Monday, September 21, 2020

Portfolios All the Way

Plans change...

My goal was to write my weekly plan.  Well, failed that one.  I just realized that my last post was a few weeks ago.  Where did the time go?

So I am throwing that out and simply writing as I am able to.  For this post, I am going to write about something that I wish I had started years ago - portfolios.

Now is the time...

I have always known that portfolios are a valuable tool to use as evidence of learning.  What I didn't realize is how valuable it would be to get students to see the direct relationship in the quantity and quality of their work to their grade. And that has been especially important now where students are struggling to motivate themselves to follow through on the simplest of tasks.  

As much as I adore my students and think of them as my own children, motivating them on a daily basis was an exhausting endeavor when teaching face to face.  So I knew I was going to be in for the challenge of my life in this new environment.  I am looking out at a sea of black boxes with names. Virtually no faces.  Occasionally, I will hear a voice here and there or read a private chat if I am lucky.  

How do I keep them accountable and on task? 

That's where Desmos, Classkick, and Deltamath have been immensely helpful.  I am able to see what they are doing in real-time. And providing them feedback as they are going through the activities in Desmos and Classkick has been the closest thing to feeling like I am back in the classroom. And these platforms help me continue to teach using my constructivist philosophy. But somehow that just wasn't enough. So I had to find another tool to wake them up figuratively and literally. 

The Answer...

But how do I collect a portfolio virtually? This is part of the story where my wonderful MtBoS colleagues came to the rescue! I can't thank them enough! I got support from so many exceptional & generous educators. 

There was a furious flurry of Tweets going back and forth of all sorts of great ideas: Google Sites, Blog, Google Slides, and Desmos AB.  I am/was so grateful as it got my creative juices flowing.  I started to think about what I wanted my students to do and what I needed to do to give feedback and grade them.  

One of my primary goals is to teach students to be reflective humans. I think if one is reflective, one is a life-long learner. There are other habits of mind like skepticism, resourcefulness and creativity too; but reflection is the cornerstone. So the medium needed to have the ability for me to include opportunities for my students to reflect throughout the portfolio. 

The next piece was how was I going to facilitate this process. I am one to take something existing and use it in a new way. I like to think of myself as someone who thinks outside of the box. And so I began to think a lot about Desmos AB after a fellow Twitter colleague mentioned it as a potential contender.  A big problem, I had no idea on how to create my own AB. But again, my MtBoS colleagues were there for me.  I have never worked with such a more collaborative and generous group of people!

(Thank you Idil, Allison, Adele, Michelle, Juan, Druin, Laurie, Diana, Trey, and all the others that were in my original brainstorming phase. I am so sorry that I can't find that thread to mention you all by name!)

After several iterations and lots of "poking holes," my colleagues helped me come up with my first portfolio! It wasn't the best looking Desmos AB, but it was a start and the bones were there.  

Requiring a portfolio has really forced my students to confront what they have or have not done over a period of time.  Their quantity and quality of work stares at them shamelessly. And that has been "The Great Motivator." Especially as I required kids to present it. (This was done in small groups outside of class. About 30% of my students did not do the portfolio or did not present.) I could hear kids pause or quickly go over certain portions.  But at the same token, I could hear students pause and revel in what they were able to accomplish over the 2.5 weeks.

A few things about the first portfolio, I did not give them a list of assignments to go back and take screenshots of.  Mistake. (Spoiler alert: I did not learn from this mistake when assigning the second portfolio.)  I incorrectly assumed since everything was listed in Google Classroom as weekly learning goals and assignments were clearly marked, it was obvious. 

So as I graded their 1st draft. I was constantly giving the same feedback: Where is that? Where is this? Why do you have that?  So I added a list including how many screenshots. This definitely gave them the guidance I should have given them before.  It also helped me grade the portfolio.


Looking back, there were two clear things that I really like about using Desmos AB to create my portfolio. The first was that I could see if my feedback was read by students or not.  The second was that I could "pause" the portfolio while I worked on giving feedback and grading.  The feedback was really instrumental in supporting students asynchronously. Nearly all students read the feedback, but unfortunately, there were a good many that didn't follow through.

Other things that I can see that are working is that the flexibility in adding a variety of slides.  I could add sliders to ask the kids to check in. I could add a card sort, marbleslides or have them graph their name as part of the portfolio. (Hmmm...I think I will have them write their name using the Desmos table feature on the next one!)

Students just turned in their second portfolio a few days ago and am anxious to look through if I can get through all this lesson planning nonsense and grading all the other assignments. On this one, despite my mistake of not giving students a list of things to add, I think this was a subconscious decision.  I wanted to force my students to reflect back and ask themselves: What did I learn? How did I learn that?  I have set up my modules in Canvas by week, so it would take just a tiny bit of work.  But nonetheless, I want my students to do that and not me.

One thing I emphasized too late for this second portfolio was to take screenshots as they were doing the work.  In the first portfolio, students had to go back and take all the screenshots.  And I think this was not the most efficient although it had its hidden benefits.  So hopefully, for the next one coming up, this will help considerably.

Better late than never...

I so regret not doing this many years ago.

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