Warning: This is one of those posts where I don’t have any clear ideas of where I am going to end up. I am thinking as I am writing. Writing as I am thinking.
“Anybody know how to …” a voice called out in the classroom.
“I do. Be right there.”
I watched from another part of the classroom, as one student got up from their project, walked over and showed another how to add the loop browser into Garageband.
“How do I ….” another student called out.
“Let me show you. I figured that out when I …”
Again, I am nearly completely removed from the discussion. One student calls out for help. Another steps up to share their knowledge. This was yesterday, in class, as my students are learning how to use Garageband (only two or three of my 80 students had ever used it) to record podcasts of their poems, which are “poems for two voices.”
I’m thinking of all of the work going on in the Rhizomatic Learning community these past few weeks, right into this week’s current theme, as posed by Dave Cormier, of “rhizomatic learning as an invasive species.” I’ve appreciated Terry Elliott continuing to remind us to find and notice and share out rhizomatic practices in the field, to help make the move from the theory of the tangled roots of learning to what it might look like in the classroom.
So, these “poems for two voices”? They are a tangled woven root system in themselves. Designed to be read and performed, the poet weaves the words in and out of the two voices, often pulling phrases into conflict and then in harmony with each other. Ideally, the two topics are related but different enough to create tension.
For 11 and 12 year olds, even at the end of our sixth grade, writing “poems for two voices” is critical thinking challenge, and not only in the crafting of the words. The physical writing, of leaving gaps in the poem for the other voice to fill, required me to teach them how to make and use tables. That seems pretty basic, no doubt, but if you have never created a table before or used a table before in a word document, it’s something new to be discovered.
Add the element of podcasting, and a new software experience (Garageband), and suddenly, the level of learning gets extended even further, and this is where (as indicated by some of the exchanges above) that I noticed what rhizomatic learning sort of looks like in small moments of my classroom. I have purposely tried only to show my students the basics of Garageband, and given them time to play and tinker before moving into the recording of their performance of the “poems for two voices.” Sure, it would have been easier and simpler to use some other voice recording tool, or to have given detailed Garageband instructions.
But it is a wondrous thing to watch what happens when everyone is struggling to get their head around how to add new tracks, record different voices, add vocal effects, and layer in a musical loop soundtrack underneath the poems, and to observe what happens if the teacher is purposely (they don’t know this) standing back, offering only minimal support.
You know what happens?
They help each other. They turn to others. They play and figure things out, and then share that knowledge in a very informal way. One helps another. That person helps another. Someone discovers something “cool” and a crowd flocks around to learn how to do it, too, and then that leads to something else, and suddenly, the classroom is alive with experimentation. Or, learning.
I am always surprised, and saddened, when so many students say they “hate writing poems” and it is mostly a result of being forced to write in strict styles, particularly rhyming poems, that don’t allow students to feel free and experiment with language. This “poem for two voices” (and we even read together a very complicated “poem for four voices” that blew their minds) is so unlike anything that they have experienced, that it opens up new possibilities for how we merge writing and technology and creativity together.
What’s my role in this podcast activity, as teacher? Of course, I am there to help those students who just can’t seem to figure it out, for whatever reason. I guide them. I call over others. And my role is to put the experience into a context of learning, of helping them see the entire process from above after spending time deep in their little recording world.
My co-teacher and I were having a conversation in class yesterday, as we watched this unfolding. We were talking about changes in expectations this year with a new principal and her push to make the standards we are teaching more explicit and preferably posted each day (we are not yet required to do that but I suspect it is coming), and how some teachers are struggling to figure out how to find that balance between their experience in knowing what engages students as learners and offering proof that it connects to standards.
We looked around the room, as podcasts were being recorded, with students in headphones speaking into computers and remixing media. There was laughter, and sharing, and teams working. I noted that while the learning on display here touched on writing and speaking standards, my main goal was to enrich their knowledge of technology and keep the push alive to get them composing their own content, making the shift away from passive consumer. There’s no explicit standard for that.
But there should be.
I know the phrase of “invasive species” has a negative connotation (something foreign snuffing out the native species), but if we think in the positive of learning something new and sharing it with others as a way to create impact, and maybe root out some shared knowledge, by suffocating old ideas, then this kind of media poetry activity is on target.
Peace (in the knot),