On constructivism and rhizomatic learning

It often happens that, by some inexplicable coincidence, at a certain point of time (usually within a couple of days) I read several unrelated posts or articles on a specific topic without making any conscious effort to search for them. They just come to me (via my PLN or by mere chance). When I read something really intriguing, I can be sure that the next day I’ll come across a blog post or just an image which will expand on the previous piece of information. I find this amazing – even magical; ideas float around and we, inadvertently, stumble upon them if we are ready and tuned in. What is more, one idea seems to attract another idea of similar nature. I believe this magic trick helps me learn and grow professionally in a very natural way; it helps me create a broader picture of the subject I’m delving into. A metaphor that first springs to mind is that somebody is randomly passing me pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But there’s always one part missing in the end; my own view which I construct while engaging in the process of discovering. It’s not really MY opinion; it’s a result of all the knowledge other people have shared, plus my own interpretation on top.

Like the other day; I read a couple of unrelated articles about cheating –  Cath Ellis’s post Cheating is Learning and Debbie Tebovich’s Rhizomatic Learning – Cheating as Learning. Only later did I realize that these two posts had one thing in common – Dave Cormier and his ideas on Rhizomatic learning. What is obvious is that the learning process I went through was gradual – I didn’t get the whole image at once. What is interesting is that I actually went backwards in time (I read the latest of the posts first). No matter what the sequence of events was, I finally got a better picture of the topic and I got pushed further to the core of the problem. And here’s my interpretation (which may well be wrong or inaccurate): as a matter of fact, rhizomatic learning reminds me very much of constructivism – people integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge. In other words, they change and grow as new learning becomes part of the things they know. What I find attractive about constructivism (and rhizomatic learning) is the unpredictability of the learning process – we never know in which way our learning will spread (for some people this may be bad news). The good news is that there’s no truth valid forever; we can change ideas as we explore new contexts, and my contention is that this provides us with an immense feeling of freedom.

To conclude the post, I’m astonished to realize that without knowing what rhizomatic learning meant I had actually always followed the principles of rhizomatic learning. This post is a result of rhizomatic learning after all. It’s even more: it’s an example of socially constructed knowledge. I possess none of the ideas I present here. I haven’t invented them either. I’m just a medium – an intermediary. We all are …


My PLN – The treasures of wisdom and knowledge

Every day I come across amazing online articles and blog posts, which to a great extent change my view of all sorts of issues. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea, from time to time, to summarize what I’ve learnt from those posts and share the impact each of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge has had on me as an educator. I should stress that without my PLN on Facebook and Twitter, I would hardly learn about the existence of so many wonderful ideas. So thanks for sharing guys!

Here’s the first one: an interesting post by Matthew Ellman called My Mindset. The author explains that anxiety is not what prevents students from speaking in an EFL classroom; a certain level of anxiety is desirable after all. It is a kid’s fixed mindset that complicates the matter. It’s interesting that kids who are often praised for their intelligence are likely to approach difficulties in a different way than kids who are praised for their effort. While the former group may blame themselves for not being intelligent enough to solve a certain complicated problem, for example, the latter, more flexible category will learn that things can be changed by hard work and they’ll inevitably outperform those who give up for the momentary lack of self-esteem. Thus it’s always better to praise effort over achievement and natural talent and aptitude for learning languages should not be overestimated in ELT.

This contention sits well with another idea described by Ally Fogg The Art of Praising Children- and knowing when not to. Kids with low self-esteem will benefit from praise for their efforts and application, but not so much from praise for their personality or essential qualities. It’s better to praise (or discipline) kids for what they do than for what we think they are like.

So what does that mean for my teaching? I realize there’s always the danger of putting students into certain categories: the good ones, the naughty ones, the clever ones, the less talented ones, and so on and so forth. This usually happens based on our previous experience or it can sometimes be mere prejudice – someone once told us something about a kid (He’ll never learn to speak English well enough to pass his exams … She’s so disruptive!). A tiny improvement then means nothing in comparison with the huge improvements the ‘clever’ or ‘good’ kids make because the bad always eclipses the good. Another problem is comparing. If we compare students against each other, we’ll never see the imperceptible, minuscule steps forward each one of them takes, hence the student has no chance of stepping out of the category we once assigned him to.

So if we concentrate on what happens in the classroom rather than on what we believe things are like, we might find more reasons and opportunities to praise.

11 Random Facts – Fabiana’s Questions

Here we go again! My virtual friend and an extraordinary Argentinean educator Fabiana Casella tagged me in her 11 Random Facts post and left me some interesting questions to answer. I haven’t known Fabiana for long but it feels like ages. She’s the one who’s always been tremendously supportive; she frequently leaves encouraging comments on my blog and a little heads-up from Fabiana on Facebook always makes my day. But she’s also highly active in social media and she is an excellent example to follow – whenever she comes across a challenge, she goes for it. For all these reasons I’m really excited to have a chance to devote one of my blog posts to Fabiana.

1.      What are three adjectives that describe you best? Witty, emotional and spontaneous. That’s how I see myself (or would like to) …

2.      Who is someone you admire the most? Why? For some unknown reason, I admire people who are diametrically opposed to me – my opposite personal types, so to speak, i.e. serious, calm and rational. By observing those people in various situations I learn a lot from them, which helps me reconsider and reevaluate.

3.      What is your favorite color? Why? Burgundy red. It’s a dark, deep and soft shade of red, which to me represents energy, passion and creativity. I suppose I like it because it suits my character (and my complexion type, to be completely honest :-). 

4.      Where would you like to spend your dream vacation? Somewhere rural, for example in the mountains of Nepal or Tibet. As I love walking, I’d love to stay in a place where there are lots of forests and footpaths.
5.      Are you a good cook? What is your “speciality”? I’m an average cook. I rarely use recipes or follow instructions; I like to experiment, even though my experiments don’t always work the way I wish. I like to make cakes which don’t need to be baked in the oven.


6.      Have you ever met a Hollywood star? Where? How? A couple of years ago, I met Tom Cruise – or rather his wax model in Madame Tussauds, London 🙂

7.      The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Beatles, definitely. Because All you need is love and love is all you need …

8.      Can you Tango? or better said: Can you dance Tango? Passively, yes. I learnt it once but I haven’t done it since. But believe that, like swimming, you can never completely forget how to dance. You just need a partner who leads you. By the way, I love to watch people dance tango.

9.      Have you ever eaten some exotic food? Nothing worth mentioning. But I do like tasting new things.

10.  Do you think you are a connected educator? Definitely. This blog post proves it, I guess. And I think I’m becoming a better (connected) educator and a better teacher thanks to people like Fabiana.


11.  If you were ever offered to teach in a foreign country, which one would you choose? I’d like to teach in Sweden. Swedish children are said to learn English very easily, probably due to certain similarities between the two Germanic languages, so I think I might be able to focus on different aspects of methodology when teaching students for whom learning another language is a piece of cake. Also, Sweden is known for its highly efficient system of education. 

Thank you Fabiana! 🙂

New Year’s Resolutions – Lesson Plan

It’s no surprise that New Year’s resolutions are related to the same topics all over the world: fitness, family, weight, smoking, drinking, learning, helping others, getting organized, you name it. It’s quite natural that we want to shed our old skin and become better at a certain point of the year. It doesn’t matter that most people actually fail because they soon quit their resolutions for various reasons. The good news is that they can start over next year! Anyway, resolutions will always be around and it’s a good topic for language classes.

1) Display the following definition on the screen. Ask your students what the topic is going to be.


2) Ask your students to get into groups of four and give them a few minutes to come up with a list of top ten new year’s resolutions people make (students will use A4 sheets of paper and markers). With weaker classes, you can help them by prompting a few categories before they start. You can use https://www.text2mindmap.com/ to brainstorm the ideas:



3) When the groups have finished, ask them to display the lists on the wall. The groups read each other’s lists and comment on them.

4) Ss sit down and in pairs they discuss the following questions:

a) Why do you think people fail to stick to their resolutions?
b) Have you ever made a resolution? When? Why? How did it go?

5) Ask your students to think of areas of their lives they’d like to improve. As their homework, their task will be to take pictures that represent these resolutions. They can use cameras, mobile phones, tablets, etc. Show them a few examples of yours. What resolutions do the images represent?


6) Ss will upload the photos or store them on a portable disk and bring them to the lesson. The pictures will be projected on the screen and the other students will guess what resolutions they represent. Alternatively, Ss can show each other the pics on the phones or tablets. Based on my two images, they could come up with the following sentences:

You’ve decided to stop eating sweets.
You’ve decided to cut down on food intake.
You should/ought to eat less.
You’d like to start doing a sport.
You want to take up bowling.
You’d better start doing some exercise.

As you can see, many language items can be practised with this activity – this will depend on your students’ needs and level of proficiency.

7) As a follow-up (and this is fun, especially for teenagers), Ss can talk about their favourite celebrities and they can suggest what New Year’s resolution each celebrity should make, such as I think Madonna should stop doing so much exercise, or Justin Bieber ought to quit singing.