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Using Wikis to Foster Authenticity in Middle School Writing: (Wiki) Pro's

Written by Kaili Phillips
March 27, 2011

Pro’s for (Wiki) Prose:

Students who wouldn’t ordinarily share their work felt comfortable sharing.

As you read in my first blog journal entry, one of the “lows” of Day 1 was a students asking if she “Had to put her work on there.” I can remember the fear and uncertainty in her eyes as she quietly asked the question. There were many like her—students who just don’t like sharing their stuff. I can relate—I was one of those students for most of my life.

In the survey I took two months into beginning the wiki, when asked, “Do you feel safe/confident sharing your writing in class?”, only 20% reported that they felt very comfortable. In contrast, when asked, “Do you feel safe/confident sharing your writing on the wiki?”, 53% of my students reported that they felt very comfortable. This statistic alone prompts me to continue using wikis in my classroom to enable students to act as writers do by sharing their work.

Students learned to ask good questions of their readers.

Kids often come to me in study hall or during class, give me their papers, and ask me “Is this good?” I have emphasized all year the importance of asking specific questions—what exactly are they unsure of? What do they want their readers to look for while reading the piece? Is what good?

One highlight of implementing this sharing process is that students learned to ask their readers for specific and helpful feedback. Whenever they posted a piece of work, they were to ask their reader at least two questions indicating what they wanted feedback on. Often times, they took language from our classroom, which was very cool. For example, during descriptive writing, they often asked the reader if he or she could “See” particular parts of the piece. We talked about “flow” a lot in class because of the ambiguity of the term. We decided that if a person could read a piece aloud and not be caught on a word or sentence, or not have to say, “Hold on….what?” and re-read, the piece had good “flow”. Students asked many questions like, “Did it flow when you read it aloud?”

Students were giving different kinds of feedback

Often in middle school, students are not only afraid to share their writing with peers but they avoid giving real feedback to peers as well. I believe they aren’t confident enough in their own writing so don’t feel like they have anything to offer. This is something I have been working on all year and trying to emphasize that content is really what we’re pushing for and grammar will come later.

Along with asking the good questions of their readers, as discussed above, my students began giving a wide variety of feedback on each other’s pages. At times, students who asked specific questions didn’t get much in the way of specific feedback:

Other times, students who really didn’t ask very specific questions got very specific feedback (this student didn’t write any questions at all):

A conclusion that I arrived at was that quality of feedback was not conditional upon just a specific question but also upon the responder. The majority of the feedback that had to do with content was from students who show more confidence as a writer and/or a class participant. I feel that they felt more comfortable taking a risk like giving advice on what the person is writing about as opposed to giving advice on something as impersonal as grammar.

With that said, some students DID surprise me; Emily, the girl who responded about both organization and grammar in the image above, is very quiet, tends to listen instead of speak during class discussions, and would not be a person I would think of to give that much feedback to a peer about his or her writing. Seeing how she helped her peer shows me how powerful this resource is for her and for other “under-the-radar” types of students.

Students began sharing writing that they had produced for other classes or just for fun.

Image originally uploaded on 2011-03-30 17:02

This is an email I got about two hours after sending out invitations to join the wiki—invitations that explicitly said, “Do not worry about this until class time!” A few of my students were so excited to begin getting their work out there…wherever “there” was. Many students put free writes up and asked for comment while others did as this student did four days later:

Image originally uploaded on 2011-03-30 17:04

Students were beginning to act like real writers. They wanted to get their work read and get feedback from peers. Like anything, the site has lost a bit of novelty over time, but it has become a lasting, powerful resource for some students and that makes me very happy.

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