Category Archives: Teachers Contribute to the Academic Success of their Students

Digital Portfolio Challenge Posts

As regular Radical readers know, I’ve started a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project on my learning team (see here and here).  My goal is to encourage my students to become more reflective about their own learning.  After all, feedback GATHERED BY learners is ALWAYS more valuable than feedback GIVEN TO learners.

One of the things that I’ve noticed, though, is that my students really struggle with the language of reflection.  

The vast majority of the early posts that they are adding to their digital portfolios have been simple summaries of classroom activities.  They’ve written about books that they are reading or questions that they are wondering about or movies that they’ve watched.  They’ve written about concepts that they’ve studied and formulas they’ve learned and cultures they’ve explored.

But they haven’t told me much about their strengths or their weaknesses or the progress that they are making as learners.  They haven’t shared much evidence of their learning or set new goals for themselves or celebrated successes that they’ve had.

I think that’s because we rarely ask students to think reflectively about their own learning.

Stew in that for a minute.  How often do you set time aside for students to think about what they know and what they don’t know?  Do the kids in your classroom have a chance to think about who they are as learners on a regular basis?  More importantly, are you regularly asking them to draw conclusions and set direction based on their OWN analysis of what they know and can do?  Stated more simply, do the kids in your room act like passive students or active learners?

To facilitate active reflection in my students, I’ve created a series of Digital Portfolio Challenge Tasks.

You can find them posted here in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop.

Each challenge task asks students to reflect in a different way.  Some ask students to rank order the study strategies that work the best for them.  Others ask students to compare learning experiences IN school to learning experiences BEYOND school.  Some involve creating written reflections about academic successes and others involve creating video tutorials and/or How To guides to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill or concept.

Here are a few examples of those challenge tasks:

Share a YouTube video that OTHER people can learn from.  

Whether you realize it or not, you are an expert on a ton of topics.  Choose one of those areas of expertise.  Then, find and share a YouTube video that novices can learn from.  Write about the reasons that you think the video makes for a good tutorial for rookies.  What should they expect to learn by watching the video?  What should they do AFTER watching the video?

Share a learning tip for a younger student.  

What one bit of advice would you make to a younger student about succeeding as a learner?  Why does that tip matter so much?  How do you know that tip will work?  Has that tip helped you as a learner?  How?

Share an example of work that you improved through revision.

The best learners are always revising their work.  Share an example of something that YOU have improved through revision.  Show us your first draft or explain to us your original thoughts.  Then, show us your final draft or explain to us your final thoughts.  Point out specific places where you made your work better.  Tell us HOW those changes made your work better.  Tell us what you would do if you were to revise this work again.  

My plan is to assign a new challenge task to students each week.

Not only will that give students a chance to experiment with reflecting in a TON of different ways, it will also generate a TON of different examples of just what reflection looks and sounds like in action as kids read the content being created by their peers.  Over time, my hope is that students won’t need challenge posts in order to create new content for their portfolio — but at least for the time being, their lack of experience with in-depth reflection is holding them back.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Do your students struggle with the language of reflection, too?  

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Related Radical Reads:

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning

More on My Digital Portfolio Project

 

 

Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Check out this tweet that landed in my Twitterstream, y’all:

Brett’s right, isn’t he?  

We SHOULD barf every time someone makes the argument that without grades, students can’t be motivated to tackle meaningful tasks.

More importantly, we should stop using grades to sucker kids into completing assignments in our classrooms:

 

Slide - If It's Not Graded

(click here to view original image on Flickr)

So how SHOULD we motivate learners?  

Easy:  By rethinking the kinds of work that we are asking them to do.  Any task that is worth doing should be relevant and interesting.  Learners should be hooked by our assignments and should be convinced that every task will strengthen their knowledge and skills in important areas.

Any task that is worth doing should also be challenging.  Create assignments that are too easy — or that seem completely impossible — and learners tune out.  But create assignments that require kids to stretch just outside of their comfort zones, and they will invest completely in the work.

Finally, any task that is worth doing should help students to drive meaningful change beyond the walls of their classrooms.  The simple truth is that today’s students want to be influential.  They aren’t satisfied with work that has no clear purpose beyond filling their report cards.  But if you can show your kids that the questions they are asking and lessons that they are learning can improve their families, communities or countries, and they’ll tackle anything.

Now don’t get me wrong:  You CAN use grades to try to influence the kids in your classroom — and most will probably respond.

The vast majority of our students still want to earn passing marks.  And they still feel pressure from their parents and their teachers to score highly on classroom assignments.  After all, they’ve been buried in messages like “you’ll never get into college with those grades” and “for every A that you make, I’ll give you $20 bucks” and “make anything less than a C and you will lose your phone for a whole quarter” for most of their lives.

But don’t mistake those reactions with motivation.  

If anything, what you are seeing when students put effort into assignments simply because they are being graded is compliance.  Motivation begins when our classrooms become places where interesting, relevant, challenging, and powerful tasks become the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks, not your TECH Geeks

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Are YOUR Students Doing Work that Matters?

Anatomy of a SMiShing Text Message.

An interesting text message landed in my inbox the other day.

Here’s what it looked like:

(click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to panic a bit.  I do a ton of work on public wireless networks — and even though I use a VPN to protect my deets from snooping eyes, I’m always worried that I’m going to give away enough information to get myself hacked.  Maybe it’s paranoia — but in today’s world, paranoia is probably a good thing.

But then my bunk detectors kicked in.  Can you spot the three reasons that this text message raised alarms?

Here’s what caught my eye:

The sender of the message is trying to make me panic:  Probably the most important step to detecting whether a text or email message is up to no good is to ask yourself a simple question – “Is this person trying to make me panic?”  Fear is the best friend of a phisherman, after all.  If I’m convinced that my account has been hacked or my money has been stolen, I’m more likely to take immediate action — read: hit that link and enter my most important details — than I am to stop and think.

So whenever I spot an attempt to generate fear, I force myself to slow down and look a little more carefully at the message that I’ve received.

The web address in the link is wonky:  Seriously.  Read it.  Why would a major company point me to any address as weird as http://bankofamerica.caseid-2078.com?  That’s a cheap trick that phishermen (and other shady folks like the leaders of the Fake News brigades) are resorting to.  Their hope is that as I’m panicking over my breached account, I’m going to see the first half of the web address without questioning the second half.

The harried, urgent, worried me might see “Bank of America” and click.  The thoughtful, skeptical, refuse-to-be-tricked me read the whole address and said, “Nope.  Not falling for that.”  And the Interwebs loving me typed the address into my Google Machine and found about a thousand references to a phishing scam.

#anotherwinforthegoodguys

Banks don’t usually send text messages — particularly asking users to update their personal information:  In a world where phishing — and in this case, SMiShing — has become an all too common method for evil creeps to fleece the innocents, banks have taken a pretty hard-line approach to contacting customers.  They pretty much NEVER send out email or text messages when there is a problem.  That protects everyone.

I don’t know if that is Bank of America’s policy.  I’ve never bothered to look, to be honest.  But I DO know that it is the policy of most major banks.  That means I never take emails and texts from banks seriously.

So how did you do?  Did you pick up on all three of the things that raised alarm bells in my mind?  If so, huzzah for you!

Now for a more important question:  Could your STUDENTS spot all of that sketchiness?  

If not, you’ve got some teaching to do!

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Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

The Anatomy of a Hoax Website

Curating Sources on Controversial Topics

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning.

Over the last year, I’ve been working on a committee in my school district to think about the role that digital portfolios can play in helping students to document their learning.  I LOVE that our district is committed to the idea of portfolios simply because they promote more reflective learners and help our schools to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback.

That’s kinda my jam.

The defining moment in my own thinking about digital portfolios came in December, when I listened to my buddy George Couros explain the difference between Learning Portfolios and Showcase Portfolios at Convergence — a meeting of the professional minds hosted by our district’s Media and Technology team.

According to George, Learning Portfolios are all about giving students chances to collect evidence of their own growth and progress as learners over time.  They aren’t about spotlighting perfection.  They are about promoting reflection.  Showcase Portfolios, on the other hand, are designed to give students spaces to spotlight their very best work.  Both types of portfolios have value to learners — but both serve very different purposes.

George went even further, arguing that blogging tools make for perfect homes for digital portfolios primarily because they allow users to house a Learning Portfolio and a Showcase Portfolio in the same space.  For George, the constantly updated stream of posts that stands at the center of a blog space is the Learning Portfolio.  It should house regular reflections — celebrations of progress made, plans for moving forward, evidence of current levels of mastery, questions for consideration.

Static pages on a blog — which are almost always found listed in a header under the Blog’s title — are perfect for housing Showcase Portfolios.  It is a place where kids can do deeper thinking around what they have actually mastered.  Students can link to their best evidence in their Showcase Portfolios — and can update the content on each page as they demonstrate additional mastery over time.

That’s BRILLIANT thinking, right?  

The truth is that encouraging students to keep a Learning Portfolio and a Showcase Portfolio promotes different kinds of reflective behaviors.  We DO want our kids to get into the habit of regular reflection on what they know in the moment.  And we DO want our kids to get into the habit of organizing their BEST evidence that they’ve mastered important outcomes.  Making those two different practices manageable starts when we use ONE tool that can create separate spaces in the the same digital home.

I’ve finally decided to take George’s advice and start a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project with my students.  Here’s what I’ve done so far:

I spent a ton of time creating a sample of a digital portfolio.

You can check it out here.  Remember:  The posts in the body of the blog are a part of a hypothetical student’s Learning Portfolio.  They show progress in the moment.  The pages listed across the top header underneath the title are a part of the same hypothetical student’s Showcase Portfolio.  The are evidence of mastery of bigger curricular ideas.

This sample portfolio has been SUPER valuable in helping kids to understand just what it is that they are going to be doing as a part of our portfolio project.  The sad truth is that few had any idea what I meant when I said, “Anyone want to create a digital portfolio to document your learning?”  Those are practices that we haven’t prioritized in schools.

I’ve created several resources for the PARENTS of participating students.

Perhaps the two most important resources are my digital portfolio permission slip — which details some basic expectations that participating students have to follow — and my Digital Portfolio Tips for Parents — which outlines ways that parents can get involved in supporting the reflective work that their students are about to begin.

I’ve whipped up a list of every essential question that students are supposed to master in their core classes this year.

Those are listed in documents posted at the top of each Showcase Portfolio page.  Here’s a sample.  My plan is to have students use those questions as starting points for content that they can put on their Showcase Portfolio pages.  I figure that if they can answer those questions AND link to evidence in their Learning Portfolio of places where they were wrestling with those essential questions, they’d have something really impressive to “showcase” for the important adults in their lives.  The questions almost serve as prompts for kids who are working to build out their Showcase pages.

Along with my buddy Pete Caggia, I’ve created several different types of posts that I want students to try writing in their Learning Portfolios.

The hardest part of this work for my kids is going to be understanding what in-the-moment reflection looks like in action.  Again, that’s a function of the fact that reflection has been pushed aside in schools in favor of rushing through required curricula.  To facilitate better reflection, Pete and I whipped up four different kinds of thinking that we’d like to see in student portfolios.  This handout details those different kinds of thinking and includes samples that students can use as models.

I’ve settled on a blogging tool and started to introduce it to the students participating in our project.

The tool that I’m using is Blogger.  That’s not because I’m in love with Blogger.  In fact, I think that Blogger templates are kind of boring.  Wordpress has templates and formats that are WAY more polished.

But Blogger is approved for use by middle school students in our district — a key factor in making ANY tech decision — AND my students are already using Google products (think Docs, Classroom, Drive, Photos, Slides) for darn near everything else.  That makes Blogger the right tool for this project.  Familiarity + District Approval = Winning for Everyone!

I also put backups of my sample blog’s template and content onto jump drives and had every student install both my template and my original content when they were getting started.  Here’s why:  By pushing all kids to install my template and content, I can introduce the different kinds of portfolios by looking at an actual exemplar.  All they will need to do to make their own portfolio “personal” is delete my content and posts whenever they are ready.

Finally, I’ve started to create a bunch of quick tutorials that students can use to learn more about simple processes and practices in Blogger.  They are posted on the Portfolio Tools and Resources page of my sample blog — which also ends up on each STUDENT’s blog after they import my template and content.  My hope is that these tutorials will be enough to get most kids started with their portfolios.  They are pretty smooth operators, after all — unafraid of tinkering to figure out how things work.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Does it sound useful to you?  What questions do you have?  Suggestions?  What resources do you like?  What resources can you share?