Thing 35: Student Digital Portfolios

When I was in graduate school for my Library Science degree, one of my last tasks was to create a digital portfolio filled with work I completed for the different standards to show that I had addressed all of those standards. At the time, there were very few options so I chose Google Sites. Please be kind as I haven’t updated this site since 2009 and I had to follow a very specific formula but if you’d like to check it out, here you go: Deborah S. McHugh’s Portfolio.

It was interesting to read that people have different ideas of what should make up a portfolio — only best work, all student work, only assessments, etc… What I would like to see in a portfolio is a collection of as much of the student’s work as possible so that you can see growth along the way but you might also catch where a student is struggling or where they are excelling or even a skill they have mastered and don’t need any more instruction. A student’s portfolio should also include work from all areas of the school including music, art, P.E., and the library since significant learning also takes place in these area of a school.

The thought of the need for students to being able to comment on work from their classmates never even occurred to me. Students today are very social in nature and allowing them time to read and comment on other student’s work can provide many hidden benefits: increases their reading and writing time but if implemented correctly requires students to use their critical thinking skills. How you ask? By teaching students that when they are providing a comment on another student’s work it needs to be more than ‘I love this!’ or ‘Great job’ but more along the lines of ‘I love how you used evidence from the text to support your answer’. This is a skill that is assessed on the standardized tests and this would be a great way for students to get practical experience using it.

In “The power of digital student portfolios” by Matt Renwick, the author mentions that we need to redefine data. There is so much more to student learning than a score on a test. Since I work in an elementary school, I have long believed that students should be given different methods to show their learning including verbal responses and/or videotaped responses. I have found that many of my students can provide the correct answer verbally but when I ask them to write the answer or pick a response via multiple choice, the students often pick the wrong answer. When I have raised this point with different teachers, I always get the same response, “They need to be able to write the answer.” But no one has been able to provide a good reason why this is the only truth. Providing students with a platform to record themselves is a great way to differentiate especially with shy or struggling students.

One of my first grade teachers is using Seesaw with her students and is having great success with it. But she is the one who is doing most of the uploading and hasn’t really taught the students how to access it and add their own work. My district is looking into ways to integrate technology and digital portfolios is one of the platforms they are exploring. The free version of Seesaw is adequate but it does require the teacher to share their password or provide the student logins to other teachers. Also, at the end of the year, a students work can’t be transferred to the next year which is a distinct disadvantage of the free version. Although the paid version is a little pricey, I believe the benefits are worth it: access to usage statistics, a central access point, and portfolios are transferable. In a district that desperately needs to increase parent engagement, Seesaw provides a simple way for parents to be involved.

Because of the cost to upgrade Seesaw, another option that the district is considering is Google Drive. The biggest advantage Google Drive provides is that the students already have an account and for the most part, know how to log in and access it. It also is easy to organize the documents into different folders and uploading different types of documents is also relatively painless for even the youngest student. Folders can be shared with parents if they have an email address. One of the biggest disadvantages, and I could be wrong, is that it is difficult for students to comment on the works of other students in the class. Each student would need to create a group and would have to share everything with this group. Also in my district, students are given a new email address when they begin middle school so unless the tech department transfers the Drive when they create the new email, then the student loses all of their work from elementary school. Although I like the simplicity that Google Drive presents, I don’t think it is the correct solution as it really only meant as a place to store documents.

Many of the options that I explored all have the same problem: no way to transfer work when the student moves or changes grade levels. Google Sites would be a good option but it won’t work at the elementary level because you must be 13 years or older to use it.

One problem that I don’t know the solution to is how to convince all teachers in the building that students need a digital portfolio. Many teachers are struggling to keep up with everyday tasks and adding one more thing to their plate might put them over the edge. Many of the different programs are easy to use but there is always a learning curve and unless they are required to use it, I think many teachers would choose not to use it despite the advantages that a digital portfolio can provide to them.

I think school librarians should help provide basic training to students on how to use a digital portfolio but I don’t think it should be done in isolation. Depending upon the platform used, the librarian is the logical choice to be the point person on creating the classrooms and transferring files/students as needed.

The world of education is changing and we need to find new ways to get our students involved in their own learning. Digital portfolios are an elegant, simple solution that I hope more of my teachers embrace in the coming years.

Thing 32: EBP – Collecting Data

Exit Tickets


Exit tickets are something that I used last year for about 3 months until all classes began to work on their research projects.Why did I stop using them? Because I thought I wasn’t getting any meaningful feedback from the students. My exit ticket asked students to reflect on something that they had learned in class that day. Inevitably with my younger classes, many of the responses said, “We read a book,” even when I hadn’t read a book. I was so frustrated by these responses, that I stopped doing the exit tickets.

But after reviewing all the reading materials, I realized that I stopped using a powerful tool to show my students’ learning. Although there were a few students in every class writing the same thing every week, more than half of the students were writing down something they did learn in class. I have to ask myself now why didn’t I see this positive side and only the negative?

This goes back to my organization and time management with classes. One of the marks that I consistently have difficulty with on my performance reviews is closure meaning I do not provide meaningful closure to a lesson. I struggle with this for several reasons:

  1. Although most of my classes are scheduled for 40 minutes, in reality most of my students only receive at most 30 minutes of instruction. Quite often I plan too much into a lesson and we don’t finish at a good closing point so I skip the closure.
  2. Many of my lessons are done over more than one class so finding a place to provide closure can be difficult or seem disconnected.
  3. My library clerk used to complain about the wasted paper and thought it was stupid. Yeah, I know — that isn’t part of her job but this is a frequent subject of discourse between us.

But in reality, these are just excuses. As a school librarian who was not a teacher first, this is an area of teaching that wasn’t really taught in graduate school. Even after years of observations, no one has sat down and explained to me why this step is critical. But intellectually I understand that closure is a way for students to grasp that the teaching part of the lesson is over and the time for independent practice has now begun. Closure is also a good way to quickly summarize the lesson and reinforce with students what they were learning in class that day.

I will begin using exit tickets but this time I think I will provide students with some options to choose from like some of the ones suggested by Joyce Valenza in “Evolving with Evidence: Leveraging New Tools for EBP“:

  • What is one thing you still don’t understand?
  • What would you like to learn more about?
  • What did you accomplish today?

I especially like the question asking students what they accomplished that day because it makes them reflect back on not only their learning but also their own behavior which may have impacted how much (or little) they accomplished that class period. I also think this will negate some student’s inclination to say the same thing every week.

Portfolios


As a graduate student, I was required to create a online portfolio and I chose to use Google Sites. Since I graduated there are so many other, better choices but I never considered the need for me to have one, especially since I already have a job. But just because I have a job today, doesn’t mean that I will have a job next year or the year after that. Having a portfolio completed and up-to-date just in case seems like a pretty good idea right about now. If I was a consistent blogger, that would be the perfect avenue for me to showcase my work and my thoughts. Maybe someday.

I have often thought it would be nice for high school seniors to have a portfolio of work from their entire school experience that they could look back and see how much they have truly learned. Actually, I think this would be powerful for all students to look at their work from the beginning of the year to their work six months later. I think all of them would be astonished to see how much they really have learned in such a short period of time.

One of the best/easiest tools I have found for student portfolios is Seesaw. It is very easy for students to join and it is available on multiple formats including iPads, Google Apps, and Android. Once students have an account, they are able to take pictures of their work, add videos, or add digital content and Seesaw is designed with the student doing all of this independently. What a powerful way to empower their students in their own education. Seesaw has also added a blog component which makes this tool even more powerful. All content can be viewed by classmates, the teacher, and their parents after being moderated by the teacher. All of this is for free. They do offer a school account which allows work to stay with the student throughout their time at the school but at this time, I don’t have any idea on cost. If affordable, I would definitely consider upgrading to a school account.

Another more practical and cost effective portfolio that I could use is Google Drive because I am lucky enough to work in a school district that has provided a Gmail address for all students. Once students have learned to navigate through Google Drive, it is quite easy for them to add different types of media to store work that they have been completed. This can also be done on multiple platforms using the Drive app. At the end of each year, students could create a folder for all of the work they completed that year and it would be available to them as long as they had this Google account. This is definitely a low frills portfolio but in the long run may be the most practical one for my students.

Online student portfolios would provide a way to document evidence on student progress and skills learned throughout a school year. With my aging memory, they would also refresh my memory of all the lessons taught throughout the year and provide a way to assess what can/should be changed for the following year.

NoodleTools


NoodleTools flew under my radar until about a week ago when I saw a post on Facebook where my fellow librarians were raving about it and how useful it was for creating citations. With further investigation, I discovered that NoodleTools is so much more than that. NoodleTools helps keep track of a student’s progress through the research process and a place for students to keep their notes, outlines, citations, and their written document. Another positive is that NoodleTools is available for free but also provide a school account for a minimal cost. I have placed it on my wish list for databases that I would like to have and hope to be able to purchase it next school year.

With the prevalence of plagiarism due to the ease of copying and pasting directly from the Internet, NoodleTools could provide a way to teach students good habits that they will be able to use in high school and/or college. Although I teach students the importance of citing their sources and require them to write down the link that they used, they find it exceedingly difficult to create a citation and don’t grasp the implications of not properly attributing information from online resources.

One of the readings suggested using the student’s bibliography to assess the resources they used and I think this is a fabulous idea. I personally struggle with allowing students to select their own resources because invariably they end up at Ask.com or another website like it instead of seeking out reliable sources as they have been taught. To combat this problem, I usually pre-select sources for my students but I know realize that I really am not doing them any favors as they don’t get to practice evaluating resources which is something they desperately need.

Exit Interview


I really like the idea of an exit interview with my sixth grade students mostly because this is the first group of students that only had me as their librarian. The only downside with this is that there are only a handful of students that have been in my school since Kindergarten and I don’t think it would be fair to only include these students in the exit interview.

It would be interesting to discover what skills and/or projects the students enjoyed the most. My practice has changed a lot over the years and although I have adjusted lessons based on my perceptions, its would be interesting to see the students side of the same project.

 

In my mind, an exit interview is a good starting point to establishing a library advisory council which is considered a best practice for school libraries. How are the two related? One looks at what has been done over the past 7 years and the other looks at what will be done in the next 9 months. Once I have feedback at the end of this year, I can take this information to the advisory council and get their input on how to improve based on the feedback.

An exit interview is also one of the EBP that would be difficult to “fudge” the results. Children can be brutally honest and in this case, that is what I am looking for them to do. As much as I would like to only hear from the students who have been in the school since Kindergarten, I also think it would be valuable to get feedback from students that have had a different librarian. Even within my school district, the librarians all have different styles and methods and although I believe I provide the instruction my students need, it would be interesting to hear how someone else did it better and adapt it to my situation.

Plans for EBP in the near future


The school year is almost over so I will be hard pressed to find all the evidence that I wished I had been gathering since September. But over the next few months, I will use exit tickets with my upper elementary students to gauge their perceptions of their learning. I will also be contacting the 6th grade teachers to set up a focus group for the exit interview as I am totally intrigued by what my students might say. I will be using Seesaw with my first grade students and provide parents with information on how they can access the work their child completed in the library.

My district is looking ahead at tough financial times and I think it is necessary for me to start gathering evidence to show how much impact the library has on my students’ ability to answer questions. As this is a skill that I work had on with all of my students, I think the evidence is there. I just need to gather it all into one place and share it with all of my stakeholders.