Networked flickr photo by nrg_crisis shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Why invest time in portfolios?

As we continue to explore portfolios/reflection as a part of our strategic plan this year, we are bound to come back to the question above again and again.  A healthy, meaningful network of portfolios relies heavily on time–the most coveted of teacher-resources.  The philosophy behind our portfolios is here, and yes, it is aspirational.  So let’s unpack some of the cousin-questions (and please feel free to leave more questions in the comment section below) provided by the English Dept:


1. How can I be persuaded to create and maintain my own blog?

I’d suggest signing up for our teacher portfolio challenge and experiencing the tool first hand.  What have other educators said about the process? Here’s what Madeleine Brookes has to say:

For a longer read, check out Dean Shareski‘s thoughts:

“I’ve yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it’s been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I’ve no “data” to prove this but I’m willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise of Professional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more.” (full text here)

2. I’d like to know a little more about how others might use the portfolios in inventive ways

 My long answer is this list of 44 different ways schools around the world are using it as a tool to connect.  Ceci-Gomez has been leading students at her school through the ‘This I believe’ challenge for the past few years at SIS.  Students create a podcast as a response, and the school hosts ‘The big deal,’ a day where they spend the morning listening to the submissions and leaving comments. A portfolio is also useful for the student to be able to bring all their learning together at the end of a unit, here’s an example of just that.

3. How can we best encourage authentic reflection, rather than just ‘talking the talk’; how can we best use portfolios to extend rather than just record learning; how can we maximise student buy-in?

Choice. If we want portfolios to be a reflection of our students as learners, we need our learners to have the means to shape those portfolios.  If I want students to reflect on some aspect of our learning through the portfolio I’ll provide a choice of prompt, a choice of ways to reflect, and I’ll offer my own reflection as a mentor text.  If we want students to engage with reflection, it helps if they see us model why and how it is significant.  Reflection has a bad wrap, and it is important to recognize where that rep comes from.  For too long, schools have required students to reflect…and then have done nothing with those thoughts.  The portfolio becomes a time-traveling machine where students can return to prior posts.  One prompt I’ve had success with is asking which of these ‘future ready skills,’ the student feels were most accessible during a given task/unit.  Their response doesn’t need to be lengthy–but I do ask them to provide examples which illustrate their response.

Buy in comes with an audience.  Once you’ve walked your class through the ‘campfire cycle,’ and initiated a protocal of commenting and responding, the students are no longer writing for just one person–but rather for their peers. Kim Cofino speaks to this better than I am, so check out her thoughts on The Power of Audience.

4. How do I access class portfolios or set it up as a class?

I think the #uwclearn teacher portfolio challenge models this.

Step one: provide the prompts (allow for time)

Step two: bundle the posts

Step three: provide time for commenting

5. Are students ready to go/know what to do if we ask them to do something in their portfolio? What’s the language we use for asking them that, make an entry etc?

Students will have a range of experience with the portfolios depending on the teachers they have, and the amount of experimentation happening in those classes.  They do have access to this list of ‘basic bootcamp for WordPress’ and may need to return back to it.  You are also welcome to invite me into the classroom.  Our school is a diverse place, and students are accustomed to diversity in instruction.

5. How can I use it positively in combination with the platform and structures that are already in place?

I think of Teamie as the auditorium—here’s where I go to see the show.  The rehearsals, the hardwork, the direction and choreography takes place via our Google Apps, WordPress, and post-it notes.  The portfolio is the sandbox for the student’s thinking, and your OLP class is the space for the entire class.  Just as this post I’m composing here is a representation of my own thinking on the topic, I’ll be sharing it via the English dept workspace on Teamie.  Could I just have written all of this on Teamie? Yes, sure I could have–but I want to take my learning with me, and this post is one of many–and I know my own thinking about portfolios will change and evolve, in coming years I may wish to go back to this post.  I also may want to share this post not only with the English team, but with another department.
The biggest structural shift here is likely to be the benefit the student sees.  The portfolios ask them to curate their learning, to develop an archive of thought, to map out connections.  In the words of a former colleague, who I believe would even consider refering to himself as a converted blogger, it opens things up:
“The process of learning is social. We understand this implicitly when we take on the roles of teacher and student and believe that by putting people in a room together, learning can happen. And blogging, more so than, say, writing in a notebook, opens up our learning so that it is easily accessed by peers anywhere with an internet connection: it gives you an expanded, flexible, networked learning environment. ” (full text here)