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The emergence approach and discipline problems

elovejoy's picture

Commentary on “Emergent pedagogy: learning to enjoy the uncontrollable- and make it productive” and discipline problems

article written by: Anne Dalke, Kim Cassidy, Paul Grobstein, and Doug Blank, August 2005.


    Throughout my educational life, I have experienced a wide variety of schools and teaching styles.  I attended public school in a rural town in Connecticut up until the eighth grade.  The students were 99% Caucasian, and most of them had lived there for their entire lives.  The public schools in my town were known for being one of the best in the area.  Personally, I felt that they were mediocre at best.  I attended a science, math, and technology magnet school in an inner city for eighth grade with the hope of meeting new people who had experienced different ways of life and who had different ways of thinking.  The magnet school was much more diverse than my public school, as it drew students from a variety of socio-economic statuses, races, ethnicities, and locations.  The school had just opened, so the administration was still working out the kinks.  As dysfunctional as the school could be at times, I remember the distinct teaching styles.  At the time, I didn’t recognize it, but it is now apparent to me that the majority of my teachers used emergent systems as a model of teaching and learning.

    As I read “Emergent pedagogy: learning to enjoy the uncontrollable- and make it productive,” I thought of my personal experiences with the emergent systems model of teaching and learning.  I greatly enjoyed the time I spent in the classrooms of teachers who used the emergence perspective.  The end goals were never set in stone, and the students were able to take many different pathways to reach various goals.  It allowed for students to think outside of the box and be more in control of their learning.  In the end, it made students feel more accomplished and driven to learn more.  This worked very well for students who were ambitious and motivated to learn.  But, as in any school, there were a handful of students who did not have the drive or initiative to learn. 

    In the conclusions section of the article, Dalke et al. touched upon the possible problems in applying the emergent approach with behavior management and discipline.  This "problem" stood out to me the most in the article.  I am a big supporter of the emergent approach, but, in my experience with emergence, I have only seen discipline problems exacerbated by it.  It seemed like students who had discipline problems responded best to having guidelines and strict goals set for them.  It seemed like it was also easier for the teachers to have a controllable work plan set out for the students. I feel like a more appropriate setting with a smaller number of students would allow for teachers to monitor and manage the behavior of students with discipline problems.  Dalke et al. conclude, “We are quite certain that students learn better when they are encouraged to master material in a context in which that material is relevant to their own interests.”  I agree with this deduction.  Initially, I felt that behavior management could cause problems in applying emergence.  But, it seems that if students with discipline problems are put in a smaller, more appropriate setting, they would be able to master certain material by using hands-on techniques and by making their learning applicable to their own interests.  Disciplinary problems could create issues in applying the emergence approach, but if the students are put in the right settings, the emergence approach is the optimal route to learning.