Day 131 (of 184) eportfolios: the launch
This week (right after Spring Break) our learning community in @Sorrento83 was excited to share the news that the eportfolios we have been building were ready for sharing. The app @freshgrade (www.freshgrade.com) had launched their secure ‘parent portal’. That allowed our parents to have a better connection with their childs learning as we make the important step:
from: reporting student achievement
to: communicating student learning
The journey has not been easy, with discussions and debates both face to face (as in staff meetings) and virtually (including extensions into the twitterverse). The learning was certainly not localized to our learning community: similar discussions and wonderings have been happening across our district, province, country, continent and as I have learned through a variety of #conversations around the world – discussions for methodologies that better communicate the learners progress, not just identify varying successes in the completion of a series of tasks.
The discussions and debates have not been one-sided either – we have wanted to consider all aspects of what such a shift means. Discussing advantages and disadvantages of changing tradition (and at the same time discussing dissatisfaction that so many of us have had with the traditional report card) and comparing that with staying true to report cards that have been used for generations.
I’m not going to go into details here about the invalidity of a % focused system (as many have pointed out to me the range of error is substantial) or the grade inflation that has parents identifying C+s as ‘fails’, or that the most common argument for Letter Grades and %s is that it helps post-secondary institutes rank students for enrolment (well, except for outliers like MIT and Harvard….)
And asynchronous debates can continue (as they always do) on forums such as the Globe & Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/schools-that-give-letter-grades-a-fail/article17807841/ which give both the good and (mostly) the fears.
I know as a father of children whose ‘report cards’ (as they don’t go to my school…) range from straight As & 4’s (letter grade summary of a collection of numbers associated with a few of the many learning outcomes covered each term) to ‘not enough information to provide a letter grade’. In all instances, I could’ve written/predicted what the traditional report card was going to have on it – but the documentation of ‘learning journeys’ show both the struggles that some students need to overcome, and in other cases highlight the journey of self-direction that is also possible, but a 4/A vs visual/auditory proof with descriptive feedback (imagine it as 2 stars & a wish) that provide areas of success and areas to focus ‘next steps in learning’ – or ‘grammar vs capital letters at the start of sentences.
As a teacher, I have always had a tough time trying to make a couple of sentences in a report card indicate what ‘letter grade definition’ best encapsulates (and averages) the learning of a child – while also balancing absences (due to illness, vacations, etc) and the predictably unpredictable interruptions in a school day (special events, assemblies, performances, etc) – I’ve always preferred the concept (and now delivery) of a living document that shows the students learning journey.
How live? I was sharing one students portfolio with our #83learns principal team and while sharing it, it changed on me and showed that my partner teacher had added a photo of the BC Lions interacting with our class – showing learning experiences day by day and moment by moment.
How relevant? I’ve had a few parents (mainly dads) wanting ‘just a letter grade’ and over the past few months change their views – specifically with the parent portal opening up and him (one dad in particular) seeing what his daughter has been doing and when his wife questioned him if he wanted to see more letter grades or numbers his comment was that he wanted to see more descriptive feedback from the teacher. Numbers and letter grades are tools available in the FreshGrade app, and were evident in her portfolio, but he focused more on what she had been doing/learning than what the ‘final grade’ would’ve been.
In the school conversations are more deep as we focus more on learning including strategies and skills, and less task-completion.
Are we where we want to be? Of course not. I have said several times that in 10 months we will look back and laugh at some of our mistakes and things we were stressing about. But there are more and more schools piloting similar endeavours throughout BC. An ever growing number that are ‘trying out’ portfolio assessment and seeing how the electronic virtual presence provides a living document that communicates student learning and lets parents and students have an ongoing voice in what the learning journey has been, is and will be. No longer will we be a learning community that stresses teachers, students and parents out 3 times a year….instead we are having ongoing conversations every day.
And like an eportfolio, this discussion is not ‘over’ nor is this a summary for ‘and end to a term’. Instead this is part of an ongoing conversation as we communicate the learning experience of (and to) our learning community.