Dogme Challenge #2 – Emergence


October 19, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

This post is part of the Dogme Blog Challenge (#dogmeme) part II.

The trigger this time is:

If learners are supplied with optimal conditions for language use, and are motivated to take advantage of these opportunities, their inherent learning capacities will be activated, and language – rather than being acquired  -will emerge. (Thornbury & Meddings)

Being the complexity theory freak that I’m becoming, I can’t help but to focus on emergence. Also, because I realized that this concept, emergence, is not widely understood.

I’ll start with a quote I wrote on Karenne’s blog not long ago.

When things get together, there then arises something that was not there before, and that character is something that cannot be stated in terms of the elements which go to make up the combination. It remains to be seen in what sense we can now characterize that which has so emerged (Mead 1938)

In layman’s terms: The whole is not simply the sum of its parts. (I’d like you to keep that in mind as you read this post)

By saying that, I highlight the fact that too many things go on between teaching and learning that it’s farfetched to believe that a teacher who walks into a classroom with a rigid lesson plan consisting of preselected target language, stages that apparently make sense (if only in the teacher’s mind) and a lesson aim to achieve that is something like “to present and practice the present continuous”; I say, it’s farfetched to believe that this is a contribution to another person’s education, and here I say education in the sense of how you answer the question “What do we need education for?”

Have I already got you confused? I hope not.

( On this blog’s menu item “Complexity Theory” you’ll find the links to two articles by Scott Thornbury who more didactically and more ELT-driven uses the concept of emergence, and also some more great articles on education through the eyes of chaos & complexity theory)

The point is, if everything is interconnected and interdependent the classroom cannot be the fictitious island of Lost.

The emergence perspective raises the serious possibility that the origins of everything that currently exists lacked any architect, plan, or intention, and that as a consequence we cannot derive meaning from looking either backwards at origins or forwards towards some pre-existing goal. (Grobstein)

A starting point to adopt an emergent pedagogy is perhaps to look at its properties and think if you can see yourself functioning well in a system like this, to make it easier you can think of the classroom or the school as this system, along with the people that are part of it and their roles in it too.

Lower order

Organized ->

Mechanical ->

Directives ->

Hierarchical ->

Single leaders ->

Close, dissipative systems ->

Depersonalized ->

Demarcated and detached ->

Inflexible ->

Closed system ->

Restricted communication ->

Enacted organization ->

Transactional leadership ->

Passive ->

Low-order thinking ->

Censure ->

Sterile environment ->

Private knowledge ->

Emergent higher order -> Self-organized

-> Humanistic

-> Empowerment

-> Networked

-> Distributed leadership

-> Open, evolving system

-> Relationship-driven

-> Connected

-> Adaptable

-> Open system

-> Open communication

-> Learning organization

-> Transformational quantum leadership

-> Active

-> High-order creative thinking

-> Feedback

-> Rich environment

-> Distributed knowledge

(Lissack, 1999:4)

This appeals to me, very much in case you haven’t noticed ; )

but I also acknowledge that it’s very difficult for many teachers to see the practicality of all this.

The thing is that there’s still very little evidence of how effective an emergent pedagogy can be.

The main problem in finding the evidence is that they are using old ways to validate new things.

For example, goal-setting itself has to be done as an emergent process. Assessment is another thing that plays an important role in developing new approaches. You see, there’s plenty of work ahead.

understanding is itself an emergent process, the result of an essential interplay between experience and reflection. The objective of an emergent classroom is to facilitate continuing interaction between intuitive and analytic aspects of thinking as a fundamental aspect of the learning process. (Grobstein et al, here)

Further questions that can only be answered by YOU.

  • How can you cope with unpredictability and modify plans in the light of emerging information?
  • What are the conditions for emergence in your classroom, how can these be identified, developed, supported and sustained?


If you think there should still be controlled training, then train students how

  • To Function productively in a group,
  • To Be aware of how interaction with others affect their individuality
  • To Ask the right questions in order to find the ‘less wrong’ answers.

From an emergent pedagogy perspective the aim of education is to develop individuals that can fully function in a world that is emergent itself, individuals that being aware of the inherent unpredictability of virtually everything around them, have an enhanced ability to learn, re-learn and un-learn. To do so, these individuals need to be effective independent inquirers.

We need to rehabilitate the role of freedom, self-organization, creativity and innovation, in order to develop better inquirers.

I have a hunch that breaking down past knowledge and passing it on as identifiable bits – that is, subject matters, coursebooks, levels, preset agendas, grades, tests, etc – have very little to do with the aim of education described in the previous paragraphs.

After all, if you remember the beginning of this post, the whole is not simply the sum of its parts.

Thanks for reading!

I look forward to discussing this further with you.


Other fine bloggers in the ring:

Mike Harrison

Sabrina De Vita

Cecilia Coelho

Nick Jaworski


10 thoughts on “Dogme Challenge #2 – Emergence

  1. […] the unknown! by Sabrina De Vita, Nature emerges naturally … does learning? by Cecilia Coelho, Emergence by Willy […]

  2. […] Willy C. Cardoso – Dogme Challenge #2 – Emergence […]

  3. OH, I’m the first to reply! I think Willy you write posts that make us think so much that it takes a while to respond and kudos on you for that 🙂

    I particularly like what you are saying here that students have to become independent inquirers and it’s an area I have been trying to move more into – given that I do dogme 2.0 and am sometimes shocked by what my students do off their own bat, versus those who don’t participate -but do face to face.

    I wonder about how to meet your objectives, i.e. functioning within groups, being aware of how interaction with others affects their individuality and asking the right questions – not because I don’t agree with them, I do, but because it is an enormous challenge,

    Thank you for this very thought-provoking article – and the last – you have an innate ability to cause me to think for days.


    • Dear Karenne,

      An attempt to reply to your comment made me write three posts already. Thank you!
      I’m sorry they’re too long to be in this comment box. They should be out very soon though.
      I’ve been thinking about how to meet the objectives of the type of education I’ve been advocating; and I have a hunch it may take a lifetime or two. I’m up to that. As you say, an enormous challenge, and one well worth living for.

      I also thank you for all the support, the challenges, and your role-model edublog. It makes a big difference in the lives of many people you can be sure of that!

  4. 🙂 pleasure, I forgot to mention that I really enjoyed Lissack’s diagram here especially with regard to the nature of dogme 2.0 (post #8 – we have a while yet before that challenge goes up) and it appeals to me quite deeply as well but like you recognize that the practicality of it is difficult to grasp.

    I was thinking about your sentence the whole is the sum of parts – I wonder if we really have to understand those parts before we construct a place where they come together and emerge….

    Mild musings on a sunday!


    • the whole is (not) the sum of parts…. good point re: do we have to understand the parts?
      I’m a big anti-reductionist, that is, breaking stuff down do parts, studying the parts, putting them together, and coming to a theory or generalization. Unless it is to find out how a refrigerator keeps your food cool. For social sciences it doesn’t work for me.
      Well, I say, we have to understand how the parts influence each other and co-adapt in all levels of interaction. A school management decision to cut off 5 minutes of each class for example can generate an unforeseen outcome in the long run. Changes in evaluation procedures and passing grades generate different washback.
      If a teacher has four students, each of which with a learning preference, and in each class the teacher plans a lesson focusing more on one of them, thinking that she would be catering for all tastes; I doubt this is too efficient. Because, the whole class is not simply the sum of its students’ preferences/styles/difficulties/needs/etc. When they are together, learning as a group, they function differently – new attributes emerge. And that can barely be planned for.

      So, in terms of what we have to understand. The first thing is to understand is that it’s impossible to understand how, when and where learning takes place, because of all the things mentioned above, in Lissack’s list for example. Once a teacher stops fooling herself that she can predict learning by writing a thorough lesson plan, she’ll focus on more important things, like, how to mediate group conflict and interest, how to incentive inquiry, how to use tool for autonomous learning (dictionary, internet, etc).

      good musings Karenne!

  5. […] You can read my #1 response here and #2 response there. […]

  6. […] as a learner and realized some clashes it has with what I consider common sense in teaching; and #2, where I dug deeper into complexity and emergence as powerful concepts for curriculum planning. […]

  7. […] can emerge, things that are not the sum of the individuals that constitute the group (see post on Emergence), learning is what emerges, thus the agent/group is a […]

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