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.
Parent 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!