Show me the Learning! Using Digital Portfolios to Communicate Student Learning.

Comfort zoneLast January I took a giant leap out of my comfort zone. I left an amazing classroom and school community to work as a District Helping Teacher. My primary responsibility is to provide support and guidance to educators in our district looking for innovative ways to communicate student learning.

This year, teachers in Surrey have the option to use digital portfolios with FreshGrade to document and communicate learning in lieu of traditional paper report cards. And, it is very exciting and scary, all at the same time.

Innovation with the intention of lasting and meaningful change is simply not easy because there are no instructions and one size does not fit all. As we navigate our way as a district down this very new road, we are creating and adjusting the map along the way. And to make it more exciting and scary all at once, there are many different maps. Surrey is one of the most diverse cities in the province and as such we have the opportunity to work with a plethora of families and communities. The opportunity to provide students and their families with a personalized learning portfolio is brilliant yet teachers who are choosing to do so are constantly wondering what does a quality digital portfolio look like? What is a valuable addition to a portfolio, how often is it updated? Where is the learning?

As a helpingparadigm teacher I love hearing these questions. It tells me that the educator I am working with is intentional and reflective. I believe this is the first step to creating a quality digital portfolio. As it truly is a paradigm shift from the current system we must constantly reflect and refine our practice to better meet the needs of our students. Keep the end in mind, make decisions towards that end and adjust as necessary. A quality digital portfolio mirrors quality assessment where the learning process in central and evidence is gathered to inform teaching and learning in meaningful ways.
As a classroom teacher my end was for each of my students to walk in to summer empowered to continue learning, alongside parents who felt confident to support their individual needs. To this end my documentation on FreshGrade needed to clearly show where a student was (strengths), where they were going (performance standard or goals) and specific markers for success, across the transparentcurriculum. This is where transparency, which I believe is the second step to creating quality portfolios is essential. Although as educators we know the power of formative assessment and appreciate the process of learning there are times when we need to summarize that learning and make sense of all the documentation for parents and students. In my practice the way to find the balance was to be open and honest with parents and students about my intentions with digital portfolios and invite their feedback, both positive and constructive.

I have the pleasure to work with hundreds of educators who are indeed reflective, intentional and transparent in their efforts to improve student learning through assessment. Although I know they are grounded in effective pedagogy and have stepped up to be leaders they are still looking for guidelines in their documentation to make learning visible and support students.  We seem to love acronyms in education so I have created one to keep in mind as we document student learning in FreshGrade: FRAME. I like this acronym because it reminds me that digital portfolios provide parents with a window into the classroom. Also, a framework for quality assessment focuses on learning as a process and as such is not a single event. The digital portfolio is only one part of the bigger picture where educators facilitate and communicate student learning.

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A quality digital portfolio highlights a students learning across the curriculum without overwhelming parents with too much information. Consider the following guidelines as you compile artifacts in FreshGrade as evidence of learning, and guide students as they choose what to add to their own portfolio

Is it formative and part of documenting progression towards a clear goal or learning intention? In this case you might consider creating an activity with custom objectives (I can statement) and including success markers or rubrics as part of the description so parents and students know where they are, where they are going and how they will know when they arrive. Choosing the anecdotal assessment and excusing students allows teachers to collect evidence over time. The combine feature and custom labels can help to keep artifacts organized.

Here is an example from Grade 2 Literacy

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Is it relevant? As our purpose is to go beyond what students are doing and document learning it is important to include artifacts that will provide new information. For example, although students may write in their journals several times a week it is not necessary to take a picture of every entry. Picture and video evidence should be accompanied by the teachers descriptive feedback and be connected to a particular goal or learning intention. Also consider the relevance for a particular student. In the example above the teacher may have taken a picture of one or two students writing during a particular activity. One of the benefits of digital documentation is how personalized assessment can be.

Is it accessible such that parents and students can make a connection to the learning? Learning can be captured through pictures, notes, videos and uploaded documents. Consider what form will give your parents and students the best access to the learning.  What type of documentation will make the learning visible for a particular family? Parents who speak a language other than English may benefit from more pictures, mastery scale with symbols and concise feedback. Where technology access is limited outside of school, teachers might consider organizing portfolios where reports can be easily generated and printed. I recommend listening to the FreshGrade assessment and reporting webinar for more information about generating reports. With the proper organization, reports can be generated at any time to summarize the learning objectives and assessment of a personalized portfolio within minutes.

Is it meaningful and/or engaging? A quality digital portfolio is personalized and reflects student ownership. When students know what they need to do to be successful they will be more engaged in learning. Consider adding performance standards, criteria and rubrics to the activity description or as a resource. Giving students the opportunity to contribute to their portfolio can be very powerful. For example, teachers can create a quick add to post an essential question to all portfolios. Students can then add their feedback in various ways over time and the teacher can add comments and suggestions to guide the learning. The student app is a simple platform and has proven to be user friendly for even our youngest students to capture their learning. Consider asking students to take a picture of the writing work they are most proud of for example. This allows students to reflect on their learning and include a picture across learning areas and formats.

A tool like FreshGrade allows teachers to replace static and generic report cards with a collaborative and personalized learning map for each student. The platform also provides teachers an opportunity to align assessment and practice within the context of their classroom. It is difficult, therefore, to provide instructions for all teachers about what learning to capture and how often. As the curriculum in British Columbia’s shifts  to a competency based and more personalized framework, teachers have the opportunity to transform their teaching through assessment and meet the individual needs of the students in their classroom.

The FRAME I described may be helpful for some while others will have another way to guide their process for documentation. Professional learning parallels student learning and as such one size does not fit all. We do, however, share a common vision within the Surrey school district for Learning by Design – where we prepare students for a world in which they think creatively and critically, communicate skillfully, and demonstrate care for self and others. Quality assessment is one of four priority practices to support this vision and ongoing professional learning is pivotal. I encourage all educators to share their organizational tips and guiding principles for digital documentation with others.

In my experience working with teachers, parents, administrators and students effective portfolios:

  • are organized with intention and a clear plan to support student learning
  • intentions are shared with administrators, parents and students and feedback welcome
  • include clear examples of learning progressions across the curriculum in relation to individual student goals
  • are continuous and reflective
  • demonstrate how students can build upon and show their understanding in multiple ways
  • descriptive feedback speaks to learning intentions and core competencies
  • quality over quantity: pictures and videos are limited and represent clear evidence of learning with quality feedback (too much information becomes overwhelming)
  • incude formative and summative assessment
  • reflect student ownership and voice
  • include links or reference to ministry performance standards
  • reflect the learning over the doing and recognize that this will look different for each student

Slide2I look forward to adjusting this list as educators share their successes and work through the struggles in the documentation of student learning. We are facing big changes in education and I thank all of the teachers out there who are stepping outside of their comfort zone, taking risks and making this journey a meaningful one.

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Digital Images Source:

Comfort zone

Bubbles

Paradigm

Einstein

Tom Cruise

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21st Century Learning: Beyond Consumerism

As a global community, we are immersed in a profound and transformative period in history. How can schools play a positive role in this significant shift?

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Although technology provides us with unprecedented connectivity and access to information, the fundamental skills required to be successful, both socially and in the workplace, are increasingly ambitious. This leaves educators in a complex quandary. While we grapple with the details about best practice and how to integrate digital literacy and technology into existing curriculum, our students continue to use technology in more and more areas of their lives. They also seem to have a minimal learning curve and quickly acquire the skills to navigate new technology. Seem is a critical word here. We must consider how our students are using technology and the impact of this use in their lives and the world around them. The digital world that we find ourselves in is fast paced and ever changing. How long can we wait to support our youth to make the adjustment positive and meaningful? I believe we cannot wait another day.

Canadian youth are highly connected to digital media. This connection is often outside of school and largely unsupervised. Media Smarts is a Canadian organization for digital and media literacy (http://mediasmarts.ca/). Their vision is “that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens. The results of a national study indicate that the majority of our youth have access to the Internet through personal and portable devices. Top websites include Google, Twitter and Facebook. The most frequent activities include streaming music, social media and playing online games (Media Smarts, 2014). We certainly have a generation of technology consumers.

I often encounter educators who are concerned about how they will ever catch up to the ‘digital natives’ or ‘technologically savvy’ students that they are supposed to teach. Another common reason for resisting technology in their practice is the belief that students get enough technology outside of school. As I reviewed the results of the Media Smarts survey I began to wonder, at what point did we decide mass consumerism indicates a high level of skill or thorough understanding worthy of a title such as digital native or tech savvy? The vast majority of today’s students are comfortable with technology and they are using it. This is something we know. It remains unclear how well they are using it and what potential is lost when educators fail to realize the powerful role they can play.

The Information and Communications Technology Council and MediaSmarts facilitated a one-day Symposium to discuss digital literacy and the critical issues facing Canadian Youth (2014). Participants included students, teachers, researchers, policymakers and other representatives interested in promoting a digitally literate population that can compete in a growing global economy. Although responsibility for supporting essential digital literacy and skills does not land solely on educators, participants agreed that schools play a significant role. This does not imply that teachers must become experts in using the plethora of digital devices now available. The teachers role is much more significant and varies little from the description of an exceptional educator who makes learning accessible, relevant and engaging for each individual student. Educators can support digital literacy as a facilitator, activator and motivator to move learning forward in a meaningful way. I believe that making this shift in our classrooms will help to move students from simply users of technology to producers who know how to learn and can use their understanding to create, collaborate and communicate in new and profound ways that will have a positive impact for them and their global community.

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Works Cited:

Steeves, V. (2015). Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Trends and    Recommendations. Ottawa: MediaSmarts. Retrieved from: http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/publication-report/full/ycwwiii_trends_recommendations_fullreport.pdf

Use, understand and create: A digital literacy framework for Canadian schools (2015). Ottawa: Media Smarts. Retrieved from: http://mediasmarts.ca/teacher-resources/use-understand-%20create-digital-literacy-framework-canadian-schools

Youth and Digital Skills Symposium: Preparing young Canadians to make social, economic and cultural contributions (2014). Ottawa: Media from: Smarts. Retrieved from: http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/pdfs/publication-report/full/Symposium%20summary%20Final%20EN_0.pdf

Images:

Globe: http://gaianeconomics.blogspot.ca/2008_02_01_archive.html

Technology: http://en.1globaltranslators.com/technology-affecting-business/

 

Using QR Codes in Grade One

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QR is short for Quick Response. A QR code is a digital image that can be scanned, much like barcodes. Once scanned with a smartphone or mobile device the code will direct your device to a website or reveal a text or voice message. I have been using QR codes in my grade one classroom for the last year and have loved the experience!

The possibilities are endless! In some situations the QR codes simply increase student engagement or just make a lesson more fun. Although I am always looking for new and meaningful ways to incorporate technology in my classroom, I am not sure when it became a negative to get kids excited about learning. While it is true that we can have our students participate in a scavenger hunt with written or picture clues or simply give them a web address to type in and get them to a specific website why not make it more fun with QR codes? They truly are simple to make and kids love scanning them. QR codes have many other uses as well, many that are really opening new doors and giving students, parents and teaching a whole new experience.

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So what tools will you need to get started using QR codes?
– to scan a QR code all you need is a free scan app from the App store
– to create a QR code on an iPad you can use QR Creator or any other QR generating app
– to create a printable QR code you can use a free site such as Kaywa

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Here are a few of the ways I am currently using QR codes in my classroom. I have many other ideas and hope to learn about even more as I know there are some fantastic ones out there!

Sharing Photos
One of my favorite uses of QR codes is to give my students access to the many photos I take with my iPhone or iPad. Once photos have been uploaded to an online site such as Dropbox you can make a QR code from the link. Students then scan the code and can save the photos to their own device. I leave QR codes from field trips and various activities up on a wall and students use them for various things such as making books or writing journal entries on an iPad.

Easy access to websites and information
Asking primary students to type in a long URL is very time consuming and can be exhausting for the teacher as we rush around trying to help those who missed a letter or added an extra space.
If you have a website such as Canadian Geographic Kids that you would like all your students to go to, simply copy the web address in a QR generator. You can do this on a computer and print a QR code for students to scan. If you have a projector you can make the QR code on an iPad and students can scan it directly from the screen.

If you have a school or class website, blogs or any site that your parents visit posting a QR code in the window or sending home a copy of a QR code makes it easy for parents to access sites.
QR codes can be scanned with any smartphone or mobile device.

A fun way to give your parents a sneak peak into your classroom is to record an activity such as shared reading or painting, upload it to an online site then create a QR code with the link.
Parents can scan the code and have a look at their child during a school activity.

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Scavenger Hunt
A QR code scavenger hunt is a great ice breaker activity with big buddies and a fun way to help younger students explore their school. I challenge students to take pictures of certain things with their iPad. I create QR codes to reveal clues such as ” this is where we go to read books” and have students take a picture of the library. These pictures can be used for various writing activities later on. All students love this activity. It is a great way for buddies to get to know each other and their school.

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Add voice to non digital work
There are a few ways to create a QR code that will reveal a recorded video or message.
If you use an app like Audioboo or a site such as Croak it you can copy the link into a QR generator.
If you record a message using your camera you need to upload it to a site such as Dropbox and get the link from that site. You can also use an app like QR voice to type a message and create a synthesized voice message.

After reading Aaron’s Hair by Robert Munsch I recorded a short video of students describing their work, uploaded it to Dropbox and created a QR code to the link. The QR codes are attached to their work in the hallway and can be scanned by parents, visitors and other students to reveal their video.

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This is just a few ways I use QR codes and this is how I make them :

Creating a code on an iPad from Dropbox
If you have something such as pictures and you want to create a QR code, open Dropbox and upload pictures. Open the file on Dropbox, copy link to clipboard and the paste in QR Creator.

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Printable QR codes

There are many QR generating sites but I prefer Kaywa. It is a free site with options to upgrade so you can save your codes.
If you want to link to an online source you need to copy the link, paste it in the space provided and click on generate. If you have trouble printing try clicking permalink and print from there.
If you want to type a message click on the text option, type your message and click generate.

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I would love to hear how you are using QR codes in your classroom. Happy scanning!

iPad in the Primary Classroom – Go for it!

I feel very fortunate to be teaching at technology rich school. In my grade one classroom I have a document camera, projector, apple tv, teacher iPad and access to a class set of iPads several times a week. Although technology is not an area that I have ever been particularly fond of or knowledgable in, it has become an integral part of my teaching over the last two years. I have found the iPads in particular to be a very useful tool.

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I value differentiated instruction. Having students that are engaged and active participants in their own learning is important to me. I cringe at the thought of teaching a lesson that will frustrate some, bore others and hopefully meet the needs of at least some of my students. Handing out the same math questions or reading response to 24 individual people and expecting it to be meaningful to everyone is just not realistic. That being said there are only so many hours in the day and as a working mom I have always struggled to find the time to meet the individual learning needs of all my students, all the time. This is what sparked my passion for integrating technology into classroom learning. I embraced the iPad as a tool and have found it allows me to provide each learner with activities suited to their learning needs. It also allows me to do my job more efficiently. I find myself spending less time creating and managing activities and more time with my students.

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When the Surrey Primary Teachers Association asked me to host a workshop dedicated to the use of iPads in a primary classroom I was quite surprised. I really did not consider that some teachers had access to iPads and were not using them. I was curious to know what teachers would be hoping to gain from an afternoon at my school so I sent the participants some questions using Survey Monkey.

The results are very interesting. Teachers who are obviously passionate about their craft (since they have registered for an after school workshop) are not using all the available tools to enhance their lessons.

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Technology is such a new concept for so many people and it seems like people worry they do not have enough baseline knowledge to bring it into their classrooms. I honestly believe that teachers wanting to explore iPads need to make a shift in their thinking. As teachers, we do not need to know everything about iPads. You can bring them into your classroom knowing very little, as I did. Our role is to provide the learning environment and curricular goals, from there we can simply facilitate and learn with our students. Using technology such as an iPad is not a new ‘subject’ that we need to teach. It integrates nicely into all areas of the curriculum and serves to facilitate the learning process. It is quite a powerful experience to learn alongside a 5 or 6 year old. Just put an iPad in their hands, give them a few guidelines and watch as they explore, create and learn.

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If you are a teacher who has been hesitant to bring iPads into your classroom I really do encourage you to just take the plunge and go with the flow. For those who need a more structured approach here is a play by play of how I get iPads going in my grade one classroom and some of the things we do with them.

~ I bring iPads into my classroom during the first two weeks of school.( We have a cart that holds 30 iPads and is shared between 13 classes. All teachers sign up for one 45 minute block per week and open blocks can then be reserved on a weekly basis.) At first, an adult will be responsible to take them out of or put them into the cart but I eventually pass this on to my students. Before I hand out iPads for the first time we meet as a class to talk about our experiences with iPads. This year almost all of my students had used an iPad at least once and many had one at home. We talk about taking care to only touch the screen with the pad of one finger and other considerations such as no water bottles on desks with the iPads and carrying them with two hands. The only thing I talk to them about the first time is the home button and tell them they can touch it to get out of an app. Other than that for the first couple of times we use the iPads it is all about exploring and sharing. Allowing the students to explore on their own gives me time to assess their comfort level and knowledge of the technology.

~ One of the first things I introduce to my class is the camera. They love taking pictures with the iPad and once we get into creative apps knowing how to take and edit pictures is very useful. When I do have something specific to demonstrate I do so before students get their iPads and use my iPad connected to my projector (this is now a breeze with apple tv). The iPad cover can sometimes make it difficult for kids to take a picture so I show them how to fold it up and hold it or advise them to ask a friend to take the picture as they hold up the iPad. I take a picture with my iPad and then show them where the edit button is. I show them where the rotate and crop buttons are and then give them time to take a few pictures and practice editing them. We also learn how to take a screen shot.

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~ The second thing I like to have kids practice is working with the keyboard. Here is one simple introduction to the keyboard that also uses their new camera skills. Using Skitch I ask students to take a picture of a classmate (with their permission) and write the sentence “This is my friend …”

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I find the iPad keyboard to be very user friendly and students need minimal directions before they feel capable to type on their own.

~ From this point I usually introduce one new creative app a week such as Scribble Press or Book Creator. Although we use the iPads to practice our math and language art skills I find these apps to be very self explanatory. Apps that are in the folder I label ‘creative’ can be used for a multitude of projects and we visit them throughout the year. I like the kids to feel comfortable with these apps because later on they can demonstrate their learning using whichever one they want. Here are a few examples of books my students made using Book Creator:

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For teachers sitting on the fence and waiting to take the plunge with iPads in their primary classroom – just go for it! I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you will learn with your students and what this wonderful tool can bring to your classroom.

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Technology in a Grade One Classroom

I am far from a technology expert. In fact, I do not even have a home computer and I got my first cell phone (at 36 years old!) just over a year ago. I was however very excited to start the 2011/2012 school year with access to a class set of iPads. I had no idea how I would incorporate them into my teaching practice but I knew my students would be eager to use them and  we could set out on a journey of teaching and learning together.  Over the course of the year I became passionate about integrating technology into the grade one curriculum in meaningful ways.

Although I do not have a smartboard I am a primary teacher who utilizes technology in my classroom every day. Teachers often ask me exactly what type of technology I am currently using in my classroom. I love to share what I am doing so I decided to start a blog and this post will highlight a few of my favourite devices.  In the future I will post more about the why, when and how I use these things but for now here is the what.

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So nothing new here. I am sure most teachers have this or a similar facsimile. I only use this slow and frustrating machine to print and give my kids access to our blog site. Students put their magnet name tags on the whiteboard if they would like to post on the blog and then they take turns writing throughout the day.

iPod docking station

This is a simple one and not expensive so do not be shy to ask your administrator for an upgrade. It is so fantastic to have all your music and audiobooks organized on this little device rather than cluttering your classroom with baskets full of cd’s and dare I say, tapes? Yikes, not sure if kids these days even know what tapes are.

Student iPads

Projector, document camera, teacher iPad and small speaker.

These are my favourites. As I do not have a smart board I bounce back and forth between the document camera and iPad. I will create a post soon detailing how I use them but trust me, this is an awesome little set up for any primary teacher.

A couple of simple examples for now are guessing jar and sharing. My students place their sharing, unless it is huge, under the document camera and I snap a picture. At the end of the year I just press the slideshow button and we try to recall who brought in what. The kids love this. For math I use the Skitch app to make a guessing jar with student names and project it on the whiteboard. I love to de-clutter so this is a great alternative to the large jar many teachers make and laminate so they can write the kids names on it.

I would love to hear about what devices other primary teachers are using!

iPad Cafè

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Consider sharing your students learning with parents a few times a year by inviting them to your classroom. In my class we set up an iPad Cafè where parents came in for a sweet treat and kids chose items from the menu to share their learning. Items on the menu included apps like Skitch and Book Creator, QR codes and iMovies.