Chaos vs Coherent

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My Superintendent:

“I’ve learned that there is a fine line between chaos and coherent.”

This statement has been replaying itself in my head now for a weeks. Maybe because I’m feeling my life is on the chaotic side of that line at the moment.

However, I’ve also been reflecting at where we are in education and where we are trying to go. Where does education fall on this line?

What I’m afraid of is that education is too much on the coherent side of that line, although we are trying to push the education system as a whole closer to that line in the use of information, data analysis, and accountability. The problem is it’s a large system that likes coherent, is comfortable with coherent, and looks at the line and really doesn’t want to go there.

The line is the different between controlling everything and having structures in place that allow a system to be flexible. Standards are structures that allow an educator to walk on that line. To be able to look at new ways of teaching, new ways of assessing, and new ways at engaging student’s in the learning process and still stay grounded in understanding what it is that needs to be taught.

Most standardized tests control what we teach, and how we teach it based on what content is needed in order to do well. Standardized tests doesn’t allow a teacher to walk on the side of chaos in fear that what they might teach, what may be a different way of learning, will not be acceptable when filling in circles.

A little chaos is a good thing; it is where we learn to take risks, where perhaps our best learning occurs. These past couple of weeks I’ve been on that side, and my brain actually hurts from such a steep learning curve. I don’t want to be on this side of the line for much longer. I need a little coherence in my life, a little more structure.

I think this is where our classrooms need to be. We need to walk that line between chaos and coherent. I sometimes hear teachers refer to this as ‘controlled chaos’ which sounds pretty good to me. When I taught in the classroom I tried to keep my class in that controlled chaos state. This is where we learn, where we are able to push ourselves and the people around us and still understand there is a structure to what we do.

What would education look like if it were in a state of controlled chaos?

What would a school look like?

How would you put structures in place to allow educators to feel safe enough to teach in this space?

[tags]learning 2.0[/tags]

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Jeff-

    I’d highly recommend the book “The Dialectic of Freedom” by Maxine Greene. She’s a brilliant educator who talks about these issues in great depth. She referred to classrooms that allowed for the sort of controlled chaos that you’re talking about as an “Open Space” – a place where students are free to explore answers to their own questions within a certain framework. These ‘spaces’ create a context for learning in which students are empowered to imagine new possibilities. It is perhaps, one of the best books on education theory I’ve read.

  2. Jeff — I really appreciate your post and in some ways think the Genie is out of the bottle already. I blogged myself about the incipient potential for search to render the idea of “curriculum” much different from our current understanding (carmun.typepad.com). As students increasingly study with Internet-enabled machines as their companions — their imaginations and the search box make it very hard to control what they will learn and in what order — and to my mind this is awesome.

  3. Pingback: Teacher in Development :: Blending Chaos and Coherent into Student Centered Learning :: May :: 2007

  4. At the end of this school year, my principal informed me that the standardized scores in science were low and needed to inprove. However, our students do well when they transitioned to high schools. Infact, most of our students tested into honors science classes. So, I need to find a balance between chaos and coherent. In my science classes, I encourage the students to investigate different subject matters by using hands-on experiments and make their own conclusions without concern of being right or wrong. TAKE A RISK. On the other hand, I am trying to please my principal by improving skills like data interpretation and test taking by using the computer lab. There are sites to improve standardized test scores. So, I feel there needs to be a balance between chaos and coherence to encourage learning and accountability.

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