Month: November 2014

The Problemn With Student Portfolios

(borrowed under the creative commons license)

Here is the problem with student portfolios:

Most of the time, students and teachers hate them. Teacher pretend like they don’t, but they fake it very badly, the whole process gets rushed, then executed at the last minute, leading  students to hate it equally, because it is obvious the process is ridiculous and inauthentic and a colossal waste of time.

Phew. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

But that’s not even the real problem with portfolios. The real problem with portfolios is that they could be amazing, outstanding, and brilliant learning experiences and often they don’t reach their potential in the classroom. Portfolios, I think, are one the most misunderstood members of our educational landscape (standing somewhere awkwardly in the corner next to graphic novels probably…but that’s another post) and I want to do something to change that.

Maybe you’ve read already that I’m embarking on a year long exploration of growth mindset in my classroom. It has been harder than I thought it would be to find ways to embed this philosophy in my teaching (leveraging 21st Century tools to make this happen) and I’m humbled by the posts of fellow teachers out there that Garth pointed out to me that are struggling with the same challenges. My hunch is that infusing the portfolio process with a growth mindset philosophy, students can better reflect on their setbacks, actually learning that challenges are essential to achieving their goals.

This is where we stand right now with portfolios in Grade 7:

  • Students have chosen 2-3 artifacts that they feel show either a growth, a challenge, or a success. See one example here.
  • We will likely use Blogger as a platform to house these artifacts and help students curate the story of their learning this year (see the chart that explains this decision making process).
  • Students have shared some artifacts with their parents during the conferences (I also want students to have the power to choose what they show their parents and what they don’t show their parents to make their writing more honest and vulnerable).

Pros and Cons


And this is how I’m hoping to remix  portfolios:

  • The instruction of portfolios happens in tandem with instruction on growth mindset. Students have to be taught how they learn and grow. By doing so, I hope to help students “buy in” to the portfolio process and see the merits in this kind of learning.
  • We set monthly “portfolio parties” in class: we watch some YouTube growth mindset videos, we chose current artifacts, we write about our learning / progress towards goals, we celebrate each other’s successes and learn from our shared challenges.
  • We use the power of Google tools (YouTube, Docs, Blogger, Kaizena) to get students to write and reflect about their learning in multiple modalities.
  • Students can curate their work: the final conferences are student led. Students can chose who they invite to view / celebrate their work (in addition to having their parents / guardians present).
  • Students see their own teacher actively engaged in the process of “documenting” work: therefore this blog needs to be shared with them!

I want to know the good, the bad, and portfolio horror stories from your own practices. What has worked well for you / your students? What will you never do again? Let’s share and learn from our missteps and failures together!


A new approach to learning conferences

In the spirit of this growth mindset focus in Grade 7, my core team and I shifted around how we approached the Fall learning conferences.

The students would generally come to these conferences and they would share their insights and highlights from the last two months of school, but this time things really felt different. I noticed that typically students were somewhat awkward in these meetings: they didn’t always know what to say, they had a hard time navigating the dynamic between the two groups of adults in their life, and sometimes it seemed hard for them to hear the positive and constructive feedback offered.

Does this student look like one of your children? (Used under the creative commons license)

This year, we asked the students to chose 2-3 artifacts from the last 2 months of school (we primed them with some key suggestions) that either show a GROWTH, a CHALLENGE, or a SUCCESS. We had students write about these artifacts on a Google Doc we created for them ahead of time and then during the conference, we opened up the document and shared their chosen pieces with their family.

As a teacher, I peppered their conversation with my own observations, or background of the project, and other important information to help the parents understand who their student is at this snapshot in time.

With the student in the driving seat, this round of conferences felt so refreshing and interesting. The girls did most of the talking and they got to tell the story they wanted to share about themselves as a learner (with input from me as well…but the beautiful thing was that they all said what I would have said anyway. At times, I actually had to qualify that what the child was struggling with was “age appropriate” and something that is very normal for being in Grade 7). Parents were able to see their child as a powerful protagonist in their own education and students had a clearer sense of what they needed to work on because they  articulated it for themselves, rather than being told by someone else.

How conferences COULD look! (Also used under the creative commons license).

This artifact approach is something that is going to feed into our portfolios project for the year. My next mission is to try and decide how to document the learning. The options seem to be either Blogger, Sesame HQ, or Weebly. Any feedback or suggestions on any of these three platforms?