Join me at the @ASCD Annual Convention in Anaheim this Sunday! #digiportfolios #EMPOWER17

In a couple of days, I will be flying out to Anaheim, California for my first visit to the Golden State. Purpose: I am facilitating a session on digital student portfolios on Sunday, 3/26 at 3 P.M. Click here for location details.


This session will be an opportunity to share new resources and ideas from my upcoming ASCD book (August) on authentic assessment and technology. The confirmed title is Digital Student Portfolios in the Classroom: Celebrating and Assessing Student Learning.

If California is a bit of trek, consider attending one of my upcoming summer workshops in the Midwest (click here for schedule). I may also be available to facilitate one- and/or two-day workshops in your neck of the woods; reach out for more information.

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An Interview with Chalkup: Classroom Technology and Digital Portfolios

I recently connected with Chalkup to talk about classroom technology and how I’ve seen digital portfolios win in classrooms.

Big picture, what’s your philosophy on classroom technology?

Classroom technology, especially mobile and cloud-based, is still in its infancy. It seems like these devices and apps have been around for a long time, but it really has been only a couple of years. So, my philosophy right now is to select one or two things to try regarding technology integration in classrooms, and then do it really well. Introduce it to students, provide lots of modeling and guidance, share your celebrations and frustrations with colleagues, and then reflect on and refine your practice.

With everything being so new, just trying something out and modeling the innovation process is a benefit not only to you, but everyone around you and connected with you. They learn from your learning.

How does collaboration play a role in integrating classroom technology?

Collaboration is critical. It is not feasible to have one or two technology experts in a school to solve all of the technology integration issues that come up. Schools have to build “techpertise” within everyone in the building.

When the technology fails (and it will), who can I count on to help me in a pinch? Knowing who those go-to people are and how they can help you is a much more reliable model of technology support than the old system of calling the tech cadre when things go south.

Explain what digital portfolios are and how they benefit learning.

I define digital portfolios as online compilations of learning artifacts that allow students to represent their learning and reflect on their knowledge, skills, and dispositions in unique and differentiated ways. Whew – a long definition!

Here’s a concrete example: Think about a paper and pencil test you might have just given in class. Did it give each and every child in your room reasonable access to show what they know and are able to do? If not, then we need to rethink how that assessment could allow for all of our students to be successful. A digital portfolio can facilitate and house a variety of ways for learning to be assessed.

Instead of the paper and pencil test, could you record a student speaking the answers? This might not only help that student have equal access to conveying their understanding, it might actually augment the assessment process for you, the teacher, such as having no paperwork to take home. In addition, parents can also hear their child’s learning if it is shared with them through the portfolio tool, such as Evernote or FreshGrade. Rethinking how assessments are administered can have multiple benefits for those involved.

How were you first introduced to digital portfolios? What’s been your biggest success using these products in the classroom?

Our staff knew technology was coming, and we wanted to integrate these tools with thougtfulness and purpose. I learned about digital portfolios in the excellent ASCD resource Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (2010), edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

After reading the related chapter by David Niguidula, a pioneer in digital portfolios, I felt like this approach to technology integration was both doable and had the potential of making a powerful impact on student learning.

Our biggest success has been viewing them as products, and not the reason we are using them.

As an elementary principal, could you tell us how digital portfolios – or other tools – help keep your school connected?

Communication is the key to building trust and developing relationships. I’ve never had a parent complain that the school is communicating too much, especially the good stuff. When the school shares student learning on a regular basis via social media, digital portfolios, and other electronic means, families can see it taking place in real time. They don’t have to wait for conferences or portfolio night. Using the tools that parents are already familiar with, such as on smartphones as well as in print, honors all preferred methods of communication. As long as we follow privacy procedures for sharing information, being connected is a win-win for everyone.

What would be one tip for teachers integrating technology for the first time?

Share your learning journey with your students. This might be the first time in the history of education where the student have just as much access to essential knowledge and skills as the teacher. Use this to your advantage. Allow kids to be the drivers of learning in your classrooms, instead of just the recipients. They will surprise you with their intuition and creativity. Just as important, move yourself to the side of the assessment process, acting more as a coach instead of the “expert” in the classroom. School is more fun when everyone is a learner.


Theory and Practice, Uncategorized

New Book Project – ASCD Arias

Image used with permission
Image used with permission

Yesterday, I signed a contract with ASCD to write a book for the Arias series. The topic will be about debunking some of the technology myths that seem to linger in education. It is a short-form publication, around 10,000 words, so we are looking at a publication date of August 2015.

4328639481_4e0c36cefeSince that’s only four months away, I am taking a break from writing my weekly summaries and reflections for the month of April. I’ll hopefully be back at it in early May. Until then, check out my blog, Reading by Example. I still plan on posting short topics of interest there when time allows.

Related, my first book, Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment, is now on Amazon for only $9.99. You can also purchase it as an ePub (Nook, iBooks) and a PDF from me by clicking here.

photo credit: Closed via photopin (license)

Theory and Practice


disrupt, \dis-ˈrəpt\, verb: to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way : to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something) – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Vince, a pianist with Orchestra for the Young, uses an iPad to house all of his music.
Vince, a pianist with Orchestra for the Young, uses an iPad to house all of his music.

Disruptive Innovations in Reading Research and Practice by Susan B. Neuman and Linda B. Gambrell (Reading Research Quarterly, January/February/March 2-15)

The editors of this literacy research journal explore the concept of “disruption”. They compare the corporate world’s definition of this idea, which focuses on the bottom line, with education’s understanding, which “is to promote lifelong learning”. Neuman and Gambrell do not see education as a problem that needs fixing, but rather encourage subtle changes that can agitate the status quo. Both feel this is a necessary step in teaching reading and writing today.

If we are to participate – no less compete – in a global society, we will need to open the door to a number of disruptions in reading education.

Neuman and Gambrell highlight certain areas that are ripe for disruption.

  • Bilingual Education (Disruption): Monolingual Education (Disruptee)
  • Universal Full-Day Kindergarten (Disruption): Hit-or-Miss Full-Day Kindergarten (Disruptee)
  • Multiple Literacies (Disruptor): Traditional Literacy (Disruptee)
  • Online Teacher Education (Disruption): Brick-and-Mortar Teacher Education Programs (Disruptee)

They close their editorial by calling on the reader to “use this notion of disruption to our advantage”.

To BYOD or not to BYOD? by Aileen Hower and Tom Whitford (Reading Today, January/February 2015)

Two educators square off on the promise and problems with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives. Hower sees lots of possibilities, including increased student engagement, quick access to resources, and easy ways to assess understanding through apps such as Socrative.

In contrast, Whitford finds pitfalls in BYOD initiatives. For instance, how do schools address lack of access to devices and wireless for some students? Also, the management of multiple devices can be daunting for a teacher. What’s interesting is that neither Hower and Whitford denounce BYOD as a learning initiative, making the title somewhat misleading.

B.C. report cards enter the age of social media by Tracy Sherlock (Vancouver Sun, December 5, 2015)

Elementary teachers across British Columbia are using a web tool called FreshGrade to capture and share student learning as it happens. Parents get a notification on their smartphone or tablet when their son or daughter has a new artifact entered in their online portfolio. One teacher loves this aspect.

They (students) will do something that they’re so proud of and they will say to me, ‘Can you put this on my portfolio so mommy and daddy can see it?’ I can do it instantaneously — I push ‘share’ and the parents get it right away. The communication with the parents is amazing — they understand because they can see it.

The ability for students and teachers to upload video, audio, images, or text in real time is also supported by school leadership. Antonio Vendramin, elementary principal, questions the traditional grading structure now that many of his teachers are using online portfolios.

I think this is the direction we need to go — we need to make reporting less of an event. We need to make sure this communication with parents is happening as we go, not just three times per year.

IMG_0192Interested in learning more about online portfolios? Check out my book Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment. It is on sale through February – $5 off when you use the code PASSION5 during checkout. You can also join our Google+ Community on the topic. There are over 300 people to share resources and connect with on authentic assessment.

K-12 MOOCs Must Address Equity by Norman Eng (Education Week, February 5, 2015)

A professor of education in New York questions the effectiveness of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. While these online learning platforms have seen some success at the university level, there are two big reasons why they are ineffective at the K-12 level. First, the delivery of information is often lecture-based, no difference than a lecture delivered in a physical classroom. Second, disadvantaged students may lack broadband access to the Internet at home. Eng sums up the issue well at the end of his commentary.

How you use technology is more important than the technology itself.

e-text and e-books are changing the literacy landscape by Bridget Dalton (Phi Delta Kappan, November/December 2014)

This article focuses on “the array of multimedia and multimodal devices and applications that promise to help struggling readers and engage all learners.” Dalton, a literacy professor, applies the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework to ensure that digital curricula and texts address learners’ needs and explore the possibilities of enhancing student fluency and comprehension.

Dalton highlights a number of benefits of using e-books with learners, such as interactive vocabulary software embedded in the digital texts to help the reader make meaning of a challenging word. She also offers five clear steps for selecting and teaching with e-books and e-texts:

  1. Use e-text with audio narration to provide access to the general education curriculum and grade-level text.
  2. Select e-books with meaningful enhancements for vocabulary and comprehension.
  3. Teach students how to use e-text features.
  4. Create an e-reader community.
  5. Use professional development and get technical assistance.

The author believes that using digital tools for reading and communicating should be more than just an enhancement to the school day. “Every child should be reading e-books as part of his or her literacy curriculum.”

Putting the puzzle together…

Anything for the kids
Anything for the kids

Yesterday I was a waterfall. That is, I portrayed one for my students and school during a performance by Opera for the Young. When I wasn’t twirling a banner to simulate cascading water, I was sitting next to Vince, the accompanist for the singers.

At first glance, you wouldn’t really notice anything different as he played. But from my vantage point, the implementation of the iPad to hold his music was more than just not having to carry around songbooks. For instance, the app forScore saved all of his music in Google Drive. Also, Vince could annotate right on the sheet music, such as reminders during the performance to cue me as to when to stand up and perform.

Even more amazing were the pedals by his feet. He could press this device that was connected to his iPad via Bluetooth, and it would turn the digital page of music, half sheet at a time. There was no more quick gestures to flip a physical page. After the show, Vince shared that there was no way he could go back to physical sheet music. He was a better pianist because of this innovation. Disruptor = digital text; Disruptee = traditional publishers.

Can BYOD or MOOCs make this claim, that the introduction of their technologies has disrupted learning to the point of no going back? Apparently not yet. I took a MOOC myself last summer and can concur with what Norman Eng shared. As for BYOD, these initiatives vary in their implementation from school to school. Unfortunately, too many decisions to allow all students to bring their own devices came about because administrators got tired of being the cell phone police in their schools.

I think educators have been more discriminating about effective use of technology in classrooms than technologists and corporations give them credit for. This might be a disappointment for them, as they may view schools as antiquated and a market, respectively. When we have the ability to determine that e-books and online portfolios have a more positive influence on achievement than MOOCs and BYOD, we give the control of learning back to our students and ourselves. We can decide what’s worth disrupting.