Reflections on complexity: TESOL researchers reflect on their experiences
Complex Dynamic Systems Theory (CDST), or complexity, is increasingly being used as a theoretical framework in Applied Linguistics. In this article, we present the reflections of researchers in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) about how they have made use of complexity in their work. The aim of this article is to take stock of how it is being used in the field, the challenges and benefits it provides, as well as inspiration for future work from this theoretical perspective. In the first part of the article, we present a concise overview of CDST, focusing specifically on three salient features: its holistic lens, its non-linear perspective on causality, and its focus on emergence and self-organisation. We also take stock of how complexity perspectives have been used to inform research in a variety of applied linguistics topics. We then move on to present narratives provided by nine academics who have employed CDST in their work, which we synthesise with a view to showing how the theory has gradually developed in TESOL. Early encounters of the field with CDST were usually serendipitous, but the theory has so far proved to be useful, both on account of its descriptive power and because of its phenomenological validity. A common theme in the narratives of these experiences of complexity researchers is that complexity is associated with a steep learning curve, compounded by terminological opacity, and conceptual challenges. However, their responses also indicate optimism regarding the potential of the theory to inform research in TESOL and applied linguistics more generally.
SLA; language learning; complex dynamics systems theory
Beckner, C., Blythe, R., Bybee, J., Christiansen, M.H., Croft, W., Ellis, N.C., ... and Schoenemann, T. (2009) Language is a complex adaptive system: Position paper. Language Learning 59 (s1), 1-26.
Byrne, D. (1998) Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: An Introduction. London: Routledge.
Byrne, D. and Callaghan, G. (2013) Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences: The State of the Art. London: Routledge.
Cilliers, P. (2001). Boundaries, hierarchies and networks in complex systems. International Journal of Innovation Management 5 (2), 135-147.
de Bot, K., Lowie, W., Thorne, S.L. and Verspoor, M. (2013) Dynamic system theory as a comprehensive theory of second language development. In M.d.P.G.Mayo, M.J.G. Mangado and M.M. Adrián (eds.), Contemporary Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (pp. 199-220). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
Davis, B. and Sumara, D.J. (2006) Complexity and Education: Inquiries into Learning, Teaching, and Research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Earthy, S. and Cronin, A. (2008) Narrative analysis. In N. Fielding (ed.) Researching Social Life. (3rd edn., pp. 420-439). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Feryok, A. (2010) Language teacher cognitions: Complex dynamic systems? System 38 (2), 272-279.
Gleick, J. (1987) Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Viking.
Henry, A. (2016) Conceptualizing teacher identity as a complex dynamic system: The inner dynamics of transformations during a practicum. Journal of Teacher Education 67 (4), 291-305.
Hohenberger, A. and Peltzer-Karpf, A. (2009) Language learning from the perspective of nonlinear dynamic systems. Linguistics 47 (2), 481-511.
Kostoulas, A. (2018) A Language School as a Complex System. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Kostoulas, A. and Stelma, J. (2016) Intentionality and complex systems theory: A new direction for language learning psychology. In C. Gkonou, D. Tatzl and S. Mercer (eds.), New Directions in Language Learning Psychology (pp. 7-23). Cham: Springer.
Kostoulas, A., Stelma, J., Mercer, S., Cameron, L. and Dawson, S. (2017). Complex systems theory as a shared discourse space for TESOL. TESOL Journal. Advance access. doi: 10.1002/tesj.317.
King, J. (2013) Silence in the Second Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Palgrave-MacMillan.
King, J. (ed.) (2015) The Dynamic Interplay Between Context and the Language Learner. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997). Chaos/complexity Science and Second Language Acquisition. Applied Linguistics 18 (2), 141−165.
Larsen-Freeman, D. and Cameron, L. (2008) Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mauranen, A. (2012) Exploring ELF: Academic English Shaped by Non-native Speakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mercer, S. (2011a) Language learner self-concept: Complexity, continuity and change. System 39 (3), 335-346.
Mercer, S. (2011b) Understanding learner agency as a complex dynamic system. System 39 (4), 427-436.
Mercer, S. (2016) Complexity and language teaching. In G. Hall (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of English Language Teaching (pp. 473-485). London: Routledge.
Peltzer-Karpf, A. (2012) The dynamic matching of neural and cognitive growth cycles. Nonlinear Dynamics - Psychology and Life Sciences 16 (1), 61-78.
Sampson, R.J. (2015). Tracing motivational emergence in a classroom language learning project. System 50, 10-20.
Seidlhofer, B. (2011) Understanding English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Spoelman, M. and Verspoor, M. (2010) Dynamic patterns in development of accuracy and complexity: A longitudinal case study in the acquisition of Finnish. Applied Linguistics, 31 (4), 532-553.
Stelma, J., Onat-Stelma, Z., Lee, W.-J. and Kostoulas, A. (2015) Intentional dynamics in TESOL: An ecological perspective. Teachers College, Columbia University Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics 15 (1), 14-32.
Stern, H.H. (1983) Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching: Historical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Applied Linguistic Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Verspoor, M., de Bot, K. and Lowie, W. (Eds.) (2011) A Dynamic Approach to Second Language Development: Methods and Techniques. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
The Copyright Holders of the submitted text are the Author and the Journal. The Reader is granted the rights to use the material available in the TAPSLA websites and pdf documents under the provisions of the Creative Commons 4.0 International License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Any commercial use requires separate written agreement with the Author and a proper credit line indicating the source of the original publication in TAPSLA.