Monday, March 30, 2009

Wiki 101

For the last few weeks I have enjoyed the opportunity of teaching four home school students and have been using a wiki, a digital technology tool that is included in the second edition of Teaching the Story. If you're not familiar with a wiki, take a few minutes to watch this fun video. Or, check out this informative video that tells you about additional features. Very simply, a wiki is an editable website (think Wikipedia) which opens up worlds of possibilities for your classroom. (There are several free wiki hosts including,, and I have preferred the first for its ease of use and support services.)

Before our first class, I set up our class wiki and sent out an e-mail inviting the students to each create a page introducing themselves to one another. I encouraged them to upload a favorite picture so they could begin exploring the wiki's potential. Since I gave them all access to the wiki as writers, they theoretically could change someone else's work. As a result, it was important in our first class to discuss the responsibility and trust involved in using a wiki.

During the second week, I encouraged them to leave comments for one another about their descriptive paragraphs. I also created folders for each student for their weekly writing assignments which helped organize the wiki and helped us all to find a writer's work. In addition, I created my folder in which I leave their writing assignments. I use this folder to hold handouts which I upload from the Teaching the Story resource CD; they are responsible to print these out and bring them to class. This has been a great tool as it gives them responsibility to accumulate and organize their materials.

During the third class we played a writing and revising game, "Jazz it Up" and I showed them how to use editing tools such as the cross-out function and red font to edit and revise on the wiki. The process of critiquing each other's work strengthens them as writers as they must think: "What is wrong with this writing?", "How could I help make this writing better?" and "How can I avoid this mistake in the future?" Doing this with a spirit of co-operation also teaches students to respect one another and enhances collaborative work.

If you look in the girls' folders, you'll see that a lot of interaction goes on during non-class time. Since the class is small, I am encouraging them to each read, comment, and edit one another's work at least once a week. This amount of interaction would not be possible in a typical classroom and you would probably need to establish small groups of editing partners that were responsible to give each other feedback. Since the class will only meet eight times, the wiki allows me to instruct and provide input into the students' work while they are writing their stories, thus maximizing the entire learning experience.

Wikis are a way to help you cultivate the stories which your students write. As for myself, I would love to lead more home school and school workshops, so please contact me through this blog if you are interested in setting up a writing workshop for your students.

Write on!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Learning from our Students

One of the fun things about teaching young adults is that invariably I learn from them also. Right now I am teaching a small group of home school girls who are excited about creating their own stories. Last week when I asked them what every story needed, Savannah Ann answered, "A point. Every story needs a point." Hmmm… I hadn't thought of that and promised her if my book goes into a third edition I'd consider including that.

This week, I introduced the concept of creating a character FAST. In Teaching the Story I said that the acronym stands for:

F- Feelings
S- Speech
T- Thoughts

On Monday when I introduced the concept I just wrote "FAST" on the board and asked the girls what they thought each letter stood for. Caleigh said that she thought "A" should stand for "Attitude" or "Appearance." Hmmm again. Another addition to the third edition!

“Being a knower/learner communicates to the student that we’re in this together. We’re on the same page.” Peter Johnston, wrote in Choice Words. (Stenhouse Publishers, 2004)

Not only is it fun, but learning from your students empowers them.
How about you? What did you learn from your students today?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wikis vs. Blogs in the Classroom

At GCACS yesterday in my presentation, Jazz Up Your Students' Writing, I showed teachers my wiki and we discussed the differences between wikis and blogs. Joy Fisk of Arborbrook Christian Academy has used both and shared the primary distinction between the two. She said that although both allow students to post writing which can be edited, as well as videos, audio, and pictures; wikis allow students to collaborate on a document or a project. When students write on a blog (either their own or their classroom's) they may contribute and comment on each other's work, but can't work together on a document or assignment. After Joy contributed that I thought, "Duh, why didn't I realize that?" One of the great things about teaching teachers is that they turn around and teach me too!

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