Posted in 01. intro on 15/10/2012 by Willy Cardoso

What you’ll see here was originally designed for the Pecha Kucha presentation I gave at the IATEFL Conference (Glasgow, 2012).

A Pecha Kucha is a presentation consisting of 20 slides, each automatically set to be on screen for only 20 seconds. So the whole presentation lasts only 6 minutes and 40 seconds!

Since I spent hours and hours to get this one right (though I doubt I got it), I thought I would spend a few more hours to make it a website. Anyway, the 20×20 thing is the reason there are 20 parts here.

What appears immediately below each image is a near reproduction of what I said in the presentation (again, that’s why they’re short: 20secs). There are some attempts to be funny, as expected in an ELT Pecha Kucha, but I didn’t quite succeed in that, so nevermind the semi-jokes.

The Fragments are things I wish I’d had time to say, or things which I’ve used as reference to the whole chaos/complexity thing I’ve been so enthusiastic about.

So here we go, slide number 1:


If there is too much order, everything becomes the same, and novelty is suppressed.

If there is too much chaos, nothing can last long; everything is just a big destructive jumble.

The Edge of Chaos is somewhere in between. And that’s where we want to be.

This is a magic point, where unimaginable things can emerge.


Posted in 02. clockwork world? on 15/10/2012 by Willy Cardoso

But it’s not that easy.

We often think that by understanding the parts we can understand the whole.

Take a clock, for example,

study its pieces,

and you can find out how it works.

But some things cannot be investigated this way.

And language learning is one of them. 


Posted in 03. linearity on 15/10/2012 by Willy Cardoso

Living things interact with their environment in a rather unpredictable way.

This difference between the linear and non-linear is easily understood by kicking.

Kick a stone,

and the reaction is a linear, cause and effect one.

What happens there can be calculated by using one of Sir Newton’s laws. [or so I was told]


Posted in 04. unpredictability on 15/10/2012 by Willy Cardoso


But when you kick a giraffe, the situation is quite different.

The giraffe will respond according to a combination of internal and external factors.

The reaction is unpredictable.

The same happens when you kick (no! teach!) a student. [it’s not really a funny, I know, but that’s how it came out]


Consequences of teaching are highly unpredictable. 


Posted in 05. false notions on 15/10/2012 by Willy Cardoso

But I still feel that Unpredictability is a word we don’t feel very comfortable with.

Well, our own professional jargon

is deprived of this notion.

Words like: input and output; target language; acquisition.

They give us false notions of mechanic order and control; of something that can be packed and delivered.


Posted in 06. new metaphors on 15/10/2012 by Willy Cardoso

I wanted to talk about teaching at the edge of chaos

Because I’m convinced that chaos theory, complexity, ecology…

they can offer us not only new vocabulary but also great metaphors …

Such as emergence.

Let me show you how an emergent system works [next section]


An ecological perspective tells us that self-organization (a.k.a emergence) is an inherent attribute of learning and learning systems (such as a language classroom). Therefore, creating/finding opportunities for emergence is in the core of teaching.

The areas mentioned above when applied to ELT and Applied Linguistics renew our vocabulary (understanding). Examples:

from language acquisition -> to language emergence

from input (language as fixed code ‘put into’ the brains of the learners -> to affordances (I can’t give the whole explanation here, but see Scott Thornbury’s A is for Affordance)


Posted in 07. self-organization on 15/10/2012 by Willy Cardoso

I want all of you to clap in sync*. Can you do that? Come on! [any audience will sync in seconds]

That is emergence or self-organization. You didn’t need a conductor to give you the beat, did you?

Self-organization is the origin of evolution.

It is creativity

a key property of all living systems.



*I learned this ‘trick’ (also useful to interact with the audience) with mathematician Steven Strogatz in his TED Talk, I would watch it if I were you.

I wrote about emergence a while ago in a round of blogs about Dogme ELT. Read more.

“What if learning another language is a matter not only of learning conventions, but also of innovation, of creation as much or more than reproduction? It would follow that teaching should not be characterized as helping students develop the same mental model of language that the teacher possesses, even if this were possible, because such a view would encourage the teaching of conformity to uniformity.”

“What if absolutist prescriptions and proscriptions about teaching are doomed to fail because they do not take into account the organic nature of change and the fact that pedagogic interventions are more valuable when they are adaptable, rather than expected to sustain standardization? If, instead, for example, we see learners and teachers as continually adapting to what others in the classroom do, then we have new ways of understanding why certain teaching interventions may fail and of developing better ones.”

 Larsen-Freeman & Cameron (2008)

 Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics