More on My Digital Portfolio Project.

As regular Radical readers know, I started a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project in my room last week.

I have 25 students using Blogger to record evidence of their learning over time.  I am trying to encourage them to write four different kinds of posts in the main stream of their blog — which we are calling their “Learning Portfolios.”  I am also trying to get them to think deeply about the essential questions in our required curriculum on static pages in the main navbar of their blogs that we are calling their “Showcase Portfolios.”

While we are only a week into our project, I’ve learned a few lessons worth sharing:

Blogger is better than I thought.

When I started this project, I was worried about using Blogger.  I’ve always seen it as a wonky tool.  That wonkiness was confirmed as I tried to create a template for my kids to use as a starting point for their portfolios — which isn’t impossible, but which also isn’t as easy as it should be (see my previous post).

But for every example of wonkiness that I find in Blogger, I discover a feature that I really like.  One specific example is Blogger has a feed reader built right into the blogging platform.  It’s called the “Reading List.”  What that allows users to do is consume and create content in the exact same place.

(click images to enlarge)

As soon as I found the reading list, I had my students add the blogs of their classmates — and then I started encouraging them to read and comment on new entries during silent reading time.

That does three things:  (1). It provides extra motivation for writers — if you know your friends are reading, you are more likely to create something new on a regular basis, (2). It provides readers with a constantly updated stream of new ideas for posts that they can create in their own digital portfolios and (3). It encourages students to comment on the content of others, which is exactly the type of first-draft thinking that I want to encourage in our digital portfolio project.

The reading list has also made MY life easier.  I’ve added the blogs of all of the participants in my portfolio project to the reading list in my Blogger platform.  Now, new content posted by my kids is one click away — making it easier to monitor their work and provide the kind of feedback and encouragement that they need in order to become better at systematic reflection.

A clear naming structure for student blogs is super helpful.

I think the best decision that I’ve made so far is requiring all of my kids to use the same naming structure when creating their blog in Blogger.  That has made it easier for me — and for the students involved in my project — to track down content being created by kids on our team.  Our blog addresses are predictable — and that predictability makes it possible to quickly guess the blog address of peers that you are interested in following.

I won’t tell you what our naming structure is yet — I don’t want anyone stealing it on me until I get all of my students signed up first! — but here’s a sample of what I mean:

Blog Naming Formula:  [student first name]isalearner.blogspot.com

Samples:  joeisalearner.blogspot.com, samiyaisalearner.blogspot.com, dewanisalearner.blogspot.com, laurenisalearner.blogspot.com

If I hadn’t required a common naming structure, my guess is that my students would have chosen blog names that would have been as unique and diverse as they are — and while I love that uniqueness and diversity, having a standardized way to find one another without much challenge facilitates connections between the kids in my classroom.  Those connections matter most to me right now.

A common naming structure also made it possible for us to get started quickly.  Instead of spending thirty minutes trying to come up with an interesting address for their blog, my kids spent two minutes replicating the naming structure that I created for them.  Getting started quickly matters, too.  It builds momentum in the hearts and minds of the kids who are participating and it reduces the likelihood of teachers saying, “I love the idea of digital portfolios, but I don’t have the time for them!”

My kids needed no technical help, but they DID need a ton of nudging around content and formatting.

Getting started on our digital portfolios was a complete breeze.  It took less than 30 minutes to get our blogs up and running and then another 30 minutes to show kids how to create posts, monitor comments, and personalize their templates.  The simple truth is that because twelve year olds like to tinker with tech, they didn’t need much coaching at all on how to accomplish basic tasks in Blogger.  In fact, the first portfolio entry written and posted by a student went live in the middle of my first 30 minute training session.

But they DID need a ton of nudging around content and formatting.

For example, every one of my students wanted to personalize the colors and text styles on their blogs — and at least half of them chose color schemes and font families that made their blogs more difficult to read.  Instead of thinking about their audiences, they were thinking about themselves — and the result was content that few people could consume without serious challenge.  That’s been a neat conversation and learning opportunity — but it is one I didn’t totally expect going into this project.

Another example:  My kids haven’t always done the best job REFLECTING in their initial posts.  Instead, they are REPORTING on what they are learning in their classes.  I blame that on the traditional structure of schools, y’all.  We don’t ask kids to do a ton of reflecting, so it’s not something that they are naturally drawn to.  Until we start to teach the difference between reflecting and reporting — a conversation we are going to have together in class next week — I shouldn’t be surprised to see that the content my kids are creating isn’t all that reflective yet.

I’d love feedback from all y’all on this stuff.  Does it make sense to you?  Do you have any suggestions for how I can make this better?

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Related Radical Reads:

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning

 

 

7 comments

  1. Rachel Jeffrey

    Bill: This is a great reflective post on using Blogger in the classroom! I love the list that you came up with because it reminds me of reminders for my own students 🙂 I passed on this list for other colleagues in my building – thanks again!

    • Bill Ferriter

      Glad you dug this, Rachel…

      It’s interesting because I would never have given Blogger a second thought if we weren’t required to use it, but it’s working out just fine. And I’m also convinced more than ever that good teaching matters more than good tech. My kids didn’t need any real support with Blogger, but they need a ton of support with what good reflection looks like in action.

      Rock on,
      Bill

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  3. Matthew Renwick

    Hi Bill. I appreciate your willingness to share your process here. Great to have a window into your classroom. New information for me on the flexibility of Blogger. I agree that taking a standardized approach to getting digital portfolios started is wise. Having a specific purpose for the portfolio – to reflect on the essential questions of the unit – should reveal deep insights about the process.

    Good point about the challenges of reflecting vs. reporting. This is a challenge I have seen in multiple classrooms using this more authentic approach to assessment. In response, I created a simple protocol to help facilitate the reflection, self-assessment and goal setting process: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B9IW4q_SnPUwSFlQeTF4SGJwcjQ. If you have feedback on it, let me know.

    Best of luck with the digital portfolios – powerful work!

    Best,
    Matt

    • Bill Ferriter

      Hey Pal,

      Can’t wait to check out your OWN framework. I’m a bit slammed today, but I’m hoping to give it a look this weekend. Totally appreciate the share!

      Rock on,
      Bill

  4. Robert Schuetz

    Hello Bill,

    Are you set up as a co-owner of the student blogs? Curating using the reading list is slick. Another method I’ve used is subscribing to student blogs and “flipping” into a Flipboard magazine. Students can “like” and comment on each other’s posts, and the e-zine format showcases the student posts elegantly. More here; http://www.rtschuetz.net/2013/09/how-to-use-flipboard-with-student-blogs.html

    Embedding media will allow students to stretch their digital fluency legs. Students could the reflect upon the effectiveness of their presentation. What went well, what needs more work, whoat should be scrapped altogether. Your students are fortunate to have you as their teacher, providing these amazing learning opportunities for them. How do your students feel about publishing to a wider audience? Do they feel more conscientious, or more motivated? This might be an interesting writing prompt for them.

    Thank you,
    Bob

    • Bill Ferriter

      Hey Bob,

      Totally dig the idea of subscribing through Flipboard. I hadn’t thought of that, but I know how professional it looks and think my kids would be in to that. I’m going to have to give that a whirl.

      I’m not sure that the kids even realize that they are publishing to a wider audience yet! I haven’t pushed that with them. I’ve only talked about the fact that they could reflect all they want. I’m trying to discourage thinking around audience only because the truth is that most people WON’T develop a broad audience. I’m hoping that the primary motivation will be personal for the kids — and one way to do that is to never mention audience!

      Wild, right? We’ve always pushed the notion that audience matters — but I think that sets kids up for failure and for being discouraged if an audience never comes.

      Anyway, thanks for the Flipboard nudge. I think I’m going to give that a try.

      Rock on,
      Bill