The Self-Organizing School: A Case Discussion

Although the self-organizing school is of interest overall, the second transformation-oriented case should be of particular interest to those who intend to use self-organization as the basis for educational change.

The Emergence of Students as Teachers: Details, Theory, & Principles

A Spanish-language class focused on teaching grammar concepts had students teaching each other the language skills in collaborative groups. According to the details of the case, the students understood teaching concepts such as modeling, guiding, and independent practice. The reason that students were so knowledgeable was that the teacher was using the school schema to teach students about teaching. So essentially, the students were using the teaching schema used by other teachers at the school.

According to the teacher, using the schema contributed to better cooperative learning and peer-tutoring (Bain, 2007, pp.68-69). Based on personal experience, using groups in classes has worked well as a tool for learning. However, the process that I have used was not one where students were first taught the teaching schema.

The schema used in the referenced case study could be applied to almost any classroom spanning multiple subjects. Have you ever used this method or something similar to enhance the learning experience for your students? If so, please share your experience in the comments so other educators can read about your experience.

In the case study, the embedded design or schema “…became a transforming event…” (p. 70) in the classroom. As students learned the schema, their roles became more evident, and the students became more collaborative experiencing the benefits of the method. Emergent feedback mimicked the way that teachers provided feedback as students were applying the schema that teachers were using in the classroom. The input helped students to problem-solve and understand more (p. 70). The similarity at scale involves one class and one teacher. Because of the schema application based on simple rules, the embedded design, and emergent feedback, potential for scaling up was created. Dispersed control is evident in this case study as the dispersed control was given to students and used during collaborative and tutoring interactions. Students gain potential for self-organization in the classroom and school (p. 73).

A fascinating aspect of this case is that the students became change agents using the school schema by using reflection and feedback effectively. The theoretical framework that is at work here falls into the self-organizing realm and includes schema, simple rules, embedded design, emergent feedback, similarity at scale, and dispersed control (pp. 44-57). These were all part of chapter three in the reference listed below.


This particular case sparked some thought on my part as an instructor. I plan to modify some of the activities that I use in the college classroom. Thoughtful question of the day: How might this be modified to use or used as is in your classroom (s)?


Bain, A. (2007). The self-organizing school. Lanham, MA: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

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