"This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have A SMALL PLOT OF LAND at all times." – Deleuze and Guattari

Woody allen quote

Week 1 Challenge – Use cheating as a weapon. How can you use the idea of cheating as a tool to take apart the structures that you work in? What does it say about learning? About power? About how you see teaching? Bonus – Do lots of rhizomatic teaching? Tell us about it

For me the expression “cheating as a weapon” when we discuss teaching and learning suggests there’s some sort of call to arms. Why do we need a weapon? Who are we waging a war against? Are we in combat against our educational institutions? Because of our leaders’ failure to recognize collaborating is not cheating, that learning should be social and networked, that the teacher is no longer the sole expert, and the smartest person in the room is the room because to know in the 21st century means to leverage the power of our networks?

“Cheating as a weapon” and “cheating as learning” are the focus topics for week one of #rhizo14, a six week connectivist course event taught organized by Dave Cormier through  P2PU university titled “Rhizomatic Learning: The Curriculum is the Community.” I discovered this “happening” on Twitter and I’ve been searching for the same organic surge of connectivism I experienced in #edcmooc 1 and 2 as a student and CTA.

I am a former high school teacher with rhizomatic tendencies so I have been at war with public education for the last 20 years, defending my students’ right to think, question, create and express themselves, so hell yeah I’ve cheated! But the type of cheating I’ve done is not the clandestine kind, like writing answers on the bottom of my shoe, or moving my test paper ever so slightly so my best friend sitting behind me could copy. That’s not the kind of cheating Dave wants us to think about, at least, that’s what I’ve gathered.

The kind of cheating I’ve done is the cheating to deconstruct the power structures that oppressed and prevented my students and me from being creative and divergent thinkers.  Dave wants to know how those of us who use cheating as a weapon do this?

Well, for one I never taught from a textbook or assigned a workbook. I always got to know my students to discover what they wanted to read and write about. I asked them what they wanted to learn, and I listened. Many times they were shocked and didn’t know how to answer these questions. No one had ever bothered to ask them what they wanted to learn. So I taught them how to ask thought provoking questions, set their own learning goals, and reflect on how they learned and what they learned. I let my students lead their own discussions. I let them ask the questions. I let 15 and 16 year olds teach the class, design their own tests and quizzes. I turned the power over to them because, guess what, they were waaay more interesting than I was. However, this type of learner autonomy  and empowerment didn’t happen on day one. Nor is this feasible in every classroom setting. It took months to set up this type of infrastructure and culture in my classroom, and honestly there were always those students and (their parents) who preferred to passively learn, answer questions at the end of the chapter, or complete a worksheet than to rewrite, remix and modernize an act of Romeo and Juliet, podcast it, or perform it live for their classmates.

R and J Student Pic

My 10th grade students performing their remixes of “Romeo and Juliet”. Capulets (McDonald’s) vs. Montagues (Burger King)

Some people prefer traditions. It ‘s safe. My students took risks.  They weren’t students; they were actors, producers, writers, directors, poets, pod-casters, radio show hosts, bloggers, analysts, reporters, detectives, mentors, lawyers, teachers, game show hosts, artists, mimes…they did it all!  They created “stuff” all the time even when the school’s claim to have cutting edge technology was a euphemism for one computer for 35 students.  I managed. I cheated. I found ways to flip the classroom before I even knew the strategy existed. I hid the test workbooks. I prevaricated when asked if my students were working out of the test prep books…sure they are, I told them! I submitted hard copies of  lesson plans that satisfied the power structures of the test crazed environment but differentiated my lessons in practice, embedding the state standards, but ensuring opportunities to create and think critically.  I knew very well how to cheat the system to protect my students from being cheated by an education model that failed to engage, inspire and stimulate their critical thinking. Ever year, when my students had the highest scores on standardized tests, I knew that cheating had become a way of life for me I could never recover from.

So, as a cheater, a rhizome, a learning nomad, I have been searching for a tribe, like minded educators with a hunger to learn and grow…and cheat! I discovered MOOCs over a year ago.  I have a small tribe I tend to travel with online. We’re a diverse group who live around the world and have never met in person, so we call ourselves fraingers (friend+strangers)…many of my fraingers, I met in edcmooc, on a FB page just like rhizo14’s.  I hope I can cultivate this blog, “my small plot of new land”, engaging with old fraingers, familiar faces and new connections interested in joining me on this amazing journey we call life long learning.




A Jagged Little Pill

Alanis Morissette QuoteWeek 2- Enforcing Independence–Explore a model of enforced independence. How do we create a learning environment where people must be responsible? How do we assure ourselves that learners will self-assess and self-remediate?

A revolution dawned this week on #rhizo14’s FB page, perhaps as a result of the age of connectivism! Academics vs. Non Academics. Yikes! Or perhaps, we should call it a conversation between pragmatists and theorists. There was no bloodshed, or flames thank God, but lots of learning. The rhizomes sprouted aggressively like they had been overfed with alien Miracle Grow! The uprising was bound to happen because of this community’s diversity, and its “openness” with so many different folks rubbing elbows from K-12 to HE and everything in between. But, as Dave asked in Week 2’s hangout, does everyone have the literacies to handle these conversations?

My frainger Sandra Sinfield (an academic I met in edcmooc) offered these thoughts on my frainger Maddie’s FB post.

Sandra's post

Cath Ellis shared a brilliant post, the catalyst, which sparked a revolution in Maha and Maddie to assert their independence. Upon reading ensuing posts across several platforms, I also feel compelled as a (pragmatist) to voice my opinions and experiences. Notice I say these are my opinions and my experiences because I think the most important skill we need for true community building, if we genuinely believe in creating thriving networks, is to not minimize, or dismiss what someone has to say. We don’t all have to agree and how boring would it be if we did, but as Dave said, we need to “find space for each other”.

The irony of this week’s conversations is that the teacher’s role was the week’s focus. How do we as teachers create a learning environment where students must be responsible for their own learning? How do we assure ourselves as teachers that learners self-assess and self-remediate? Dave told us in the week 2 hangout that “for rhizomatic learning to work, people need to feel like they are empowered and in control of their objectives.  It’s not possible to tell someone to be independent.”

Maureen, another frainger, shared an interesting Zen Koan on her blog. Koans are open to interpretation, and for me it was about two students, one whose teacher conditioned him to rely on her for the questions and answers, and the other who demonstrates the literacy to independently untangle and confront whatever problems and questions are thrown his way.  In my two decades as a high school teacher, I did not fall back on the influence of Deleuze & Guattari to create a positive culture of life long learning in my classroom. Did pedagogical theory inform my practice; of course, but I also used my instincts, intuition, and developed my own methodologies that met the needs of individual students. I can also assert that my years of practice can disprove several theories, whole language for one, multiple intelligences another.

These experiences are posts for another day. For this week, I have come to the conclusion we can’t avoid dealing with hierarchies in the field of education. We can’t force people to want to learn. People know what their individual strengths and weaknesses may be, although they may have difficulty admitting what those are, or finding ways to self-remediate. Students often go kicking and screaming toward goals teachers know they can and should reach. But, can the teacher force students to behave or learn something just because he/she thinks it’s good for them? Perhaps, if we truly redefineschools.com and create “spaces of permission”, K-12 and HE can have conversations about the power struggles we face in education which so often prevent us from reaching solutions that will ultimately benefit all students. But, we’re human, and it’s difficult to create a space where “all people feel free within”. We can only set expectations for ourselves and enter these spaces with no expectations about how others should or should not learn and behave. We are each paving our own learning path. No one can make anyone feel inferior without their consent. And, while we may not be able to validate everyone’s feelings, simply listening sometimes is enough, which I think the FB community did as best they could given the limitations of the medium.

We also don’t have to walk on egg shells to avoid offending anyone because someone somewhere will always find a way to take offense. What we can do is what Dave said during the week 2 hangout: enter these spaces with a feeling of good faith knowing that people are here to learn, together. Dave also quoted Bertrand Russell, about the importance of allowing ideas to live before one tears them down. I found this quote by Bertrand Russell also gave me food for thought: “I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.”

When I enter these spaces, I enter being responsible for my own learning, and offer support for others whenever I feel I may have the capacity to do so. We have been talking about scaffolding, I always think about building people up. Regardless of where one is on the journey of life long learning, everyone may have something valuable to contribute, there should be no “ahead” or “behind”,  “academic” or “non academic”; we are in competition with ourselves.

Dolce and Gabbana

Thanks to Simon Ensor for sharing this picture on FB.

In the spirit of connectivism, and promoting good faith Cath Ellis’s encouragement to read Dolce and Gabbana, Deleuze and Guattari, is a good thing. A very good thing.  Her post serves as a model of enforced independence.  It definitely sparked conversations which need to be had, and we’re sometimes too uncomfortable to touch…hierarchies in our educational institutions, cultural sensitivities, labels such as academics vs. non academics, academese, even feminism…the rhizomes sprouted wildly and naturally, as rhizomatic learning should! The dialogue between the pragmatists and the theorists this week forced me to assert my independence. To self-assess and declare I may not be familiar with D&G, but I feel confident that I “did the work”. And, boy did I do the work! That has to count for something. Redefineschools.com encourages us to ask, do we have anything to prove when interacting in any of these shared spaces? The answer should be “No” if we genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of our students.  Is it dangerous that I haven’t read D & G, that I may have skimmed it, or have a vague understanding of it, I run the risk of making things up, or not being able to engage in discussions? These are theories, and in education or other aspects of life, old theories are replaced by new ones, which are a better fit for the needs of the times. Some are disproven; others reworked. D&G is fitting for learning in the age of abundance. The real danger, in my opinion, is not understanding or determining if theory works in practice.

Do I need to heed Cath’s advice and read critical theory? Yes, because anything that makes me a more informed individual, a better teacher, is good for my mind and my soul, and obviously, my students. However, I won’t tell you if you should read it too. I’ll let you self assess, self remediate and decide whether or not to assert your independence.

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