top of page

Serendipitous Moments: Finding the Importance of Reflection in Case Study Research

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Anne-Rose Loureiro Hester

Keywords: PBL, Pierre Bourdieu, participatory culture, cultural capital, student voice, reflective interviewing

Introduction and Context

In 2009 I pursued an EdS in literacy. In 2010 that EdS turned into a PhD. During my PhD program I was introduced to Ernest Morrell, Henry Jenkins, and Pierre Bourdieu who all impacted my teaching and learning. Bringing learning outside the classroom, providing students with tangible experiences, and providing students with experiences that allow them to network with others outside the classroom, became interests of mine. These ideas, which were also influenced by my time in industry, drove my research. These philosophies are still a large part of who I am as a teacher, learner, and researcher. However, it was a one-on-one student interview that profoundly impacted my teaching philosophy. The conversation with one young lady provided me with more insight into my own teaching philosophy than any past readings or classroom experiences up to date. It was through listening, conversing, and reflecting that I gained a stronger direction for my dissertation and who I was becoming as a teacher--one who strongly believes in the power of learned experiences and student relationships.

Events, Actions, Results

I went into my data collection thinking I had it all figured out: where the questions would lead, and, ultimately, how the students would answer the questions. My study was situated in Pierre Bourdieu’s (1977, 1986) theory on capitals (economic, social, and cultural), habitus, and field. I specifically studied the possible transference of students’ capital within a project-based learning field. This particular PBL class, which I gave the pseudonym The Exchange, had a great reputation of bringing students outside of the classroom where they worked with people of power and influence. Therefore, it made sense that these experiences could provide unique networking opportunities, allowing students to advance in ways they could not in a traditional classroom. I passionately believe this as a researcher and a teacher. The “real world” anchored discussion in my classroom and kept my students working hard.

My visits to the project-based learning classroom occurred most days during my planning period. My one-on-one interviews, however, sometimes occurred after school. There was one interview that will forever be part of the teacher I am today. Carol had been a member of the project-based learning cohort since middle school. Carol flipped my whole topic on its head. She was my second student interview of seven. I went into my study believing the interactions students had with people of power was where most capital transference would occur; however, Carol explained how the students thought differently. While I thought students would find interactions with people of power as the most valuable social interactions in the class, the students did not seem to care. It was what happened within the field of The Exchange and between the students that was the real story for Carol. Capital exchange had the most potential to occur in the PBL classroom’s inter-workings. Carol explained:

I think networking should be about friends because if I ever have a later business relationship with those people in the future, like with Alex or whatever. … If I see that woman and she’s at the head of an executive board and she sees me and I come in for a job. … I’d have a leg up on everybody because of that friendship we have.
I mean, Alex doesn’t do The Exchange anymore but … We’re still like friends. And if I see her twenty years from now … it’s awesome.

This “leg up” Carol described was an advantage to which only she would have access because of her experiences alongside Alex in The Exchange. This relationship, which was built within the PBL class, far exceeded the walls of the classroom. Although Alex was no longer part of The Exchange, the relationship between Carol and Alex created a network that would follow both for years after The Exchange. This kind of advantage, which comes from being part of an exclusive group, is an example of Bourdieu’s (1986) ideas of social capital.

Carol did not agree with my theory. She squashed all my preconceived notions, as would the five other interviews that followed. While I thought that students would find interactions with people of power as the most valuable social interactions in the class, the students did not seem to care. What happened within the field of The Exchange and between the students was the real story. Capital exchange had the most potential to occur in the classroom’s inter-workings. It was all about the relationships within the classroom. What may seem like a small finding was groundbreaking for my research teaching philosophy. I vowed from that day forward to refer to “the real world” less in my classroom because the “real world” was happening each day between my students.

It was not only me who learned from a moment of conversation and reflection, but Carol too had a revelation of her learning experiences:

In fact, I don’t think I even realized how much we had until now that I’m talking about it with you. It’s such an awesome experience, these relationships that I have with all sorts of different types of people. Because high school is so cliquey … but I walk into The Exchange and it’s like … be with everybody! All sorts of different types of people. I mean, you learn to get along.

Carol’s experiences in The Exchange went far beyond class rigor. The relationships she built within the class held the most value. They taught her to be more accepting, more open, and, in a way, influenced her through exposure to others’ experiences and backgrounds. It was through Carol’s words that I began to understand how students perceived what was most valuable in their learning experience: learning from one another in the classroom, not necessarily academically, but learning how to work together, resolve conflict, and come to a consensus with those whom you most differ.


I will forever be grateful for the experience I shared with Carol and my other participants. It was through our candid conversation and willingness to reflect that provided the most insight into the value of collaboration and classroom relationships. Jenkins et al explained how “participatory culture shifts the focus on literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement,” which provides students with the experience to shape the way they think about themselves as contributors, as well as the way they think about the contributions of others (p. 7). While I foresaw the participatory culture of The Exchange being between the students and members of the community, the participatory culture within the classroom provided the most social capital (Bourdieu, 1986). The students did not need influence from those outside the classroom to benefit their learning and social experiences. Their ability to create networks within the classroom, and their ability to learn academically and socially from one another provided them with experiences to shape their learning identities, as well as their identities as consumers and producers. Literature continues to demonstrate the collaborative nature of our beings (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008; Thomas, Enlow, & Newell, 2005; Zhao 2009 & 2012); however, sometimes things best learned happen in serendipitous moments.


Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. (R. Nice, Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1972)

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241 – 258). New York, Greenwood.

Duncan-Andrade, J. & Morrel, E. (2008). The art of critical pedagogy: Possibilities for moving from theory to practice in urban schools. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Thomas, D., Enloe, W., & Newell, R. (Eds.). (2005). The coolest school in America: How small learning communities are changing everything. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching up or leading the way: American education in the age of globalization. Alexandra, VA: ASCD.

Zhao, Y. (2012). World class learners: Education creative entrepreneurial students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin: A SAGE Company.

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page