Follow-up on Cohort21 2016-17

In Cohort21 Season 5 2016-17 I explored the question above and I couldn’t be happier with the results so I thought an update was in order…

It took me a long time to finally develop my “How Might We…” question and, in the true spirit of inquiry, it never felt like straightforward path while we were in the throes of figuring it all out. I certainly hadn’t planned how the year would look from the beginning. However, in hindsight, I must say, it has worked out better than I ever could have expected!

The Early Adopters – 2014-16

At my school we had used paper portfolios for years. In 2014 we substituted the Book Creator app for paper portfolios with our youngest learners. The audio and video components allowed them to have more detailed reflections that both they and their parents could better understand and decipher months later. We continued this experiment in SK and grade 1 the following year. In large part, because of their success, we broached the idea of exploring the idea of digital portfolios.

Reflect with Everyone – June 2016

At an end of school meeting, we reviewed our Portfolio Statement that was written back in 2002 to ensure that it was still relevant. Kudos to the authors (Lisa Fleming and Kim Zemlack) that it still was!

As a provocation, we watched a video from the Bullis Charter School that is no longer available online and considered how inquiry-based learning might best be assessed and shared with the learning community.

In this same meeting, we shared our ideas and concerns regarding digital portfolios. I have often found that when we start with the “Airing of Grievances” it lets us move forward faster since the “issues” are not lurking somewhere below the surface. Rather, we know what challenges need to be solved.

Some of the biggest concerns were about parent communication. However, we were able to reach agreement about what we wanted from our digital portfolios:

  • Be growth portfolios
  • Have meaningful student reflection on growth/learning
  • Have student choice & teacher collaboration
  • Reflect the learning process
  • Be an exhibition of the active mind at work
  • Be shared with parents

Allow for Exploration – August 2016

Teachers met in grade level teams and selected a digital portfolio platform to try for the year. They selected:
SK-1: SesameHQ
2: Edublogs
3-4: Freshgrade
5: Freshgrade (1 class) and Powerschool (2 classes)

The fact that our formal school leadership was open to allowing teachers to try multiple platforms so that they could better understand digital portfolios before making a decision became a critical step to our success. This allowed us to make comparisons and have conversations based on experience and not just hypothetical considerations without worrying about how it would look to parents that we were also learning about the tools we were asking their children to use.

Build Comfort – Fall 2016

As the Technology Integrator, throughout the fall I worked with individual teachers to ensure they were comfortable with their platform of choice and researched how each worked. I also ensured that after learning about features of a platform with one teacher I would check and see if/ how the same thing worked with other platforms.

Learn from One Another – November 2016

I have always believed that learning is social. Scheduling informal sharing opportunities for teachers to share with a partner about what they were doing with their portfolios in their class ensured that teachers became more aware of features they hadn’t explored and the similarities and differences between platforms.

Clarify Expectations and Look Ahead – January 2017

In response to teachers’ initial concerns about parent communication and with the growing experience of teachers with digital portfolios in the classroom, our Principal clarified which types of messages should be shared with parents via which platform(s).

At a faculty meeting, we started to determine what our criteria for selecting a portfolio platform should be.

Develop a Shared Vision – March – May 2017

After taking part in the Launching Innovation in Schools MOOC, I realized that we needed a stronger vision for what we thought we wanted from digital portfolios. So, we started to flesh out what was meant by each of our portfolio agreements.

Make Decisions – June 2017

We finally confirmed our agreements with the fleshed out descriptions as well as our platform requirements.

In perhaps the most interesting part of this year-long investigation, we compared the platforms we tried throughout the year and one that I researched.

In the end, using our criteria and professional judgement, we selected a platform (Seesaw) that no one had used but had full confidence in it based on our experience!

Implement – Sept 2017

I couldn’t be happier with the support provided by Seesaw and used their documentation to structure PD for our teachers, messages for parents and schedule our rollout.

Celebrate Success – Nov 2017

Although our agreements were just to include something from each unit and subject by December 1, every teacher has far exceeded these expectations already!

Almost 5000 parent views for almost 3000 items since Sept-Nov


252 adults are connected – in some weeks they have visited over 600 times

Teachers are using Seesaw in many ways:

Embed code not working – click image above to view slideshow

Many things led to our success

Some experiences had a great impact, especially:

  • Talking with others at Cohort21 and being “forced” to reflect on how we were doing
  • Launching Innovation in Schools MOOC greatly impacted my thinking about the importance of a shared vision and the role of leaders in supporting teacher innovation
  • Openness of formal school leadership to allow for inquiry
  • Sharing and learning from one another

Next Steps:

This year I hope to focus more on the “power of the debrief” and reflection for both teachers and students. We’ll see where my meanderings go!

One comment to “Follow-up on Cohort21 2016-17”
  1. @ljensen This is an excellent update. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to sharing our SeeSaw pilot with you as well! Could you share your portfolio statement/philosophy with me. I would love to see the language. We are in the middle of crafting ours.

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