Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wikieducator and Action Research Project on Improving Writing

Improving Student Writing

Teaching is an ongoing learning process. Teachers are generally keen on helping students improve their writing skills, after all they are in the business of "change". I have been teaching for over 30 years and have spent most of my teaching career asking questions about best practices. How do I go about making changes in the way my classroom is run or in the way my students behave or in the way my school is run? These are some of the questions that go through most teachers' minds. However, how many questions do I ask before I start getting some answers?


One area that has bothered me is student writing. How do I improve their writing? However, as much as I had tried, students kept making the same basic grammatical mistakes and mechanical errors. I would scream if it helped. Last year I decided to try using wikispaces and Moodle to encourage and help students improve their writing. Well, I did see students getting a bit more motivated with online writing, but some were still making the same grammatical errors. This year, I decided to stop using the Moodle and try another wiki called Wikieducator. Furthermore, I decided to conduct an action research project and document my work to see if I could track the changes in one of my grade 11 5 point classes during the next two years. I had done an action research project in the past and found it helped me learn how to make improvements.


For those who are not familiar with the term, action research is a way for teachers to analyze the issues they may be experiencing in their classes. Action research is a way for teachers to find answers to questions on how to improve instructional design. By collecting data and analyzing the results, teachers can change the practices they use in the classroom. The principle behind action research is to plan a change, implement the change, collect the necessary information, and analyze what happens.

Literature-based Learning

Finally to make life more interesting, I decided to combine literature with the action research project by connecting with a school in the US through an international book sharing project on Night by Eli Wiesel. You are invited to join me in researching how we can improve our students' writing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wikis in collaborative writing

I haven’t created a wiki yet (hopefully will, as soon as possible) although  I have contributed to the wikis other people have done. According to all that I have seen so far, wikis are obviously a great tool which can really help students not only to learn, make progress and see the progress,  but in this way wikis can assist  them to become more aware of their own learning. This is, I think, very important and in this regard  I see a huge role of wikis: it is their contribution to the process of enabling students to become independent learners.

However, I don’t believe that wikis alone will ‘push’ our learners into the deep sea of learning: in order for that to happen the content  should be good,  too. Wikis certainly will be more motivating a tool than a traditional text-book or work-book, for example, but in my opinion it is also very important to use the wikis for activities that are motivating, engaging and worthwhile. So, what matters, as much as the tool itself, would be  the  activities/tasks suggested, the topics suggested/chosen, the instructions/guidelines and help provided by useful references, etc  (apparently, the same as in a f2f classroom).

Having said that, I return to our weekly assignment in Collaborative writing workshop: adding up our sentences in order to make up five stories. They all turned out to be  a kind of “creative writing” pieces, deliberately or not, I don’t know. I agree that collaborative writing may have the potential to produce fantastic results in creative writing, and so have the wikis in providing the platform for collaboration. However,  I think that something was missing there.

I may be wrong and I would not like this to sound as criticism but rather as a lesson to learn from (at the end of the day, we are all learners, aren’t we?): I think that  we should have done something before we started adding up our sentences. What kind of writing are we going to produce? What are our preferences (creative? formal/transactional? which topics would be interesting to explore in such a task? etc.)  Or, we could have been given pictures or a thought provoking article as a starting point.  These are just some suggestions (they can be suggestions for the use of wikis in a language class as well).

Creative writing is usually preceded by extensive brainstorming, and so is the formal essay writing. It may seem difficult to induce brainstorming among people in such a diverse  group from all different parts of the world, but wikis might be just an ideal tool for the kind of brainstorming needed in collaborative writing. So, this would be my suggestion for some future collaborative writing group task: use wikis to brainstorm the topics, ideas, negotiate them, select the best or the most inspirational ones, group them, decide on the ones suited to most participants, etc. And only then start the actual activity of  (collaborative) writing. I am quite sure that the results would be more interesting and the activity itself enjoyable (well, this is my personal opinion which may or may not be relevant).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Using wikis

Although I have seen wikis before, this was the first one I participated in. I have actually done a similar activity with students but on a blog. I teach formal academic writing, so I gave the students a topic sentence in an original post to start with and asked students to write an appropriate sentence to build a paragraph--each student could only write one sentence at a time--we used comments to build the paragraph. The students had to obey the rules of formal paragraph organization. Again, the fact that my "class" changes every month (revolving door phenomenon), and that students are all working at their own pace, makes it more difficult to do a task that requires cooperation from a number of students.

Using a wiki to do this type of exercise is obviously easier. However, I found it difficult to do with the "creative" writing task we were given this week. That's definitely not my forte! However, give me something expository to write, and I don't know when to stop;-) Next time I want to do an activity similar to the one I did on the blog I mentioned, I will use a wiki instead.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Wikis in the classroom

I have never used wikis in my teaching practice. I see the advantages of wikis in collaborative project work. And what's more I have always wanted to learn how to make them.
I know how to work with blogger and it doesn't take much of my time to publish what I want. To learn something new you have to stop and think and try it - and there is nobody to help you. I'm very glad to be here - every week I learn something new for my work.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

EFL writing using wikis by Berta

I would say that one of the best features Wikis provide for writing courses is that students can see their progress. Every change they make to their page is registered in its history and nothing is ever lost (if saved properly). Students start by writing a draft, then revising, after that they can go to their page with a classmate and they can both revise it together; the student might work on it with the teacher at a student-teacher conference, and the process can go on and on until the student and/ or teacher is/are satisfied with the piece of writing. The student can go to the first version and see how it has changed, identify what mistakes he had originally made and appreciate his progress.

Wikis can also work as online classrooms where there can be a main page with the syllabus and links on the sidebar for the activities for each week, tutorials, collaborative exercises, other external class sites such as blogs, bookmarks, aggregators to keep track of several sites simultaneously, etc. Pages can hold videos, slideshows, chat boards, images, hyperlinks, voice threads, in sum, anything that is embeddable.

I have already mentioned a wiki we had in our last EFL writing course where the main objective was reflecting on EFL writing, what it meant, what it involved and how to get more self control in order to learn to revise one´s texts, revise that of peers, write for a real audience beyond the teacher and even beyond the classroom through collaborations with EFL students abroad, etc. Here is an example of activities for a given week, materials needed and the weekly list of benchmarks.

The tool my students always find the most useful is the chat board. There, all members can communicate with one another, ask for help, send quick messages and write their ideas in a few words. Every message is recorded and students can go back and re-read instructions, previous threads, etc. The chat board we use is Cbox, a free tool that can be embedded in wikis or blogs.

Something that happens to me over and over again is that whenever I start using a new tool, it is very
difficult for me to change to another. I started working with wikis in Wikispaces and although colleagues have mentioned the benefits of Pbwiki or Wetpaint, I stick to Wikispaces, even if it has ads on the right sidebar. The same with blogs at Blogger. I have tried Wordpress and Motime and Blogger is still the one for me. Does this happen to you too? or are you more flexible and adaptable?

Wikis and EFL (by Mariel)

I have never used a wiki in my classes, but like Joel I have been experimenting with the Multilit wiki and I believe they have a great potential for EFL.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago I created my first wiki for a class that begins in March. I have made it private, but feel free to request me access. Do mention that you are a member of this EVO Group in your message. I would seriously appreciate your feedback.

Let me mention the main advantages of a wiki, in my view. It allows you to insert images, embed videos, create links, like a blog, though it is true the "visual" component is not so strong. Unlike blogs, you and your students can start new pages (and comment on existing ones, obviously), and place them in folders, which I believe can make for much more "organised" work - in a traditional sense of the work "organised", I admit. But I think (though I haven't tried it yet), students may find it easier to go to the "right" place and see what is expected from them.

I see the main advantage in connection with process writing. The whole process can be clearly traced (reversed if necessary) and collaborative documents can be produced.

I can't wait to implement this wiki.

I'm detailing a project in my blog. Perhaps you could give me some feedback?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The use of Wikis - Joel Bloch

Our university recently has begun developing a wiki that could be used as an alternativel to our course management system. In the past I have used a wiki for having students post their essays,and as part of the EVO multiliteracies class, I have been experimenting with wikis as an alternative to blogging.  As far as all these possibilities, I have still found that the Wikipedia model is the best use for wikis in the classroom. When Wikipedia first became popular, I asked my doctoral students to write an encyclopedia-like article that they could post to Wikipedia. I figured that these students had the most knowledge across a variety of subjects. They work on drafts and I edited their final draft and then posted them to Wikipedia. Some got accepted and some were instantly rejected. The ones that were accepted were all removed a few weeks later. Some of the explainations would have been useful for the students to think of what writing is but unfortunately we did this assignment towards the end of the course and the studentsdidn't follow up.

The next time I used a Wiki, I still followed the Wikipedia model but focused on skills rather than on publishing. They had an assignment to write a definition paper and I asked them to post it to the wiki. Then I had other students come in and edit their papers and then I graded them directly on the Wiki. The assignment went okay, but not well enough that I felt the urgency to repeat it the next time I taught the course.

There were some advantages in using the Wiki over the coursemanagement system but again how my university implemented the Wiki created some of the same problems I had with the CMS. Obviously, the ability to do peer review was better with the Wiki. Also, I felt it was easier to manage individual Wiki pages than individual blogs; however, I have been play around with Netvibes and Pageflakes in the other EVO class and they seem to solve some of the problems with using individual blogs.