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ePortfolios – Reflection Process



What’s the Purpose?


Many portfolio initiatives in schools stem from Student-Led Conferences. The Student-Led Conference, or conference format in which the student and student learning is the center of the conference, have gained momentum in the last decade and usually include a portfolio of learning.                                                           Jeff UtechtBlogs as Web-Based Portfolios

As part of a middle school “e-Portfolio” committee, I have been extremely eager to get to work and help determine what the best format to use is going to be.  Like numerous other 1:1 schools, the motivation for this transition is quite simple:  How can we move our Student Lead Conferences (SLCs) into the digital age?   More precisely, since we are transitioning to a full 1:1 Mac laptop school, how can we digitize the archaic 3-ring binders?   To my surprise, this question is not so easily answered. Or is it?  There are those who believe students cannot truly articulate their “learning” using a digital format.  While others have negative opinions about the digital portfolio because they’ve experienced bad results from prior attempts.  Now, while all of these perspectives are valid and concerns real, we are still charged with the task of choosing a format which meets all of our needs.  This is where the conversation and the focus needs to shift from what will we use to what is our purpose?  With so many options available, a consensus must be reached before the technology changes and provides us with even more options.

Technology Integration


Integration is when classroom teachers use technology to introduce, reinforce, extend, enrich, assess, and remediate student mastery of curricular targets.  

First and foremost, in order to assess whether students are meeting tech standards in the classroom, these same standards must be clearly defined.  It is essential schools provide all stakeholders a road map as to how technology will be incorporated in their programs.  This “vision” must be disseminated throughout all divisions, departments and subject areas.  Next, teachers must know and understand which standards are to be met – what is the end game at each grade level/subject area?

After the “what” and the “how” are clearly defined, schools must establish and articulate a clear evaluation process.  Like students, classroom teachers must understand how tech integration will be evaluated.  Provide faculty a clear set of exemplars and reasonable short/long term goals.  Equally important is the time frame these goals must be attained – and it must be reasonable.  As schools continue to utilize technology, there needs to be a reasonable time-table provided to meet all objectives.  Like most things in life, rushing the process often leads to an inferior product.

Equally important is to divide and conquer – split the goals up by topics/subjects/grade levels.  Specifically, schools must scaffold integration.  Not only that, institutions must ensure that vertical alignment is based on identifiable skill levels such as beginning/intermediate/advanced. 

Finally, talk to the students and see what types of projects they’re doing and how it’s impacting their learning.  Too often, we skip the easiest assessment of a quality program – ask the individuals who are being asked to meet institutional objectives and goals.

Classroom Management – It’s not a laptop issue


For some unknown reason, many current educators seem to subscribe to the philosophy that computers will alleviate the amount guidance and monitoring needed in a technologically integrated environment.  Over and over again, I’ve heard the institutional mantras of responsibility, respect – you know – the acceptable use policy and expectations.  Why do many educators treat the “TUP/AUP/What Ever” as if it will magically remedy student behavior?  Honestly, it’s my belief that teachers who have poor classroom management strategies need to shine the light on themselves.  More precisely, a computer is an educational tool which provides students access to an infinite amount of immediate feedback, input and information.  However, like most tools, students must be taught how to use this tool responsibly.  You wouldn’t give a middle school student the keys to a car and set them free on society. No, you’d make sure they knew the “rules of the road” and model proper behaviorLikewise, handing students a laptop – in the classroom or anywhere else – and assuming they will make good decisions on their own is not only naive, but irresponsible.

The Not So Novel Use it or Lose List of Management Strategies:

1.  Walk around classroom – be a presence and interact with the students.
2.  Set and explain expectations clearly to students – what do you expect from students?
3.  Create time limits and clear directions – i.e. provide search engines and resource strategies that students can use to be more productive.
4.  Do not assume all the students are truly “natives” and know how to properly use computers.
5.  Provide students attention “cues” during classroom interactions – i.e. screens half-mass+aye, aye sir.
6.  Ensure students have the proper space to use and work – this generally goes unaddressed; it’s important to have ergonomically correct spaces to work.
7.  Provide visual and verbal directions – digitize so students can revisit task objectives on their own.
8.  UbD – what is the expected outcome? Will a computer improve the experience?  Sometimes, computers are more prohibitive and distracting.

9.  Always assume best intentions = Trust.

The NETS – Not Just a Bad Team from New Jersey


Who’s job is it to teach the NETs standards to students and how do we ensure they are being met in an integrated model?  Easy – it is our (the teacher’s) responsibility to teach these standards.  As technology changes and the methods of instruction change with them, teachers must still teach.  Although the classroom looks different than it did 10 years ago, the fundamental idea of providing students access to learning has not.  More precisely, technology has merely enlarged the classroom and made information and content more easily available.  No longer do teachers need to be the holder of all information and distribute it in an archaic and didactic manner. Even further, students do not want this type of classroom.

Schools/teachers must move away from the industrial business plan of education where content is shoveled to the students on a daily basis.  No, it is imperative that schools recognize the importance of a skills based education.  In today’s society, the discrete point regurgitation of information is no longer sufficient.  We must provide students a skills based, inquiry based education where they can adapt, adjust and thrive in the “real world”.   

 Everyone would agree that the standards are desirable for all students to strive for and attain: using the inquiry process; thinking critically; gaining knowledge and understanding; making conclusions; making informed decisions; applying knowledge to new situations and creating new knowledge.

Flipped Off


As an English teacher, it is not a novelty to have students read a piece of literature at home and then review their understanding of the text the following day.  Rather, the question is whether this type of task is considered an activity characteristic of a flipped classroom? Is this the Asynchronous Individual wallowing in “concept exploration” in the S.E. hemisphere of the Flipped Classroom Model above?  It is if, like any lesson, it is meaningful and purposeful.  More specifically, flipped or not, lessons must be engaging and permit students access to information and provide meaningful opportunities for authentic, real-world applications.  The Flipped Classroom creates many possibilities for teachers to more carefully and appropriately individualize student learning.  Since the groundwork (concept exploration) is done at home, follow-up activities (meaning making) in the classroom can be more diverse and inquisitive.  More importantly, students will gain control of their learning – having access to content/concept rich resources to assist them as they explore a

given topic.  Learners will be able to move at a pace that suits individual learning styles.  This is not to say that task deadlines become arbitrary or obsolete; no, it simply allows students who need more/less time to digest and understand new information just that – the necessary time.  Think about it.  In our classrooms, we constantly pace our lessons based on the ability of our students – the flipped classroom eliminates some of the constraints an academically diverse classroom binds us to.  Therefore, the “meaning making, demonstration & application” opportunities provide learners enriched, student centered experiences which deepen their understanding of the material.

Digital Natives


What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child. - George Bernard Shaw

After reading Marc Prensky’s, Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning, I found myself once again reflecting on my own current pedagogical strategies.  More precisely, how many of the tenets of what today’s students “want” am I adhering to at this point?  For those of you unfamiliar with the list, here they are – and they should come as no surprise.

  • They don’t not want to be lectured to.
  • They want to be respected, to be trusted, and to have their opinions valued and count.
  • They want to follow their own interests and passions.
  • They want to create, using the tools of their time.
  • They want to work with their peers on group work and projects (and prevent slackers from getting a free ride).
  • They want to make decisions and share control.
  • They want to connect with their peers and express and share their opinions, in class and around the world.
  • They want to cooperate and compete with each other.
  • They want an education that is not just relevant, but real.

This “wish list” seems obvious and reasonably straight forward, right?  Ironically, these tenets are not too far from what we want and demand as teaching professionals ourselves.  So, then, why is it that any one of us can walk into a classroom and struggle to find more than 50% of list practiced and present?  Is it really that hard for us classroom practitioners to create an environment where students want to be and want to learn? The simple answer – yes, it is.  It is impossible to effect change in an arena that still upholds archaic structures and philosophies that are no longer applicable to today’s learner.  Change is impossible when classrooms possess the “sage on the stage” rather than an “interest and engage” philosophy.  Moreover, when technology is still viewed as a “cool tool” rather than a vital weapon we can use to prepare our students for their futures you know sufficient change has not occurred.

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The contemporary American classroom, with its grades and deference to the clock, is an inheritance from the late 19th century.

As Virginia Heffernan clearly articulates in her article, Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade, today’s classroom teachers must facilitate student collaboration which measures progress tailored to digital times.  The new classroom should, “teach the huge array of skills that come under the heading of digital literacy.”

Digital Hooks and Projects


Students notoriously struggle with the nuances and implied meanings of new vocabulary words.  More often than not, most students can prattle off the part of speech and definitions, but seldom understand how to use new words in the proper context.  Therefore, I try tap into what the students’ perception or understanding of the new words are by having them assign images and pictures to demonstrate their understanding. By doing this, I can assess student comprehension as well as provide them an engaging opportunity to study/learn new vocabulary. Additionally, this type of activity lends itself to the creation of a cache of classroom vocabulary resources.

In addition to using visual imagery to enhance student learning of vocabulary, I also try to utilize a wide variety of visual images and graphics to engage and hook students when introducing new topics and other class activities. For example, when discussing the Grade 7 theme of Tradition and Change, I used a variety of photos which highlight traditions from around the world. These images alone provided the impetus for engaging conversations in the classroom. Additionally, it permits students the opportunity to not only “hear” or “read” about older traditions, but it provides visuals so the learners develop a deeper understanding and connection to the topic.

Another example of using visual/digital imagery to increase understanding and engage the students is the use of a short story “hook”. The idea is to examine a short story already completed and review the key literary elements. Afterward, students began analyzing a new story. Through the use of a variety of images, the class focused on a variety of pre-reading strategies – discussing their thoughts regarding the meaning of the title as well as their predictions about the story. After reading the story, the class used discussed a variety of items provided by visual cues in the attached video. Again, the use of images provides students deeper access to the information at hand as well as helps open doors of understanding as they read the story.

Graphic Novels or Comic Books?


Main Entry: graphic novel

Function: noun

Date: 1978

: a fictional story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book

  • Graphic novels use symbols and pictures to tell stories.
  • When we read graphic novels we are using different parts of our brains.

I recently took my students to the MS Library for their weekly “book talk” with our librarian, Mr. Peter Giordano. Each week, I am always curious to see what tidbits of information “Mr. G” has up his sleeve to share with the students {and me}.  As is the case each week, we have a predetermined topic to discuss – generally focused on a quarterly reading genre or unit of study. This week’s topic – Graphic Novels.  Once again, I was not disappointed by Mr. G’s informative and engaging presentation. This issue for many is simple – what is a graphic novel? (see definition above)  Additionally, what, if any, value do graphic novels provide young readers?  The answer is simple – graphic novels are an invaluable asset.  More precisely, we naturally assign meaning and value to the things we see.  Therefore, graphics/pictures in conjunction with a story provides the reader the ability to have an even deeper understanding of the message or information being communicated.  Graphic novels assist young readers in negotiating meaning by “placing them at the scene” through words and through pictures.  When we read graphic novels, we use different parts of our brains to connect our understanding and assess meaning.  When working in any learning environment, this type of tool becomes extremely beneficial. However, let’s not falsely assume that graphics and pictures are only for our young learners.  Pictures and symbols have been used for thousands of years to communicate a variety of messages:

I for one have become a huge advocate for graphic novels – if used in moderation.


Visual Voice


Today, visualization has the potential to become a mass medium. Engagement — grabbing and keeping the attention of a viewer — is the key to its broader success. The clearest, most precise graphic in the world communicates nothing if nobody looks at it.

As society moves towards more visual presentation of data/information, it’s clear that even “before viewers understand the data, they form strong impressions of the intended message based on colors, fonts and the like.”  Comparatively, when discussing the writing process with students, teachers talk about the characteristics of good writing and how to engage readers.   Additionally, the mantra of “revise, revise, revise” emphasizes the need to constantly improve  word choice and sentence structure to keep a reader’s attention.  We place importance on the precise selection of words to elicit the correct image we hope our writing “paints” in the minds of the readers. Young writers are taught to carefully select only the most important pieces of information, examples, and/or details to keep their writing focused and reader hooked.  Nowadays, a picture really does say a thousand words.  It is now equally important to educate students about how to  select/craft a visualization so it properly and effectively communicates the intended information.  Teachers and students alike need to understand the power of a well designed visualization and what it communicates to the audience.  Clearly,  images and graphics are the “visual voice” of our students.







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