Building Blocks and Learning

Charles Nelson


Using John Holland’s model of complex adaptive systems, this paper explores how nonnative speakers of English learned to participate and to write in a first-year university rhetoric and composition course. Of particular interest is the emergence of students’ internal models for writing and other class tasks through the reproduction and cross-over of conceptual building blocks, showing that much of learning and creativity is due to recombining what is known rather than invention de novo. The findings in this paper suggest that educators should design curricula around core conceptual building blocks that can be combined in various ways across novel situations and that can lead to an ongoing emergence of new building blocks.

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