Day 183 (of 184) eportfolios in review
The shift from “reporting student achievement” to “communicating student learning” is both simple and complex….showing the learning children do seems an easy com pet but the methodology can be very complex especially since the ‘icon’ of school communication wasn’t meant to do that.
For over 100 years schools have used report cards (of various formats, templates and themes) with many different interpretations of their purpose and how they are to be used. I think that one of my key ‘problems’ with the report card has been that ‘it could/should always be better’. I have tinkered with formats and styles for most of my career…and never fully pleased with any result…
especially with classroom work that I am using to increase engagement & ownership leading me to ‘disruptive classroom’ work such as #geniushour and #soles – teaching times that inspire learning, engage self-directed and collaborative environments, are problem-based in nature, formative in practice, benefit greatly from ongoing descriptive feedback, but don’t fit well into a box meant for averages, %s and letter grades — which are methods to report achievement (summative data) but not communicate learning…
and then it happened…
Firstly, at a conference with other principals, I had a great discussion with another principal who had been asked to pilot some work on using portfolios (electronic preferably) to work on the new wording around our BCEdPlan: communicate student learning. This was a topic that we had theorized in discussions at my school, and I decided to followup in the same manner and see if we could also do some pilot work and report back.
Secondly, at our school, we started exploring different methodologies to create the eportfolios. I had long had my students document their learning via powerpoint/keynote and thought I might be able to continue that work. Another teacher was interested in exploring EverNote. Others were interested in exploring physically holdable portfolios. Some still wondered.
Thirdly, I got phone calls from 4 educational leaders over two days all mentioning that they had come across the same app/website that I might be interested in (all educators who had heard of my interest in portfolios and had shared good ideas with me previously): FreshGrade. I quickly learned that not only was it a local-ish company (a short 90 minute drive away!) but one of the founders had created ClubPenguin – an entry level social-media program for students that a class I worked with were early adopters of (before it went Disney!). I was impressed with their technology then, and figured I would be again…
Fourthly, I got to talk with FreshGrade, sign up a trial account and share it with my teachers. We understood it was in Beta testing and there would be things that would need to be worked out – but that was what they needed; we were interested in being able to ‘mold it’ a bit as well! Best of all, it was user friendly – so much so that it was some of my ‘tech-reluctant’ teachers who led the way in using it! And I do mean ‘talk with freshgrade’ – when we brought up thoughts or issues, any problems were ‘fixed’ immediately (again, knowing what beta means!) and we knew our ideas and thoughts were being valued and listened to.
Fifthly – stuff changed:
the discussions in the school shifted more to learning and less on tasks.
The focus on formative instruction led to much more descriptive feedback, and less reliance on ‘scoring’ and ranking.
Authentic samples of students work (and samplings showing the evolution of student work) were mixed with performance standards
Parents who were at first nervous about this shift (they liked counting A/Bs & 3/4s – and seeking intervention if a dreaded C+ made an appearance) quickly embraced the idea of seeing their child’s actual learning
Moving away from ‘having enough tasks to assign a number/letter to an outcome’ to ‘showing the learning journey for individuals’ was contagious. My biggest sort-of-fear was realized: some teachers were posting too much information! Sort of…the teachers found it easy to archive and provide assessment and/or descriptive feedback.
One of the earlier ‘selling points’ I initially offered my staff was that we would still create a year-end page to highlight achievement. But when the time came up to discuss it, staff wonderfully revolted and decided not to have a final ‘summative’ paper that may devalue the work that was being done around and within the eportfolios. Instead we started exploring the technology’s Learning Snapshots and organizing samples via subject instead of by timeline. Such great flexibility to help reflect the unique personalities of each teacher (rather than canned comments).
Finally I am no longer looking at ways for a report card to ‘fit in’ assessment FOR & AS learning (formative); instead I am ready to let go and acknowledge that report cards do good jobs reporting achievement OF assessments (summative) and that education has ‘moved on’ from that format of representing learning.
As educational philosophers such as Sir Ken Robinson & Sugata Mitra talk about school changing: Sir Ken talking about an agrarian/industrial model not enabling engagement; Sugata describes current schooling not as broke (in fact does a very good job at what it was designed to do) but that it needs to evolve – we need to embrace ‘communication’ methodologies that also reflect our new era. Reporting out 5x a year? Or ongoing communication as part of a larger feedback loop.
Eportfolios such as that modelled by FreshGrade (user friendly enough that the technology is not what is talked about, but rather enables deeper discussions about learning as the tech fades into the background) model ongoing feedback and personalizing how student share their learning are going to gain in popularity. They open metaphorical doors that once opened, cannot be closed – and that leads to more acceptance & understanding of the ongoing shift in education. Portfolios are nothing new, but their ability to now open communication between teacher-student-parent-principal-?? is invaluable as the focus shifts to learning and the learner and not on weighting of tasks and an overall % score.