Portfolios, Reflections, and Change

Goals, Reflect, Artifacts

For 7 years now we have been working on creating student portfolios in the Middle School. We are now on our 3rd iteration from what we started with in 2010. I think this iteration is more efficient and will take the least amount of time to fulfill the potential portfolios offer. To quote a fellow teacher when I asked him if his graphic novel unit was proceeding how he hoped. “It is too soon to tell if the juice is worth the squeeze.” This is sort of how I feel as while some of my colleagues think they are a great idea and support them with time and energy, many have no interaction at all. In fact, I would say most of our school has no interaction with the portfolios. Once students leave the Middle School, the portfolio process ends. I spend a lot time “squeezing” the portfolio process and while I believe firmly that students and teachers should have a place to share and reflect on their learning process, I am willing to stop drinking the juice. There are so many other places I can put my time and energy to develop more student agency that I think this is the last year for my championing the use of portfolios. I still think it is a good idea, but I have failed to inject it into the learning culture of our school. I learned that I needed to get more people on board before starting the portfolio process since I believe that would have helped to institutionalize the process.

This is the message I sent to the MS Faculty yesterday

I just finished setting up all of the portfolios for all new students and each 5th grader. You can view all of the past and current portfolios at this address: https://sites.google.com/a/students.da.org/studentportfolios/  (Private Google Apps so only DA students and teachers can view)

I changed the layout a bit and reworked the reflection prompts as follows:

Setting Learning Goals: Each year you should write some learning goals that will guide your learning for the year. What do you hope to learn at school or outside of school? In order to be successful, you need to write these goals down along with ideas on how you will accomplish your goals.

Prompts for writing learning goals:
I am excited to learn about …
To accomplish my goals I will …
Why does your learning matter?

Writing Reflections: Reflecting is the most important part of the portfolio process, for without it, the portfolio becomes simply a collection of work without purpose. By reflecting on your work, you will engage in meta-cognitive thinking and begin to develop a working knowledge of who you are as learners.

Questions to ask yourself when reflecting:
What is the story of your learning as told by the artifacts you chose to add?
What did you learn about yourself as a learner?
What did you learn on your own?
What did you learn from other members of your community?
What are your feelings about your learning?
What was hard or difficult and how will you overcome similar obstacles in the future?
What advice might you have for other students on how to be as successful in the grade you are completing. Examples: How to use the iPad to be successful, how to study, etc..

Some information is from http://tworeflectiveteachers.blogspot.com/2015/03/slow-down-and-reflect-idea-worth.html with a Tip of the Hat to Ms. Goldstein.

Over the weekend I read this article by Mike Crowley and thought there was some nice alignment with what we hope our portfolios showcase. Of special note was this paragraph about Yale adding 3 questions to the selection process for admitting students.

Perhaps, finally, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the recent news that Yale University is adding three critical, new questions to its selection process:

What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left.
Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something.
Write about something that you love to do.

The old system is finally starting to break. Who you are is more important than your grades. Your development as a person is of greater value than your ability to play the game of school. It is important to have a passion, to make a meaningful contribution.

Teaching and Learning with the Unlinked Net


Images from OpenClipart.org

I have been thinking of this post for a while as our students begin blogging more this year. Most all students in the Middle School are now blogging through Language Arts classes using Edublogs. In grade five, students use a teacher’s blog to post with the teacher serving as the editor who must approve both posts and comments. In grade six students and teachers use the class blog feature in Edublogs so that each student has their own blog but are managed under the teachers blog. This system worked well last year as it provides the students with ownership and a place to find their voice. The teachers still serve as editors and must approve all pages, posts, and comments. This systems works well to establish solid writing, collaborative commenting skills, and learning how to interact in an online community. These are important skills that must be taught if we do not want a world of trolls on the internet. Starting this year, grade seven students and teachers will be expanding the use of class blogs with the students starting with restricted publishing as they start the new year. This will soon move to full editing and publishing done by the students with the teacher only serving the roll of monitor. In grade 8, the class blogs have no restrictions for what is posted and commented and the teacher serves as a monitor. While the blogs have different setups, the goals are the same: Write for an authentic audience, Write more, Learn to write collaborative comments, and establish a presence on the internet that showcases your work and yourself. I feel it is important for students to work at creating their own “Google Juice” so they are searchable with results ranging from silly photos to articles written by them. All of our blogs are open to the public and indexed by Google and other search engines.

The idea of cultivating “Google Juice” is also why four years ago we started having students create and manage digital portfolios with Google sites. These portfolios hold not only a link to their personal blog but also samples of exemplar work along with goal settings and reflections on the student’s learning. These portfolios live at the edges of what we do as all of our Google Apps services are private only to our school which means no one outside of our school or any search engine cannot access them.

This leads to the title of this post as I have been asked by teachers the following question: “How will parents find our blogs?” The quick answer was to send them a message with the link. While that works, it does raise the larger question in my mind of how do we expose all of the wonderful learning and teaching going on when it is not linked by our school or not accessible to anyone outside of our school? Should we expose this part of our school to the world? What are the risks? What are the rewards? I can make a page on Veracross which would allow anyone from our school to find the blogs. I do encourage teaches to list their blogs in the Edublogs directory as a way to engage with the world. 


Until I figure out the best solution, here is a list of the blogs so far. Some will have a link to class blogs on the side.

Grade 4 – Mrs. KarolMr. Mason

Grade 5 – Mrs. Goldstein, Mrs. Parry

Grade 6 – Mrs. WilliamsMrs. Donnelly, Mrs. Saffo-Cogswell

Grade 7 – Mrs. Howes,  Mr. Michelman (new this year and not doing it yet), Mrs. Engebretsen

Grade 8 – Mr. Sheard, Mr. Michelman (new this year and not doing it yet), Mrs. Engebretsen

What I Learned at GAFE about Portfolios


Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59217476@N00/7211160284

I learned a lot at the Google Apps for Education Summit at Ravenscroft. Of particular interest was the discussions I had with teachers at Ravenscroft and others related to using Google Sites for student portfolios. We have done portfolios for two years now at the Middle School. I worked pretty hard to develop a template and roll it out with teachers and students. While we have begun the process, I felt we also  needed to iterate how we were creating them and utilizing them as part of our learning culture. With my new found knowledge, I have revamped the portfolio template to be more efficient and student driven. My hope is that this will allow it to become more a part of instead of separate from the learning process as a whole.

Because our Google Apps for Education are private, I created a new template that you can use to get started.

This link will take you to the template: 

I included a Google Presentation Tutorial as well focused on how to create the site on an iPad. You can adjust to the device you are using.  

For those of you who came to my presentation on building portfolios, this represents my new thinking while the presentation is very similar to what you saw before.

Ready, Set, Portfolio!


Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59217476@N00/6050805936


I am getting ready to work with classes to create and add artifacts to Google Site Portfolios. I thought this year I would make a sliderocket and embed it in the template so the students would have a tutorial after we worked together. I love how I can create presentations either in Google Drive or in sliderocket and then add my voice. I find doing tutorials this way better and easier then trying to do screen recordings especailly with the hoops you have to go through to record the iPad effectively. I always have to do multiple retakes as well since I mess up recording or the bells ring and I have to start over.  Since we use Google Apps for Education our sliderocket is free. I hope the new owners Clearslide continue with providing schools free accounts. Of course, if they stop, we will move on like I do each year.

This page will have a tutorial that we used to create the portfolio. It will help you in case you forget how to do something as you go through the Middle School. Since it is both a link and embedded, and changes that take place will be automatically updated to the tutorial.

Google Site Portfolios using Google Search App – A sliderocket

Foundations of Technology 5 Student Portfolios

With my  new Foundations of Technology course for 5th grade students, I wanted to students to develop an online portfolio that could live outside of both the classroom and our school. My goal is to give the students an opportunity to share their work and reflect on what it means to them. The idea of parents or other students also sharing their comments is a secondary goal. A third goal will not be obvious since the actual portfolio is the showcase for finished projects, and that is creativity, design and even fundamental technology skills centered around formats, copyright, privacy, communication, and others that are embedded into the projects we create. I used the term scaffolding with the class today as I wanted them to begin to connect the things we do in class instead of thinking, we start new each time. I was prompted to talk about this due to the age old question of “can I, can ya, or  can you”. I have a standard answer in that I ask them the question of “Where is Kenya?”. Often they understand this play on words although I feel like I am undoing some long learned rule of learning. I told the students today that if I taught you how to use it last week, it is OK to use it this week as that is the scaffolding part of this class.

So, I share now the portfolios of my students as we work on creating a digital portfolio using VoiceThread. For the price of a site license, this is incredible software for our students to begin telling the story of their learning. Remember that learning is often messy. That term is from a web site that I have read for years. http://learningismessy.com/blog/


Naomi J. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1318864/

Haley P. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315501/

Mosehe I. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315500/

Jonathan W. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315499/

Izzy S. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315498/

Tate F. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315497/

Hannah J. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315495/

Nicole R. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315494/

Finn M. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315493/

Catherine M. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315492/

Dylan P. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315491/

Ethan G. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315490/

Jack M. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315488/

Tyler S. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1315486/