Exploring the Paradox: Simplicity Begets Complexity

“Building blocks are a metaphor for modeling how simplicity generates complexity.”

– Charles Nelson
(DNA, National Institute of Health)

Reaction to:

Zucker, Donna M. “How to Do Case Study Research. Teaching Research Methods in the Social Sciences.” 2, 2009.

Nelson, Charles. “Building Blocks and Learning”

At the beginning of Chapter 14, “Teaching Research Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences: How to do Case Study Research,” Donna Zucker states that “case study as a research method is often indexed in most undergraduate research textbooks as neither quantitative nor qualitative.” It appears as the case study can be considered as qualitative research since it works with “non-numerical data that seeks to interpret data.” Then Zucker continues by saying that “Little attention is paid to the usefulness of this method, with an average of two pages devoted to this research approach (Burns & Grave, 1999). Why is that “little attention” is paid to the usefulness of the case study method”? Is it a useful method? Zucker does not explain the importance until the very end of the chapter when she says that the case study method can be “a creative alternative to traditional approaches to description emphasizing the participant’s perspectives as central to the process.” This research method that emphasizes the participants’ perspectives is useful in helping educators the effectiveness of their teaching strategies.

In “Building Blocks and Learning,” Professor Nelson provided an interesting case study of his “13 students from 8 different countries in his first-year university rhetoric and composition course for international students.” The theoretical framework was John Holland’s Model of Complex Systems, which stresses four properties:
1.) Aggregation (“grouping items with similar interests”);
2.) Nonlinearity (“the behavior of the whole cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts”);
3.) Flows (“movements of resources among agents via connectors that vary according to systems”);
4.) Diversity (“dynamic pattern because agents engage in progressive adaptations via their interactions with other agents”)
In terms of data collection, Professor Nelson used student observations, tape-recorded interviews, and artifacts such as Midterm and Final Self-Evaluations. Nelson noted that based on conceptual building blocks such as flow charts and outlines, from these starting points, the students were able to produce new learning by using strategies of reproduction, cross-over, recombination, and replacement. Or, as Nelson explains, “Through the aggregations of simple actions, presentations grew more sophisticated and their rhetoric more persuasive.” By allowing the students to deviate from a traditional, linear path of writing instruction, it allows for personalization and creativity.

First, the idea of reproduction where “old building blocks are applied to new situations is exciting, especially in a class of diverse learners. Nelson cites students using varied plans to organize their writing to fit their learning preferences better. A more scientifically-inclined student may prefer flow charts; whereas, other students may prefer an outline. Therefore, writing instructors may want to offer various methods for students to organize their writing.

As Nelson contends, “Dissonance may lead to novelty.” It was noteworthy that one of the students, Ahmed, had “transformed the genre of a final evaluation.” To illustrate, in the Midterm Self-Evaluation, Ahmed provided a usual response. However, in the Final Evaluation, Ahmed made a cross-over in that he offered an anecdote rather than a standard reply. From his response, one can conclude that he has embraced risk-taking in his writing.

However, if a building block is ineffective, then it needs to be replaced. There is a lot of trial-error in education, and educators need to be adaptable and flexible. Nelson shares an anecdote of a student who did not like collaboration; however, collaboration was an essential part of the course. Collaboration, or the opportunity to work with different people, is a crucial life skill. Perhaps as a professional, the student realized that Nelson’s taught her writing and interpersonal skills.

Overall, I appreciated the terminologies associated with building blocks and learning. I enjoyed the paradox: simplicity generates complexity.

101 of Case Study Research!

Summary of the Reading

This article gives the reader the breakdown of not just Case Study Research but how to apply practically with student researchers. Case Study Research can be defined as the following: A research strategy and an empirical inquiry that investigates a phenomenon within its real-life context. Case studies are based on an in-depth investigation of a single individual, group or event to explore the causes of underlying principles. In the case of this article, it goes on to use a case study in nursing. This research methodology is often taught in qualitative research and mostly used in the social sciences to understand a particular situation involving a person or a particular group. For more clarification, I watched this youtube video to help me get a better understanding (which really helped!)

Thinking Practical: My thoughts and rebuttal to the Reading

Like all the readings, I like to try to understand the research methodology by putting into practical terms with my own research question: What is the effectiveness of implementing a digital writing tool designed by me, into a 3rd Grade ELA classroom. Even though I am preferbally drawn to the Grounded Theory for my particular research question (Patricia ‘Grounded Theory’ Dennis), I still see ways that I can also use Case Study Research as well. So in this post, I will do a kind of test run through some of the components presented in the article with this theory to display my understanding of it.

Prior to Beginning

The article states, “Time in the field, lengthy interviews and transcription and analysis are all factors that should be thought out well in advance of engaging with participants.” Tieng this back to my own research question, my work as a Reading Coach within a 2nd Grade class for a duration of an entire school year is considered my time in the field. During this duration of time is where I am interacting, engaging, and gathering information on the case: my 2nd Grade students.

Obviously, it would almost be virtually impossible to try and go through this an entire Case Study Research in one week, so I also decided to source another article to give an even more simple breakdown of this research methodology.

“Identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem. A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions.”: In the case of my research question it would inlet going through the students bench mark assessments, previous work, and etc.

Does the case represent an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? This may be a bias opinion but in the case of my current 2nd Grade class, they are a case that is unusually low learning level with a continuous representation of that.

Does the case provide important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? Yes, yes, and yes! As I stated previously, these particular group of students are known for having low testing and subject matter grades. This issues has been very apparent to me while working with them. This is how my research question was born!

This article goes on to further breakdown the questions, process, and steps to take in order to see if your proposed questions fits the framework of Case Study Research.

Conclusion

Quite honestly, in my opinion I think this type of research methodology would be ideal for those looking to solve underling issues that are not either addressed or solved. I think this research methodology would best fit when trying to solve issues within a classroom (speaking the perspective of a teacher, Ms. P!)

Other sources I used: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/casestudy, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuG8AzK9GVQ

101 of Case Study Research!

Summary of the Reading

This article gives the reader the breakdown of not just Case Study Research but how to apply practically with student researchers. Case Study Research can be defined as the following: A research strategy and an empirical inquiry that investigates a phenomenon within its real-life context. Case studies are based on an in-depth investigation of a single individual, group or event to explore the causes of underlying principles. In the case of this article, it goes on to use a case study in nursing. This research methodology is often taught in qualitative research and mostly used in the social sciences to understand a particular situation involving a person or a particular group. For more clarification, I watched this youtube video to help me get a better understanding (which really helped!)

Thinking Practical: My thoughts and rebuttal to the Reading

Like all the readings, I like to try to understand the research methodology by putting into practical terms with my own research question: What is the effectiveness of implementing a digital writing tool designed by me, into a 3rd Grade ELA classroom. Even though I am preferbally drawn to the Grounded Theory for my particular research question (Patricia ‘Grounded Theory’ Dennis), I still see ways that I can also use Case Study Research as well. So in this post, I will do a kind of test run through some of the components presented in the article with this theory to display my understanding of it.

Prior to Beginning

The article states, “Time in the field, lengthy interviews and transcription and analysis are all factors that should be thought out well in advance of engaging with participants.” Tieng this back to my own research question, my work as a Reading Coach within a 2nd Grade class for a duration of an entire school year is considered my time in the field. During this duration of time is where I am interacting, engaging, and gathering information on the case: my 2nd Grade students.

Obviously, it would almost be virtually impossible to try and go through this an entire Case Study Research in one week, so I also decided to source another article to give an even more simple breakdown of this research methodology.

“Identifying a case to investigate involves more than choosing the research problem. A case study encompasses a problem contextualized around the application of in-depth analysis, interpretation, and discussion, often resulting in specific recommendations for action or for improving existing conditions.”: In the case of my research question it would inlet going through the students bench mark assessments, previous work, and etc.

Does the case represent an unusual or atypical example of a research problem that requires more in-depth analysis? This may be a bias opinion but in the case of my current 2nd Grade class, they are a case that is unusually low learning level with a continuous representation of that.

Does the case provide important insight or illuminate a previously hidden problem? Yes, yes, and yes! As I stated previously, these particular group of students are known for having low testing and subject matter grades. This issues has been very apparent to me while working with them. This is how my research question was born!

This article goes on to further breakdown the questions, process, and steps to take in order to see if your proposed questions fits the framework of Case Study Research.

Conclusion

Quite honestly, in my opinion I think this type of research methodology would be ideal for those looking to solve underling issues that are not either addressed or solved. I think this research methodology would best fit when trying to solve issues within a classroom (speaking the perspective of a teacher, Ms. P!)

Other sources I used: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/casestudy, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuG8AzK9GVQ

Building Blocks and Case Study

Dr. Nelsons article on Building Blocks was an informative read.  The overall theme of the reading was essentially in the context of a case study involving international students and their ability to learn English.  Using Hollands model of complex systems, Dr. Nelson breaks down all of the “building blocks” that are used in such a method in studying how these students went about their education in English as a second language.  There were a couple of anecdotes I found particularly interesting involving the use of powerpoint and the other being the use of music and the students experience and use of piano in ways to aid them in their education in English.  From start to finish, you see how the study took shape and how the information was taken from these individual pieces of information and morphed into a much larger, significant study on how English is taught, and adjustments that could be made to create a more effective and unified way.  

The major terms from the reading were the four properties and three mechanisms: 

4 Properties 

  1. Aggregation- Grouping together information to form categories to create building blocks as well as understanding how these different categories behave. 
  2. Nonlinearity- The behavior of the whole cannot be broken down to the sum of the parts 
  3. Flows- Movement of resources among agents via connectors that vary according to the system
  4. Diversity- Having a base with all different backgrounds and life experiences

3 Mechanisms

  1. Tagging- Facilitates selective interactions and thus the formation of aggregates
  2. Schemas- Described as internal models used for anticipating situations.
  3. Building Blocks- Emphasis on interactions, adaptation, and emergence

Given the other reading on Case Studies we read for this week, this article by Dr. Nelson was a great way to kind of understand it, as it felt very similar to what the case study article was conveying in the information about conducting a case study.  As Dr. Nelson mentioned in his article about having to see someone talk about something he had read to fully understand it, that is exactly how I felt reading this along with the explanation of case studies. Which, I must say, I really like the idea of case studies now that I got to read the theory alongside something that may not be an exact duplication, but more or less the same driving principles.  

It is hard for me to pick out anything that I may agree or disagree with because I had no preconceived notions about something like this going into it.  The one thing I will say, as far as the specific study goes, is I found the girl who used her methods of learning the piano in a manner that aided her in learning English as a second language to be fascinating.  My biggest takeaway from that, similar to our end of class discussion last week, while there are no studies that prove people learn differently, it seems possible through this anecdote that people can take aspects of their life outside academics, mainly their personal interests, to assimilate and create methods for them to learn in a more comfortable manner.  

Questions: 

  1. How interchangeable is a case study to Hollands methods?
  2. Are the individual methods able to cross over to a case study?
  3. How do you identify where you can turn something into a case study? 

Work Cited 

Nelson, Charles. “Building Blocks and Learning.” Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, journals.library.ualberta.ca/complicity/index.php/complicity/article/view/8714.

Zucker, Donna M. “How to Do Case Study Research.” ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst, scholarworks.umass.edu/nursing_faculty_pubs/2/.

Building Blocks & Learning

In Building Block and Learning by Dr. Charles Nelson, he discusses the pedagogy of writing in classrooms “need to promote interactions and the flow of knowledge among students and other” (49). By doing so, teachers of beginner writing composition classes need to reconfigure the building blocks of this discipline. In Nelson’s case study, he noticed how “the reproduction and recombination of building blocks were enhanced […] this allowed students to reflect on their learning by connecting it to their previous and present practices (50). Likewise, Nelson focuses on international students in an ESL setting and studied how they absorbed writing composition classes. In Nelson’s results, he found that teachers need to focus on the curriculum’s building blocks and create a direction that best suits L1 and L2 students.

I was very excited to read this article because this was Dr. Nelson’s first published journal article and he’s sharing it with his class to gain more knowledge about our field of study. This shows how confident Dr. Nelson is with his own work knowing his brilliant mind will ‘rub’ off on my fellow colleagues and I in hopes we will be successful in whatever career path of our chosen.

While reading this paper by Dr. Nelson, I quickly referred back to two courses I took last semester, Writing Theory & Practice taught by Dr. Mia Zamora and World Englishes by Dr. Ruth Griffith. Both of these classes are main points that were combined together and placed in this a thoroughly thought out paper.

I really enjoy it when a curriculum is based around the students and there needs. I understand teachers or professors need to meet certain criteria for their departments, but they need to be listening to the students first and foremost. Each child learns at their own pace and is also coming from numerous backgrounds, including cultural, social and educational. As their teacher, professor, educator and mentor, we need to be able to customize our teaching skills around every single one of them to make sure the younger generations become more successful than us and will end up changing the world.

In World Englishes, we learned about English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Langa Franca (ELF). There was one response we had to do for homework that discussed the English language in the classroom.

The question was: If you are or have been a learner of English as a second language or a native or non-native teacher of English to second language learner, to what extent does/did your experience resonate with the comments made above by Kirkpatrick and Nayar?

My response was: ‘This past summer, I was an online tutor for students around the world. I was responsible for teaching them English, but also English Literature. During the application process, I noticed that didn’t ask for any type of credentials towards teaching, all they worried about is if I was fluent in English. With that being said, I agree with Kirkpatrick’s comments about overseas schools; all they care about is if you are a native English speaker. This truly bothered me the entire time because I felt is if I was being used just because of the language I spoke and not for the experience I have worked so hard for these past many years.’

By forming these building blocks, you’re allowing creativity and new ideas to expand. Also, by doing so, you’ll be adapting to the current generation’s strengths in current technology. Unlike the past, our educational system is evolving quickly and as scholars, we need to enhance the pedagogy of writing through a futuristic generation eye. 


Work Sited

Nelson, Charles. “Building Blocks and Learning.” Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education 1.1 (2004): 39-55.

A Response to Case Study Research

Unlike with grounded theory, I did at least come into this week’s readings with the belief that case studies of course have a significant roll to play in research methodology. What I can say, however, is that I had either the wrong impression of case studies or at best one which did not account for its depth. As a final forethought before I get into discussing Zucker, I found myself surprised at the philosophical depth that these studies get at, and would be interested in learning more about them.

Now then, the matter at hand of discussing the content of the reading. The first thing that was discussed was the plethora of definitions and connotations which case studies have. Zucker initially cites the definition of a case study as being about a “systematic inquiry… which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest.” Well, that sounds just vague enough to be about right for many forms of research, but sure enough by the end of this reading it became apparent just how “systematic” the inquiry is. But Zucker does take a moment to relate to the reader how case studies in the education of research is not well-regarded and is also considered “neither quantitative or qualitative,” which I found particularly interesting. As I read these articles and book chapters I ask myself how the information I’m going through stacks up to my knowledge going into the readings as well as how I feel about them. Without jumping too much to the discussion part of my blog, I will say this: I thought case studies were more quantitative than they are. For what reason exactly I cannot say, but perhaps due to how intensive they are with regards to what I knew of the research done for them. But then when I read this comment it occurred to me that indeed, they are not particularly quantitative but encompass so much raw data that they also come off as not entirely qualitative.

But I digress. Or, not entirely I suppose, because Zucker does take time to shed light on an important point about case studies that I did not entirely consider but that does make sense. She refers to their potential as a means of doing philosophical and “didactic” research. Both of these things are interesting in the schema of research, as they can or do strictly refer to morality. It seems based on the reading even within the first few pages that case studies can be done with a moralistic purview. Interesting.

Zucker then goes into the various paradigms and study methods. She cites Yin, Stake, Guba, and Lincoln throughout the chapter. She mentions Yin’s five criteria: research question, propositions, unit(s) of analysis, how the data are linked to the question, and how the findings are interpreted. Stake describes case studies as being broken down into instrumental, intrinsic, and collective case studies. But Stake also acknowledges other types of studies as holding specific purposes as well. Guba and Lincoln, Zucker further cites, have case study types that they postulate, those being factual, interpretive, and evaluative. I think this is all to say that there’s a great deal which case studies can do, and so as with any field there are different people who do it differently.

One specific point I’d like to touch on was on page 5/17 in the section detailing a specific methodological guide. Under the “Analyze findings…” section, Yin includes “Write up the case from an emic perspective.” Never one to miss the opportunity to learn a new word, I searched up the meaning of “emic” and added the annotation “Emic, from within the culture, as opposed to etic, from without.” Methods like these, and those of a more qualitative bend, do seem to prioritize the experiential, which I like. They seem to specifically give credit to the relative cultural/personal experiences of the people involved as the subjects of the study. This is furthered when some paragraphs down, Zucker quotes Bromley as saying, “Various reports… have studied the individual as the unit of analysis… [to] develop rich and comprehensive understandings about people” (6). But to this end, as I alluded to before, it was clear by this point in the chapter just how extensive the basin of information in a case study can be. To point to another of my annotations, on page 7 Zucker states, “Thinking in metaphors, and creating simplistic models and thematic maps were essential activities in data management,” to which I responded, “Management is the key phrase here, and it’s no wonder when the expanse of data is so incredibly vast.” It was just a moment in the reading when I had to almost laugh, as you know you’re giving a lot over to data collection when an entire facet of the research method is how to better manage collecting and inscribing that data (more, it seems, than other methodologies).

Zucker then introduces the specific three stages of conducting a case study, those being Describing Experience, Describing Meaning, and Focus of the Analysis. My previously mentioned quote was part of Describing Experience, so allow me to jump straight to Describing Meaning, which itself was one of the most interesting parts in the reading for me. Zucker has “meaning” broken into three layers: micro (meaning of signs and symbols), mid (meaning of people, things and events in a person’s life), and macro (the meaning of life as a whole). These layers, though somewhat denoting abstractions of a system, are also sequenced. The micro is the beginning of the process of deriving meaning, the mid builds on that, and finally the macro is the culminating effect of meaning. I was particularly stricken by the inclusion of “the meaning of life as a whole” as a fundamental research point in regards at least to the particular study mentioned (the experience of CHD patients). Perhaps it should not have come as much of a surprise to me since this study involved the experiences of people with a potentially fatal disease, but I was really surprised to find this level of consideration to case studies. Further down, this point is given some context: “This level of analysis assisted in bringing together the notions of experience and meaning as seen within the context of life” (13). Seen within the context of life… Powerful stuff, honestly.

My personal feelings on this reading were that I did indeed enjoy reading it. A lot of these readings thus far have challenged my understanding of research. I suppose that’s only to be expected and honestly, it’s what I would hope for. Last week I found a lot of assistance from the article in helping me to answer my question of the purpose of grounded theory in research, and this week I was just totally caught off guard with the depth and scope of case studies. By way of some of the loftier considerations exemplified in this reading (i.e., the meaning of life to each individual “unit” in the study), I would be very interested in reading into some case studies – I’d just best prepare myself for the mountainous sum of data and meanings discussed.

A response to “Building Blocks and Learning”

Summary:

My interpretation of the article Building Blocks and Learning, by Dr. Charles Nelson focuses on the pedagogical approaches and the differences within the influence of writing on L1 and L2 learners/writers. The L1 and L2 learners background plays a significant role in which it does affect their learning, experience and knowledge. Robert Kaplan stated, “paragraph development varied according to a culture’s rhetorical traditions, standards and logic.” In other words, English teachers’ feedback would be inadequate and inappropriate because the students’ writing are not suitable for translation.  If the writers want to target audiences in English, their work will have to adapt to what is conventional for the audience. A writer can be well known in their own country but their skill is different verses The targeted audience. The studies were done to help teach language learners how to create ideas, edit multiple drafts, revise in their language then adapt to the local helps in fostering their written skills.

Dr. Nelson refers to John Holland’s Model of Complex Adaptive Systems as a means of approaching a large number of interacting components through four properties and three mechanisms, which typically exhibits hierarchical self-organization under selective pressures. 

The four properties are (42):

  • Aggregation- primarily, simplifying the complexity by grouping items with similar characteristics. The second meaning refers to how complex systems behave.
  • Non linearity- the differences in behavior at different levels, in which the whole cannot be reduced to the sum of the parts.
  • Flows- refer to movement of resources among agents via connectors that vary according to the system.
  • Diversity-is a dynamic pattern in which agents engage in progressive adaptations via their interactions with other agents, thus constantly changing their niches in the system.

The three mechanisms (42-43):

  • Tagging
  • Internal models
  • Building blocks

Holland provides a great example with the human face. 

  • What are the features on a face? (up to ten blocks)

Hair, forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, chin, cheeks, neck

  • How can we break each feature down? (up to ten blocks)

Eye colors, hair colors, nose shape, earlobes, eyebrow shape, etc. 

I elaborated on some answers but the purpose is to explain that the list can continue, especially if researched to update information.

The purpose of the Complex System is to find a way to simplify all the information that will eventually be categorized. Here’s a link to John H. Holland explaining during a Workshop on Complexity Methods, aka Complex Adaptive Systems on YouTube.

Summary:

  I’ll be honest, there were a few parts of this article that were a bit puzzling but overall, I understood. I appreciated the example of student observations with different cultural backgrounds and how they were able to gather information after receiving feedback and sharing with peers. The students were able to learn in a way that relates to his/her background, skill or interest. One particular student, Yiping from China, learned a great deal, especially when she connected it to music and listening to each instrument using the building blocks. Although I am not a musician, I felt her situation was easier to relate to. The information is presented but we have our own way of interpreting, adapting and using it to suit our writing purpose. 

The cross-over and recombination method was creating  a hybrid form of  learning. In our class, we are suppose to participate in a discussion lead. The first was lead by Dr. Nelson. Since he is the professor, it’s obvious students will aim to somewhat follow his format; however, we will each have to add our own flair (niche) to execute the assignment. Therefore, I see his presentation as the parent and everyone else’s the offspring. Each offspring, will take from the prior to formulate a new format. I believe this is how the building blocks are formed and replaced. Collaboration leads to success and an opportunity for the student to experience developing building blocks (feedback and info). It is similar to a workshop style of writing.

I wish in a way , we could do that with our own research question. Our discussion lead days/topics are a form of collaborative building blocks within our class.

My Reaction Paper: Building Blocks and Learning.

See the source image

Case Study Research: Building Blocks and Learning

In the social and life sciences case study is a research method involving an up-close, in-depth, and detailed examination of a case. Generally, a case can be nearly any, including individuals, organizations, events, or actions. Case studies can be produced by following a formal research method. These case studies are likely to appear in formal research venues, as journals and professional conferences, rather than popular works. Case study research can mean single and multiple case studies, can include quantitative evidence, relies on multiple sources of evidence, and benefits from the prior development of theoretical propositions. Case studies may involve both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Case study research has had a prominent place in many disciplines and professions, ranging from psychology, anthropology, sociology, and political science to education, clinical science, social work, and administrative science. In this article: Building Blocks and Learning, the focus of the case study is in education. Holland’s model of complex adaptive systems is used to explore how nonnative speakers of English learned to participate and to write in a first-year university rhetoric and composition course.

            Learning about case study research was interesting. For me so far, grounded theory and case study research have been the easiest to comprehend. I can see myself using it in my own research process going forward. I’ve already started to brainstorm and take notes for my research question and the pros and cons of each method I have learned thus far. I was excited to see that this article focused on the field of education, specifically pertaining to writing composition in native and nonnative speakers. Last semester I took a World English linguistic course with the amazing Dr. Griffith and learned a lot about L1 and L2 speakers and the complexity of their experiences. In the introduction it states how various scholars described the differences and similarities in L1 and L2 learners:

“Vygotsky’s influence has led L2 composition researchers to investigate aspects of the social construction of texts and to assert that writing takes place in socially situated contexts and learning to write occurs through participating in communities of practice. This strand of research has endeavored to make visible the implicit, thus enabling language learners to participate in their academic and career communities.” (Nelson, 40).

I agree with Vygotsky’s theory, as an educator I believe that there is no one way to learn or to teach. That learning is a continuing process and as Dr. Nelson states in this article: “an ongoing emergence of new building blocks.” I could appreciate this metaphor and it made some of the complicated terms and analysis easier to break down and understand. In general, the strands of research discussed in this article, along with others, have been more descriptive in nature rather than explanatory. Considerable information exists describing how people write in L2 languages but very little is known about how people learn to write in L2 languages, or how teaching might influence this. The lack of explanatory research in L2 composition research is a curious phenomenon because although various theories exist they are used sparingly as explanatory models in literature on L2 writing. (Nelson,41).

I was interested to continue reading on to see how Holland’s model of complex systems might play a role in explaining how people learn and not just how they write. Holland proposes that all complex adaptive systems have four properties: aggregation, nonlinearity, flows, and diversity, and the three mechanisms: tagging, internal models, and building blocks. In my presentation I will highlight these terms and more, linking them to the building blocks and learning case study. Hollands model of building blocks differs from most teachers who hand out

a standard instruction of writing for students, who in turn learn to write in a limited linear manner. In this complex modeling system, Holland is interested in interactions, adaptation, and emergence. The interactions we begin to see being played out in this case study, can generate real learning. In the method and context portion of the article we learn specifics about the actual case study. It was a very mixed and diverse group of students. Their age ranges varied greatly as did their writing experience levels. They also came from very diverse ethnic backgrounds. In my presentation I break down the specifics of what was expected of the students over the course of the entire semester. In the article Dr. Nelson states that this was a theory-informed case study, so his approach to selecting data for analysis was to look for patterns of interactions, relationships, and adaptations among the students with each other and their teacher. When it came to determining patterns two approaches were used: one was treating each student as individuals, focusing in on their own words in order to develop a description of their perspectives. Two was applying Holland’s model to their perspectives and patterns to evaluate the usefulness in explaining them.

What struck me most was the Cross-over and Recombination portion of the article. This is where I began to really see how each student was evolving and growing into their own unique writer and it also highlighted how all students learn differently. I began to connect the dots so to speak. Again, as an educator and working between the age ranges of pre-k students and college freshman I have seen firsthand how unique and distinct each individual student is and how their experience in learning is just as distinctive. No matter how old they are, no matter their ethnic or socio-economic background, each case is unique. There is no real blueprint to teaching or to learning and I think that’s what I will take away most from this article. I loved the human side to this research case study, I like to learn about the human experience, not just about numbers and data charts. Ahmet’s story struck me most, but I did also enjoy reading about Yiping from China who used her love of music to help her build her blocks to learning and writing in English. Back to Ahmet, I liked reading his midterm self-evaluation and then his final self-evaluation months later. Such growth in him as a student and a writer, it was inspiring to read how self-aware and confident he had become over the course of the semester. Lastly I enjoyed reading how the students’ optional presentations had evolved. When Maria decided to change it up and use a Power Point presentation she took charge and realized as a computer science major that this was something important for her to learn to utilize for her future career goals. Soon enough other students followed suit and the presentations grew more sophisticated and their performances became more persuasive. For me crunching numbers and data in research is something I will have to learn to get used to. I’m not a numbers and charts kind of girl, but I’m trying to learn, adapt and grow into a more informed and enlightened graduate student. Research and Methodologies has been quite the challenge so far, but I’m ready for it. I’m slowly stacking my blocks, one by one hoping to build something great!

* I embedded a short video below that might help you understand case study better! Good luck!*