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.
Introduction The aim of this article is to investigate the implications of a general theory of complexity for social institutions and organizations, such as business corporations. Complexity theory has implications for the way we conceive of the structure of an organization, as well as for the way in which complex organizations should be managed. However, […]