Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wikis Supporting Author Studies - Jenny Nash

I love author studies. Last year, we dove head first into our Allen Say author study while still in the early weeks of the school year and deeply involved in teaching rituals and routines. I was thrilled to see my students interests peeked so quickly in good, quality literature that challenged them to think deeper and stretch farther. I also noticed how an author study can quickly become an all-encompassing project -- involving not only reading and writing, but history, geography, and research skills. With an author such as Allen Say, whose works are widely historical and cultural in nature, I found it necessary to build my readers' schema and record our findings for future readings.

This year, I've found a way to make it even more effective and motivating for my students. A wiki.

With Melanie's help, we created a skeletal wiki. Pages were created for each book, as well as various other topics related to our study, such as vocabulary and historical references. The vision was that this wiki could serve as a publishing method for our responses and an opportunity for extending higher learners' thinking.

For example, during the course of our author study we studied the genres and elements of literature. Therefore, within each book's page students have recorded literary elements such as genre, characters, and setting. Another focus of our study was determining the theme of a text. So, this, too, is included on each book's page. We also, in part to prepare us for the DRA2, practiced writing short summaries of books - focusing on what is important, without telling "too much". You will find that student's short summaries for the Allen Say books are also included.

As I mentioned earlier, I find that, with this author study in particular, students need to develop a strong understanding of historical events and periods, specifically, World War II and Japanese-American Internment Camps. I conducted some searches and found a few websites with information I thought would be appropriate, meaningful, and useful for my students. I included links to these sites within the wiki, as well.

The author study includes a vocabulary component, too. On each book's page, students have identified "interesting language/new words". Additionally, a separate page was created to house a master list of vocabulary. Originally, the vision was to have students synthesize the meaning of these words by selecting an image from the internet to represent each word and insert within the page.

There are more creative opportunities, too! For instance, I created a readers' theater script for Under the Cherry Blossom Tree. My students rehearsed this in small groups and independently at home. I recorded their readings with my Flip Video and can add this to my wiki! Additionally, my students created a piece of original artwork, designed to represent their favorite book or piece of the study. These pictures were photographed and added to a VoiceThread. Students then recorded their "mini-response" to their reading to create a class response. This, too, will be included in the wiki, as well as our class blog.

This project, being the first of what I hope will be many, was not without obstacles. In retrospect, I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew! I had high hopes of creating a broad tool to serve a multitude of purposes. However, my students and I were just not ready for this degree of implementation. There was training to do and wrinkles to iron out. For one, hardware. With only the two student stations and one laptop available for my students during the school day, adding information was slow. I investigated the laptop lab, but was told there were issues with using it to upload content in mass. So, I invited students to join the wiki, get their own user name, and work from home. Unfortunately, they are at home with little, if any, technological support, so few students took advantage of this opportunity. I expect that with more experience in the classroom, and continued support for students and parents technological learning, my students' (and parents') confidence in technology will increase and so will their participation at home.

Ultimately, I remain convinced that this is the next step in my teaching. It has motivated my students, as well as opened avenues towards learning experiences that I only imagined were possible. My advice to those interested in trying it is -- JUST DO IT! Tackle it one step at a time.

Do not let your first be your last! My classes will soon embark on another author study together, for which we will create ANOTHER, entirely unique wiki. My purpose for this new wiki will be similar, but not identical, and the wiki will reflect that in its design.

In closing, begin with the end in mind. What is your purpose? What is your vision? What is the most essential piece? Begin there, remain focused, and you will be pleased.

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