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.
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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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