#28daysofwriting Day 20: eportfolios & student centred learning

Last week, as I have already blogged about, I was fortunate to work with Dr Helen Barrett, the guru of portfolios.  Her wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm and excitement about the power of portfolios for deep learning and personal growth is infectious.  We had already decided that we would like to introduce portfolios with our Year 9 students as we implement a whole new cross-curricular junior programme.  As we are a GAFE school, it made sense to trial using Google Sites as our platform.

The English department have assumed responsibility for guiding the students as they create their sites.  I started off with my class asking them what they thought a portfolio was.

  • A place to put their best work
  • A folder with writing in
  • Somewhere to store paintings

I asked them where they thought the word “portfolio” came from and gave them 2 minutes to find out.  Google gave them an answer but did they really understand it?

dictionary definition of the word portfolio

No!  But are these definitions of “portfolio” what we mean in education?  Well, as Helen Barrett says, the purpose of a portfolio is many things to many people.  And as technology has developed so has the function, purpose and meaning of a portfolio.

The girls then looked to find out where the word “portfolio” came from.

the origins of the word "Portfolio"

But were we any further forwards?  Most of them had created portfolios of “best work” at Primary School, they had also “led” student parent conferences at Intermediate school where they explained to their parents, under the guidance of their teachers, what they had been learning.  So they had some understanding of what a portfolio might mean for them in terms of their learning.

To make it meaningful to them we really needed to explore what they could use a portfolio for, what it would mean for them, how they could have ownership of it.  So I asked them to brainstorm ideas of what they could put in a portfolio of their learning.

mind map showing what students considered were important components of a portfolio

Interestingly, they came up with the same things that Helen Barrett had suggested could be incorporated into a portfolio.  I started them off with the idea of a “Splash” page but after that it was all them.

We talked about the idea that their portfolio should be all about them, that they could choose what they put there and who they shared it with.  Although we also talked about how it may be helpful for their teachers and their parents if they felt they could share it with them for them to have an insight into what they were learning and how their learning identities were developing.

I think we have made a positive start.  The students in my class were very excited about creating their space.  They loved being able to make their sites their own by creating their own themes and colours and adding photos and quotes.  In the first few weeks of term we had created our “Mihi” and presented them to the class.  They were very keen to embed them into their “Splash” page.

I think, though, that we have only just started in our journey of portfolios and our challenge is going to be working out who has ownership of them and maintaining a sense of excitement about them.  I am convinced, after talking with Helen, that if they are to be meaningful for our students, if they are to really be a way of making their learning visible, and a way of expressing their identity, then we have to let them have total ownership of them.  We must not hijack them and make them a tool of assessment.  One of the questions I was asked was, “Will we get marked on what we put in our portfolios?”.  My answer was unequivocal, but I am not so sure about some of my colleagues.  I said that some of the work they may choose to put in the “showcase” part of their portfolio might have been graded and reported on, but the portfolio itself was theirs.  It is their journey, their learning, their identity.

It is clear that, increasingly, employers and universities will be looking more at a person’s ability to reflect on their learning, how the experiences they have had affect the way that they learn and the decisions they make, and the direction they go in rather than the qualifications they achieve.  I believe we have to encourage good practice and also model it as professionals.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has used portfolios in secondary schools as to how they have worked and whether students have continued with them as they have moved through the school.

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#28daysofwriting Day 10: Digital Story Telling

Yesterday, I participated in a seminar at the University of Waikato as part of the annual Wcelfest on digital portfolios with the inimitable Helen Barrett, guru, grandmother and strong proponent of eportfolios.

She has been exploring portfolios and eportfolios for the last 30 years and is convincing in her arguments for their benefits for helping learners see how far they have come and where they need to go.

But she also talked about the power of digital story telling for finding people’s passions, for linking their past with their present and their futures.

As people select artefacts of their learning and their lives they build and realise their own identities.  She showed us a digital story made by a young Native Indian boy from a Reservation in the US in which he talked about who he was, where he came from, what his heritage was.  Sadly, he ended with the comment that his culture was dying, all that was left was the Reservation.  A few of his race holding on to their heritage, maybe not too late to take their stories, their songs, their language and their traditions forward into the future.

It made me think about the “mihi” that Maori use to tell about their heritage and whakapapa.

Our theme for this term for our Juniors is Globalisation.  As part of that, we are looking at identity, at language, at who we are and where we come from.  My students this week have been presenting their “mihi” and so I told mine to model how to do it.   I am not a Kiwi, I am not Maori.  I am a pakeha an “off comed’un”.  In my first few months in NZ I joined a Maori culture class to learn more about the land in which I had chosen to live.  Our tutor told us about how important that sense of knowing where you have come from is for Maori.  What your genealogy is, what elements of the land have shaped who you are and how you think and which ancestors have been influential for your thoughts and beliefs.

As part of that class we explored our whakapapa, and we wrote our own mihi.  I had to think a lot about what my connections were with where I came from.  Strangely, despite being born and brought up in England I have never really felt a strong connection with England.  I feel more connected to the Celts; the Scots and the Irish and even the French!  Although I feel very strongly that I am a Yorkshire lass!

Anyway, I am starting to ramble and 28 minutes is almost up!  So here is my digital story, my mihi. (apologies for any grammatical or linguistic errors)