Rhizomatic Pragmatizm? Rhizopragm? Rhizotizm? Sounds Like a New Drug (But It’s Just a Week of Doing)

As my goofy title implies, it was another week playing ‘with’ and ‘at’ rhizomatic learning.  My path this week is sort of through cheating and sort of through enforced independence. It was mostly through acknowledging that the community is the curriculum.


And the hero?  The lowly 3X5 card.

Our larger curriculum goal this week has been to write and revise a summary of Steven Johnson’s “Watching TV Makes Us Smarter”. I admit to over-scaffolding this week because the assignment is part diagnostic and part deliberate practice. I don’t think of these activities as particularly rhizomatic. There isn’t much enforced independence (well, perhaps in the discussion and analysis of the article) and a little bit of ‘cheating’–we are using a template for reading and writing the summary based upon a very widely used text from Behrens and Rosen. Templates are widely acknowledged theft of ‘organization’ which, for some reason, is not considered plagiarism. So I would have to say that much of my playbook this week is a default toward a teacher-centered learning hierarchy.

But there was a notable difference and it involved the use of the humble 3X5 card. I think of it as a crowbar to prise open a window to somewhere else–the rhizone.


Every day in this university-level comp class I give students a 3X5 card to write on. I ask them to write down what their expectation(s) are for the day on one side of the card at the beginning of class. I ask them to leave a little space on the same side because at the end of class I ask them write down whether the expectations were met in whole, in part, or not at all.

Also, at the end of class I ask them to write down what their expectations are for the next class meeting. I change this question sometimes. For example, next class meeting when they turn their papers in I will ask them to tell me what their expectations are for the paper (grade, time to get paper back, room for improvement, whatever).

This is my way of getting at the feedback and feedforward loops that live in the community of writers in these classes. And the whole idea would fail if I did not take their expectations with complete seriousness. It follows that if community is curriculum (or at least a major function of it) then learner hopes must be taken seriously

It takes surprisingly little time to sit down and type up the text from these cards afterwards. I have discovered at least for me that this transposing step is critical to getting down and dirty with what my learners overtly claim that they want. The final step is to take some time (think of it as an investment in community) in the next class to show how you have ‘aggregated’ their expectations and to talk about the ‘data’. For example, I noted in passing some of their specific expectations. Note that I did not overtly judge those who had general expectations. This led to a short discussion about how we are more likely to meet specific objectives than general ones. And that led into more discussion into feedback and feedforward. None of this took much time and all of it arose from the Dave Cormier’s rhizomatic idea–community is curriculum.

Here are a couple of sample 3X5 cards

hopes4paige IMG_20140208_090825645funnyhopes

In the top one, a very strategic student makes clear what her expectations were and that they were met.  There is a lot to read in between the lines, but the added comment about the checklist is very good feedback and potential feedforward for other writings we will be doing.

The bottom one is subversive as all ‘get-out’.  I read here a profound intelligence that doesn’t like to be boxed in, yet I also read someone who is willing to play the game if you will allow him to make a game of it.  I think he hints that he might like to make a game of it.  And isn’t that a damned fine idea.
Problems for me during the week

1. Still feeling like I am scaffolding too much. Feels like a necessary compromise that is inspired by my limitations and blindspots.
2. Some strategic student pushback. I know from feedback that some students were upset at first by my relative lack of scaffolding in beginning the summary assignment.
3. Noting in myself and learners a ‘tendency toward the default’. For example, in our peer reading of the summary papers I had to work hard to prepare students for the idea that, as a community, we needed to value how we can help each other. I introduced them to the enlightened self-interest of the “baker’s dozen” and the Biblical notion of “bread on the water”. I also had them watch two videos: one on what peer learning really looks like and the other on what it means to lower the barriers we put up to each other when we try to engage. This was a powerful lot of unlearning to do and I am not convinced that we succeeded. My default is, of course, the lone scholar mode. I have fought and fought hard against it in myself, but I find that I revert to default when stressed. We need to use rhizomatics to justify deviation from the default and use it to deviate. So be it.

Lessons taken and shared?

1. The expectations game with 3X5 cards works for me as I try to internalize the theory that community=curriculum. Practice feeds back into theory and theory feeds forward into practice.
2. There is always a saving remnant who are willing to consider another way. Cultivate them and play the game with them, too.
3. Keep on! I am going to continue my little 3X5 experiment in community and look for other ways to play the rhizomatic game in the class. I think that I will have them share each other’s expectations next week. I will let you know how that went (an example of feedforward–promising to share.)                                                                                  4. Are there other games I can play to help the community become the curriculum? Perhaps one is acknowledging as a teacher/learning concierge that the community needs to be in flux and approaching the curriculum all the time. Asymptotic, always approaching, never quite getting there.



There is always the danger of imposed simplification, of discovering a lower case “t” truth and mistaking it for the “T”ruth. This simplification certainly makes me feel less anxious. Hell yes, I have the key to reality., but… such is the bad ol’ way of “best practice” as a formula for failure. Best practice (good intentions/road to hell aside) does not consider conditions on the ground. In fact it stamps them out in favor of a global, expert system. That is why every generalization needs to have stamped on it “YMMV”. Indeed it should be “YMWV”–your mileage will vary. L

Let me know about any practice you have had in incorporating Rhizomatics into your class. I will happily tap your expertise, but you better believe that my local community will still be on top. I would expect no less from anything you might learn here from me. Learning communities on top.  Always.  Another rhizomatic lesson?



  1. // Reply

    Great post! Gave me a little more better understanding how Rhizomatic learning I.e. Community is curriculum can be applied in the classroom.

    Appreciate the part that you also pointed out the problems you encountered during the week.

  2. // Reply

    I’m using the same three questions and I like the idea of the cards. I semi-started having students use a page on their blog to do this, but I quickly see that as a time-consuming way to check on each. To do more community, I’m going to try using https://todaysmeet.com/ this week. The transcripts can be saved and then are easily searchable. Students will be able to see what others are doing and saying. (I work with over 30 grades 9-12 students who are creating their own learning plans for elective credits at different times throughout the day. Some learn off-campus.)

    1. // Reply

      I taught high school too. I know whereof you speak. That’s why I insisted that YMWV. It is the physical wrestiling with the data, the text, whatever is produced that is absolutely critical. They have to see that their feedback is validated. I really like todaysmeet.

  3. // Reply

    Interesting, Barry – the lecturer whose technique I linked to began by using TodaysMeet with his class and found it worked very well, though hist students asked to move to Twitter as they wanted something more private, and were able to do that better with Twitter.

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    I get reasonable evaluations every year from students but inevitably I will get “not organized enough” from a few students. There’s a ton of learned expectation and the expectation is attached to both people’s feelings about their own success (if i know the expectations i can be the awesomest) and people’s understanding of what it means for their teacher to be professional.

    I think some of that “you aren’t doing it right” from students is a constant companion to rhizomatic learning. I like it… it keeps me on my toes 🙂

    1. // Reply

      I like it, too. And I like it in a timely fashion. And I like that I can disagree with them or figure out how to agree and work with them to manage those community hopes.

      What I am looking for is more ways into the community, into the rhizomatic field. I do this in my own farming practice by engaging in ‘feldgangs’ or field walks on a regular basis. Some wise dude once said that the best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps. I think the same might be said of teaching. The problem is that it is hard to walk in the classroom field without some way to monitor. I want to be able to make feldgangs a regular part of the feedback and feedforward of my teaching life. These little 3X5 cards are one tiny way in. I want more.

  5. // Reply

    Hi Terry,
    The method is mentioned by Angelo and Cross (Classroom Assessment Techniques). They call it the “one minute paper”. I like your question about students’ expectations for the day – though it kind of suggests that they expect to get something from you? I suppose that depends on the context. It’s hard to have any expectations of an English class, other than getting to the end of the session (I teach English too). What do I expect from Rhizo14 today?

    1. // Reply

      Yes, they have every right to expect something from me if there is any community at all in the class. I get real honesty on the cards. I invite them be anonymous, to be pseudonymous, or to be names. Whatever. I invite them to use the card as they will to help themselves. I accept any expectation as legit even though I might be getting played. I have about fifty data points so I do get a really interesting tone in the aggregate. And I get feedback that feels right most of the time. What they are getting back is a reflective consideration of themselves as a community. Sometimes I call out some particular expectation. I am trying to be someone who is thinking on his feet in front of them because I expect the same from them (although I never overtly say that).

  6. // Reply

    Sarah pointed me at this, and you inspired me to three responses which are at:

    A. I find your 3×5 cards inspiring. They are a kind of OMP, but an advance on them because 1) they chain forwards and link sessions; 2) they include self-evaluation by learners.

    B. I think we should stop thinking solo vs. social modes; and instead recognise that we want all these modes; AND that the unrecognised thing is that we want ways for rapidly switching each comment we write between no audience (solo) and different groups. Thinking dichotomy here is a fundamental mistake we have all been making.

    C. I think Terry’s use of cards is not rhizomatic but advanced constructivist teaching.

    P.S. if you want to see who I am, then visit my web site which I think is brilliantly arborescent; but which I’m pretty sure most visitors think is rhizomatic in a very bad way i.e. chaotic and disorganised.


    1. // Reply

      I think most of my teaching tends toward connecting/constructing but I am pretty sure in my own mind that the cards came about solely in responce to the larger rhizomatic question: how can the community be the curriculum? The proof of that will be when the learners I am working with take over/commandeer/pirate their own learning. And I must let them. Perhaps it will only be in some small way, but I will take any way at all. I haven’t yet figured out how to make every node be able to respond to every node. I do have plans this coming week to push our class twitter hashtag to the fore. By the end of the week I will use Hawksey’s cool visualization tool to note the connections. Maybe what I need to keep approaching is the idea that we are connected in our community indirectly and even in unconscious ways, but that we are capable of even more profound conscious connection. I will visit your delightful arborescence (I love trees and hate D&G’s denigrating metaphor) and give it better heed in order to respond. I don’t think rhizomatic is chaotic and disorganized. It might be messy, but there are connections galore in the only apparent madness. I think I might see a Jackson with one incredible splotch of purple around which the whole galaxy of the painting rotates. I look forward to it.

      1. // Reply

        I’ll just add one thing on “the learners I am working with take over/commandeer/pirate their own learning. ”

        I was very struck when I read this book:
        Snyder,Benson R. (1971) The hidden curriculum (MIT press; Boston, Mass.)

        It implicitly but powerfully illustrated how the same course with the same curriculum in an apparently traditional (w.r.t. teaching) institution nevertheless had students who did make up their own learning goals; and how this governed their behaviour and what they learned, what they “did” with the course.

        This would be again, a different interpretation of this issue from any influenced by D&G’s ideas.


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