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

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