Making Connections: Learning Pathways & Rhizomes

The following is a Guest Post from Allie Bishop Pasquier, an early childhood educator teacher in Bellingham, Washington. Allie has been a participant in the National Writing Project‘s Making Learning Connected MOOC or #clmooc. This post is a remix of a very thoughtful piece on her blog, Bakers and Astronauts, about some of the activity in #clmooc. Allie tweets with the handle @bakersastros.

When I reflect on my learning and growth outside of being a student, “sequential” and “orderly” do not come to mind. There are fits and starts, highs and lows, and brick walls. There are memories that stick out as momentous, but at the time, I probably thought I was just browsing the Internet or having a cup of coffee with a colleague. There are times when I thought I was making a discovery, but in hindsight, I did not follow through with the project. Learning can, and in one sense, must be chronological, but that is not the same as linear, like planned learning is often expected to be. Textbooks are arranged in chapters, to be taught and “learned” in sequential order. Yet I can’t think of any way in which my out-of-school learning has been linear.

The idea of quiet links and connections with the occasional pop-up describes the way I believe that I learn and work as a teacher best. I wait for ideas to come to me—I know I cannot force them. I don’t want to overuse the word “inspired,” but it is something I need to be in order to get a clear idea of how to start a discussion about Charlotte’s Web, or to decide how to embed more scientific inquiry in the classroom. Forcing connections looks like googling “preschool science” and printing off lesson plans; identifying natural connections means observing and documenting where science is already happening in the world and my classroom, and then building upon that.

In a Webinar on Learning Pathways, this concept all began to make sense. Students do not only learn in the classroom: They absorb information about their culture and take in messages constantly, across contexts. A child who is interested in Pokemon at home does not become a child without that interest in the classroom. We might not support and promote that interest in the classroom, but it is not gone. A student might go home each night and pray with their family. That is a part of that student’s culture—as well as knowledge, skill and perspective. Lessons learned on the bus on the way home influence the classroom the next day, and vice versa. The classroom is not a vacuum, just as our jobs, homes, and families do not exist in a vacuum. During the Learning Pathways Webinar, Kris D. Gutiérrez shared:

…we want to think about multiple pathways, not just one. Our youth live polycultural lives; they’re polylingual. So, we want to think about our practices as really exemplifying that polycultural, polylingual, polymodal kind of way of life. {via}

We’re constantly being influenced by our environment, whether we choose it or not. We take in information, often information that we seek out, and we carry that information with us as we encounter new ideas, places, and people. Culture is incredibly personal.


There is a word that has been popping up in my life over the past few months: rhizome. It seems natural that rhizomes could be a metaphor for connected learning. Most educational systems expect that learning is linear, but the idea of rhizomes, however messy they may be, and whatever tangents they may bring, seems closer to the way we function on a daily basis. Individually and in groups, we can be impatient to find the next connection. On the other hand, they can come at unexpected times.

Thinking of rhizomes in a philosophical way helps make the connection. Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a:

rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo’ (Deleuze and Guattari, p. 25). The planar movement of the rhizome…[favors] a nomadic system of growth and propagation. {via}

In botany, the rhizome is like an underground stem, linking the part we want (the flower, the potato). Anyone who has dug up potatoes or wonders why they have so many daffodils understands the power of rhizomes in nature. Some rhizomatic connections are quieter than others: some erupt in a flurry of activity, while others barely crack the surface. We have so many experiences every day, and we have to accept that our past experiences shape the way that we approach the new moments.

What does this mean for me as a learner?

Can I create my own rhizomatic mind map connecting all of my past experiences? Or, perhaps, I can start one today, and sit down at the end of each day and draw in lines and circles based on what I think was important? I doubt it is possible, at least for me. Part of the way the rhizomes work is that we cannot see them, and the connections surprise us. We don’t always notice that we are in the middle of a major, life shifting moment. We can be very inspired, but those circles grow larger without us noticing, and the rhizomes are like fishing line, visible only in certain light.

What does it mean for the classroom?

It doesn’t mean my classroom being set up just so, or using a specific math curriculum, or having iPads. It seems more of a state of mind. Ten years into my teaching career, I am beginning to understand that I don’t follow any specific formula for teaching and learning, and I don’t fit into a box. And thinking about my teaching, learning, writing, sharing, and connecting—I realize I don’t want to fit into a specific box. And I don’t want my students to, either. I feel good about not knowing what’s under the surface; not knowing exactly what will pop up next. There are definitely pathways of learning that are hard to document and hard to define—but that is what makes teaching and learning more interesting.

What does it mean for teacher education?

My frame of mind is quite different now than when I was an eager undergraduate and so much of my learning took place outside of the classes and conversations I had in the course of getting a BS and an MS. Yet, those were also instrumental parts of my journey as an educator. It is interesting to think about how we could possibly enrich the teacher education experience when the curriculum of learning to be a teacher is only one piece of that potential teacher. Perhaps it is a call for teacher education programs to make room for reflection on how their other current and past cultural contexts have/will influence them as a teacher.

What else should we consider? Please join the conversation in the comments below!

For more conversation on Learning Pathways, see Sheri Edward’s curation of a #literacies chat that took place after the Webinar.

As always, I apologize that WordPress has begun to force ads on each post. Please ignore any ad that follows. I have not vetted and do not support whatever is advertised below.

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