Today I heard from a former student, Alexa Garvoille, now a teacher at a public magnet high school in Durham, North Carolina, Durham School of the Arts. Despite some opposition at first, Alexa is now having the students in her classes contribute to the Young Adult literature essays on Wikipedia. Some are honors students, some students with learning disabilities, some ESL students. Alexa writes: " Theorizing aside, the project was the most successful of my entire first year. It was like magic."
Alexa was an excellent MAT student in my graduate seminar (mostly for doctoral students in English) on "Early American Novels and Other Fictions" where students were required to add or edit the deplorable entries on early American literature, early meaning written at the time of the American Revolution and the American Constitution. These entries tended to be impoverished, to say the least, and I challenged these graduate students to bring them up to scholarly standards. Alexa not only did this in her own class but has now imparted the same standards and the same desire to use one's own learning to contribute to public knowledge to her students.
She notes: "All students participated, happy to finally be able to choose their own books. Students who didn't read Mockingbird or any short stories or Romeo and Juliet or, heaven forbid, The Odyssey, read for this unit. One ESL student told me he had been working on his article one night at 3 am . . . They all have Wikipedia accounts now, know about citing sources, and many of them are legitimately published and proud of their work. Some students simply improved an existing YA page (and, let me tell you, Young Adult novel pages are in worse shape than Early American Novel pages!), while others created a whole new page from scratch (without it even being deleted the next day)."
Here are a few pages created by Alexa Garvoille's students at Durham School of the Arts:
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (created by one very determined Honors student)
Eleventh Grade Burns by Heather Brewer (created by one very vampire-obsessed self-declared anarchist)
Brothers in Arms by Paul Langan and Ben Alirez (created by three students who hadn't been very motivated in reading and writing before)
Children of the River by Linda Crew (created by a pair of best friends)
Check out these entries! They are impressive by any standard.
Alexa has also generously offered all HASTAC readers the links to her full proposal. Anyone who would like to use Wikipedia in the classroom (K-20) can find material in this thoughtful, well-considered, proposal, with ample bibliography:
And this page is a link to her unrevised unit plan: http://garvoille.wordpress.com/professional/wikipedia/
Who believed 9th Grade students could contribute so much, could be held to such high standards, and could learn lessons that they will remember for a lifetime? Alexa did. And so did 120 9th graders at Durham School of the Arts. They believed in themselves. They believed they had something important and worthy to convey to others. We need lots more teachers like Alexa--and more students like these at Durham School of the Arts!