First, for those of you who have things to do, the Cliffs Notes Version:
As I understand it, chaos theory suggests that there exist underlying mathematical principles which govern events that seem random in nature. My classroom appears chaotic to the untrained eye, but there are guiding principles and organizational structures in place that guide events. "Concerted" means, in my sense, "well-coordinated." So, "well-coordinated chaos." Makes sense, both for my personal pedagogy and as a description of a high-quality education.
I also appreciate the pun on "concert," which brings in musical implications-- while a massive group of musical instruments or voices all working in disharmony could sound disastrously, if they play/sing their harmonies & countermelodies in a "well-coordinated" way, then the end result is magical.
And I like the alliteration.
If you like what you've read so far (and you have some extra time), then you could keep reading for a more detailed version!
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Note: This is part 2/2 of the introduction I wrote in January. For part 1/2, go here.
The basic goal of what I call the “chaotic classroom” is to shift the burden of the actual information transfer from “teacher delivering” to “ student gathering.” Certainly, my classroom and those of the other teachers following this methodology seem to be utter chaos if the viewer doesn’t know what they’re witnessing. It is true that there are generally many activities going on simultaneously; for example, in a given class period, some students may be writing or revising a research paper, some may be filming for a different long-term project, some may be “translating” a seventeenth-century document into contemporary English, and other small groups may be composing a microtheme (a short, compacted essay) in response to an assignment on poetry analysis. In the midst of such a classroom, the teacher drifts from group to group, pushing thought processes further, adding extra insights, checking in, playing things by feel. This type of classroom allows a teacher with a class of twenty-five to thirty students to check in on the individual progress of every student, almost every day.
It is critical to note, however, that I’m just talking about the appearance of chaos. Chaos theory, though I’m not smart enough to fully articulate a definition, involves the idea that seemingly random natural events such as changes in weather or explosions in population growth actually have underlying mathematical principles governing them, and thus can be patterned and predicted. To the untrained eye, these phenomena look random and chaotic; it is only through experience in observation that patterns and order emerge. And so it is with the chaotic classroom—the teacher doesn’t just say, “Hey guys, go do whatever.” The chaotic classroom requires a great deal of very specific planning on the front end, both at the big, class-wide structural level and at the individual level. Modern education and the so-called “21st century student” deserve teachers who can contend with chaos, or at least the outward appearance of chaos. The world doesn’t run on a factory schedule. It’s chaotic. Lots of changes happen every day, and one of the most significant skills a student can learn is how to budget time and take a project from beginning to end without someone hovering over them every second of every day.
I have designed this teaching style over the past ten years, and continue to evolve it, both for the benefit of my students, but also to deal with my deficiencies as an educator. I recognized early in my teaching career that l was not a naturally gifted lecturer. I stutter, I run down tangents and only periodically get back to the main line of thought, my mind races faster and faster, and my poor mouth can never hope to keep up. However, now I know research tells us that lectures fail to communicate information to anybody effectively, when the goal is retention of that knowledge. (Cite studies, etc.—but save the bulk of the research for later) I swing between two organizational poles—hyper-anal-organized (which I can’t sustain for long periods of time) and what could kindly be called a laissez-faire approach to putting things where they belong. I don’t think linearly; I think in circles (which is not necessarily a deficiency, but it is certainly uncommon in the world of education). And I’m not willing to work sixteen to eighteen hour days in service to the gods of education, not with a wife and toddler and a Great Dane.
When most people hear the world “concerted,” they think of a concerted effort, or an effort made with massively intense focus and strenuous force. That’s the kind of effort most good and great teachers make every day in class; I am writing this book to alleviate some of that pressure. The alternate meaning for “concerted” is jointly arranged and well-coordinated (cite). This is the message I’m driving towards: if our classrooms are jointly arranged (jointly, between members of the faculty, between teachers and students, and even adding community members to the process), well-coordinated (with lots of planning design done on the front end), and chaotic (with lots of activities going on during a given day—activities which have a definite order and purpose, even if said purpose is not readily apparent to every passerby, and even if the purpose is student-designed), then the education our students will leave us with will expand beyond facts and theorems. They will learn to find and pursue the things they love; they will learn to finish what they start; they will learn to pace themselves; they will learn to design projects; they will learn to speak in front of people and to write with passion—all of which will serve them well going forward in their lives. And you, the teacher/advisor/leader-of-classroom, will be able to truly meet each student where they are, during class, without the burden of five hours of grading schoolwork every night. I reject the idea that only teachers with ulcers are working hard enough. I reject it with all the force of my heart; I reject it along with all the bitterness I had built up, and all the anxiety I spent my days running from before I made this drastic educational shift in my own classroom.