Day 123 (of 184) eportfolios easy as ABC!
My personal journey for ‘a better report card’ has been under way for a long time. Most notably in my mind are my secondary experiences: report cards with a percentage acknowledging tasks completed and a single comment for each subject area; a friend and his 85.49% grade 11 mark that might ‘encourage’ more focused work behaviours the next year…; oh yeah – the focus on tasks and behavioural achievement rather than communicating the learning I was doing as a student.
Over the years I would regularly join ‘report card’ and ‘assessment’ committees looking and re looking at methodologies that would blend provincial reporting orders with meaningful commentaries about the students learning journey. The work of Ken O’Connor inspired a deconstruction of my assessment practices and habits and initiated a re-look at how to share student learnings.
Finally a few things lined up. In BC school districts (and report orders) started to enable changes to the traditional report card – specifically the ‘optionalness of letter grades in most grades which a few districts quickly adopted (sidebar: the history of report cards, letter grades and percentages is mired in mixed up ideas and ideals: letter grades both ranked quality of student achievement and quality of cuts of meat; behaviours and task completion competed with learning outcomes and learning/teaching intentions). I also ended up in a very supportive learning community with an amazing staff, parents and students who were very interested in exploring ‘alternate ways to communicate
After an encounter with a like-minded principal at a conference (yes, the old ‘principal went to a conference and came back with a crazy idea’ story) and following the secret trail that @k_timms blazed, our learning community was set to pilot an ePortfolio methodology in lieu of a traditional report card approach.
In other words, shifting from ‘reporting student achievement’ to ‘communicating student learning’.
And then we looked at methodologies. Sigh. From Evernote to WordPress. From PowerPoint to keynote. The choices were endless – and a tad overwhelming. And then within 24 hours (or there abouts) I had three educators that I greatly respect reference ‘a company out of Kelowna: @Freshgrade’. Best of all: they had a portfolio app/methodology that was just starting beta testing. I say ‘best of all’ because it gave us two key ingredients- an operating system that seemed very easy AND as it was in beta, our feedback (good & bad) would have immediate impact.
To be fair, there is a wide range of technological expertise in our school. From some of us who get very excited with its potential and others who are fairly nervous. One of our keys in transforming our culture was acknowledging the work already being done: a lot of formative assessment occurs on a daily (hourly!) basis and portfolios (electronic or tactile) can do a great job sharing this information – something that report cards can’t- they are better at communicating summative data – something we do significantly less frequently.
With our range of tech comfort, I was surprised at what happened: we played with the FreshGrade app and web portal and found it really easy to use. This was important to me (as principal) as I want my teachers to be thinking and talking about the learning, not worrying about the app. That being said, there has been a lot of talk about the app and web interface – and (to my relief) most of the talk has been very positive. Even more surprising to me was how some of my ‘less-tech-savvy’ teachers were leading the way in playing with the platform and populating it with student work. And best of all, as it’s in ‘beta-mode’ we can influence it to enhance the experience of other users. That being said, beta also means glitches – which can’t be found until users try it out.
With its ease of use to input photos, videos, audio, notations and a very user friendly ‘dashboard’ we have found it to be simple to start-and-go and continue with. In fact, all of my staff have exceeded my ‘hopes’ for how far we would be as we get ready for spring break.
And now we prepare for the next big shift. We are thrilled to be focusing on formative assessment and sharing student learning and works. We have changed the ‘talk in the hall’ from tasks/assessments to learning/feedback. Best of all, students are getting first looks at their ‘collected works’ and hearing themselves read; reviewing earlier writing; and making plan for what they’ll do next. We have shifted to communicating student learning.
NEXT is to shift from the mindset of ‘key times to report to parents. While traditionally ‘report cards’ go home just before winter, spring, and summer breaks – eportfolios are ongoing. So, while the ‘parent portal’ is not set for publication yet (and we repeat ‘beta’) we know it will be soon. And when it does, it will work well (and easy as everything has so far). Now the times to share will be ‘ongoing’ and when a key learning ‘needs to be shared’ it can (and already assignments are being test-sent by staff to get some quick parent feedback) via email or printed PDF.
The transition to ePortfolio use has been a great learning experience:
A) finding a methodology/tool that would not distract from the purpose: communicating learning. User friendly and ‘quick & easy’ to be used at a variety of times depending on what learning has taken place.
B) communicating with the entire learning community – no secrets allowed – to inform, share and take in feedback (I am planning on a few evening sessions as the weather continues to improve to bring parents in to share their likes & dislikes)
C) knowing that whatever we do right now, we will look back at in a year and laugh – knowing that as we proceed, we will encounter the ‘implementation dip’ and want to quit and go back to what was once more comfortable.
The problem (that isn’t a problem) is: once you open the ‘ePortfolio door’ it can’t be closed. I am proud of where my learning community has come to so far and am extremely excited about the journey we still need to take!