Portfolio Practice As Learning Model

Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.  ~ David Kolb

Deeper understanding is the result when learners think about their thinking.  The My Learning Portfolio process prompts students to think about their thinking when they select artifacts to archive, and as they capture their thoughts about learning experiences through reflection.  The metacognitive benefits of this part of the process alone are critical to a learning portfolio (and deeper learning), but the true power of the portfolio is in the revisiting.  Portfolios provide learners an opportunity to critically examine their own experiences and thoughts as an analyst.

learning cycleIn Experiential Learning:  Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, David Kolb describes a learning model in which learning experiences are transformed into deeper understanding through a process that includes two phases of metacognitive strategy.  By fusing this learning model with the portfolio process, students move beyond compiling a collection of artifacts to analyzing their portfolios, transforming fragments of knowledge about themselves into a personal learning story.

My Learning Kolb Model

An important goal of the My Learning Portfolio process is for students to develop the practice of looking for connections between their experiences and their personal characteristics, beliefs, and interests (awareness categories); and capturing them as evidence that can be used in the ongoing development of their learning story.  Embedding the ‘collect’ and ‘reflect’ steps into the learning process promotes the idea that there is value in an experience beyond the product, and that learning does not end when the experience ends (critical idea for establishing the relevance of a learning portfolio).  In the My Learning Portfolio process we are asking our students to analyze artifacts and reflections, and transform them into a new understanding of themselves.

After focusing on the technical and strategic aspects of collecting artifacts, and working to embed reflection into classroom practices for the past year, we moved forward with the next phase in the process this fall.  Our objective was to have students (2nd through 6th grades) analyze their portfolios for one new understanding about themselves and to set one personal goal.  They would share their findings with their parents and teachers in the first student-led conference of the year.

2nd Grade Reflection Guide

2nd Grade Reflection Guide

So as not to completely reinvent the conference process, teachers were asked to work in their grade level teams to design a reflection guide for students that would facilitate the analysis of their portfolios.  They were  also asked to designate a period of time in the conference when students would share their story, including references to portfolio artifacts and student-defined goals.  

In November, each student presented their learning story to their parents and shared artifacts as demonstrations during conferences.  Feedback from teachers and parents about the conferences included remarks about the increased level of self-awareness exhibited by students and their ability to self-assess their current understanding.  Yes, the power of the portfolio is in the revisiting.  In a process that is cyclical, students have the opportunity to remember/reconsider what they discovered about themselves, making new understandings based on observations and connections.

We will continue developing this phase of the process for second trimester, focusing on how we might analyze the contents of the portfolios along with new artifacts to make discoveries, identify patterns, monitor progress toward goals, and identify gaps.  Questions that I have as we look forward include:

  • How might we develop a habit of reflection as teachers so that it becomes a regular classroom practice?
  • Will organization of artifacts become increasingly important as our habit of collecting and reflecting develops?
  • Concise language is important in many communications.  It is especially important when producing useful feedback, reflections and goals.  How might we make communications a priority in the portfolio process?

Supporting Student Reflection

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”  John Dewey

A key objective of the My Learning Portfolio Process is to enhance each child’s learning by developing self-awareness.  We have worked purposefully to define portfolio as more than a space to archive and exhibit work, but an experience that promotes reflective thinking for deep learning.  As we develop and implement practices for the portfolio process, we take the time to conduct our own self-assessments and reflections so that we can identify how to make the process more effective.

What we have come to understand is that reflective thinking is difficult.  Dr. Helen Barrett, internationally known for research on portfolios says, “Reflection is the hallmark of many thoughtfully developed portfolios.  However many students often have a difficult time thinking about their own learning when confronted by teachers to do so without guidance or support.”  After understanding this to be true for ourselves, we began searching for ways to scaffold reflection for students.

Student reflections tended to focus on recalling the experience.

Student reflections tended to focus on recalling the experience.

We asked ourselves:

What would happen if we developed a protocol for reflecting?  

What if we created a way of reflecting that prompted the student to think about an experience at progressively higher levels of thinking?

In an effort to address these questions, we created a protocol based on Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking, and made it memorable through an acronym.  We implemented the  RIP3 It Reflection with our Third and Fourth Grade students and have been analyzing collected data.

RIP3 It Reflection




RIP3 It Organizer










Our preliminary findings are that while there is still a variety of types and depth of reflection created by students, the tool generally produces deeper reflection from every student than what would have been produced without it.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 12.35.09 PM

Some might question whether young learners are even capable of reflective thinking in the way that we are asking. Teacher-researcher, Kim Douillard offers examples of how this is possible with teacher support in her article Reflective Friday. She demonstrates how the types and depth of student reflection can change over time with support.  She also reminds us that the process takes time and is different for each child.  We’ll continue to give ourselves and the students time and space to grow.

Evernote Business for Student Portfolios

We were very thoughtful about our choice of platforms for the My Learning portfolio process.  After a significant amount of time discussing the importance of having a personal space for students to develop the habits of self-assessing, reflecting and goal-setting before sharing with the world, we chose Evernote as our archiving tool.  It was emerging as a must-have tool for educators because of its extremely useful and easy information capturing features.  At the time, Evernote was exploring all of the ways it could be used, including in education, and offered a discount to schools for the premium version.  Premium offered more features, including increased upload allowance, additional note size, and enhanced sharing.  We purchased premium accounts for all students and faculty, managing access through Google Apps for Education to protect student online information.

In the spring we discovered that the education discount would no longer be offered by Evernote.  In order to keep our already established portfolio budget from doubling (the discount was a generous 50% off), we reevaluated how we were using Evernote and made some adjustments.  What we found is that most of the notes students were creating included text and images at a size of less than 2 mb each.  The largest notes were those that included projects such as presentations, podcasts and videos.  In addition, the amount of data being uploaded each month for a vast majority of our students was nominal because of what was being uploaded (images and text).  While we knew that the information captured would change and increase as students and teachers became more comfortable with the process, we felt we could safely transition some accounts to the free version.  The limitations we would face were note size of 25 mb and monthly upload of 60 mb for each student account.

Fortunately, Evernote decided to offer their new Business platform to educators at a discount (75% off the $120 annual fee) shortly after discontinuing the Premium discount.  Evernote Business offers all of the same features of Premium plus additional upload allowance.  We purchased Evernote Business accounts for all faculty and staff plus separate accounts for Fifth and Sixth Grade students.  Our reasons for this mix included:

  1. Fifth and Sixth Grade students were most likely to create and archive large projects that would require additional note size and upload allowance.
  2. We understood and supported the increasing desire for independence that the students expected around portfolio ownership in Fifth and Sixth Grades and wanted to give them the freedom to archive without restriction.
  3. Our long-term vision was to have students select certain pieces that would be shared publicly on a blogging platform.  That would require the use of additional tools such as video hosting sites.  Limitations to note size would be an opportunity to explore how we might begin using sites such as Vimeo or YouTube, Sound Cloud or Audioboo and screencasting tools that save online.
  4. Our community’s use of Evernote had grown during the first year to include the business office.  Evernote Business would allow staff members to organize and share information with their teams while developing an understanding of what our students do for portfolio capturing.

Student Notebooks

Evernote Business offers the same features of Evernote Premium, including editing privileges for shared notebooks.  Because we give parents the opportunity to take their student’s portfolio with them when they leave our school, we do not use the Business notebook feature that would keep all Business notebooks with the school once a student graduates or moves.

Under a separate post I will share our developing processes for capturing learning experiences in Evernote.

My Learning 2.0 – Building on the Vision of a Portfolio Process

I finished reading a wonderful book this month called The Power of Portfolios: What children can teach us about learning and assessment by Elizabeth Hebert.  It is not about digital portfolios, but about the journey of a school that made the portfolio process part of their learning community more than 20 years ago.  It sounds amazingly similar to our vision and experiences at Trinity School (and supports the idea that there is nothing new under the sun, only different contexts for understanding).  Hebert writes:

“Gathering and thinking about work contributes significantly to a child’s self-understanding.  This is vital to accomplishing internal goals that go far beyond what the child needs to know for tomorrow’s math lesson or to do well on a standardized test.  Having a measure to assess personal strengths and weaknesses lets the child move toward achieving an internal standard of accountability.  Beyond a child’s school experiences, the self-knowledge gleaned through self-assesment is an invaluable tool for lifelong learning.”

I am so grateful that our school is using portfolios as a strategy for living out our mission to help each child “achieve his or her unique potential.”  My favorite part of the quote from Hebert is when she talks about the “internal standard of accountability”, because it speaks to the essence of My Learning.  Learners deserve a space and the right to make meaning for themselves without external evaluation.  Of course, we must foster the acquisition of knowledge, skills and models of success, but if students are unable to personally connect with what they have learned and can not self-assess, we have not fully equipped them to be their best selves.

With these thoughts on my mind, I begin sharing our learning and questions about the My Learning portfolio process for the year.  In upcoming posts, I will write about:

  • Evernote Business – How we adapted when the education discount for Evernote Premium was discontinued
  • Self-Understanding Categories – Being intentional about portfolio development
  • Reflection Strategies – An investigation into student reflection

I have truly enjoyed meeting thoughtful educators from around the world who are exploring ways to empower students.  I look forward to sharing and hearing ideas this year.


Update to Adding Video into Evernote

Since I posted my original findings on getting video into Evernote.  Our school has tried a few similar methods.  One was to use the Photo Transfer App to more easily move videos taken and compressed on the iPad to a computer for attachment into a note.  This was definitely faster than the Dropbox method referenced in my first work around post.  However, this update includes instructions for what seems to be the most direct route to getting video into Evernote using the app Video Slimmer ($1.99).  Thank you to John Marshall (@johnwmarshall4) for sharing this information with us on the Evernote forum.

Here is what you need to know.  This app streamlines the process.  You compress and transfer into Evernote from one app rather than two apps and a computer.  John offered some suggestions about video size and quality.  Pay attention to that for maximum compression of video.  Please go to John’s blog for full information about the many ways he has found to get video into Evernote, especially if you need to find a free method.

Side note:  You’ll notice that John’s blog is created with the Postach.io blog platform.  It allows one to create blog posts from Evernote notes.  If you are a teacher looking for a way to publish student work without learning or teaching about blogging platforms, this might be a consideration.  I tried it out and liked how easy it was.  

Directions for using Video Slimmer to get videos into Evernote:

  1. Record your video. (Keep it short, I tend to record around 5 minutes, you can do more depending on your compression, but 10 minutes is probably max).
  2. Open Video Slimmer.
  3. Set your video compression settings. For free accounts I recommend going with ‘Good Quality(50%), Smaller size’ and a video size of 240p. This will typically produce a smaller video of around 1mb per minute (Based on the front facing camera on the iPhone 4s). I believe the Evernote max attachment size is 25mb for free, but the real issue is the 60mb monthly limit. You can do the math on how much video you can upload a month. For premium users you can increase the quality up to 100mb per note. I generally just turn it up a small amount to around 2mb per minute average. I use: Better Quality(68%), Medium with a video size of 240p.
  4. Under Video Source – hit + and select your video.
  5. Tap ‘Slim Now!’ and after a short while your video will be compressed. The app shows the original and slimmed sizes.
  6. Tap the ‘share’ button and choose ‘Open in..’. From the share menu choose ‘Open in Evernote’.

The video will be created in a new note in your default notebook.  Tap the “i” to move it to a different personal notebook.  It will not allow you to save directly to a shared notebook on the iPad. If you need to get the video into a shared notebook, you’ll need to do that on the computer by right-clicking the note and selecting ‘move to notebook’.

Reflecting on My Learning 1.0

This month we shared My Learning portfolios with parents.  Executing this part of the process brought all participants together for the first time, and we can now reflect on the impact of each component as we plan for the future.  The vision of My Learning is to develop student self-awareness and inform the people who support their development, so that students can realize their greatest potential.  This is a reflection about how the portfolios have touched each group and learnings to consider.

Enhance Student Learning

Goal –  My Learning will enhance student learning by showing growth over time, revealing strengths and passions; uncovering learning styles, preferences and challenges, and connecting learning.

My Learning 1.0 Outcome – This year’s focus was on capturing and reflecting.  There are many portfolio examples of learning experiences that reveal student thinking and development.  Next year, we will implement coaching, which will help students use these experiences to set goals and develop a holistic view of themselves that transcends subjects/skills.

Student feedback –  There has been mixed feedback from students.  Many did not see the purpose of archiving a project or capturing a learning experience.  Reflection depth and perceived value seem to be associated with the amount of experience a student has had with the practice.

My learning –  It is important that students see the purpose and value of self-reflection if we hope to truly make this a process for them rather than something else imposed upon them.  I believe that students will want to capture and reflect on their learning as they see an accumulation of artifacts and use them for personal goal-setting and student-led conferences.  In the book, Succeed, Halvorson talks about the psychology behind reaching goals.  She says, to tackle difficult, unfamiliar tasks, one should focus on the “what”, in a step-by-step, concrete manner in order to plan and push through to success.  When in need of the motivation and energy to embrace a big idea, focusing on the “why” connects the task to a “greater meaning or purpose” and inspires one into action.  This year most of our time was spent focusing on the “what” of My Learning.  Now, it’s time to inspire, motivate, and energize.  I am encouraged by an impromptu meeting with a Fifth Grade student.  She mentioned that she hadn’t added much “stuff” to her portfolio because she didn’t know what to add.  I shared with her some examples of what other students had captured.  She looked up at the ceiling, then at me and said, “I would use that information.  That’s something I’d like to look back at.  I’ll start adding more stuff to my portfolio.”  Nice.

Expand Teachers’ Ability to Personalize Learning

Goal – My Learning will expand teachers’ ability to personalize learning by providing a holistic view of students, making thinking visible, and revealing information that promotes differentiation.

My Learning 1.0 Outcome – Again, there are many examples of captured student learning and reflections that might inform and impact teaching practices.  This year we asked teachers to consider what and when student learning and reflections would be captured.  Many started by digitally capturing items created in the physical (photos), but as understanding developed so did the types of experiences.  Teachers mostly focused on capturing student reflections upon completion of culminating experiences such as performances, trips, or projects. Specials teachers were not expected to directly participate in this first iteration of the portfolio process, but our World Languages and Music departments proactively incorporated capturing and reflecting into their practices.  And as new technologies were being discovered, some teachers began to use them to assess student understanding and make thinking visible.

Teacher feedback – Of course, every teacher is different and each has their own level of tolerance for change.  The feedback received was reflective of individual beliefs and mindsets.  Overwhelmingly, teachers have talked about how the portfolios caused them to observe children in a different way, watching for glimpses of who they are to show out and be captured.  Many have said that they are more intentional in how they plan and are more likely to include opportunities for reflection.  Teachers are talking about student awareness and how they see it manifest in the classroom.  They have loved the few opportunities to see what students include in their portfolios from outside of school.  While I have not heard of the learning being formally used, teacher interest and excitement tells me it will be useful once we implement our coaching model.

Yes, there were comments about the time that the portfolio process takes, and that it is “one more thing to do”.  While most of our students (2nd through 6th grade) archived their own work, the teacher’s role was to set up learning experiences and facilitate reflection that helps students make discoveries and connections.  Teachers of our youngest learners were asked to capture experiences that offered a glimpse (not a chronicle) of their character and development this year.  Interestingly, once the archiving teachers got started, they found that digitally capturing was easier than previous methods (large paper portfolios).

My learning – This process shouldn’t be one more thing.  It should be a different way of thinking, being, and doing.  It requires a paradigm shift that reestablishes our thoughts about roles, subjects, traditions, and practices.  This shift will come in time.  But, one thing we can do to help immediately is address workflow.  The portfolios should be a benefit to teachers.  If teachers think of them as, not necessarily for them, but an unbelievable resource that provides insight and informs their practices, they will incorporate archiving/reflecting consistently and intentionally.  This year, most teachers captured randomly and then worked backward to find experiences for the portfolio.  Part of this stems from our progress reporting system.  Our teachers have traditionally gone into a period of deep reflection and then the birthing of a narrative that tells the story of a child, including observations and remarks about personality, interests, and academic progress.  They are a beautiful testimony to how well our teachers know their students.  So, teachers worked hard to develop and communicate this idea of the student, and then felt like they were repeating the process for portfolios.  Our Director of Teaching and Learning, Jill Gough, has been leading our school through the redevelopment of our progress reports for a system-wide change that will report student progress in a holistic way, including student voice.  Part of that process will need to include a workflow that captures learning and thinking regularly and then allows for the curation and sharing of understanding through methods such as progress reports and student-led conferences.  We must capture as we go.

Another challenge was in helping teachers and students consider what types of experiences to capture and new ways to demonstrate understanding/thinking.  To help share and spark ideas, we created a Sharing My Learning blog, that includes examples of portfolio entries.  Beginning next year, we will highlight captured experiences and share ideas.  A major portion of this will include work with formative assessments and making thinking visible.  We will begin our work this summer with reading for professional development.  The theme is The Art of Questioning, which will be a focus for the upcoming school year.

Deepen Parent Understanding

Goal – My Learning will deepen parent understanding of their child by revealing student thinking, documenting growth, strengths, and goals; and sharing experiences not typically available to parents through products.

My Learning 1.0 Outcome – There is no doubt that most parents learned more about their children as a result of My Learning, even at these beginning stages.  There is just something about hearing a child explain their thinking or seeing a video of a child genuinely engaged that can not be substituted by anything.  Having it captured forever is a parent’s dream.  It is exciting to think about the exponential benefits of My Learning as student learning is captured over time and used to coach and develop.

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 11.00.43 AMParent feedback – Parents were directed to our My Learning webpage and received an invitation to join their child’s portfolio the week before conferences.  The feedback was positive.  Teachers shared comments about parents feeling closer to their child as a result of what they saw.  One parent was so happy about a picture of a learning experience, the teacher surprised him by adding a video of it in the child’s portfolio.  A fun piece of feedback came from a parent that tweeted about the portfolio.  She even used #TrinityLearns to keep us in the loop!

My learning – There are differences in what is captured.  No two portfolios are the same, and they shouldn’t be.  Our goal is personalization.  With that being said, it is important that each student has a portfolio that is relevant and meaningful to them and informs their support system.  As we grow in our understanding of this process and the practices that are important to making it work, I believe we (as parents and teachers) will become more comfortable with the uniqueness of each.

Next, we will take a minute to get back to platform work.  We are backing up portfolios to be sure nothing crazy happens over the summer.  We are looking to restructure our accounts as Evernote Business becomes available.  We’ll identify other technology to support archiving and our introduction into curating/sharing via Edublogs this year.  As always, thank you for interest and feedback.  Happy Summer!


My Learning Update and Spiraling Up to Pedagogy

We are in the eighth month of our journey into student electronic portfolios and have covered a lot of ground.  We started with a big idea and have been continuously refining it to build not just a space, but an experience that helps students learn more about themselves over time, while informing teachers and parents in meaningful and authentic ways.  Most importantly, our conversation and efforts are spiraling up to refocus on pedagogical implications of capturing and extending student learning.

We have accomplished our goals for the first iteration of My Learning, developing confidence in the use of the technology and building processes that begin to integrate reflection into learning experiences.  As all deep learning does, our journey has generated a thousand more questions which we have started to investigate and build upon.  One of the questions we’ve asked ourselves is:  Does having the space (portfolio) and participating in various reflective experiences (process) necessarily lead one to self-awareness?  Maybe.  However, we’ve decided that an intentional pedagogical approach is critical to making the portfolios more than another digital storage space.

There is a lot that could be said about the development in each of the portfolio categories.  I will write more specifically in upcoming posts.  For now, I will summarize our status to date:


Students and teachers are comfortable with Evernote.  We’ve decided to postpone the “public” blogging portion for this version of My Learning.  Instead we will introduce parents to the portfolios with a year-end reflection in Evernote created by students with links to learning experiences that support their thoughts.


Teachers are building reflection time into learning. Students that are utilizing iPads to capture learning experiences primarily use photos and audio recording.  There are challenges to getting files such as presentations, movies, and podcasts into Evernote via the iPad.  Teachers have adapted by utilizing the Macs in our Idea Lab for archiving those types of student projects.  General reflection prompts are being built into learning experiences and we are piloting a student-friendly reflection methodology.

Archive quality is variable.  Many teachers and young students are still more comfortable reflecting on paper and then photographing for portfolios.   We are working toward replacing traditional paper and pen reflection processes, where appropriate, with ones that are more engaging, revealing, and archivable. Some of our teachers have started using Explain Everything for formative assessments and to capture student thinking.

Kindergarten EE from rgmteach on Vimeo.


Our focus was on the student when we began developing the portfolio process, and their interests have kept us centered throughout.   After taking the necessary steps to be sure this process supports the needs of students and teachers, it feels like we have made it back to the conversation of learning and teaching, but at an elevated level.  The process and information gathered are stretching us to think about our practices and roles in new ways.  I envision a continuing upward spiral as we evolve and make increasingly better use of this process.

To be intentional in our development of student self-awareness, we have started to consider a “curriculum”  that would structure the development of awareness skills and offer some qualitative measures of outcomes.  Among the tools being tested is a planning template to help teachers identify opportunities for embedding reflection throughout the curriculum.  The template outlines the three awareness categories (Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, and Self-Reflection) and related topics so teacher teams can more easily identify appropriate areas in the curriculum for archiving and reflecting.

  Embedded Reflection Planning Template by rgmteach

Again, I will address each of these topics individually with examples of our outcomes in the near future.  Thanks for any feedback and suggestions you have to share.


EdTech Teacher Webinar on Student Portfolios


EdTech Teacher hosted a webinar on portfolios last week, and we had a chance to participate.  Some wouldn’t think portfolios when reading the title of the webinar – Creating a Curriculum Based on Communication, Collaboration, and Reflection.  Fortunately, EdTech Teacher, Beth Holland, sees portfolios as more than a space to store student work.  She brought us together along with Sue Tummarello of Montclair Kimberley Academy to share two perspectives of how curriculum can be structured to promote deep and personally meaningful learning.

First Sue Tummarello shared some of what she has learned in three years of partnering with Evernote, and using that tool to create student portfolios.  Most importantly, she explained how MKA’s portfolio process provides feedback, reflection opportunities, and communication experiences that have enriched student learning.  She also showed how the student artifacts collected provide valuable information to teachers for future planning.  Sue was then kind enough to offer examples of practices and planning tips used to create and capture student thinking.  If you are considering how you can make student thinking visible, I recommend trying some of the apps and activities suggested in Sue’s portion of the presentation.

Jill Gough (on Twitter @jgough) and I shared Trinity’s framework for the My Learning portfolio system.  We talked about our focus on student ownership of learning, including ownership of their portfolios.  At Trinity School, it is our belief that a person is most empowered when they know themselves, can manage themselves, connect to their learning, and believe they can affect change in themselves and the world.  We shared how we are structuring a curriculum and using tools such as Evernote to reach this goal.


My Learning Portion of EdTech Webinar on Student Portfolios


Thanks to Beth Holland at EdTech Teacher for hosting this webinar.  We learned so much from Sue and look forward to sharing and learning with others.  Please feel free to contact us with your feedback.

Experts of Themselves: Using Portfolios to Develop Student Self-Awareness

I have come to believe that the most important thing we can do for our students is to teach them how to be experts – of themselves.  While those who are considered “experts” in a particular area stand out because of their product or performance, research shows that as teachers, we would best serve our students by focusing our teaching on the processes necessary to become an expert.

At Trinity, we are building the My Learning portfolio system to enhance student learning by focusing on the development of student self-awareness.  Under this paradigm, the primary audience of the portfolio is the student, who directly benefits from understanding the what, how, and why of their learning. The emphasis is then on the ‘learning’ rather than on what we, as teachers and parents, gather from the portfolios to do for them (emphasis on teaching).

The Farnam Street blog recently posted an article called How People Learn.  It focuses the reader’s attention on learning by explaining the difference between an expert and novice during the acquisition of knowledge.  Key to the article is the research that shows that experts, unlike novices, have self-regulation skills and learning strategies that allow them to retain and understand more content knowledge.  The suggestions offered for altering teaching methods to promote “expert” learning include “engaging students, monitoring their thinking, and providing feedback.”

When considering how this research is relevant to portfolio use, I offer the following:

  • Engaging students is about connecting students to learning.  Portfolios can be used to help students make discoveries about themselves and make interdisciplinary connections that make learning relevant and more engaging.
  • Monitoring student thinking requires making that thinking visible.  Portfolios capture learning experiences and student reflections that reveal metacognitive thinking.
  • Research shows that feedback is productive when used for the purpose of adjusting actions, which leads to goal-setting and the exercising self-regulation.  Portfolios allow students to collect feedback and set goals in a format that is accessed regularly and is part of their ongoing work.

We’ll continue to explore and share our experience developing student self-awareness with student portfolios.  On January 24th, Jill Gough (on Twitter @jgough) and I will participate in a webinar hosted by Beth Holland of EdTech Teacher – Creating a Curriculum Based on Communication, Collaboration, & Reflection.  We hope to not only share, but hear from others about how they use portfolios and empower students.

Formative Assessments and Other “stuff” for Student Portfolios

The greatest measure of what should be included in student portfolios, by teachers or students, is whether the information is useful in developing student self-awareness. Can the student use the information now, or in the future, to further their understanding of who they are as a communicator, thinker, leader, collaborator, or knower? There is a lot of “stuff” that could meet that measure, but I am currently focusing on two and working through related questions and ideas. They are:

Engagement in meaningful learning experiences

How can students capture the learning process while participating in it? I have witnessed some rich examples of student engagement in learning, that I was certain a student would want to archive, but couldn’t because they were engaged in learning. How do we give students autonomy over their portfolios and help them document what we see?  One thought is to build archiving and reflection into the process, so that students can appreciate the process as much as the product. When we wait until the “end of a unit” or activity, students  risk forgetting what it took to get to the final product, or reflecting only on the results.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments are for the learner to gather information about themselves, as much as they are for the teacher to check for understanding. If we are working to develop self-awareness and goal-setting habits, students must learn to appreciate and use formative assessments as information. My goal is to help identify opportunities and tools to “assess” student understanding of a concept (in theory and application) in formats that are archivable.

Today I happened upon a fun and multimodal example of a formative assessment opportunity in our Idea Lab.  Our wonderful Instructional Technology teacher, Marsha Harris, used the IdeaPaint wall and Kidspiration to allow First Grade students to share their knowledge of the human body.  The students worked as partners to trace a body, and then use learned vocabulary to draw and label the parts of various systems.  After, the class worked collectively to categorize body parts into systems, using Kidspiration software.


First Graders Learn Human Body from rgmteach on Vimeo.

Classroom teachers attend Tech Lab with students in order to continue their own learning, and were present to observe students.  In the My Learning portfolio structure, teachers of preschool through First Grade are the archivists and would capture experiences such as this and add it to a student portfolio.  But it’s not a natural process yet.  Teachers are incredible at setting up learning experiences and observing students.  We must work toward recognizing some of these experiences as formative assessment opportunities and being prepared to capture them for students in the younger grades.  For our independent student archivists, we must build reflection into the process, providing the opportunity to capture learning as it happens.