If your classroom was to become (or currently is) a picture for a social media post, how many likes would it get? How many retweets?
In truth, to how many of you would that even matter? What if your principal or superintendent suddenly broadcasts a message saying, “Everyone, stop what you’re doing and take a picture of your learning environment right now!” Would you be eager to share or completely mortified? I can admit, at various moments throughout my career, I have been on both ends of that continuum…and everyplace in between! Read more
Documenting Learning over Time: Portfolios and Data Notebooks
Portfolios and data notebooks have been around a long time. I remember bringing home scrapbooks in June, after another year of elementary school, filled with glued-in samples of worksheets and drawings—artifacts of a year spent learning. I recall, many years later, opening my portfolio during a final summative conference in a university studio art class, and pulling out samples of work that represented the skills and knowledge I had developed throughout the course. Even more years later, after I had taught for some time, I recollect asking my students to chart their skills in recalling French vocabulary on multiple bar graph templates I had handed out at the beginning of a unit. These graphs were then placed in a dossier for reference. Each of these examples speaks to the act of documenting learning by collecting artifacts and data in a single place where they can be easily accessed and serve their intended purpose.
What is interesting about each of the examples above is that the intended purpose varied in each context. My elementary scrapbook was simply a collection of artifacts representing skills we had been developing or things I had chosen to create. It served as a kind of curated (largely by my teacher) album that I could share with my parents and then place in a box in our basement. My art portfolio was a catalyst for reflection and evaluation at the end of my studio art class. The individual pieces contained within served as a way to make a case for my growth and development in critical artistic skills. Sadly, this portfolio has also been relegated to my basement, gathering dust. I still feel tremendous emotional attachment to the artwork within but it has served its purpose. The data sets I invited my students to create in French class served the purpose of documenting growth and supporting conversations about how my students might improve further. The data the learners collected and graphed was intended to be a temporary “current state,” with new data added each time they attempted new strategies and spent time practicing.
The years we spend in educational contexts represent a vast array of experiences. Children and youth spend a tremendous proportion of their days in classrooms and schools (face-to-face or virtual) and the learning they experience is certainly worthy of documentation. Their educational stories deserve representation. The great thing about data notebooks and portfolios is that we can document the learning journey and we can use the documentation as a catalyst for reflection, analysis, goal setting, and growth. We now know that these collections of artifacts and data can serve a purpose beyond becoming an album or a capstone collection that sits in a basement—they can begin new learning conversations. Read more
I apologize for using a rather trite metaphor for the title of this blog, particularly since I never really cared for the dot-to-dot pages that would occasionally appear in my coloring books as a child. I never saw the purpose. I could tell what the picture was going to be and I didn’t need to scour the page to find the next number to make it appear.
As an educator the idea of connecting things has become much more profound to me. Watching the students in my English classes make connections between what we were reading and what was happening in the world were some of my favorite teacher moments. The flip side of that was also enlightening to me. As a principal of a school with many different academic support programs for students I remember a conversation with a student who told me that she didn’t “do reading” when she went to a classroom to work with a teacher who was supporting English Learners, even though I had just been in that room and seen a lesson that was explicitly planned to connect to the general education classroom. The student didn’t see the connection and that was the problem. Read more
I have long believed that if assessment doesn’t immediately impact learning in the classroom, it has fallen short of both its purpose and its potential. In my own practice, I think of it this way: If I figure out what my learner strengths and needs are, I am compelled to use that information to refine my planning, my instruction, and my feedback. To ignore assessment data would be unacceptable. So, the question becomes, how might we use strengths to address needs and optimize learning? Read more
“How did the simple act of identifying strengths first in your students’ writing make you feel today?”
This was the question I posed to the eight teachers sitting around the table, after our fourth grade professional learning community (PLC) team had spent half an hour analyzing (not scoring) student writing artifacts. Read more
A few months ago, a young teacher, Maggie, asked me what I thought of the use of rubrics. I thought it a curious question, so I asked her why she was asking. Maggie told me that she was taking some college post-graduate courses, and although a few of her teachers used them, one professor was very opposed to them and said they were counterproductive, limiting, and should not be used. Read more
A deeply held and widely shared belief in education is the “summer slide.” For nine months, teachers and students work tirelessly to build student achievement only to have it unravel over the summer. Upon returning to school, teacher conversations are laced with laments of the learning lost. This blog post is not an argument concerning the reality of the summer slide; rather, I am pondering why the idea of a summer slide makes me so uncomfortable. Read more