Unwriting the Unreadable Untext

unread and then unwrite

Phew. Just writing the title of this blog post is a bear of an idea to get my head around, and I don’t know how to even write what I want to write here. So, let me try to frame it, if I can. I am somewhat “collaborating” with a handful of others — facilitated by Maha B. and Keith H. — on an ancillary document about an unwritten autoethnography of the Rhizomatic Learning uncourse/discourse we were all part of months ago. (ie, Rhizo14).

The collaborative document — entitled for now as Writing the Unreadable Untext — is an attempt by Maha and Keith to explain why the autoethnography hasn’t gotten done and in creating a document about an unfinished document, they invited others into the mix, and man, we have made a mess of it. Half-finished sentences. Notes and poems and ideas in the margins. Embedded gifs. Comics. Poems. It’s a like roadmap to nowhere and yet … and yet … it’s also a roadmap to somewhere.

Here, I am trying to unwrite it … deconstruct what I see in there.

You see, in this collaborative piece, I get the sense that we are exploring the idea of voice, of emergent writing in a shared space, of giving up control and ceding authority to the group, of pushing the text beyond the text and into the margins, of playing against the stereotypes of what writing is and might emerge as, of how the visual plays of the written word, of how our collective thinking may or may not be able to be neatly tucked into one single document that represents us all. We seem to be pushing back at the very nature of what we expect writing to be.

All, by the way, in harmony with Rhizomatic Learning, so even amidst the crazy chaos of that document, we are modeling how the swirling, decentralized ideas of many can gravitate around some anchor ideas that may indeed make sense. We’re writing beyond the writing, and from the outside, it looks like dissonance. From the inside, it looks like a new creature of ideas coming to life, even though we can’t say for certain how it will be shaped when it is fully evolved (Pokemon!).

Maha asks if we can move it another step forward, into something more readable and publishable. I’m fine with that, I suppose, although I don’t feel the need, either. If we think of writing as nourishment for the self (I write to learn), then this document, in all of its starts and ends and middle roads to the margins, has done its job for me.

By the way, I realized this morning that I never saw the original document — the original autoethnology draft — that inspired this reflective piece on why that piece wasn’t getting written. I thought this was the piece. I had my anchor set on a different pier, and still, we set sail. Of course, then I found the original, and realized I had contributed to it, months ago, and it was like finding some echoes of words from my mind and being reminded of myself on the screen. I was there. I didn’t remember being there. Odd? You bet.

Peace (in the rhyzome),


Slice of Life: Collecting Voices, Stitching Together Poems


(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Yesterday, I was collecting voices from across the world. Collecting and collating voices. It was all part of an impromptu digital adventure that emerged from a P2PU Course called Rhizomatic Learning. The course ended but our inquiry has not, and so when one of the participants began to write a style of poem that has 11 words on Twitter based on days of the week, I had this idea: what if each day, more and more people wrote and podcasted and shared poems from the week? And what if we pulled them all together?


That was my job, and so yesterday, I was using Audacity to string together more than 30 audio files of podcasts from folks from all geographical spaces around the globe but whose footprints are all over my #11poem Twitter hashtag feed: Ron, Marianna, Tanya, Nick, Simon, Terry and Estelle. They generously lent me their words and their voices, and I stitched us together into this single podcast.

Listen to it. Every time I do, I am amazed at how it blends and flows, and how the digital composing transforms each of our single poems into something larger and incredibly amazing. The shortness of the poetic style, the common themes, and the use of voice … even after listening to it many times as I was editing it together, I still find it amazing to hear.

I’m still thinking about where we go from here. It feels as if there is something else that needs to happen with the collective podcast of poems, but I am not sure yet what that is. I’ll share out some of our resources tomorrow, and there will be an invite for you to remix us. For now, I invite you to listen to the voices.

And write your own poem. You’re invited.

Here is a visual collection of my poems from the week:

MonSunday Collage

Peace (in the poetry),


Sunday is a Poem

I am still working on writing a #11poem every day for each day of the week as part of a collaborative offshoot of the #rhizo14 community, and I am working to gather all of our poems together as an audio poetic pyramid in the coming days.

Here is what Sunday looks like from my poetic stance:

Here’s what Sunday sounds like:

And here is my visual of how the poetic pyramid is coming together, as more people joined us every day.

Peace (in the poems),

Kicking #Rhizo14 to the Curb (and Learning While I’m Doing it)

If you read the provocative title of this post and thought, what rant is he on now, you’ll be disappointed. Go on. It’s OK. You can move on other blogs, if you want. Or stay. Please do. I’m happy to have you here. It’s the end of the Rhizomatic Learning course (wrong word for what it is/was) at P2PU and this week, facilitator Dave Cormier has us thinking about how we move off center stage and allow for learning to become the natural fabric of our lives, without structured support.

How do we plan for “planned obsolescence” when we are the teacher or when we are the learner in a specific learning space?

If, like me, you are a classroom educator, this is more of a June discussion (in New England, anyway) with summer approaching, not a February think when winter is still in full gear. Here, in February, I am still center stage with my sixth graders, guiding them as best as I can towards ways to think and write about their world. I hope something catches. In June,  as the year winds down, I will be more contemplative — wondering, Did anything catch? Anything at all? Will they still remember our lens of thinking five, ten, 15 years down the road? Did I do what I set out to do?

It’s difficult to have a rhizomatic thinking pattern when you in the midst of the learning. If these discussions have taught me anything, it is that simple fact. We have trouble making sense of the moments when we are in the moments. I suspect it takes a reflective stance and a larger-picture understanding of our place in the world to gain insights about what we have truly, deeply learned. Time forges on. Yet, learning experiences can also begin to fade, if we are not careful. We must have a forced-memory strategy, as a way to call back the experiences. I use writing. Words to remember. This blog space works in that vein. I am collecting ideas and reactions and reflections in this moment in hopes that later, I will come back and better understand what it is I was doing. I will. I do.

Because right now, right here, as #rhizo14 ends —  I don’t know what I have learned. Not yet, anyway.

I began the #rhizo14 with a poem (see Zeega, above), about roots taking hold. Those roots? Still taking hold for me. Still. May those roots of new ideas keep working their way into my head, and keep finding new ways to transform the way I see the world so that, perhaps, some of that transformation seeps its way into my teaching, so that I may help transform the thinking of my students, whom may not even know it until years later. Roots often remain hidden until we suddenly realize they are in full bloom.

It occurs to me as I write this post that some of the same ideas are also being explored, although slightly differently, in the Deeper Learning MOOC, too. There, we’re talking about to how create rich and meaningful learning opportunities, spaces and connections for students so that it just not a shallow scrape of the surface of ideas. Deep resonated with all of us — as teachers designing those possibilities in hopes that something will catch in the mind of kids and as learners trying to make better sense of the world and ourselves.

What it takes to reach that point of rich learning is some faith on the part of the learner. Hope that our experiences matter. That we’ve gathered something important from our time spent together. That the shared journey holds us together. Roots take hold.

Peace (in some final thoughts),

PS — here are two comments I left in the P2PU site that align to some of the thinking:

We banter about the term “lifelong learners” in education quite a bit. It’s a hopeful sentiment — that the learning opportunities in our space will not just spill over in the lives of our students (I teach 11 year olds) but will provide the structure for self-centered learning in unknown situations at any given time in the future. In some ways, the younger the students, the more difficult this is because of the ways that technology and digital media are completely transforming the world (Remember the world of 10 years past?).
We have no idea what the world of work and life will be like for my sixth graders when they graduate high school in six years or college in 10 years (more or less). To think otherwise would be foolish. But such conundrums open doors, too, if we don our optimistic lens. We have to be mindful of thinking practices that transcend the moment.
Same here, with this course and others in open education. I can’t even articulate what I will take away from #rhizo14 because I may not even know I learned it until the moment I need it .. and remember. But I suspect seeds have been planted. I am optimistic that my time spent here, with everyone in conversation and creation, will be fruitful in ways I don’t yet know. In the unknowing is the hint of knowledge, right?
But you can see how that thinking would drive educational policy wonks crazy. There are no fixed data points on that kind of learning. You can’t test me on what I have learned in #rhizo14. Well, you can, but I’d cheat on that test. (Take that data point, you wonk!)


I just started to read danah boy’s new book, It’s Complicated (the social lives of networked teens), and one of her themes is that teens have now become so connected and so part of the social web fabric (even if they are not always sure what they are doing) partly due to of us parents and teachers (yes, the very ones who fret over so much screen time and online interactions). We are the ones who have micromanaged their days, and hours, and interactions. We are the ones who see free time as wasted time. The teens she interviews in her book express frustration that there is no time to just hang out in real space, so they turn to online spaces to do what they don’t have time to do otherwise. This observation connects to the theme here this week for me because we (my teaching colleagues and I) have noticed more and more students not being able to independently persevere when confronted with a problem with no easy answer. They give up before they start. They immediately seek adult guidance. They have little confidence that they can learn it by doing it. They don’t trust themselves. So, this question of enduring learning is something my colleagues and I talk about, and talk to our students about. And chat with parents about, delicately. It’s fascinatingly frustrating. (and boyd’s book is a must-read)

Calm and Unity talk Community

The question to explore this week with the #rhizo14 course is the concept of “community as curriculum” and whatever that means. It brought up to my mind the continued tug and pull of what we mean by community when we refer to online spaces.
So, I created this tappable story exchange (which I shared out a bit yesterday, too):

And I was reminded of a presentation by Bud Hunt on the topic of community versus network spaces from the K12 Online Conference way back in 2008 (I think).

Listen to Bud: http://k12online.wm.edu/k12online08lc09.mp3 and find some of the related resources at either the K12 Online Space or at his blog space.

Peace (in the space),

#Rhizo14 Provocation: Is Books Making Us Stoopid?

I love how Dave Cormier provokes folks in the Rhizomatic Learning course to reconsider where we stand. This week, he takes the idea of “Google makes us dumb” and turns it on its head with the question of “are books making us stupid?” Which, of course, requires a response (Dave is a genius). I took a gander at what Terry had done in a mixed media response, and decided to make my own media piece, too.

Thanks, Dave, and thanks, Terry.

Peace (in the thinking),

Teaching in the Age of Uncertainty

Frindle: Words from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

It’s interesting that the theme of “uncertainty” has come up for the Rhizomatic Learning (#rhizo14) course this week. The other day, as part of a nine year project with sixth graders to construct an online dictionary of imaginary words, I read out parts of the book Frindle to my sixth graders. If you don’t know the story, in a nutshell, a student (Nick Allen) decides that replacing the word “pen” with the word “frindle” would be a nice way to upend authority.

It does shake up the school, particularly with his teacher (Mrs. Granger) who loves her dictionary and finds solace in its authority. The novel revolves around their battles over words and who has the authority to create language. The story ends 10 years in the future, when Nick’s word frindle ends up in the dictionary and Nick receives a note from Mrs. Granger, informing him of why she relies on words to carry her through the changing times. She cites her teaching career before the age of the Moonshot, and before the age of the VCR, and before the age of Personal Computers. (She also slyly lets him know that she used reverse psychology on him, fighting him every step of the way with frindle in hopes that he would continue his effort. “That sly fox,” he whispers to himself.)

“Words are still important,” she reminds Nick, even as she acknowledges the dictionary can change to meet the needs of the day.

Reading the passages reminds me yet again, as does the #rhizo14 discussion around uncertainty, that I really have no idea what the world will look like for my sixth graders or for my own children, or for me. Ten years? That’s more than a lifetime of change ahead of them and us. Given the pace of the “new,” that’s nearly unknowable. Such thinking reinforces my thinking, as it did the fictional Mrs. Granger, that core skills in writing and language will likely remain central to their lives, even if technology and digital media change they way they interact and communicate and compose language.

In this time of uncertainty, I try to hang my ideas on that hook: that writing remains and will remain an anchor in their lives, and in ours, too.

Peace (I think),

Reading Along the Spine of a Post

Jenny shared an interesting text analysis tool the other day via the #rhizo14 discussions around rhizomatic learning — a Mesostomatic — that takes text and creates a spine. I was playing around with it when she said that she has used the tool to do a close reading of text. That got me thinking, and tinkering, and with my post the other day around the stolen poem, I created a mesostomatic version of the blog post. Then, for the close reading, I put it into Thinglink so that I could add thoughts as I read down the text.


What do you think?

Peace (in the close reading),

A Stolen Poem Finds Its Way Home

Steal This Poem

As part of the Rhizomatic P2PU course‘s theme around “cheating as learning” with Dave Cormier, I offered up a poem for others to steal and remix. It was a sort of call to arms, partly as poetry about the remix culture and partly to see if what I view as a rhizomatic concept (that of ideas twisting, turning and being reshaped as we make sense of experience in unexpected ways) might actually take place. You never really know, when you toss something into the wind, whether it will take root or not.

My poem — Steal This Poem — was an invitation to others to take what I wrote and do what they want with the words. I didn’t claim ownership. When I hit publish, the words were no longer my own.  In fact, it was quite the opposite. I wanted to set the words free. I know that sounds rather esoteric, but I was curious about whether the world of digital writing — where anyone can steal anyone’s words rather easily — might be a larger canvas for collaboration, and whether we could turn the word “theft” on its ears, and make it a door for creativity. The unknowns were whether anyone would read the poem, care about the poem, and figure out a way to remake the poem. That’s a lot of unknown elements.

Whether anyone would take me up on the idea of stealing my poem or not, I honestly had no idea. While Terry Elliott and I had done some remixing of poetry a few weeks earlier (Ice&fire&memory&music&songs&dreams), he and I know each other, and so it was less of the unexpected happening with the two of us. We collide all the time. What if others I didn’t know quite as well were involved in a remix venture? Would it work? Or would the poem fall silent upon release, shackled forever on my page? I didn’t know. It was a worth a try, though. I let the poem go and hoped they would come.

And they did.

First Maureen responded (first as a poem and then as a media remix), and then Cathleen used her voice to recraft the delivery if not the poem itself and then last night, Tonya shared out her remix of the poem, complete with fingerpainting and diagramming and counter-verses. All three of three remixed projects are so very different and bring a unique stance to the words and ideas. And Sandra used the poem in her class as an anchor piece of writing around poetry and remix culture.

Take Cathleen’s version. She “heard” it as a slam poem of sorts, and added a soundtrack and her own voice, giving the poem a beat edge to it. Fingers snapping, she finds new places in the poem to add emphasis, and the swirling, swelling electronica behind her is interesting. She used part of the poem, not the entire thing, and that allowed her to focus on the central message of the remix. It’s a fascinating aural experience.

Maureen went two routes. First she crafted a poetic response in Google Plus.

“This is Just to Say”

I have stolen
the poem
that you recorded
on soundcloud

and which
you probably
stole from someone else

Not asking for forgiveness.
Remixing it felt so deliciously
crafty and playful

Her second remix was a media remix. She used a site called Weavley, and with my voice booming with reverb, she put the poem to movie clips of theft and stealing from The Reader and The Book Thief. I find it intriguing how my eyes watching the video seem to take precedence over my ears listening to the poem (or maybe I am sick of my voice). Turn the volume off on the remix and think about what feeling the clips bring up. Turn the video off and listen to the poem. Then, do both. I’m struck by how the media informs the meaning.

Finally, last night, Tonya (who kept me updated on her attempts via Twitter), released her poem remix, too. You have to read her reflection on how it came together, which in itself is a gift. Her remix is like a call-response, and I love how she laid it out, using fonts and colors to expression emotion, and used a poem to talk to a poem. It’s a poem for two voices, fingerpainted by her three-year-old child.


I’m grateful to be the victim of the theft. The poem has come home. But go ahead, steal it again. Make it your own. If you already did a remix, but I never saw it or forgot it, please drop me a link in the comment box so I can add it in.

Peace (in the remix),



Independent Thinking in an Age of Conformity

Over at the Rhizome Thinking community, the theme this week is about “independence” and learning. I’m been trying to think about this along a few varied paths.

First of all, check out this student TedX talk about learning and using Minecraft as a place for inquiry and learning.

Looking at the video and listening to the talk through this lens of “independent learning,” it occurs to me that the freedom this student has had to pursue his own path and make his own discoveries has opened up some interesting doors for him, and provided a way forward into a lifetime of inquiry. I love his reference to “play” and using blocks as kids. And his smile when he says “at the center of this course is a video game …” is priceless.

Then, I think to my own sixth grade classroom. How much independence do I really give my students? I like to think I give more but I fear I probably don’t. Listening to Dave Cormier’s video at the Rhizome Learning site this week had me thinking about the environment of learning in my classroom, in my school, in my district.

That all sounds great, and I agree. The difficulty in nurturing a truly independent classroom space is twofold. First is that teachers are under intense and increasing pressure to meet standards, and while one could argue the Common Core actually opens up plenty of avenues for student-led inquiry, there is still a stifling framework. These things must get done, is the mantra I hear in my head. The second point is related to the first, and a bit more alarming: students have been programmed to follow directions to the T and to submit work that meets the criteria exactly.

I notice this a lot with mentor work that we look at for various assignments. I’ll bring in a piece of student writing or show them my own, and sure enough, when the projects gets handed in by students, they are like little replicas of the mentor texts (mini-writing-mes). Year after year of rules and testing and teaching to the test have created this rigid and rather inflexible set of learning ideas in their heads, and when given freedom and independence, a fair number of students seem unsure of what to do and where to begin. We’ve drummed out their curiosity for fear of failure, and we are all to blame.

We actually ran into this with teachers, too, during a year-long Professional Development project that I co-facilitated in an urban elementary school. It was a school that had done so poorly on state tests that the state came in and oversaw curriculum and instruction, with canned lesson plans and scripted lessons. The teachers became like robots, delivering lessons that they had little investment in. Our project was completely based around classroom-inquiry projects, where teachers determined the topic of inquiry and then moved into it. For some, just shifting to this kind of thinking was a hurdle almost impossible to overcome. They didn’t trust their judgment anymore as teachers. It literally took months of support and inquiry and modeling to break them free of those shackles and become independent thinkers again.

So what can we do as teachers to help nurture our students?

Keep opening up doors for students to be passionate about ideas (I often look to the work of Paul Allison and Youth Voices for how this might unfold). Remain flexible as a teacher about students being interested in things you know nothing about (ie, Minecraft). Model for students what inquiry looks like — not just at the end with a finished product but from the start with the brainstorming that leads along many different paths. Trust that the grading/assessment may be important in moment but is of very little importance for the student’s life.

Allow for independence, even in a system where conforming to rules and practices and standards is common practice.

Peace (in the thinking),