For about 6 months now, I’ve been working endlessly on creating a plan that I believe will truly transform the way our middle schoolers learn while also embodying our “THINK-MAKE-TALK” philosophy introduced last year.
Details of my innovation plan to implement ePortfolios in middle school can b e accessed in this blog post, written last May. In it, one can find links to my original proposal, a review of global trends and a digital presentation that embodies the reason why I decided to focus on student ePortfolios. Here, one can also find the WHY, HOW & WHAT of this whole plan. The reason I feel this is so important.
So, what’s happened since then?
Well, this post will serve as a benchmark- an update, if you will, to the original plan.
In May of last year, once school let out, I sat down with my Director of Fine Arts and presented her with my proposal, a literature review of global trends and showed her my Story Behind the Story presentation. It was all received very well, and I was given the go ahead to pilot ePortfolios in my Fine Art elective course, 8th Grade Digital Photography. Fast forward to October of the new school year, and the piloting process went great on my end in the first quarter, however, the issue that I run into is that I am an Early Childhood teacher that happens to teach one middle school elective class. Usually, I teach my class year round, however, this year, I’m flip flopping with another teacher who teaches another fine art elective. So, I am only teaching my class in quarters 1 & 3 of this year.. not year round. That limits me quite a bit as far as how much time I can work with my kids.
As I reflect on what has worked thus far, I cannot deny that the kids didn’t love creating the ePortfolios. I gave them a few points to keep in mind, and they flew with the idea. They were not limited to Wordpress, Google Sites or Wix. They had the choice to choose what platform they wanted to use, the only direction I gave them was that they needed to create an About Me page, a blogging area for posting, and a tab for collected projects. Most of them ended up going with Wordpress and it worked wonderfully. I really wanted their personalities to shine through, after all, their ePortfolios should be a reflection of their personalities and interests.
One aspect that I have found challenging is that although I have been given the complete go ahead from my Director of Fine Arts to pilot the ePortfolios in my class, it is just that. A pilot of ePortfolios in photography class. So, as you can imagine, the websites the students have created look more like photography websites than they do ePortfolios. I’d love for them to get more substantial content on there, however, we were only able to post some photo projects. I also struggled with getting my students to WRITE. Many times, they’d post their photos, and only “caption” them with a sentence or two. I can’t tell you how many times I explained that we are not simply posting snapshots for social media purposes. So, how could I get my 8th graders to really write in Photography class? I want deep, content rich, thought processing going on, and I just wasn’t getting that. After talking to one of my classmates in my masters program, I realized that my students have probably never seen a real ePortfolio before. Although digital natives, the only “profiles” these students know are Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat profiles. So, what I plan on doing is to show them examples of effective ePortfolios that will be of interest to them and not be considered “too boring”. I also need to be creative in the assignments we do. Having them create a photo project on something of importance to them will hopefully do the trick on getting them to elaborate more. Also, maybe collaborating on a project with other teachers might be a good idea. Coming up with a project that can be worked on in English, History and Photography could be a great way to encourage further critical thinking and writing skills.
Providing Ongoing Teacher Support through PLC Mondays!
In reviewing the literature and various case studies, one of the recurring issues that came up with plans that didn’t pan out, was the lack of ongoing teacher support. Insufficient teacher support can serves as a major roadblock in ICT in education. So many schools are NOT providing their teachers with the proper training needed to use ICT devices in the classroom.
Our school does a really great job of offering great opportunities for professional development in a variety of ways. I’m in my fourth year at the school, and I’ve never felt like the time spent was a waste. A couple years ago, we started reserving select Monday afternoons as “PLC Mondays”. Teachers had the opportunity to see what PLCs were going to be offered, and could sign up via Google Sheets for a PLC that interested or applied to them. We found these to be great, but as with anything, they could be better. We know that collaboration is great, and that it’s how we learn best, but we can’t collaborate just for sake of collaboration. It must be purposeful and ongoing. It was great that I could sign up for something that interested me.. Maybe a new tool I wanted to learn and use in my classroom, but as we know, I’m not going to get it all down in one hour of PD. Many times, I left those PLCs inspired… GREAT! Now what?
So this year, PLCs work a little different. This year, our school is taking a good look at assessments. Is how we are currently assessing our kids working? Should we start looking into alternative forms of assessment? There are about eight different PLCs on Mondays- Mathematical mindsets, early childhood assessments, creative writing assessments, and ePortfolios. I was asked by my Head of Early Childhood and Lower School to lead a PLC on ePortfolios. What’s different this year, is that teachers are not going online to sign up for a PLC that sparks an interest for them. We have all been assigned to different PLC groups and when you attend this PLC it doesn’t stop there. Teachers are to stay in theses same PLC groups for the entire year. The school has acknowledged that our learnings, must be ongoing. We need to have continuous support if we are going to effectively change our teaching practices. Again.. It’s a focused, ongoing learning environment.
While I am only half way into the year with piloting ePortfolios in my middle school class, I don’t feel the need to “change” my plan in any way yet. Since my time with them is limited (as I am primarily an Early Childhood teacher), I’d like to see this year through, and continue to reflect on what has worked, what could be done better, and how to apply lessons learned. The monthly PLC meetings are a great way to see how we are doing and to take notes on what we might need to tweak as we bring in more subjects into the implementation next year. It’s been a great learning experience so far, and I can’t wait to see how my next group of students take to the ePortfolios in quarter 3!