So, I’ve been thinking about our digital portfolio project. It started officially in 2014-15 with 6th grade and a few 9th grade courses. It continued this year in 7th grade, 9th and 10th grade, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.
A quick review–our portfolios are process portfolios (rather than showcases) where students will reflect on their learning and habits. We are using google sites set up announcement style (like blog posts) made with a school template. There is a drop down menu for posts in each division. In the lower school, the posts will be organized by grade level; in middle and upper schools the posts will be on pages by subject. We went back and forth about the organizing structure.
If When the portfolios take off, there may be too many posts per page, but we’ll figure that out when we get there.
So far, some grades certainly ended up with a lot more reflection than others. As one of the chief cheerleaders and salespeople for this work, I spoke with colleagues about our ongoing digital portfolio use. I stressed the power of the pile. I admit this is not an elegant phrase, but as anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not always an elegant sentence maker. However, it’s not a bad phrase.
I think the it’s worth talking about the pile and how its power will grow as the pile grow. First of all, counting on one reflection to be powerful enough to carry this new work seems to be asking a lot. One data point is just a point. Anything that is going to become a habit is powerful as a habit not as the individual act. Second, once the reflections start to pile up there is the potential to see patterns and to see change. Even though I can always draw a line connecting two points, I will see much more with a bigger group of points. Maybe one of those first two points is an outlier that is not even close to the best fit line I see with a bigger group? So, to some extent the early posts, while they might turn up some interesting ideas, as some have, are building the pile. They are now there to be looked back on, to be mined for metacognitive wisdom, etc. But the work, both of building the pile and building the habit of reflection, continues. When the new school year starts, students can go to back to the posts from the previous year to jump-start their thinking about their learning.
Another thing that I stressed in my comments to my colleagues is that each reflection should include commentary on work habits, process, or social/emotional skills that are not exclusive to the particular content. So, a department or grade level might choose several habits of mind or process skills that they want to ask about routinely. Again, this would help students build that pile and make the individual posts worth reviewing. Seeing incremental progress is good for the brain (which I learned a number of years ago from Judy Willis) and motivating. We all want students to be motivated to learn, and of course it is motivating to see your own progress.
In thinking about the coming year, I notice that my colleagues fall into a few categories in terms of how they approach using digital portfolios. The folks who tackle this independently are set. I check in with them, throw a little something their way, and they are off. Those who like to work collaboratively with me are also set. I make a point to meet with them, or they initiate working together either in or out of their class. We make it work together. One group I plan to work more closely are department chair people to help them develop a few go-to questions that speak to the behaviors/habits of mind/skills that are critical for success in their disciplines and grade level. Although I have rather extensive collections of potential prompts available for teachers (in easy to access locations), for those who are not in either of the first two groups, I think it will be helpful if I am more prescriptive in my support.
I am excited that next year (2016-17) students in grades 3-11 will be reflecting on their learning, saving it on a digital portfolio, adding to their pile.