Book Review: How to Write Short

I’m tempted to write a six word book review for this one. But Roy Peter Clark’s How to Write Short (Word Craft for Fast Times) is worth more than just  few words, even if I break from some of the very suggestions Clark lays out concisely and with humor in this book about writing in the modern age of short texts.

Clark, a newspaper man who works with journalists and others on the craft of writing, covers quite a bit of ground here, giving very specific advice and mentor texts about the art of writing short, using everything from Tweets, to photo captions, to six word memoirs, to marginalia, to listing, texting and more. He is also a talented writer.

His premise is that a good writer can pack a mighty punch in just a few words, if one is careful with their word choices and sentence creations. He also notes that we live in a world where updates and short texts are coming to rule how we get and share information, and having a working knowledge of this kind of writing is a key part of being literate. Of course, Clark also warns that writing short has its pitfalls, of losing depth to brevity, and the lack of nuance. A writer has be a good writer, even if the text is small.

Clark ends each (short, of course) chapter with some helpful “Grace Notes” that offers ways for the reader to become a writer in the form or format or genre that he has been discussing, and I found these a great source of ideas for writing activities. In short (ahem), How to Write Short is a powerful advice guide, with wit and humor (although there is a bit too much of Clark talking about his friends and networks and he almost works a bit too hard to show off his charm in his own writing) that will get you thinking of how to write and how to teach writing.

The book reminded me of this Ignite piece that I presented at NCTE a few years ago, on this very topic (here, I fall into what I criticized Clark about — showing off. Sorry.):

Peace (yep),
Kevin

 

Can We Understand Without Understanding?

Practice vs Theory

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t quite understand the theoretical or philosophical underpinnings of Rhizomatic Learning, with its grounding in the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Whenever folks in the #rhizo15 community start to reference D&G, my mind sort of begins to wander. I’ve tried to read some of D&G over time, and even enjoyed this artist’s rendition of the first few chapters of A Thousand Plateaus. Tried and got bored. Or lost.

I found this quote, which seems to be a guiding anchor as to why we are even connected D&G to learning ideas in a world in which technology is altering how we read and write and connect and publish and think and network.

… the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detatchable, connectable, reversable, modifiable,, and has multiple entranceways and exits and its own lines of flight.(see Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 21)

But, to be honest, I’ve been more attuned to Dave Cormier’s condensed idea of Rhizomatic Learning in terms of the classroom or network as an ecosystem where ideas spread through shared practice and knowledge, each node connecting to another in a way to help make everyone move ahead in their knowledge and understanding. Or that is my own interpretation of Dave’s interpretation of Rhizomatic Learning. It all dovetails with Connected Learning principles, in a way.

Or so, I believe.

My question for myself is, do I have to fully understand D&G in order to be part of the #rhizo15 experience? Am I just a faker on the outside, tossing comics into the mix like pebbles in the pond? Do I need to be “in” to engage? Will I need to spend a few hours with D&G to feel authentic and valued?

I don’t think so.

I think the #rhizo15 course, so to speak, has been designed by Dave to be open enough that anyone can experience Rhizomatic Learning on their own level, and still be welcomed into the fold. Dave might have certain ideas that spur his own questions to us, but he has never made anyone beholden to the concepts of D&G.

Mumbojumobogumbo

Terry ripped into D&G this weekend, sparking a lot of discussion at his blog site about the use of imprecise language by D&G, and the over-interpretation of theory instead of practice. I like that anyone can freely question the entire architecture of an idea and still be part of the community that grapples with the idea.

Dissent welcome.

Confusion welcome.

Welcome.

Peace (in a bit of a fog today),
Kevin

Words as Weeds, or How to Paint a #Rhizo15 Story

rhizotale wordgarden
I took phrases from the collaborative exquisite corpse story, ala Rhizomatic Learning, and used the Language is a Virus Visual Poetry site, to “draw” a garden of ideas. It’s not as good as I had in mind, but it works to represent the idea of pieces of the story coming together to “grow” a collective story.

Or something like that.

It might just be that it is cool to look at.

Here is the podcast version of the collective story:

Peace (in the weeds),
Kevin

The Story of a Species (A Rhizomatic Tale Written Rhizomatically)

Fold it

So, this was interesting .. I set up a Fold that Story collaboration within the Rhizomatic Learning community and invited folks to write within the Exquisite Corpse structure — you only see the fold above you and nothing else — and the next person only sees the fold you left, and nothing else.

Yeah, the story unfolds in strange tangents, as different writers take the story in different directions. Interestingly, there are common threads that hold it all together over the course of the 20 folded story strands, and that is no doubt a reflection of common discussion themes in the Rhizo15 community.

So, I present to you: our story. I decided to create an audio narration, and while it would have been neat to have all the writers record their own parts that they wrote and then piece those audio together, I don’t have the time to do that. (Anyone want to do that? I am game to read my parts again.)

The Story of the Species- A Rhizomatic Adventure

Peace (in the folds of the story),
Kevin

PS — Curious about who wrote what? Here is a link to a version that has names attached.

Of Podcasts and Poems for Voices and A Knot of Ideas

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.

Poems for Two Voices 2015

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.”

Poems for Two Voices 2015

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.

Poems for Two Voices 2015

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),
Kevin

On the Matter of Invasive Ideas

Invasion of species

Dave pulls out the metaphor of “invasive species” for the latest round of thinking in Rhizomatic Learning. This has a few dimensions to it, and I will be thinking about this a bit more as we move forward into week. My first impulse was that invasive species are bad. Then, I thought, but not always.

That led to this comic (which, I now realize, is very America-centered in its reference to invasive species … you may have your own where you live) this morning:

Invasive Ideas

The question, on this level, is: How does a rhizomatic concept of learning replicate a positive invasive component, squirreling its way into the core of what we consider learning to be?

Peace (in the invasion),
Kevin

Book Review: The Island of Lost Maps

Miles Harvey subtitles this book “A True Story of Cartographic Crime,” which has nice evocative hook to it. Harvey’s The Island of Lost Maps is a journey into the small field of map collections, but Harvey expands his scope to look at how maps have changed our perception of the world and how the increasing value of maps has given rise to a new kind of criminal: the map thief.

The book revolves around a history of mapmaking and Harvey’s journalistic pursuit of Gilbert Bland, whose crime of map theft landed him in prison, but not allegedly before raiding many library collections with an exacto knife and pure guts. Bland then sold the maps on the market and was only caught when another library patron senses something odd about the man, sitting at the table, perusing an old map collection.

Harvey does a good job of bringing us into the world of map collecting, and of the many ways that mapmakers created visions of the known and unknown world that shaped the Explorers of Europe during the age of discovery. Where Harvey goes a bit too far is in describing his own “map making” as he tries to piece together the life of Gilbert Bland, who refused to talk to Harvey and remains, even at the end, a bit of a mystery. Harvey uses the map metaphor for his own journalistic exploration, and while that metaphor can work, he often goes a bit too far.

Still, the way maps shape our lives is a fascinating story, and The Island of Lost Maps (besides having a wonderful title) does the job of filling in some of the gaps of the field quite nicely.

Peace (on the edge of the world),
Kevin

So, Is This Rhizomatic? How About This?

No teacher

Terry Elliott asked an intriguing and rather pointed question yesterday (not surprising, if you know him) in the #Rhizo15 Twitter Stream: Forget the mumbojumbo theory about rhizomatic learning.

Where can rhizomatic learning be seen in practice?

Hmmm.

First, a definition, of sorts, by Dave Cormier:

The rhizome is stem of plant, like hops, ginger or Japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain … The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem.

I tried to get at this question from another angle the other day, with mentions of Inquiry Projects in the K-12 setting, but heck, even then, the teacher sets some guidelines and scaffolds the way forward, if only with structure. Inquiry-based learning has some rhizomatic flavors, but may not be full and true rhizomatic learning.

I wondered about the Making Learning Connected MOOC and the Connected Courses. Nope. Both were/are deeply planned in many ways, and while the invitation is to go your own way, if you desire, they are also a contained unit (6 weeks or so).

But the creation of the Daily Connect, which replicated the Daily Create (see below) emerged from a discussion on Twitter and became a collaborative brainstorming idea around ways to keep people connected with short activities. That was rhizomatic.

Push for Fun-1

I wondered about the RhizoRadio Play that a bunch of us created in the first week of Rhizomatic Learning, where a sketch of a skit on a blog post led to a global collaboration of writing and recording and publishing. Yep. That’s rhizomatic.

I started to think about the Headless DS106 course that I took last year (was it last year?) in which there seemed to be no real teacher and no real classroom. But even then, someone (Alan Levine, I think) was pulling the strings behind the screen … we had loose themes and loose tasks on a regular basis that sent us off into our own thing, like creating a DS106 radio show.

Merry Hacksters Title DS06

Ahhh, but this had me thinking DS106 and the Daily Creates. Each day, a new Daily Create is sent out and people can join in or not, share or not, connect or not. You follow your own path and your own inspiration, and can contribute ideas to future Daily Creates. You can access the entire library of Daily Creates online. And it never seems to end. The Daily Creates keep coming, day after day. I’m not sure we are teaching each other what we know, necessarily, but we are sharing what we have created in networked spaces, and inspiring imagination. I’d consider the Daily Create a rhizomatic learning activity.

So, that’s another one, perhaps.

Then I started to mull over how songs come to be adopted in the band (Duke Rushmore) that I play in. Sure, this is a non-traditional educational space — a rock and roll band — but we are always learning together. I am one of a few members who write songs for the band, and I always find bringing in a new song to the band to consider to be an interesting and challenging event.

Duke Rushmore

Just recently, another member has been working with a new song that he wrote. He had it all mapped out in his head — you play this, you play that, drums go like this, saxophone comes in here, vocals are inflected like this. He “heard” it. But reality was very different. We were all very hemmed in by his directions, and yet, we were respecting him as the artist with the vision. We tried. But. Something didn’t gel.

Then, two weeks ago, he gave up on us and almost on the song. He said, do you own thing. So, we sped the song up and began to unshackle ourselves from his vision of the song. And you know what? Over an hour or so, we began to collectively remake the song into a shared vision of music, and it was good. There was life to it. We all had a hand in the song’s re-creation, and that is making all of the difference in the world.

That’s rhizomatic learning. The roots take hold.

Peace (in the mulling),
Kevin