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Complexity, Reflexivity, and Self-Emergent 'Classrooms' by Mind Map: Complexity, Reflexivity, and Self-Emergent 'Classrooms'
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Complexity, Reflexivity, and Self-Emergent 'Classrooms'

Understand complexity. Understand complexity in the classroom. Understand reflexivity. Understand reflexivity in the classroom. Understand the connection between complexity and reflexivity.

Complexity in General

My main problem with this is the sheer depth and breadth of research in this discipline.  The "science" is not confined to a discipline.  In fact most disciplines are trying to find a way to apply the theoretical constructs of complexity to their disciplines-like me!   Another problem is that of definition.  The definitional complexity of complexity is infamous with each discipline having its own take on it.  Combine that with the equally messy problem of measuring complexity and you have a real 'tar baby'.  Of course, any paradigm shift is a 'tar baby' for those in the middle of it and I shall muddle through it because it is so useful.  Complexity theory gives us access to and explanations of behavior and data that has been in our blind spot for a long time especially in educational leadership.  

Complexity in the Classroom

Until William Doll burst onto the scene in the late 1980's no one had considered using complexity theory as a conceptual framework for studying the classroom.  After that a few theorists have been doing so,  first in math and science classrooms and eventually in composition classrooms where my research interests lay. I remember when I got my certification in English in the early 1990's, I was instructed to view the class as a collection of discrete stimuli that could be managed effectively using lesson plans and the other accoutrements of the teaching toolkit. My experience was that while this view gave one a place to begin it did not help one to continue.  I think this is why half of teachers quit the profession after five years--we have not equipped them to deal with the complexity inherent within the classroom.  One might characterize it as the difference between Newtonian and Einsteinian worldviews--the former goes only so far in describing the world and will eventually lead you astray while the latter has a very steep learning curve, but will explain the world.   I am convinced that the reason reform fails is that we are trying to put our classrooms and educational systems on the bed of Procrustes where we chop off or ignore everything that does not fit the lesson plan.  But that is precisely where teachers need to be looking--on the edge of chaos where innovation and creativity emerge.  We live in a complex world so why shouldn't we teach in one?

Reflexivity

Reflection has been a very hot intellectual potato ever since Donald Schon took up its study in professional communities in the 1980's.  I am particularly interested in reflective writing and discussion.  Complexity theory should allow us to tease out the threads of reflection but in a way that is quite different than what has been studied before. Reflection has been studied extensively in its use individually for journaling and other forms of personal retrospection even in new forms like blogs and other social networking software. What I am proposing to do is to study when and how collective or communal intelligence emerges from reflective journals.  This is important to understand because collaborative work is mission critical in business, the arts, and the sciences.  We have valorized individual reflection, yet we need to work together more now than ever before.  Complexity theory gives us the tools to understand this emergence much more now by telling us where we can find it in educational systems. And where can we find it?  I am hoping to measure it in classrooms by looking at reflection in the the classroom.

Reflexity and Complexity

Complexity is concerned with boundaries because that is where all kinds of unpredictably interesting behavior always emerges.  I think that a study of the emergence of collective learning in complex adaptive systems like classrooms is doable.  But they are only doable if we manage to measure in some way what is happening at the edge of chaos.  I am trying to prove that reflection that starts with the person and moves to the collective is a way to do that. What I am proposing is not to devise a system of discrete measurement like Jeremy Bentham did in his  Nineteenth Century utilitarianism.  He thought that he could measure happiness as 'useful' behavior which could be counted in 'benthams' .  This pipedream was taken up by economists in the last century who simply assumed that human agents acted in their own best economic interests.  They conveniently ignored the human facts that we often don't do that.  It hasn't been until the behavioral economists of the last ten years have taken up the mantle of complexity theory that this profoundly mistaken assumption has been modified. Teacher researchers and by extension leaders in educational reform have made the same mistakes, had the same blindspots, and ignored the same realities.  Complexity exists in the classroom and we must study it even if, by definition, it cannot be pinned down like a butterfly.  I hope that reflection will give us a way to watch the hinctly flutter of that butterfly so that we can at least know when to lead our students interests and when to follow them.