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The (School Name) Wiki will, starting in 2015, be compiled by the students and staff of (School Name). (Note: click on compiled to see what it means.) In it you will find information relating to our school subjects, our local community, and the wider world.

AKA: You will be putting up information as you learn it at school and you can use it to help you with things that you don't get.

Why are we doing this?

“You're so much better at explaining this than the textbook. Why do they even use such long words? It's like they want to make maths difficult.”
“Is that really what that means? Why didn't they just say that instead of writing so many words?”

Both these comments have been made by students in the last few weeks and they are not unusual. The language used by textbooks, by scientific reports, and often by teachers, is a different version of English to the one we normally speak or type (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, pg 35).[1]

Communication happens in many ways

Different situations use different versions of English. You use different words, and body language, when you're talking with friends than you would when talking to a crowd. Writing a note to someone on Facebook is different to applying for a job. Reading a newspaper is different to reading the noticeboard at the footy club. What about reading a textbook? Reading a blog? Listening to the radio? Watching a movie? Talking with a little kid? Talking with the Queen? All these things are different. Particular fields also have their own unique vocabularies too: electricians use different words to hairdressers, cricket players use different words to football players.

For instance, an invitation to a school event could be:

There's a thing on at school next Friday. Some plan for next year to make us better at English and computers or something. They're gonna tell us about it and we get to use the computers to see what it's all about and then we're gonna talk about it.

Or:

You are hereby invited to attend a School Forum on December 12th, 2014. At this forum, school staff will outline a new cross-curricular program to be implemented next year. We will follow this talk with a workshop showcasing several options, and break into focus groups to further develop our strategy.

In order to understand what is happening around you, to function effectively in a job, or to contribute to society, it is important to be able to understand these different 'versions' of English, and decide how you want to communicate (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, pp. 48-49).[2] If you want to convince someone to hire you, it helps to speak their language. If you want to convince politicians to act in ways that benefit your community, it helps to speak their language. And when you want to express yourself, it helps to have a range of options to choose from.

How is it going to work?

Flowchart

This project will run across all subject areas and all teachers will be spending lesson time helping you to translate textbook-speak into your own language (which may involve pictures, videos, diagrams, links to content created by others, and more). For some of you this will involve translating into another language altogether. It is important for this to happen across all subject areas, because all subject areas have different vocabulary and structure. Although the overarching aim of this project is to increase the flexibility of your literacy, it will also help you to improve your learning in all subject areas (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, pp. 48-49).[3] You will have the skills needed to learn from each other, from textbooks, news articles, YouTube videos, and the whole surrounding world (including sources that don't even exist yet).

Organisational Structure

At the beginning we will structure the wiki according to subject area however, as we add content and links, different structures may begin to appear.

If you have ever asked a teacher

“but what's the point of all this?”

or

“how am I ever going to use this information?”

then you may see the benefit of student contributed How To-style pages (eg How To Understand a Scientific News Report, How To Tile a Roof, How To Always Win At Noughts and Crosses, How To Design a Logo). As you, and other students, create How To pages with links to relevant classroom topics, you will be able to see the ways your subjects are interconnected and how they can help you in the world.

Another benefit of the wiki is that it will not be segregated by class or year. When you are learning about algebra, you will be seeing translations given by students in the years above and below your own. The translations you provide can help students in the next classroom across. In this way, you will have easy access to material you studied in previous years and, when you come across a topic that really interests you, you can find out where it's heading.

Maintenance

Each homecare will maintain particular topics on the wiki. You will ensure links are valid, the pages are neat, and easily readable, and you will fix or flag any contradictions. This maintenance work will give you responsibility over the project as well as being an opportunity for you to learn practical organisational skills for a modern workplace.

Access to computers

We all know that access to computers can be tough at times with the laptops taking forever to turn on and computer rooms often booked out. At present, it is important to note that a lot of the translating work can be done without a computer, and can be uploaded later. You will also be able to access and edit the wiki on your phones (although that will use mobile data).

We are considering what options are available for new technology and welcome any suggestions from students. Perhaps that could be a critical community project...

Wait, there's more...

Creating Content

It's one thing to understand what's happening around you in different situations, it's another thing to contribute to those situations. We can hear a commentator a thousand times, but if you ever try commentating, you'll find that simply being able to understand what they're saying is not enough to be able to speak in a similar way – it takes practice, it requires thought, and at the beginning it is difficult!

This act of creation is already built into subject areas and we wish to extend that this year. The first method of extension is through the creation of this wiki. As you create definitions and examples and explanations for other students you will learn which things they understand easily, and which things aren't quite getting your message across.  

We will also have a focus on community and you will be using the group knowledge you gain through our wiki to be active contributors to our community. We want the decisions about how to contribute, and in which ways, to belong to you so we cannot give you any details yet. However, some of the ideas that have already been suggested are an Everyday Maths newsletter (containing information about taxes, how to interpret statistics in news reports,...), and writing regular letters to our local MPs about local, national and international issues.  

A Critical Community

This project is an amalgamation of two literacies pedagogies: functional and critical. In the functional literacy pedagogy, students are taught how to work within 'the system' (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, Chapter 5).[4] That is, you are taught the skills you need to be functional within the world: how to use language to write reports, apply for jobs, read newspaper articles, and so on. This is what we have noticed you requesting. You want jobs. You want school to teach you how to do well in the world. We agree that this is important, and that's what you've been reading about so far. With this wiki you will be learning to fit in with the world: to translate the things you come across so that they make sense to you, and to translate your own ideas into various 'professional' languages. You will learn the unwritten, and written, rules behind different types of communication. But we want to go further.

We want you to be able to shape the world. We want you to have the ability not just to fit in with the system but also to make it better. This is the essence of the critical literacies pedagogy (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, Chapter 6).[5] When you come across things in the world that are unfair, unjust, cruel and frustrating, we want you to have the tools to fix them, not just to work around them.  In order to give you opportunities to work on changing the world, we will start the year by asking you about the things you care about, the things you want to change, the things you hate and the things you want to celebrate. Together, we will use this information to create plans, within multi year level groups, for you to make the school, and wider community, into the places you think they should be. The skills you will have learned while creating the wiki will enable you to effectively communicate ideas with each other, with teachers, and with community leaders, to bring about change (Kalantzis & Cope, 2012, pp 159-161).[6]

Our initial community projects will be based around the ideas you suggest at the start of the year, and we will also be introducing you to other social issues, that you may not have considered, throughout the year.

Where to from here?

Our action plan to get this project going is as follows.

December 2014

February 2015

March 2015

  • Multi year level groups formed to act on student concerns

June

  • Mid-year Discussion evening to evaluate program so far

Today you can...

  • Make some lists of things you like and dislike about your community, or
  • Create a translation of a section of this wiki page: try talking about it and recording your conversation, or drawing a comic to explain.
  • Brainstorm ways to improve this page. Which words need definitions? Where should we link to get more information? Should some of this writing be moved to separate wiki pages?

See also

References

  1. Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B., (2012). Literacies. Cambridge University, UK: Cambridge University Press
  2. Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B., (2012). Literacies. Cambridge University, UK: Cambridge University Press.
    “(...)those who do not speak the nuanced language of corporate culture may find that their aspirations to social mobility hit a 'glass ceiling'.”
  3. Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B., (2012). Literacies. Cambridge University, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B., (2012). Literacies. Cambridge University, UK: Cambridge University Press
  5. Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B., (2012). Literacies. Cambridge University, UK: Cambridge University Press
  6. Kalantzis, M. & Cope, B., (2012). Literacies. Cambridge University, UK: Cambridge University Press

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