Developing Critical Thinking and Writing Skills using Wikispaces Play Presentation

Angela Pretorius

Angela Pretorius is teaching, learning and creating alongside her students in the Peel Board. Her current area of interest and research is using computer games and simulations as tools in the classroom to encourage a deeper understanding of social justice concepts and ideas to foster critical thinking.

Table of Contents


To develop postmodern critical thinking, reading, and essay writing skills of students in a digital community by using wikispaces.


  • Postmodern text is a text which breaks traditional boundaries to allow the reader/writer to co-author the text.
  • Wikispaces is a web-based tool that allows students to select, evaluate, revise, edit, share comments, and publish information and ideas.

Using a gradual release of responsibility model (Janet Allen, 2000), students will engage in a thematic unit – The United Nations. The focus of this year-long unit is on developing position papers for students to present at a Model United Nations.

Teachers will lead students through the critical thinking model of the Critical Thinking Consortium group (Case & Daniels, Balcaen & Hirtz). This model defines critical thinking as the thoughtful assessment of what would be reasonable to believe or do in a given situation.

Lesson Plan

The focus of the lesson plan is for students to learn critical writing skills as they develop their position papers on a social justice issue (AIDS, child soldiers, poverty, etc.) to present at a model United Nations forum.

Keywords: wikispaces, writing, gradual release of responsibility, critical literacy, postmodern literacy

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Purpose of Learning Object

Students will…

  • develop on-line posting skills which will help them learn to write for an audience and clarify their points for their reader/audience (explicit thinking, persuasive writing).
  • develop essay writing skills with particular focus on audience and format.
  • co-author the text of each writer through their comments and on-line discussions (new literacies).
  • demonstrate critical thinking on wikispaces as they are challenged by the thinking, connections, and questioning of their peers (accountability, critical thinking, making connections, challenging point of view).
  • learn from the modeled writing of their peers and text (modeling, peer mentoring).
  • practice multiple readings rewriting/revisions as they research and examine information (selecting, evaluating, revising, editing and publishing).

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Description of Learning Tasks

Culminating Task

Each “country” presents a general position paper on the needs of their country and ideas for future action. This paper is read and commented on by all other countries in the model UN.

The general country position paper is essential for winning votes to create and pass a resolution.

To support the group position paper, each student in the group writes an individual persuasive paper which includes their research on the challenges and successes of the country, and expands on the group’s ideas captured in the draft position paper.

These papers are used to develop a final group paper outlining the country’s position.

The final group position paper, as well as the individual group member papers, is posted on wikispaces.

Each group has chosen to be part of a particular UN committee, such as health, economy, peacekeeping, education, human rights, poverty, and environment. Members of the UN committee read through the other member’s papers. They are expected to comment on both the ideas and the structure of the writing.

The students will have been exposed to the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy Questions (see Appendix A).

The writer then has an opportunity to revise his/her ideas.

Once revised, each member of the committee will posses three critical questions. These critical questions are generated using Blooms taxonomy, critical literacy question guidelines (see Appendix B), and teacher generated questions (Appendix C).

Each country group works on these questions together. This leads to the final presentation / general assembly when the voting will take place.

Assessment Tasks

Critical Challenge 1: What would be the most effective solution to (poverty/hunger; education; health; environment; economy; peace-keeping; human rights) in your country?

Criteria for Judgment: What criteria will your group use to solve this question?

Background Knowledge: Examine prior resolutions, information on your country, strategies used in the past.

Critical thinking strategies: Venn diagrams; positive and negative; t-charts.

Critical thinking vocabulary: Bias, opinion, inference, fact.

Critical Challenge 2: What is the most effective way to communicate this information to my audience?

Background Knowledge: Writing skills – paragraphing, format, word choice, voice, persuasive informative essay

Critical thinking strategies: Templates, research skills, information management

Critical thinking vocabulary: Knowledge, thinking, communication, application, rubric

Critical Challenge 3: Critical friend questions

Background knowledge: Questions which probe and lead

Critical thinking strategies: Looking for the gaps – applying what if.

Critical thinking vocabulary: Types of questions using Bloom’s taxonomy

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Curriculum Connections

  1. Generate, gather, and organize ideas and information to write for an intended purpose and audience (1.1., 1.3., 1.4., 1.5., 1.6).
  2. Using knowledge of form and style in writing (2.3., 2.5., 2.6., and 2.7.).
  3. Use editing, proofreading, and publishing skills and strategies, and knowledge of language conventions, to correct errors, refine expression, and present their work effectively (3.3., 3.4., 3.5).
  4. Reflecting on and identifying their strengths as writers, areas for improvement, and the strategies they found most helpful at different stages in the writing process (4.1., 4.2).
  5. Curriculum links to Geography, English, and History.

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Required Technology

Wikispaces – discussion page for each ‘country’ group and each committee.

Access to internet:

  • Teachers and students will need to understand how to log in to wikispaces ( see on-line tutorials), open pages, edit content on the pages, upload documents and create links on a page.
  • Students will need to be able to post comments/threaded discussions on wikispaces.
  • Teachers will need to know how to track the history of a page, and lock a page.

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Formative assessment – Student ability to log on to site and navigate on home page, to upload a document, to post a comment, and to edit a page.

Formative Assessment – Student ability to develop criteria, communicate effectively with the group in writing, understand the structure of a position paper as well as the supporting papers.

Culminating Assessment – Students can co-author a position paper for their country, as well as a supporting paper for the resolution paper.


Wiki Rubric





Social justice issue is evident.

Information is extensively researched – reader will learn something new. (1.1-1.2)

Information is supported by some research – reader is presented with the information.

Information is based on limited research – reader has many questions still unanswered after reading.


Planning skills apparent in gathering information.

Critical/creative thinking skills demonstrate the students’ understanding of the social justice issue.

Demonstrates an ability to gather pertinent information from a variety of sources. (1.3-1.4)

Demonstrates an ability to synthesize this information into a clear message for the reader using voice. (2.2-2.5)

Demonstrates an ability to gather information.

Demonstrates an ability to revise so as to produce a clearly written work.

Demonstrates a growing ability to gather information.

Demonstrates a limited ability to organize work in a clear or critical manner for the reader.


Organizing of ideas and information in a new media format.


Uses a Wikipedia format. Headings, linked text, explanation of vocabulary, visuals with captions. (3.7)

Considers and carries through revisions suggested by peers. Uses some Wikipedia format.

Considers and implements some of the revisions suggested by peers. Utilizes a paper format for presenting information.

Considers and implements some of the revisions suggested by peers with limited understanding.


Transfer of knowledge and skills to a new context

Produces a text of technical complexity for specific purpose and audience. (3.8)

Produces a text of technical complexity with some success.

Begins to explore the potential in this form of text.

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Scope and Sequence

This process is a culmination of tasks that teaches students how to engage in a new literacy – wikispaces.

The students engage in tasks that provide them with a “toolbox” for use on the website.

The students learn how to access wikispaces, how to log on, how to upload information, how to link information, how to develop as critical friends, how to respond to peers’ work, and to reflect and revise their work to target their audience and purpose with more skill.

Order of instructional events include:

  1. Logging on to wikispaces.
  2. Page vs. discussion.
  3. Uploading information.
  4. Creating links on information.
  5. Editing pages.
  6. Creating a new literacy page – visuals, links, information, and layout.
  7. Responding to others work.
  8. Critical friends.
  9. Culminating activity –Preparing a paper to support the position paragraph.

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Accommodations or Modifications

This activity is beneficial for all groups of students and can meet the diverse needs within the class. It offers a form of differentiated instruction that is student-led with the teacher as the facilitator.

IEP – Many students’ IEPs suggest the use of a computer program to allow them to word process documents.

Stage fright – Students who are not normally comfortable expressing their opinion within the classroom find the on-line conversations more positive.

Thinking time – Students have the space and time to consider their responses as they can manipulate their wait time in this environment

Depth of thinking – Students have time to think critically and to expand the depth of their thinking.

Modeling – Student writing improves in an effort to appear more academic before a greater peer audience. As well, students have greater access to modeled forms of writing and more time to examine these.

Accountability – Homework is posted on the website. This makes it easier for a student who has problems with organization. Requests for assistance can be posted thus allowing an on-line peer mentoring process to occur.

Making connections – Students report that their own ideas improve as a result of relating to each other’s posts. Students could view a wider range of viewpoints and expand on, or disagree, with these posts.

Recognition – Students are encouraged by the critical friends’ exercises. One comment echoes the feeling of many: “If you have done something really good on paper-and-pen, the class might not know about it.”

Peer mentoring – Encouragement, praise and comments on quality of work are a natural extension of wikispaces.

Social skills – Students learn how to respond in a positive, affirming manner.

Time management – There is greater ease in coordinating group projects (without having to leave the house). As well, students who are unsure of the assignment gain clarity by checking the work of others.

Explicit thinking – The written word allows students to reflect more critically on their own and others thinking. It also encourages students to become more explicit in their own thinking, or risk being misinterpreted.

Enrichment activities – Students/teacher often post games or websites that can extend their understanding of the activity.

ESL students – Students can work with the assistance of the teacher or an interpreter to develop their ideas. An interesting application for ESL students is the ability to copy and paste the article and then have it translated into their native language or vice versa. While this technology is not fail-safe, it does allow the ESL student to participate in a manner that is more authentic than in a regular classroom where it is not possible to interpret the student’s mother tongue.

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Differentiation is a natural outcome with the use of wikispaces. The following points provide clarification:

Social climate – Students are focused on providing positive, constructive feedback, according to the learning goals of each individual.

Individual peer mentoring – Each student’s work is viewed to determine what can be done to take the work to the next level.

Student voice – Each student voice has equal importance. This creates a climate in which all students are experts.

Anchor papers – There are numerous anchor papers for the student to view.

Web resources – Links to extension or remedial activities can be included on student page.

Peer support - Work is done independently, as well as with group support and encouragement.

Accessing support - Social groupings can be easily and informally attained at any point of the process, as well as questions answered.

Social skills – Students are taught how to ask questions, as well as given key phrases, and have the opportunity to practice this repeatedly.

Flexible Environment - Students can work at the pace that is desirable for their learning needs. This creates a flexible environment to accommodate all students.

Multiple resources – Students are provided with differentiated and tiered graphic organizers in order to complete the exercise.

Differentiate the final product – For students challenged by writing tasks, this task could be podcasted and/or a visual board created with captions.

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Research Base

In 1994, a group of educators gathered in New London, New Hampshire to discuss postmodern literacy for the new millennium.

The educators’ questioned why, despite all efforts to date, the literacy gap was widening. In the Harvard Educational Review (Spring, 1996) they published a paper entitled “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” This paper examined how schools are rigidly teaching literacy according to the dominant language, and failing to address or build on multiliteracies, such as the technological literacy that students practice outside of school.

In 1996, the web was mainly a ‘read-only’ tool. Since 2003 the ‘read-write’ web, known as Web 2.0, exploded. By 2005, a study showed that 57% of all American teens who use the Internet could be considered “content creators.” (Richardson (2009).

In education, tools that acknowledge this new reality have been lagging. Pioneering books such as What Video Games Can Teach Us about Learning by Gee (2002) have laid a pedagogical framework for educators. Yet it is the stories of innovative and pioneering teachers in Adolescent Literacy: Turning promise into practice (Kylene Beers et al, 2006) that inspire more technological novices, also known as “immigrant” teachers, to tune in to the world of their students.

My fascination with these new tools stemmed from a need to create a writing environment for my students that was more authentic, allowed more critical thinking, and was less teacher-centered and more community-based. My solution – a wiki.

Making a case for the wiki:

  • A wiki is primarily text-based. It can be organized in a variety of ways (subjects, categories, hierarchies). This allows the teacher and student to participate in “mind mapping using keywords” (Fountain, 2005).
  • A wiki allows for multiple edits by all readers, and tracks the history of the edits. It has a discussion board feature to allow for comments and suggestions, enabling students to take on multiple roles such as scribe, editor, consultant and/or co-author. Most importantly, it provides an audience of more than one.
  • Wiki combines the processes of reading and editing. It has been suggested that using wikis could strengthen creativity and critical skills as students observe and participate in the progression of edits. (Barton, 2004)
  • Wiki enables reflection, reviewing, appreciation of the cumulative result, and publication. The focus of a wiki is on text. However, visuals and media can be included for greater emphasis on quality content and/or to enhance comprehension.
  • Wiki becomes a forum for discussion, prompting emphasis on fact checking and sources of information. Teachers are no longer the sole ‘fountain of wisdom’ and textbooks are no longer the exclusive ‘pillars of truth’. While this is a new reality for educators, it is inevitable and undeniable in this age of technology. Also true is that this immersion in technology has created children who think differently than us because of their hypertext minds. (Winn cited in Richardson).
  • Information is co-constructed and socially shared. The learning environment becomes in effect one of “overlapping communities of interest (virtual), cross-pollinating with each other, constantly evolving, and largely self-organizing.” (Brown, 2002 reported in Duffy, 2008)

Wiki challenges us to shift from a push model of education to a pull model.

In the pull model, students are co-creators of media, learning as they innovate. In this model, student and teacher begin to co-construct knowledge and the community takes action to build the skills of writing necessary for a 21st century world of global citizens.

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Evidence of Innovation and/or Exemplary Practice

  1. Peer Editing: While students and teachers often encourage the idea of peer editing in writing classrooms, the student is exposed normally to a limited audience. Here the student benefits from the skills of the entire class or classes. Students are also aware of the criteria for the assignment. Their comments suggest that they are using this criterion as part of their evaluation. This is evidence of learning, as well as application of the learning in a real situation.

  2. Multiple anchor papers: The student is also exposed to multiple anchor papers in the form of other students writing (Janet Allen). This gives teachers authentic grade level anchor papers with which students can truly connect. Typically, students don’t relate to anchor papers that are created in a different context or with different audiences in mind. Students respond more positively to an anchor paper with which they have some connection.

  3. Audience: The student’s audience includes the whole class/or classes, rather than just the teacher. Moreover this audience is not passive, but can respond to the work. As well, the teacher has the potential to include parents, and if desired, a larger web audience, (depending on the board’s policies). Teachers may wish to link their students to This enables safe access to a world audience of students

  4. On-line Portfolio: The student’s work is preserved in an on-line portfolio. The student also has access to the history of a particular piece of writing, and can track their writing over the course of a year.

  5. Links to assistive technology: The student can upload documents or download documents to such assistive technologies as voice programs.

  6. Brainstorming: Students can develop their ideas through discussion and build on the ideas of others.

  7. Technology tools: The student and teachers can access digital media, relevant information from around the world, and up-to-date information from credible sources.

  8. Co-authors and critical thinkers: Readers become co-authors and critical thinkers. Students are able to collaborate on pieces of writing. They are able to determine where a piece of writing needs elaboration or clarification, both as a reader and a writer. Students are able to offer suggestions on improvement. In doing so, students are learning how to collaborate effectively, how to analyze and evaluate a piece of writing, and how to communicate ideas in a fair, positive manner.

  9. Editing: Students will more likely recognize the value editing or rephrasing ideas when requests for changes come from an engaged audience. In this way, the student sees editing as more than just meeting the requirements of a teacher.

  10. Ethical and responsible choices: Knowledge is constructed in a socially meaningful way for the student and teacher.

  11. Learning is a collaborative effort: Students assume responsibility for their learning and that of others. They have the opportunity to share what they know and to learn from others.

  12. Multiple Perspectives: Knowledge is no longer governed by one power group – alternate voices can be heard. In other words, students access a wider range of resources instead of only the resources selected by the teacher.

  13. Skills for Leaders: Leadership and voice are activated as students find it easier to state their opinions in an environment that encourages participation.

  14. Increased Participation: All student voices are heard by the group. Quiet students are more likely to respond in this non-threatening environment.

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Other Applications (Extensions)

  1. Creating class notes – knowledge building in a subject – critical literacies.

  2. Sharing information – bibliographies, links, video, games.

  3. Progressive problem solving – writing, mathematics, social action. This links to critical thinking skills.

  4. Ideas – using critical thinking to examine ideas, e.g. How do we define quality of life?

  5. Questioning – cause and effect.

  6. Learning to think deeply, avoid stereotypes and avoid premature judgement – on-line discussion

  7. Homework discussion board.

  8. Creating background content for a class novel.

  9. Book discussions.

  10. Group research page.

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Impact Analysis


Students enjoy posting and sharing their work on-line, as well as using it to generate discussion with their peers.

Discussion intensifies and writing improves as students urge each other to express themselves more clearly, ask probing questions and/or seek proof of a statement.

There is the ability to lock a page so that no more items can be posted or revised.

As well, many students are environmentally conscious and appreciate saving paper and ink. They also like not having to print their work for class. Consequently, the students have less problems handing in their assignments on time.


The use of wikispaces has had such a positive impact on the learning environment that I have begun to seek uses for other technologies within the classroom, such as blogging, podcasting, and simulation computer games.

My focus is on exploring current and global issues within the classroom. I also focus on teaching critical literacies and research competencies – all skills for the 21st century. Students are using their collaborative research skills to develop their own “textbooks,” thus decreasing the need for traditional textbooks.

There are numerous significant benefits to on-line portfolios of student work. Papers are no longer discarded after being marked, or after each term’s work. Students stick to deadlines as they are aware that teachers “lock” the site at a certain time, after which they may no longer submit work. More deadlines are met and more homework completed as compared with pen-and-paper assignments.


While not all teachers are adopting these new approaches, there has been an increase in the number of teachers using first-stage technology. More teachers are using document cameras and LCDs in the classroom.

Unlike newly built schools, our school does not have this technology in the classroom. Teachers must these tools out of the library. This has spurred an initiative in our technologically-poor school to fundraise to purchase a cart with a class set of laptops to ensure that the Language Arts teachers get equal computer time as Math, Science and Technology teachers. Currently, our school does not allot any computer lab time for the Language Arts teachers.

My colleague and I have recently presented the uses of wikispaces at a Professional Development Day for our family of schools. This was well attended, and many teachers were enthusiastic about applying this technology in their classrooms.

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Additional Resources

  1. Critical Thinking Questions

  2. Bloom’s Taxonomy – Revised

  3. Critical Questions for Judging Resolutions

  4. Creating a Position Paper

  5. Position Paper Anchor Paper

  6. Critical Tasks in Wiki – Writing a Position Paper

  7. Rubric for Position Paper

  8. Writing – editor’s checklist

  9. Scaffolding Students with Learning Needs

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Copyright/Paper Citation Considerations


Balcaen, P., and Hirtz, J.R. Developing Critically Thoughtful e-Learning Communities of Practice. Electronic Journal e-learning 5:3 (2007): 173-182.

Barone, D., and Wright, T. Literacy Instruction with Digital and Media Technologies. The Reading Teacher 62:4 (December 2008/January 2009): 292-302.

Beers, Kylene; Probst, Robert, and Rief, L, eds. Adolescent Literacy: turning promise into practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.

Case, Roland and LeRoi Daniels. Preconceptions of Critical Thinking. The Critical Thinking Consortium. November 2008. <>.

Jackson, Tony. Middle Schools and Global Learning. Asia Society 2009. May 2009. <>.

Lamb, A., and Johnson, L. An Information Skills Workout: wikis and collaborative writing. Teacher Librarian 34:5 (June 2007): 57-59.

Morgan, B., and Smith R.D. A Wiki for Classroom Writing. The Reading Teacher 62:1 (September 2008): 80-82.

Nicolini, M.B. Making Thinking Visible: writing in the center. Clearing House 80:2 (November/December 2006): 66-69.

Richardson, Will. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009.

Shifflet, R. And Toledo, C. Extreme Makeover: updating class activities for the 21st century. Learning and Leading with Technology, International Society for Technology in Education. June/July 2008. <>.

Stoddard, J.D.; Hofer, M.J., and Buchanan, M.G. The ‘Starving Time’ Wikinquiry: using a wiki to foster historical inquiry. Social Education 72:3 (April 2008): 144-160.

Zhang, T., et al. Using On-line Discussion Forums to Assist Traditional English Class. International Journal of E-Learning 6:4(2007): 623-643. Help for Teachers.

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