Student-Led eFolios

Improving student assessment

Through my reflections, I’ve identified that my assessment is an area that could be improved upon.

That’s not to say I don’t assess; some at my school would say that my assessment records are even over the top!  However, reading through the Level 3 Teacher competencies, I can’t help but feel that I’ve become pigeon-holed in the range of assessment types I offer to my students.  With the advent of all the technology in my room, such as the TurningPoint system, and the use of Google Doc forms, a lot of my assessment has become test-driven, rather than opportunities through rich tasks.

Competency 2: Employ  consistent exemplary practice in developing and implementing student assessment and reporting processes.

Digging further into this competency are two key points:

1. Uses a range of appropriate assessment strategies: Provides a range of planed, meaningful opportunities for students to demonstrate progress and autonomous and consistent achievement of outcomes, using valid and reliable assessment methodology.

2. Provides explicit information about student assessment: Negotiates explicit criteria with students for assessment, based on intended learning outcomes and provides formative information to enhance student and teacher reflection.

Thus the idea of an eFolio appeals to me on a number of levels – one, it should encourage me to plan for a wider variety of assessment forms; two, it will give my students a greater opportunity to take control of their own self-evaluations.

What are the eFolio options?

I’m very familiar with the WordPress platform, and my initial thought was to use that… but would that be too much extra work?  Would the extra time spent using it in class mean better outcomes for my students?  So I made a short-list of possible options for student folios:

  • WordPress
  • traditional display folder/scrapbook
  • PowerPoint
  • Publisher
  • Word
  • Google Documents

My wife is an early-childhood  teacher, and I’ve seen the hours and hours of extra work that goes into producing “traditional” paper-style portfolios… usually by the teacher (especially in PrePrimary)! I also don’t want the students’ folios to be simply work sample books – I want them to show continuity, reflection and growth – and be truly student-centred pieces, and I’m worried that by going this route, student work sample books is what we may well end up with.

The Microsoft Office and Google Documents options also did not appeal… the file would become cumbersome over a year, and would not allow the flexibility of adding video or audio easily into the files (and keep the file size minimal!).

The Shanghai American School approach

WordPress appears to be the best option.  But have any other educators had success in using WordPress? How do they use it?  One of the first blogs I came across was The Thinking Stick, by Jeff Utecht.  His article, True eFolios for students, outlined how he drove a whole-school approach toward each student having a wordpress-based eFolio, at Shanghai American School.  A student example can be found here.

In summary, Utecht approach towards this was that:

  • every middle-school student had a blog that was visible to the whole Internet;
  • by making the blogs public, it gave students a powerful sense of writing for an audience;
  • blogs run in chronological order, following the school year, making it a perfect vehicle;
  • students set up categories in subject areas, allowing for quick reference to specific areas;
  • students used a “Student-Led Conference” category to refine a range of posts that they could  use at parent meetings.

Adapting the ideas to my classroom

On balance, I wholeheartedly agree with the Shanghai American School approach – the concept of students being able to quickly pull a reflection from three years earlier, and compare it to a current one is brilliant – what better way for students to measure their own growth?  In my classroom, students should be able to do the same thing, even if only over the course of the single school year, before they move on to high school.

I would happily dedicate sections of the school day or week to students reflecting in-class.  The opportunity for students to record themselves reading in Term One, and again in Term Three, and reflect themselves on improvements in fluency and understanding of the texts they are reading have the potential to be extremely powerful.

My only reservation is the public nature of the eFolios.  The Department of Education has clear guidelines and expectations around student images and the like on the public domain, which would have the potential to severely impinge the types of information that could be posted.  I would also think twice about feedback I wrote on the blog, in the form of comments.  On the other hand, I also agree that a degree of “writing for an audience” is essential to maintaining enthusiasm and vision.  It would be a wonderful experience if students got into the habit of being able to go home each evening and log onto their eFolio to show their parents how they were going at school.

This is a question that needs to be tackled in conjunction with the parents and administration.  I feel we can get past the issue by individually password-protecting the blogs – allowing students to share a password with people they trust (i.e. family members), but keeping the general public out of information that is potentially confidential.  It would also require clear explanation to the parent group to get permission to go ahead with the project.

If the general feeling within the school is that it is too much a risk to student privacy, then the next option would be hosting the WordPress sites on the school Intranet, thereby restricting students’ ability to reflect out of school hours, but ensuring student privacy.

In summary

I believe student-led eFolios have the potential to truly enrich my students’ learning.  Half of my class (whom I will teach again next year), are already familiar with WordPress, which will make the upskilling a combination of teacher-led learning and peer tutoring.

Down the track, I believe it also has the potential for students to drive their own learning – by looking back on the outcomes they have covered so far, and identifying the outcomes that they would like to focus on next, and then through teacher-student conferences, develop activities and rich tasks that will help them achieve those outcomes… but let’s get the whole thing off the ground first, eh!?!

Feature image source: wikipedia

Using WordPress in the classroom

I recently decided to experiment with using WordPress for my Year 6/7 students as a vehicle to explore the Information outcome in Technology and Enterprise.  Little did I know, the project would grow legs and become a far richer experience for both the students and myself!

Initially, I set them the following task:

In teams of four, you are to create a personal website using the WordPress platform. The site should be about something you are interested in – a favourite band, actor, video game. Alternatively, you may create a website that informs people about aspects of school life – a blog, assembly reviews, etc. Your topic should be relevant and useful to others (so they visit it). Your group should make something you would all be proud to show your friends, your parents, your family and your teachers. You will then need to advertise your websites.

We then discussed all the things that make a website effective.  With 28 students in my class, I had seven groups.  Setting up seven separate WordPress installations on my webspace took a little time (I’ve since discovered WordPress multi-site), and there was a little outlay of the class budget on cheap domain names that the students selected to “best” represent their site.

Our next step was to ensure we all understood why we were learning WordPress, and the outcomes we hoped to achieve as a result:

Outcomes

  • The Nature of Information
  • The Creation of Information (Technology Process)

There are four stages in the Technology Process that you will need to follow to complete this project:

  • Investigating: You will need to research your topic, learn how to use WordPress, learn some effective advertising techniques and make sure you know how to reference properly.
  • Devising: You will need to use the above design brief to plan your webpage and advertising campaign.
  • Producing: You will need to create your webpage in WordPress, implement your advertising campaign, and keep a reflective journal.
  • Evaluating: You will need to complete your reflective journal, and complete a peer review on other groups’ webpages.

Each week, an hour was set aside specifically for WordPress development.  Sometimes I would start with a whole class lesson outlining a specific skill or idea, other times I “floated”, spot teaching where necessary, or encouraging peer tutoring.  On the occasions I did spot teach, I followed up by posting a video tutorial on our class website, mrhinchliffe.net, so that other students could log in and view the skill in their own time.

Assessment

Students were aware of the specific criteria before beginning their projects.  As well as ongoing individual feedback, I provided each group with a mid-project review – that is, the grade I would give it at that moment.  Students responded to this feedback, focussing their efforts on improving the areas of concern.

Two other key aspects of the assessment were the reflective journal, allowing students the opportunity to critique their collaboration and ability to adhere to the design brief; and the peer review, which allowed the students an opportunity to critique their peers’ work as well as receive constructive feedback on their own.

Ultimately, however, the students were most driven by what they saw as the most important “feedback tool” – the hit counters at the bottom of their websites!  This real-life feedback regularly drove groups to approach me or their peers seeking new ways to improve their website or advertising techniques to “get more hits”.  At the end of the day, people write for an audience, and the students developed their understanding of this in a way with much more clarity than they could have by writing a narrative or a poem in class!