What I'm Thinking

Digital Student Portfolios and Triangulated Assessment

In my new book, I define digital portfolios as “dynamic, digital collections of information from many sources, in many forms, and with many purposes that better represent a student’s understanding and learning experiences.”

While a definition is great, I also sought to provide examples of digital student portfolios in action. Several teachers shared their work with me on using digital tools for authentic assessment. Next is an excerpt from the text in which a 2nd-grade teacher facilitates a writing conference with a student. It is followed by my explanation with new thinking.

Calleigh, a 2nd grader, sits down with her teacher, Janice Heyroth, to prepare for an assessment. This is a regularly scheduled conference during the middle of the school year; Janice meets with each student six times a year to reflect on a piece of writing in their digital portfolios. At the beginning of the year, students completed a reading and writing survey, which was uploaded and shared with students’ families via FreshGrade (www.freshgrade.com). The information gleaned from that survey gave Janice information about each student’s dispositions toward reading and writing. Questions such as “What types of books does your child enjoy reading on this/her own?” and “Does your child enjoy writing? Why or why not?” gave insights into how students approached literacy in their lives. It also informed her future instruction, such as generating writing ideas and topics students could choose to explore if they needed more support.

Elbows on the table, Calleigh props her head on her hands as her teacher spreads out some of her own writing. Because it is the middle of the school year, Calleigh’s folder already contains multiple compositions. Janice encourages Calleigh to locate a recently published piece she is proud of. She selects one, and then Janice starts off their assessment with a question: “So, what are some things you are doing well?”

Calleigh doesn’t hesitate. She states, “Handwriting.” Calleigh pulls an older piece of writing from her folder and compares it with a more recent entry to show the difference. Janice listens and smiles while she writes down Calleigh’s response in her conferring notebook.

Janice prompts, “What else?” and then silently waits and allows Calleigh the time she needs to look back at her writing and find other points to highlight. After a few seconds, she responds, “I don’t know.”

Janice acknowledges Calleigh’s honesty and follows up with more specific language. She says, “Well, I have noticed a lot of areas where I think you’re doing well in your writing. First, you stayed organized with your writing. Did you notice that?”

Calleigh tentatively nods.

Janice then says, “Do you know what I mean by staying organized in your writing?”

Calleigh hesitates and then smiles as she responds, “No.”

“Okay … did you stay on topic?”

“Yeah”

“What is your topic about?”

“Going to Florida.”

“Right. It’s all about going to Florida. Did you tell me about what you did first and go all the way through to the end?”

“Yes.”

The conversation continues, and while this assessment is taking place, the rest of the students in the classroom are busy independently reading and writing, working on self-guided vocabulary activities, or using computers to listen to narrated digital stories. At one point in the assessment, Janice starts to make a suggestion (“Would it have made sense … “), stops herself, and then restarts her inquiry: “Why did you start your real narrative in this way?” Calleigh shares that she started her story by describing an important scene during her visit to Florida. This is a strategy for developing a lead that she learned during whole-group writing instruction. Janice makes sure to note this connection between teaching and learning in her notebook.

The assessment closes with Janice asking Calleigh what she would like to continue working on with her writing. This time, she waits 15 seconds for a response.

Finally, Calleigh says, “Spaces.”

Janice pauses and then responds, “Actually, your spacing is fine. The same with your spelling and handwriting—everything looks great. Let’s take a look at your ending, though. ‘Our trip to Florida was fun and exciting.’ How could you have spiced things up and made your ending more memorable?”

Calleigh struggles with how to respond. Janice reminds her that endings can often resemble leads. With this information in hand, Janice makes a note to prepare future minilessons that address endings. Janice finishes up her time with Calleigh by showing her how to upload her writing to FreshGrade so her parents can see her work.

To summarize, this process of capturing, reflecting on, and sharing student work is a triangulated assessment. This is different than “triangulating assessments”, in which a teacher uses three assessment points to better evaluate a student’s level of growth or proficiency. The digital portfolio assessment process is triangulated because they have three audiences: the family, the teacher, and, most importantly, the student.

Picture1.jpg

Here is how this assessment was triangulated:

  • The family members heard and saw their daughter selecting her best work and reflecting on it. They now have a talking point with Calleigh when she gets home that evening about what she is learning. In speaking with other teachers, they have found that as parents hear the teacher conferring with their child, they start to take up this language and emulate it at home, such as when reading a book with them.
  • The teacher was video recording the conference with her student. Knowing this was being seen by others, she likely made a more concerted effort to facilitate an effective assessment process. Janice also could go back to the video and watch it to evaluate her own instruction later on. She has time now, as scoring the writing is no longer necessary with the continuous process of portfolio assessment.
  • The student was provided voice and choice in which writing piece to upload into her portfolio. She took her time because she knew her teacher would be asking her to provide a rationale for her selection. All of the questions from Janice were centered on Calleigh. She was the one doing the thinking, and the learning.

I don’t want to get too wordy in this post, so I’ll leave it here for now. I do want to revisit this concept of triangulated assessment (vs. triangulating assessments) in the future. With this initial thinking, it seems like teachers are working smarter and leading a more student-centered approach to assessment. Let me know what you think! – Matt

Advertisements
What I'm Thinking

Having a Social Media Presence = Being an Active Citizen

I know about the negatives regarding social media, the detriments of being “always on”. We are distracted; we sometimes prioritize our online connections over our physical ones; we become accustomed to responding to our messages and other habit-building notifications. I don’t disagree with the sentiments…in theory. Yet social media and online interactions are where so many of our conversations now take place. To not be online gives us freedom from distraction. But when we are never on, we are absent from the larger discussion about our community and our society.

Thinking locally, our small town has an active Facebook page. People post for many reasons. Lost cat? Post the pic. Event coming up next week? Let us know the date. If someone has something to sell or donate, it is likely someone will respond with interest or, at the very least, tag another person who might be interested. Being present on social media with intentional communities such as my town’s Facebook page seems to have little downside. I might feel more connected to locals because we have more opportunities to connect, period.

Going global, the flood of information on Facebook, Instagram, and especially Twitter can be overwhelming. (Sorry Snapchat; I have yet to figure you out, and by the time I do, the kids will have moved on to the next social media.) These outlets do provide tools to stem the flow of the posts, retweets, and updates. For example, I use Twitter lists to control the feed of information around specific topics. My favorite list right now is Reliable Media Sources, a list I have built containing over 250 news outlets, journalists, and credible individuals who post links and thoughts that I can count on for accuracy.

My philosophy right now in being connected is I need to have one foot in the physical world and the other in the digital. I’ll still read the Sunday paper, but I will augment that print experience with my curated online connections. The importance of meeting people face-to-face has not diminished in my mind…yet who might I have not met had I not been active on Twitter or Facebook? Being a member of a community has been redefined. Being connected is a much more complex endeavor. It is not enough to exist only in one world or the other. The best approach for citizenship in the modern world is an integrated one.

 

What I'm Thinking

Draft: A Guide for Self-Directed Learners

During a recent instructional technology workshop related to self-directed learning, a few teachers asked for a guide for students.

At first, I was hesitant. “If we are telling students how to direct their own learning, are we defeating the purpose? Have we not taught them well enough how to create time and space for learning, break goals into small steps, seek out feedback, and publish good work for an authentic audience?” These four tenets – environment, clarity, feedback, audience – were described in my eBook. They didn’t disagree, but still…

Here is a draft of a simple guide for self-directed learners. I post this template here for feedback. Is this something you could use in your classroom? Does it set out to accomplish what is intended (to guide students to become self-directed learners)? What is missing or redundant? I appreciate your feedback!


Guide for Self-Directed Learners

1. What do you want to learn?

2. What do you believe you already know about this topic or skill?

3. What questions do you have about this topic or skill?

4. What do you hope to gain from this learning experience? What will you produce?

5. What do you need in order to be successful?

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Access
  • Mentor

6. Break down your inquiry project into clear steps that serve as smaller goals toward the bigger project. For each step, make time to get feedback about your progress:

  • Step 1:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 2:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 3:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self
  • Step 4:
    • Check in:    Teacher        Peer          Self

7. How frequently do you need to work on this project to be successful, i.e. three times a week, 30 minutes each time? Make a schedule for your project.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 2.11.53 PM.png

8. How will you know that your work is ready to be shared?

9. How will you share your work? Who will be your audience?

10. What might you want to learn next?

What I'm Thinking

What Engagement Really Is

I write this post on a Saturday night, a time when I should be away from my computer and enjoying the weekend. Ok, let’s retract – I am enjoying my weekend. Just not like you might imagine the typical someone enjoying their weekend.

See, I’m a writer. I’m also an educator, an elementary principal to be exact. When I write, I find joy. It’s as simple as that. This “writing thing” has been a part of my life since 2012, when I first started my blog. That small online space has grown to almost 900 subscribers and is now a collaborative forum for literacy leaders to share their ideas.

So when I write, I have this twin set of feelings. First, I enjoy writing (I’ve already said this, I know). I can put down my thoughts, insights, and questions in an online space for others to read and maybe even respond to in the comments. Second, I also know that when I am writing, I am not attending to all of the other responsibilities and activities that I might otherwise. I’m not talking and listening with my family. I’m not watching television or engaging in recreational activities. I’m not present, at least with the world beyond my computer.

There is guilt with this reality. As a writer, I feel this to some degree anytime I open up my laptop. What could/should I be doing if I were not writing?

Enough of the self-involvement; let’s get to the point of this post. Engagement is not merely a passion for something that is of interest to an individual. Passion is only the half of it. To be truly engaged, a person has to not only have a strong interest in a topic or skill; they also have to dedicate themselves to this effort. Both elements have to be present in order for engagement to be realized.

Is this definition not clear enough? Then consider one of the oldest definitions of engagement. It comes from the agreement two people take when they elect to become married. Consider the typical vow one might hear at a wedding.

I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

This is engagement. It’s not all rose petals and open bar. These experiences are wonderful, but they are offset by driving your kids to urgent care at two in the morning and forgetting to take the garbage out on Friday. The celebrations benefit from the perspective provided through our challenges.

When we talk about engagement in the classroom or in our lives, it isn’t merely the presence of motivation or attention-grabbing activities. Engagement is much more than that. Engagement is when we decide to pursue a passion or a dream, experience setbacks and hardships, and in spite of these situations, we choose to continue to move forward toward our goals.

My third book is coming out in August through ASCD on digital portfolios in the classroom. The process was nothing if not incredibly challenging. I had to rewrite one chapter twice. Figures for the book did not resemble what I had initially proposed. The title changed, which forced me to go back through the manuscript, line by line, to redact one word to make sure there was consistency in the language.

Did I do this out of passion alone? Heck no. At this point, I was emotionally ready to drop this project like a bad habit. Commitment? To the project…to a point, knowing that I was under contract to finish it. No, it was the combination of passion and commitment that helped me get to the finish line. This might be defined as “love”.

So…the question remains as to how true engagement relates to an educator’s position. Here are some initial thoughts.

  • If you are a teacher, do/will your students have time to explore their passions and interests during class time? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become engaged in authentic and meaningful learning experiences?
  • If you are a school leader, do/will your teachers have time to investigate better practices on behalf of their students? Will they be given the resources, support, and feedback to become the teacher they have always wanted to be?

For the latter, I know I have not always lived up to this promise. No matter. Guilt is retroactive; it is always about the past, never the future. We have to move forward. Engagement is the key factor in student and teacher success. Passion and commitment are the twin roads to follow.

What I'm Thinking

How Technology Can Drive Your Beliefs and Practices

Integrating technology into education is a subtle process. It may seem like a big deal at first, especially when that interactive whiteboard goes up on the wall, or every student now has a Chromebook at their desks. But the process of technology becoming a part of a teacher’s practice is slow and indistinct.

It often appears at our doorstep for free. Either the operating system, such as Google Chrome, or the tools themselves, paid for by some district department, is made available. We think, “Okay, how can I use this technology in school?” So we look to our current practices and assess how they might fit into this new paradigm.

If our current practices do not fit, a couple things might happen.

  • We ignore the technology for some aspects of our instruction and continue as normal. This can be a good or not-so-good thing, depending on how effective our instruction was in the first place.
  • The technology and our practice make a nice pair, and we start using them in concert. Again, can be good or bad. Studies have found that this situation is what happens most often. The technology accentuates the practice for better or worse.
  • Teachers bend their practice so it can fit within the confines of the technology’s ecosystem. Accelerated Reader is a prime example. We stop conferring with kids because we start to depend on low-level quizzes to tease out understanding.

Technology companies know this. They realize that they won’t get every teacher to become a convert to their platform (see the first example). They also realize that the majority of educators, when presented with technology that is easy to implement, will adopt it. Easy to implement…this is a strong indicator that the technology is a) not improving practice, and b) is likely driving instruction. Nevermind that professional educators may have had zero input into the production of these digital tools. Technology becomes a solution to a problem we did not know existed until now.

So what are the problems? Likely, they were invented by the companies themselves. “Bogged down by grades? Try our platform to save you time and give your students better feedback!” Maybe this is a problem. Yet we can get rid of grades and provide more qualitative feedback on student work without a significant integration of technology. This work starts by examining our beliefs about teaching and learning, for today and for tomorrow. Our collective thinking then leads us to reassess our current practices, which finally leads to searching for tools that help us in our mission.

Through this process, will we arrive at the very technologies that were initially introduced to us? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to say unless we have examined our beliefs about what good teaching and learning should be in practice to guide our way.

 

7691519996_162e98b0ec_b.jpg
Image Source: Mike Cogh, Flickr

 

What I'm Thinking

Technology Integration: It Should be Messy

Last week I flagged down a parent as she and her son were leaving the parking lot at the end of the school day. “What did your son think about the learning management system? Has it helped you as a parent be more involved in his school experiences?” We talked about how her son likes the system, but there were problems with the log in process. It wasn’t said, but I also suspect that more scaffolding from staff involved might be helpful. This is a new tool (Epiphany Learning) that guides students to document and facilitate self-directed projects. It’s a step in the right direction from your typical LMSs toward more personalized learning. We tried it on a small scale, only a couple of kids.

I am getting a sense from school leaders and educational articles online that the more fluid and streamlined the process is for integrating technology in schools, the better the outcomes. The most recent entry I’ve read on this topic comes from an article in the District Administration magazine. The writer, a digital integration specialist, talks about how smoothly handing out the 750 Chromebooks went to ensure all students had 1:1 access to technology in their classrooms. They cite evidence from the classroom to support the success of this initiative:

The level of engagement and collaboration for students—in and out of the school environment—has increased significantly. In the first month after device distribution, utilization of our learning management system to distribute and collect electronic assignments—as well as to facilitate classroom discussion and collaboration—increased more than 65 percent.

I’m all for a smooth rollout of technology in education. The last thing I would want to do is frustrate teachers and students when introducing something new. Yet…are these outcomes the results we would want? For example, how the LMS is being used (I suspect Google Classroom) seems more about paper chasing and facilitating conversations that could just as easily happen in the classroom, face-to-face. I don’t want to assume, but this seems like technology integration lite, in which a digital veneer has been laid over traditional instructional practices and then calling it 21st-century learning. In addition, my suspicions peak whenever I hear about a one-device-only rollout. If Chromebooks are the tool of choice, will that make every learning challenge conform to Google’s platform?

bartosz-wanot-133422.jpg

I believe technology integration should be a bit messy. True change in education is a hard process, digital or otherwise. This is primarily because we are asking adults to change their habits for the better as much as our students. Examining beliefs about teaching and learning, creating a vision for what’s worth learning in schools today, and exploring different technologies to make that vision a reality should be occurring before going digital at a schoolwide or districtwide level. It’s an arduous process, something I have personally gone through and documented in my first book on digital portfolios. In my experience, it’s a 3-5 year process. Mistakes and hiccups are a prerequisite for success.

As we think about next year, I hope we consider a value-added approach to technology integration in our classrooms. A primary question might be: How can digital tools help us realize our school’s mission and vision on behalf of our students? Parents, students, staff, and the community should be involved in the planning. One way to measure the effects is by developing indicators of success. I list several guiding questions as indicators in my last book, 5 Myths About Classroom Technology (ASCD Arias, 2015, pg. 48-49):

Figure 2. Technology Benefits: Necessary or Nice?

  • Are learners an active part of instruction through modeling and guided use of technology?
  • Does the technology accommodate and differentiate for all learners’ needs?
  • Can the technology help facilitate reflection and deepen student understanding?
  • Are students and the classroom part of an authentic learning community?
  • Can learners create content and develop new ways to present information?
  • Does the technology bring in an audience for learning, both near and far?
  • Are students provided both voice and choice with technology, thereby increasing ownership and engagement?
  • Are there opportunities for students to engage in peer feedback and collaborative work?

Technology integration is not about ensuring the sailing is smooth; it should be about successful navigations of uncharted waters in the name of improving student learning.


If you are in the southwestern or western part of Wisconsin this summer, I am facilitating technology workshops through CESA 3 and CESA 4. Check out my Workshops and Events page for more information. I may also be available this summer and in the future for personalized learning experiences for teacher teams and schools. There is a contact form on the page previously linked.

What I'm Thinking

End the Electoral College

Today I posted the following message on Twitter:

Reflecting on that tweet, I felt it was a bit too Pollyanna-ish. Frankly, I did not speak the truth about the realities of our presidential election procedures.

I followed up with a short post on Facebook:

All “teachable moments” aside, it is time to get rid of the Electoral College. We now have two presidents (Bush, Trump) in this century who did not win the popular vote but nonetheless were elected due to the Electoral College. This is not “the will of the people”, but function following form. With today’s technologies, there is little reason not to go with a popular vote for president (like we do with every other elected position). The Electoral College is an antiquated construct, even resisted by some of our founding fathers such as James Madison, that needs to be retired.

I am not a history major, but my undersanding for the rationale for the Electoral College was created within the context of the 18th century. There were concerns that, due to the fact that not all U.S. citizens could vote, a true election for President was not possible without an Electoral College. Makes sense…200 years ago. Don’t get me started with the fact that women couldn’t vote until 1920. #embarrassing

Consider this: I am not asking for the United States to move from the standard system to the metric system for universal measurement. I am simply suggesting that the Electoral College has far outlasted its purpose. Imagine if there was no such thing as a “swing state” anymore. How could CNN survive? More importantly, I believe that many people feel disaffected about our presidential election. In a state that historical votes Red or Blue, the will of the majority is what matters. A person’s vote may not. They would not be wrong. If I supported a Democratic candidate in Mississippi or a Republican candidate in New York, my vote would not have counted. Why is this not more alarming for people in the U.S.?

We are smarter than this: We need to end this outdated process for determining our country’s leadership.