, or if there is something unique and special about that individual.

So scientists have also gone on to study larger groups of

children as they try to understand more about resilience, and also more

about intervening with children to try to get a general understanding of resilience.

And in the next sessions of the course,

we will begin to look at some of those larger studies of resilience.

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