Sunday, June 8, 2014

Reflective teaching and learning - the e-portfolios

I started toying with the idea of having my students create e-portfolios about a year ago. At the time, I found a lot of information and examples for their use in professional settings and higher education levels. Fortuitously, I stumbled upon Helen Barrett's "EPortfolios with GoogleApps", and since I already had my students blogging weekly, and set up my class to turn in mostly digital work, I figured that I just might take the last step. I wanted to give my students an opportunity to reflect on a year's worth of hard work, and be able to share their accomplishments. In other words, I wanted their learning to become visible outside our walls.
However, I also wanted it to be more than another assignment for my students. I did not want them to feel that their final grade depended on it (most of my students are still very grade driven). My purpose for the e-portfolios needed to be clear:
"Showcase the work already done and provide a space for my students to reflect on their experience at our school."

Finally, about two months before the end of school, I gave out the assignment (E-portfolio assignment). Although I did include a rubric, I purposely did not assign points to each level, nor did I tell them that I would not be adding the e-portfolio as a graded assignment. I just stated the due date and left it at that.

There was no class time allocated to developing the portfolios, but when some of them asked for help I offered after-school workshops - to my surprise these quickly became standing-room only. I asked myself, and eventually some of my students: "Why would an 8th grader give up their social time to come in and work on an ungraded assignment?" Their answer speaks to Pink's "Drive" - "Because I have a choice in all aspects of this assignment, and I don't have to worry about a grade.I'm doing this for me."

This is not to say that all my students completed their portfolios (about 25 out of my 140 didn't), but those that did turned in amazing pieces. Since I loop students for 4 years (5th through 8th), I know I will need to come up with some strategy to ensure that everyone completes the assignment next year. Also, by their very nature, the portfolios are living documents, so I will need to make sure that the students that did complete them this year avoid overwriting their work (I guess extra tabs will be in order, although I'm sure my students will come up with something more interesting).

What did we accomplish?

  • I developed a deeper understanding of my students. As I read through their responses "What it means to be an AdVENTURE student", I cried, laughed and sometimes cringed. The truth is that they revealed themselves and their truths deeply. Their selections of artifacts and reflections also helped me view students in a new light. Their reflections on the samples of their "best work" were often poignant and included ideas and specifics I would not even think about. I also got to see what was important to them in a piece of work.
  • Students took pride and responsibility for their work. I witnessed students sharing their portfolios with their other teachers, and conversing with each other about what they were including and why. I had parents thanking me for the assignment, which had opened up dinner conversations about school and their students accomplishments throughout the year. If nothing else, this strengthens my conviction in making the e-portfolio a standing assignment.

Preparing for next year:

  • Some of my students did not have pictures or had misplaced non-digital work that they wanted to include in their portfolios. Knowing that, next year I will introduce the e-portfolio early on. I will also encourage the use of their blogs and Google drives as storage not only for work created digitally, but for electronic images of models, paper based assignments, etc. 
  • Modify the weekly blog assignment to include a more solid reflective piece in order to help students develop a deeper narrative.

Have you used e-portfolios in your class? If you are, or if you are even thinking about it, I would love to hear from you.

Further reading:
  • Hartman, Elyse. "Free Ed Tech Resources (100+ Pages!) EBook." Emerging Education Technology RSS. Emerging Ed-Tech, 24 Mar. 2013. Web. 8 June 2014. <>.
  • Barrett, Helen. "EPortfolios with GoogleApps." EPortfolios with GoogleApps. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 June 2014. <>.
  • "Catalyst for Learning." Catalyst for Learning. The Making Connections National Resource Center, n.d. Web. 08 June 2014. <>.

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