Rhizome: Grow, nurtured together #etmooc

Photo Credit: Frank Vincentz CC3.0

Photo Credit: Frank Vincentz CC3.0

Rhizomatic Learning:

I sense so I grow; I need, so I grow; I grow, so I discover; I discover, so I connect; I grow, so I share what I am; I intertwine, so I choose; I choose, so I communicate; I am one rhizome among many, nurtured to grow and learn together in a community of individuals and associations, interconnecting and reshaping both the neighborhoods and the self.

In #etmooc, I listened to Dave Cormier‘s presentation and later listend to his EdTechTalk and read resources by Christina Hendricks, which I found through my new friend, Linda Pemik. I’m not sure how Linda’s work on her blog and Google Plus led me to those resources, but they did, and I thank her.

And, to me, that’s the point. When I listened to Dave Cormier’s presentation, I thought: that’s what I’m grappling with in the classroom. My students, and I think students today, at least the ones who “don’t do school,” learn in this exploratory, discovery, and self-propelled way, in spite of our over-directing with required learning. To engage them, I need to tap into their personal learning journeys.

I’ve been musing over this for last week or so, this organic learning I see within my classroom. I review:

Dave’s Comments
My Comments

My Notes on Dave’s Comments

5 things

1 The best learning prepares people for dealing with uncertainty

2 The community can be the curriculum — learning when there is no answer

3 The rhizome is a model for learning for uncertainty

4 rhizomatic learning works in the complex domain

5 students need to be responsible for their own learning (and the learning of others)

My Comments

Uncertainty is the state of life in this community; my student will succeed when they can adapt, which they don’t often. Our work together inspires when we gather as a community of learners for some question or activity the students suggest or accept, and so they feel the responsibility to participate. So when the sixth grade students know that the fifth grade students need help learning Google Apps and being safe online, they jump in to create, design, and teach a curriculum they create based on their experiences. While last year I developed a process for this, this year’s student have proceeded on their own based on their past experiences. The flow of project development is much more organic and more engaging than in the past.

My Notes on Dave’s Comments

If confronted with a challenge, will be able to work through it. Community: build and talk and share and interact — the learning process.

My Comments

Like the writing process, the learning process is not linear: it fits the learner’s needs and purpose. If I am teaching a concept, the student may pick up something completely different, yet that which s/he needs to learn. I understand that the requirements I need to teach guide me, but that the learning occurs when the student applies it — and I guide them in what they apply, which means that I reteach and feedback and guide according to the flow of where each student is. One student may be comparing and contrasting ideas while another is still learning to organize the ideas before s/he can compare. …Which brings me to content.

My Notes on Dave’s Comments

  • map in any direction from any starting point
  • grow and spread via experimentation within a context

My Comments

That is exactly what is happening. I may have sixth or seventh or eighth grade students in my classroom, but the range of their knowledge is, as they say in NWEA terms, “Standard Deviation 17.” In other words, no one student is at the “level” of any of the others. So, within the context of language arts, each student maps out from where s/he is, growing through experimentation with the suggestions in my lessons. Which brings me to assessment.

My Notes on Dave’s Comments

  • we need to measure learning
  • the fact that you need it doesn’t make it possible

My Comments

It’s not possible to measure the true learning within a classroom: it’s a community of learners, exploring and growing together on many levels — personal, social, academic, skills, relational, etc. One test cannot tell you where they were or where they are — which will you measure — the second grade writing skill level or the tenth grade writing skill level? or reading level? or math level? In their progression of presentation in projects, one sees and hears their improvement in both skill and confidence, because they learn to deal and solve uncertainty — the learn the heuristics of solving each one’s needs and desires in the journey of discovery. It is through that continued engagement each day in self-chosen explorations that students will learn while applying the skills of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Real learning is an organic process. If I were teaching math or science or social studies, the context provides the foundation for questions, which nourish the heuristics to explore as mathematicians, scientists, or historians. Coming together as a community to share the resulting learning by each student bring us to a deeper understanding within the context. It is that sharing within the community that demonstrates the true learning, not a test of facts. We learn by doing, and testing is not doing. … Which leads to curriculum.

My Notes on Dave’s Comments

  • amplify what works
  • learning is different for each of us

My Comments

As I teach what is required, I must amplify what works — for each student or group of students because learning is different for each one. Learning is messy and so is teaching. Making it steps to learn or steps to teach detracts from what is important; it is the whole of the question to solve that inspires students to grow and try, so that the teacher then shows the steps as needed, guiding according to needs as the student is ready. 

I don’t know if this is what rhizomatic learning is according to Dave Cormier, but it is what I understood based on the flow of learning within my classroom. I may be teaching persuasive essay, but I frame it with the persuasive techniques close to this age: the Super Bowl advertisements and their demands for fairness (Why do the sixth graders get to go to lunch first all the time?). While my context may be one of the persuasive strategies, for one student we still work on sentence structure and punctuation within the jumble of his use of the strategy, and for another it’s use of metaphor to extend his use of the strategy. A connected topic, one context, many starting points, differing learning, within a community and with a possibility of transfer because it touches reality.


In your classroom, with your students, do you see the differences in each learner, the flow of learning from one idea to another, the nuances in understandings, and the realization that learning is a personal journey in which the context we create could be but one path to understanding?

One place to think about this organic flow of learning in our classrooms is in the passionate work of Hugh, Gallit, and Denise as they develop the concept of Genius Hour: the time for students as they learn towards our “contexts” while following their passions.  What do you think?

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