Category: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership

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?

 

 

Here’s Why Every American Should Oppose Vouchers.

Did all y’all catch Betsy DeVos’s — Donald Trump’s pick as Secretary of Education — confirmation hearings?  

It was a helluva’ show indeed.

Not only did DeVos need Al Franken — a former Saturday Night Live star — to explain the difference between proficiency and growth to her, she had no real idea how IDEA works, she suggested that she supports privatizing public schools, and she used the threat of grizzly bears as reason enough to question federal laws banning guns on school grounds.

Really.  Grizzly bears.  Look it up.

#sheesh

But the thing that should concern us the most about DeVos is her longtime support of vouchers — which allow parents to use public monies to send their children to private and religious schools — as a reform strategy.

The simple truth is that every American should oppose vouchers.  

Here’s why:  Public schools do more than educate our kids.  They provide opportunities for students to share experiences with people who are drastically different from them.  Rich students work side by side with students from poor neighborhoods.  Gay students befriend kids who are straight.  Deeply religious students meet atheists.  Children of immigrants learn with children whose ancestors have lived in America for generations.  And every kid interacts with peers of a thousand different colors and cultures — perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Do you have any idea how important those experiences are?  

One of the fundamental purposes of education has always been to prepare students for effective participation in a democratic society.  “Effectively participating in a democratic society” depends on our willingness to believe in the power of “the common good” — and believing in the power of the common good can only start when we recognize that others see the world differently than we do.

THAT’s what’s missing from the kinds of homogeneous schools that vouchers promote.  The risk of homogeneous schoolhouses is that students will study in intellectual bubbles — attending classes with kids who look and live just like they do, unaware that their core ideas aren’t always embraced by the people they are sharing this planet with.  Sure, homogeneous is easy and safe.  After all, there’s no need for compromise and no source of external challenge when everyone thinks just like you do.  But it’s not reality.

We live in a fractured nation, y’all.  You know that.  

Instead of looking for common ground, we concentrate our energies and our efforts on the ideas that divide us.  We shout one another down in person and online.  We heap scorn on anyone that we see as different.  We use our political power to pass laws that openly discriminate against anyone who doesn’t live like we do — and we elect leaders from the fringes who would sooner shut down the government than compromise with people on the other end of the political spectrum.

Becoming united again can only start when we find value in others — and for kids, finding value in others can be reinforced in the beautiful diversity of our nation’s public schools.

#simpletruth

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Related Radical Reads:

Here’s Why Competition Doesn’t Work in Public Education.

Breaking Public Education to Pieces.

In Praise of American Educators

 

Is Goal Setting Pointless?

Lemme ask you a question:  What role does goal setting play in your school’s culture?  

If your building is anything like mine, goal setting is probably a regular part of your daily routine.  There are goals in your school improvement plan, right?  And each learning team has their own SMART goals to pursue.  Teachers write goals for personal development as a part of their evaluation protocols — and goals litter individualized education plans for students with special needs.

That’s why James Clear’s bit titled Forget About Setting Goals caught my eye this morning.

Clear’s argument is worth considering:  Goal setting can be intimidating — and can result in feelings of failure or fear that leave people paralyzed.

Here’s an example from my personal life:  One of my goals is to lose 25 pounds in the next three months.  Frankly, I’ve got a closet full of clothes that I don’t fit into anymore — and I don’t have the cash to buy a “fat guy wardrobe” right now.

But losing 25 pounds right now seems next to impossible.  Mathematically, that’s 87,500 calories I have to lose.  If I burn about 600 calories per workout (which is what the ol’ treadmill keeps telling me), I’ll need 145 workouts to lose 25 pounds — and that’s ONLY if I quit eating like a Buffalonian in the winter-time.

Just reading that paragraph makes me want to quit before my “healthy living” kick even begins — and the minute I miss a workout or down a dozen wings while watching a playoff game, I’m going to feel like I’ve lost.  Those are pretty high stakes, right?  So in order to protect myself, I’m going to either set easier goals or completely ignore the goals that I’ve set to begin with.  That’s human nature.  We are good at self-preservation.

Clear would argue that the solution to my growing waistline ISN’T to set some kind of big, hairy audacious goal for losing weight.  Instead, it’s to concentrate on systems that result in weight loss.  

My attention should be focused on thinking carefully about what I am going to eat for every meal or building time for regular gym visits into my personal schedule.  Doing so concentrates my attention on practical steps that I can take to lose weight — and gives me a thousand opportunities to feel successful.  Each scoop of hummus that I choke down or trip to the gym that I take becomes a victory for me — and victories build momentum that will eventually help me to achieve the goal that I would have set for myself in the first place.

It’s an interesting argument, isn’t it?  

Goals are destinations.  Systems are vehicles that keep you moving forward — and moving forward is essential to winning.   “When you focus on the practice (systems) instead of the performance (goals),” writes Clear,  “You can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.”

Now I’ve got to figure out how to apply Clear’s argument to the work that I am doing in my school.  How can I prioritize practice over performance in order to drive my own professional growth, the growth of my learning team, and the growth of my students?

#thinking

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Related Radical Reads:

Three Tips for Building Teacher Buy-In

Does Your School Have an “Avoid at All Costs” List?

Pockets of Innovation = Lack of Focus

My New Year’s Resolution? Comment More and “Like” Less.

So here we are, 2017.  Pretty glad to see you, if you want to know the truth.  2016 was a year full of more turmoil and tragedy than I care to remember.  

I bet you are buried in promises today, right?  Doesn’t EVERYONE wake up on January 1st ready to make new commitments about how they are going to choose to live during your 365 days?  My guess is that you probably roll your eyes every time that someone casts their promises towards the heavens, knowing full well that most of those promises will be abandoned by the end of your first month.  Don’t believe me?  Go ask 2016.  He’s BOUND to tell you that promises made in the first minutes of a new year aren’t worth a hill of beans.

But I AM going to make a promise to you whether you like it or not:  I promise to spend more of my time behind screens reading and commenting on blogs and less time liking and retweeting the content that I consume.

Now I know what you are thinking:  “Nice promise, Bill.  Really ambitious.  So thankful that you are committed to making our world a better place by commenting more than liking.  You are a real Mother Teresa, aren’t you?!  Sheesh, these people.  So selfish with their resolutions.  Can’t SOMEBODY come up with a promise that matters?”

Here’s the thing, 2017.  I REALLY believe that commenting more and liking less WILL make the world a better place.  It’s NOT a selfish act.  

Here’s why:  No matter what people say, social spaces are decidedly antisocial nowadays.  Most of our interactions in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest are shallow on a good day.  We think mashing the like button or sharing someone’s post out in our own social streams is some kind of meaningful endorsement of the people we are learning from, but those acts require nothing of us — and show nothing to the creators who are sharing content in our streams.

I’m not trying to be all judgy here.  I know why we like and pin and share instead of comment.  We do it because it is fast and easy.

But make no mistake about it:  “Fast and easy” acknowledgement cheapens the value of the very spaces that we’ve embraced.  

Content creators stop seeing their audiences as people they are connected to and start seeing their audiences as people they are trying to sell their ideas to.  And audiences stop seeing the content creators that they follow as actual people who are reflecting transparently and pushing conversations forward.  Instead, content creators are just another brand in the marketplace shouting for attention.  What was supposed to be “networked learning” has become “a network for buying and selling ideas about learning.”  Each Tweet or Pin or Post or Favorite or Share is a transaction instead of a contribution.

Need a different way to think about it?  Likes and pins and retweets are nothing more than the digital equivalent of the Gingerbread soap you gave your grandmother for the holidays because you just so happened to be in the Bath and Body Works the week before Christmas.

Sure, Gingerbread soap is a gift.  No argument there.  But it’s not a thoughtful gift that you put time and energy into.  It was the easiest step you could take to fill your part of the gift-giving bargain and everyone — grandma included — knows it.  While you may not realize it at first, that bar of Gingerbread soap fundamentally changes your relationship with grandma because it is a sign of just how little you really want to think about her.  You’ll do it because you are supposed to — it IS a social expectation, after all — but not out of any real sense of gratitude for Grandma.

Am I making any sense, 2017?  

I guess what I’m saying is that I am making a commitment to LEARNING WITH rather than LEARNING FROM people this year.  I’m going to read and react to the ideas being shared by others.  I’m going to ask questions instead of look for answers.  I’m going to start conversations instead of share content.  I’m going to show people that I’m really listening — and that I’m grateful enough for their efforts and ideas to spend time wrestling with and responding to those ideas in their comment sections.

My bet is that every comment will strengthen the connections that I have with people.  Instead of seeing me as just another icon in their feeds, they’ll see me as a person with a voice who cares enough about them to react to what they’ve written.  Our relationships will be strengthened — something that can only happen one thoughtful interaction at a time — and stronger relationships matter.

Sure, it means that I’ll end up following fewer people.  I can’t magically double the amount of time that I have for interacting in social spaces.  But those fewer people will mean more to me — and hopefully, I will mean more to them.

So there’s my promise, 2017.  I’m going to be a better learning partner to people this year — and while it won’t solve global poverty or keep the Russians from taking over the rest of the world, it WILL encourage and empower more of my peers.  

That has to have some value, doesn’t it?

Respectfully,

Bill Ferriter

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Related Radical Reads:

I’m Going #toplessin215!  Who’s In?

In One Word, I Will Challenge.

 

Three Tips for Novice Bloggers

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the chance to connect with some really terrific teachers right here in my own county.  That’s been a refreshing change of pace for me simply because the majority of people that I’ve connected with over the course of my time in social spaces have lived hundreds and thousands of miles away.  What I’m digging the most is that many of my newest peers are just beginning their blogging journeys.

As a guy who has “been there and done that,” I’ve been offering tons of tips designed to help them find the same satisfaction that I do as a blogger.

Here are three that are worth sharing with all y’all, too:

Quit Calling it Blogging.  Start Calling it Reflection.

Let’s start with a simple truth:  Blogging takes time.  I sit down once a week — usually on Friday nights or Saturday mornings and bang away at the keys for anywhere from 60-90 minutes.  Carving that time out of my daily schedule isn’t any easier for me than it will be for you!  There are plenty of times when I am blogging that I would rather be on the couch with my kid!

So how do I do it?  How do I commit to blogging week after week and year after year?

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve quit calling it blogging — which feels like some kind of self-centered, silly act reserved for people who make their living by selling their ideas — and started calling it reflection.  After all, that’s what I’m really doing every time that I write here on the Radical.  Taking ideas that are mulling around in my mind and working to put them into coherent sentences and paragraphs depends on thinking deeply about what I know about teaching and learning.

Blogging is something that I’m willing to skip when I’m tired or discouraged.  Reflection feeds me and challenges me and makes me a better practitioner.  It’s something I’d NEVER skip.  By recognizing and naming the reflective value of writing, I’ve turned it into a priority — even a pleasure — instead of a chore.

Quit Thinking about an Audience.  YOU are the Audience.

Here’s another simple truth:  The VAST majority of educational bloggers — including ME — are never going to develop a super impressive audience.  Heck — most of us will be lucky if our entries generate 25-30 views on a regular basis.  That’s not because we are awful writers with nothing important to say.  It’s because we live in a world where (1). people are busy and (2). there are TONS of ways to spend our spare time.  Standing out in someone’s already crowded information stream just ain’t all that easy.

That’s why we have to STOP talking about “the power of audience” in motivating bloggers.  If we’re counting on feedback — views, likes, shares, comments — from an external audience to motivate us, we’re going to quit as soon as we spend hours crafting a thoughtful reflection that no one reads.

But there IS an audience who cares and who learns and who grows every time that you write.  Want to find them?  Look in the mirror. Once you recognize that you aren’t writing for someone else — that you are, instead, writing for yourself — then page views won’t leave you discouraged even when they are lower than you’d like them to be.  After all, the only audience that ever really mattered was you to begin with!

Quit Writing.  Start Commenting.

Here’s a final simple truth for you:  Social spaces aren’t very social anymore.  People don’t interact with each other.  Instead, we spend our time consuming.  We check our Twitterstreams, clicking on links, reading posts, bookmarking sites and then moving on.  Rarely to we pause to acknowledge the contributions that content creators make to our learning.  Sure, we might retweet or like or favorite something that we liked — but even that can be a selfish act designed to build our own networks or organize our own set of killer finds.

So break the cycle.  Set time aside to leave comments on the blogs written by other people.  Doing so is a simple act of gratitude — a way to say thank you to the folks who are taking risks by giving us a look inside their professional minds.  That alone makes commenting worthwhile.

But commenting has a ton of additional added value for you as a writer, too.  Most importantly, each comment that you add is first draft thinking that you can turn into a blog post later.  In fact, I copy and paste every comment that I write into a folder in Evernote so that I can find it and use it again when I’m struggling for a topic to write about here on the Radical.

And if you really do care about building an audience, leaving a comment for someone else makes a ton of sense.  Here’s why:  Odds are that the people that you leave a comment for will stop by your blog and check out your writing, too.  That’s because there’s often an intellectual symbiosis that develops between people who are thinking together.

So whaddya’ think about my recommendations?  More importantly, what suggestions would you make to novice bloggers?

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Related Radical Reads:

Lessons Learned from a Decade of Blogging

The Digital Equivalent of Strip Malls

Three Tips for Classroom Blogging Projects