Something wiki this way comes

7th November 2008 at 00:00
Last year, writing results went `through the roof' at Perth Academy. One teacher believes it is thanks, at least in part, to wikis

Wikis improve literacy and meet the four capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence, according to Neil Winton, head of English at Perth Academy.

Wikis are interactive web pages that can be edited. The most famous wiki, Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, has its content generated and modified by the internet-using public.

Mr Winton is a night owl, he told the audience gathered for his seminar at the recent Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow. But until he set up his first wiki last year, in collaboration with colleague Sarah Duffy, for an S2 class which was studying A Midsummer Night's Dream, he did not realise his pupils were too. Then the emails began dropping into his inbox at all times of day and night to notify him that pupils were working on it.

Now the wiki, which began life as a basic frame with a couple of pages, contains a section on the chronology of the play, the characters, language, a biography of Shakespeare, a bit about The Globe, a link to the play and reviews of the play.

Most of the content has been generated by pupils who have assumed the names of characters to protect their own identities. They have even created a problem page, which Mr Winton admitted he initially suspected would be a "guise for talking about the boy they had just ditched at the school dance" but, in fact, turned out to be more "completely inspired lunacy".

Hermia101, for instance, asks the online agony aunt, Aunty Flo: "I really like this guy and I want to marry him but my dad doesn't like him. He wants me to marry another man. If I don't marry the other man I must become a nun or die. I really like this guy but I don't want to disapoint my dad. What should I do?"

Meanwhile, Bottom says, "My name is Bottom, Puck has been bullying me a lot lately and has recently given me a donkey's head!! what should i do???"

The wiki was free to create - wiki provider Wikispaces has 250,000 wikis to give away free to teachers.

Another advantage, Mr Winton confided, is that pupils did most of the work. "Without exaggeration, the majority of the work is done by the children at all sorts of weird and wonderful hours, just because you are empowering them."

Wikis are also easy to use, he discovered. "The technology is straightforward and there are fantastic tutorials online."

An American schoolboy even got involved in editing one of the pages of the wiki for A Midsummer Night's Dream. However, they need not be open to the world, Mr Winton explained; they can also be private spaces which contributors are invited to join.

Giving pupils the sense of a "real audience" that extended beyond the teacher was motivating, Mr Winter argued, and made them far more likely to check and revise their writing themselves.

When S2 pupils knew their creative writing wiki was going to be seen by audiences at the Scottish Learning Festival, someone was working on it at 10.10pm the night before, he pointed out.

This wiki takes quite a different form. The home page explains that the wiki is a "text-based adventure game created by pupils at Perth Academy".

Similar in style to choose-your-adventure books, the story starts with the reader entering a cave. Everything suddenly goes dark, you head towards a "dim light coming from the depths of the cave" but then become trapped. Ultimately, you have two choices: a) swing with your sword desperately into the dark, or b) to make a dash to the lantern that has fallen over.

The reader makes his or her choice and the story, compiled, edited and added to by Perth Academy pupils, continues.

This wiki was "very much a work in progress", said Mr Wilton. But already it was clear that pupils were looking not just at their own pages, but also at others' work.

"Those who are good at description are looking for opportunities to improve other pages," he says; "similarly with spelling and punctuation and the other aspects of the actual writing."

Mr Winton has also created a wiki for pupils studying the book Tins by Alex Shearer (pictured). "The pupils are going to write to Shearer to see if they can make him a member of their wiki," he said.

Mr Winton has tried using wikis to link up with a school on Islay. The idea was that the pupils based in Islay High and Perth Academy would read the novel Boy Overboard, by Morris Gleitzman, while collaborating on building and editing a wiki about it.

Islay High's participation hangs in the balance, however - its internet filtering system would not allow them to access the wiki. Such blockages are a bugbear of Mr Winton's. "At the moment, many authorities will block any site classed as social networking - why? Social networking, collaborative leaning and co-operation lie at the heart of A Curriculum for Excellence."

www.midsummerdreaming.; www.wikispaces.comsiteforteachers;

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