Our life looks trivial, and we shun to record it. – Emerson

A Twitch in the Void

Tomorrow is the first day of the Spring Semester and I have a new class. I’m excited about this because I’ll have a chance to try out Dave’s ED366 method and put some of what I’m learning on #rhizo14 into practice. I know I’ve only been doing this MOOC for one day but I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants guy and I hear opportunity knocking.

There are a couple of things in my favor. First, I’ll have a small class, about 14 students, and I’ll be with them 14 hours a week, in three hour blocks most days. Then they all failed this course in the first semester and are repeating. This means they’ve already been goose stepped through the “standard curriculum” once… no need to repeat that.

This morning on FB, I saw a link Ma Bali posted to one of Dave’s 2011 blog posts Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach. I had been distracted by the Academic Elitism brouhaha and ended up at a 2008 post on Dave’s blog, Rhizomatic Education: the community as curriculum.  Both those were very interesting, but scrolling down further I found a ping back in the comments from Hybrid Pedagogy.  This pointed back to a post by Tanya Sasser titled Bring Your Own Disruption: Rhizomatic Learning in the Composition Class.  

If you’re interested in teaching writing, then have a look at her post. She says that writing students – or student writers if you like – need to begin to see themselves as writers before they can write. In another context, you cannot learn to swim by watching swimmers. You need to be a swimmer first. If you are a swimmer, you will swim. If you are not, you will sink.  To do this, you need to overcome your fear and Tanya reminds us that “We cannot ignore the fear that writing engenders in many of our students. And we cannot assume that autonomy is desirable or solely effective for motivating and inspiring all of them.”

We can offer students autonomy, but many do not like this. They want to be told what to do. They want a good grade.  They do not believe that they can do what we are asking them to do, and in any case, why should they learn to do anything that is not on the test? 

While I was rummaging about, a couple of things were rattling around in my brain: First, there was Cath Ellis post about Deleuze and Guattari, and Ma Bali’s reply to Cath, Academic Privilege. Then, there was Dave’s ED366 Course, and how he had built that using easy tools: WP and GoogleDocs. I had earlier poked around on his GoogleDrive folder for that and thought – “I can steal this for my course.”

sumerian homework 2400 bc

Sumerian Homework, 2400 BC

In discussing the “essay” – the standard assignment in writing classes – Tanya quotes Mark Sample who says, that the student essay is  “is a twitch in a void. A compressed outpouring of energy (if we’re lucky) that means nothing to no one.”

Teachers have been doing this for a very long time: old habits are hard to break. Students have old habits too. Tanya also mentions this, saying “Many of [students] don’t think they can write. Some of them don’t wish (or think that they have anything) to learn about writing. These are nodes of thinking that are often, ironically, created in K12 English classrooms and, unfortunately, sustained in the college-level FYC [First Year Composition] classroom.”

Before arrested students can move forward, they may need to losten these nodes that bind them. The twitch in the void haunts them. Nothing comes from nothing.

So, I’m looking forward a rhizomic semester with my new class. Who knows, some of them might learn something. All of us will learn something. Who knows what that will be?