The Wonderful World of Wiki

Through wikis, students can edit, revise, and enjoy collaborative writing without even realizing it, says Carol Johnson. See Judie Haynes’ Circle Time column, "DSL--Digital as a Second Language," Essential Teacher, December 2006, pp. 6-7.

As an ESL teacher in a secondary school, I teach my students that editing is a worthwhile task that results in a better final product. My lessons include ample opportunity for editing by a variety of people: the student, the student’s peers, and myself. But the students always balk and ask, "Do I have to write it again?" I have often wished for a tool that would make editing not only fun but salient to students.

Finally, such a tool does exist. Wikis are Web sites on which multiple users can easily create, modify, and delete content without knowing how to use Web creation software. If you have read articles in Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/), you have benefited from the ease of use of wikis. Using wiki software, the creators of Wikipedia created an online encyclopedia that can be updated by (almost) anyone. Started in 2001, this Web site now has more than five million entries in over 200 languages created collaboratively by people from all over the world.

The Write Stuff

The type of software that makes the articles in Wikipedia available for collaborative writing is also available for free (or in some cases, at a modest cost) on the Internet. This means that you can go to, for example, Pbwiki (http://pbwiki.com/) and easily set up a Web site for students to publish their writing. Once published, the content is easily edited and improved by the authors and their peers.

Teachers of English language arts classes have already started to leverage this technology with great success. Students from The East Side Community High School in New York rewrote Shakespeare’s Macbeth in contexts and language that are alive and relevant to them. The resulting texts are well written and creative. The original play opens with three witches in a field planning to meet Macbeth after a battle. The scene ends with the witches chanting,

Paddock calls. –Anon!–
Fair is foul, and foul is fair: 
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

The students rewrote this scene as three thugs on a basketball court planning a drug deal. They end the scene chanting:

The crack calls 
Feens are waiting 
Cops are everywhere but we'll soon be there: 
Through infested streets and polluted air. (East Side Community High School 2006)

The students made the scene relevant to them by changing the setting, the purpose, and the language; they use crack in place of Paddock and rephrase the reference to polluted air, which is a reality in their daily lives.

By allowing students to publish their work on a wiki site, the teacher motivated them to produce high-quality text since there would be a real audience. On the wiki, the students also had the opportunity to discuss and negotiate the meaning of their text as well as the correctness of the form (Richardson 2005). These benefits apply to ESOL classes as well as English language arts lessons.

Wiki with Care

Using technology as a tool in the classroom can be intimidating. The students take control while you, the teacher, act as a facilitator, which can be hard to do. However, as noted by Richardson (2005), studies have shown that student results are better when teachers let them make key decisions about what they will create using wikis.

Teaching with technology also raises concerns about security, in terms of both student safety and vandalism to the page. Using information and tips from Web sites such as SafeKids (http://www.Safekids.com/), you’ll need to discuss Internet safety with your students. You can avoid vandalism by choosing a wiki site that uses passwords to restrict the ability to edit a page. Even if this does not stop vandalism, wikis provide a method of restoring a previous version of a page. To help instill a sense of ownership and responsibility on the part of students, make them responsible for monitoring the pages for vandalism and restoring them.

Wanna Wiki?

Today’s teens live and breathe technology. Their ease with technology can revitalize the writing process. By using wikis, you can help students enjoy collaborative writing and engage in editing and revising without even realizing it. The act of negotiating both meaning and form in a meaningful context will improve their writing and language skills. So the next time you want to try a writing project, don’t even mention the words editing and revising. Instead, ask your students, "Wanna wiki?"

References

East Side Community High School. 2006. The three thugs. http://schools.wikia.com/wiki/Talk:Macbeth:_Act_1%2C_Scene_1#The_Three_Thugs.

Richardson, W. 2005. The educator's guide to the read/write Web. Educational Leadership 63(4): 24-27.

Shakespeare, W. 1982. Macbeth. In The illustrated Stratford Shakespeare (pp. 776-98). London: Chancellor Press.

Carol Johnson (conroy.david@sympatico.ca) teaches ESL at a high school in Canada and is completing her BEd at Concordia University.

More Resources:
  • President's Message: August/September 1998
  • ITAIS Newsletter Volume 9 Issue 1: March 2004
  • MWIS Newsletter Volume 16, Issue 3: August 2003
  • TEIS News Volume 19 Issue 2: March 2004
  • President's Message: September/October/November 2002