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The wiki allows us to link students to resources on the web (texts, audio texts, websites) available 24/7 for Grade 9.

The English Department teachers operate in  “Wiki Wonderland” at Wamogo High School; all class materials for English classes, and other disciplines as well, for grades 7-12 are available 24/7 on our class wikis using the PBWorks platform.

Syllabus link for AP English Literature with University of Connecticut Early College Experience course-Grade 12

Our school does have the paid subscription based on the number of students assigned to each wiki so that there is an additional level of security for students, however, the use of a wiki does not require a subscription. There are numerous wiki platforms, (Google, Wetpaint, Wikispaces, etc) and most have free classroom editions with limitations on design and security features.

English Department teachers  use either the assignment page template or insert a table (see below) to post a schedule of activities by week, quarter, or semester.  We are able to link materials on any page in the wiki itself, to a link on the Internet or to a document that has been uploaded. The wiki also allows us to embed videos, audio clips, animations, pictures, and other widgits on a page; we often have students comment on these embedded masterial by responding directly on  the page.

A lesson or unit can be completely organized on a wiki page (directions, resources, responses) so that students may work independently, in or outside class. Organizing materials, pages and files, on the wiki for ease of use by student/parent  is probably the most challenging task for each teacher.

Using the wiki meant that we are moving towards a “blended classroom” of in class and online learning. For the past two years, we have been very happy with the wiki in class. Plus, we thought by using the wikis that we were “cutting edge”.
Then came the flipped classroom.
The flipped classroom is organized so content usually delivered in a classroom is posted as homework , and the homework given to provide students some practice with content is completed in class. This approach allows a teacher the opportunity to devote more time working with students rather than lecturing or demonstrating a particular skill.

So, English Department teachers are now trying to incorporate the flip. There are some challenges, however; English is not a “content driven” class. In fact, the skills a student is taught at the elementary level are the same  that are taught at the high school level: reading, writing, speaking, listening. The process of aquiring these skills in English is not so much a sequence, like a staircase, as it is a weave, like cloth. Students improve these skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening by exposure to increasingly complex  content. There are more challenging texts, more sophisticated vocabulary, and more rigor with grammar as the student moves through an eductional system.

A simile in the picture book Quick Like a Cricket is the same literary device as a simile in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a theme in E.B. White’s Charlottes’ Web can be as universal as a theme from Dostoevsky’s  Crime and Punishment, and a rhyme scheme by Shel Silverstein can be as clever as a rhyme scheme by Shakespeare.  English is a discipline of warp (writing structure) and woof (writing style) that is centered on the application and practice of skills rather than the aquisition of a body of facts. The collection of information (content) belongs more to history, mathematics, science and social sciences.
That said, how does a flipped English classroom work? What can easily be flipped?

Currently, we are trying to develop grammar lessons into a flipped model. New grammar content can be created and/or uploaded for overnight viewing (adverbial clauses) as well as remediation (capitalization of the letter “I” when used as a pronoun). Materials placed online for the flipped classroom have the  added benefit of having materials available for review if a student forgets one of the rules in our complex language.

Since many of our students do less and less assigned reading for homework, our English Department teachers are dedicating more time in class to active reading, read alouds, and silent sustained reading in class. In a sense, we have flipped the reading activity to the classroom. However, providing instructional class time for reading means that a focus must be on having students responding to the texts effectively. At present, many responses to literature are begun in class, completed for homework and then peer- reviewed in class to prepare for the final polish before turning the response in the following day.

We have also organized our independent reading materials by unit (coming of age, people in conflict), and each book’s summary, book reviews, and a selection of passages from books have been placed online on the wiki so that a student may “shop” for a text outside the classroom rather than waste time perusing the classroom library looking for a book.

So far, those are the successes our teachers have had with the flipped classroom model; we will be experimenting this year with using the flip model for vocabulary, providing context materials for literature (not front-loading, however!), and promoting texts.

At present, I do not anticipate that the English classrooms in my department will be completely flipped, just as our English classrooms are not completely blended. Yet, the degree to which blended learning with resources on the wiki for instruction in and outside class is being influenced by the principles of the flipped classroom I cannot say. I do know that more and more of our instruction is taking place online, and because we are adopting the methods of blending or flipping instruction, teaching English in the 21st century means the teachers must be more flexible, almost gymnastic, than ever before.

In three short years, the Region 6 School District in Connecticut has rolled out several technology initiatives at the Wamogo High School -1:1 netbooks  in English/Social Studies classrooms, Smartboards in all classrooms, I-pads for teachers- in order to prepare all students with 21st Century skills.

These technology initiatives have allowed members of the English Department to incorporate wikis,  specifically wikis hosted on the PBWorks site, in providing instruction to students in grades 7-12. These wikis serve in different ways in each of the English classrooms. Teachers can post assignments, provide links to websites or resources; students can make their own webpages with information or make comments on other students’ works.

Junior Wiki assignment page with links

One of the many advantages to using a wiki for a teacher is the ability to go “paperless” since worksheets can be uploaded to the wiki for students to download and complete.  Webpages can be developed by individual students, and students can comment on other student pages. Pages can be created collaboratively and teachers will have an accurate record of who contributed based on time stamp entries on a web page.

Students can also access their reading assignments through the wiki since teachers can post links to digital texts. The wiki can expand a school library by promoting the links to materials that can be read on any Internet ready device. Students, and parents, can access the wiki 24/7 from any Internet device.

Of course, the use of a classroom wiki means that much more of the responsibility for student learning is placed on the student.

Advanced Placement English Literature digital texts

Not surprisingly, there are some students who are not as enthused about the wikis as teachers are. Some are a little insulted that educators have co-opted the Internet for education. However, all of our students are becoming used to the following mantra, “It’s on the wiki!”

For example:

A student will ask what homework is due for tomorrow.

(“It’s on the wiki!”)

A student who has been out ill for a few days might ask what he/she has missed.

(“It’s on the wiki!”)

A student may say he/she left the assigned book in a locker.

(“It’s on the wiki!”)

A student may claim he was not sure exactly how long an essay response had to be for an assignment or she may say that she lost the worksheet that needed to be completed.

(“It’s on the wiki!”)

The wiki does hold the student more accountable for participation. Of course, this participation means that they actually have to go to the wiki.

Around this time of year, Edublogs, a free educational blogging platform that claims to be the, largest, most trusted, best supported and widely used way for teachers and students to engage with the world of blogging” asks for nominations for the best educational wikis. The Edublog Awards accept nominations also for the best blogs, web tools, twitter feed and educational use of social networks for the year. These awards were created “in response to community concerns relating to how schools, districts and educational institutions were blocking access of learner and teacher blog sites for educational purposes.  The purpose of the Edublog awards is promote and demonstrate the educational values of these social media.

I would love to share any one of the excellent wikis being used at Wamogo High School, by the English Department or by any other discipline at the school, but most of our subscription wikis are private for student and parent use only. While our wikis cannot be seen by the general public, which means they could not be nominated, there are a plethora of other educational wikis available that promote teacher professional development and/or student learning. Many of our teachers’ best ideas come from exploring the wonderful resources in blogs, wikis, and other social media available on the Internet. Sites that have won an Edublog Award are always exceptional in providing these resources.

Wamogo High School wikis will not win any of the Edublog Awards for 2011, however, our teachers already know how the use of wikis has improved delivery of material and student engagement these past three years. We chant a 21st Century mantra for success… “It’s on the wiki!”

This summer, 11th and 12th grade Advanced Placement students at Wamogo High School are reading The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck developed the novel from a series of articles commissioned in October of 1936 by the San Francisco News under the title “The Harvest Gypsies”. The novel was published in 1939, won the Pulitzer Prize for Steinbeck in 1940, and is largely credited for winning Steinbeck the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

The novel is centered around the story of the Joads, a family forced by economic hardship and drought to abandon their homestead to seek jobs and a future in California. The book chapters alternates between their story and the stories of others, including the point of view of a turtle watching the diaspora of the “Okies”, sharecropper families who fled the Dust Bowl and travelled across the mid-west in search of migrant farm work. Steinbeck’s depiction of the treatment of these migrant workers and the migrant camps was controversial, and he was attacked by political and social organizations from the right and the left. Undeterred, Steinbeck wrote, “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects].”

Advanced Placement Students in grades 11 & 12 will read this American classic and create a digital museum

In order to understand the social and political turmoil that marked the 1930s, we are having the students organize an online museum of digital artifacts from that decade on a wiki, a website that allows for the collaborative creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser. Students have been organized in teams of three or more and assigned a particular topic from the time period. Topics include:

  1. Okies
  2. Entertainment of the 1930s-Movies-Radio Shows
  3. Herbert Hoover-The Crash of 1929
  4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  5. Journalism in the 30s-William Randolph Hearst-Dorthea Lange
  6. John Steinbeck-the author
  7. Migrant Workers-Farming in California 1930s
  8. Hoovervilles-Weedpatch-Community Associations within the Camps
  9. 1930 Fashion
  10. Dustbowl
  11. Works Project Administration in the 1930s
  12. Woolworth-General Store
  13. Sears Catalog and other Catalogs
  14. Music of the 1930s–1940s
  15. Route 66-Jalopies- Truckstops and Cafes

Click here to see a sample of one of the online museum pages from past years.

In doing this project, students are able to become an “expert” on one of the topics explored in the novel. They scan the Internet looking for primary documents, videos, audio recordings, photos, and art from the 1930s. For example, the Library of Congress website and the Internet Archives website  are excellent sources for digital museum artifacts. Members of the team embed these digital items onto a wiki page and make the page attractive for the reader. Each page must have the bibliographic information; links to other web pages are also permitted. Once the topic pages are completed, every team will have a chance to reflect and review their own web page and the other web pages created by other teams. Using wiki software, students are able to build a body of knowledge that helps them better understand the context that created Steinbeck’s novel.

We have several copies of The Grapes of Wrath on our library shelves; some editions are newer than others. There was a special 50th anniversary publication published in 1989, and the book received an Oprah “bump” when another Steinbeck classic, East of Eden, was picked for her book club in 2003. I will pick up copies at used book stores that are in very good to excellent condition only. The full text of the book was scanned by Google as part of their efforts to make the world’s great books available online, so I can place the link to the text on the same wiki webpages as the online museum. Students can choose to read a hard copy or a digital copy of the text.

This book should only be assigned for summer reading to students who expect to encounter a more challenging text.  The alternating narrative points of view and the length of the text can be stumbling blocks to an inexperienced reader. However, there is the opportunity to have students draw connections from the 1930s to today’s current economic difficulties and political problems. For example, in Chapter 25, food crops are destroyed in order to keep the prices high. This chapter contains the title phrase, “…and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” Steinbeck’s biblical allusion to social justice and workers is powerful and current in the light of statistically high unemployment today. He also incorporates environmental complications, issues in immigration and migration, and the role of government  in ways that reverberate in the politics of America today.

The novel will be 75 years old in 2014 and celebrate its centennial in 2039. Political issues facing America in the future will differ from today, however, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath can inform every generation about the clash between the promises of democracy and stark economic realities. Steinbeck himself noted the power of this novel when he said,  “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.”