Teaching and learning are infinitely complex enterprises, particularly in classrooms where adolescent English learners strive for academic success. This article offers ethnographic accounts in two settings in the United States, both of which involved similar instructional experiences and resources to support literacy learning among high school English learners. We apply principles from complexity science to the analysis of these two ethnographic accounts, each grounded in multiple data sources. The accounts highlight predominant patterns emerging from each setting. The subsequent analysis explores underlying conditions for self-organizing dynamics in these settings: shared identity; shared focus; relevant distinctions or differences; and shared practices). These underlying dynamics varied dramatically in the two settings, generating patterns we label as “playing school” and “authentic engagement.” Each setting manifested behaviors consistent with a short set of “simple rules” for behavior. Implications for future research suggest that a deep understanding of complex adaptive systems, emergent patterns, and implied simple rules can inform the work of teacher action researchers in complex school environments.
Dr. Mary Amanda Stewart
Institution: Texas Woman's University
Country: United States
Mary Amanda (Mandy) Stewart is Assistant Professor in the Department of Reading at Texas Woman's University. She researches how to best leverage adolescent English learners' linguistic and cultural strengths into the classroom curriculum. She is the author of Understanding Adolescent Immigrants: Moving Toward and Extraordinary Discourse for Extraordinary Youth from Lexington Books.