A student completed a video recently for her Year 9 Design class taught by my colleague, Mitch Norris. The task was to explain the purpose of our school's digital portfolios. Here's what she created.
This video is uplifting because many teachers feel that students do not understood the purpose of the school blog (Portfolio) and yet, for the most part, as this video's demonstrates, they do. Students tell us that, given the chance, they are happy to document their learning, as long as they feel they have choice in doing so.
Inspired, I decided to address the purpose of the blog or portfolio with my students. They have been told, often, why they are asked to post to their portfolio, but I really wondered if they had thought about why they are blogging. In all 8 of my classes the responses generally fit into three categories:
To the students who sheepishly said the posts were obligatory, I heartily agreed; to the shock of many (as much as you can shock a Year 8 or Year 9 student). Many things are forced upon learners and this is often received rather less than enthusiastically. Practicing an instrument is rarely fun. The same goes for athletes who find the thrill of the game much more satisfactory than the preparation. The drudgery of rehearsal is only matched by the euphoria of being on the receiving end of a standing ovation for a drama or dance performance. In short, we are often forced to practice something that takes time to bear fruit.
Documentation is also a worthy purpose. Rarely does one enjoy the process of making a photo album, but we all love going back, reminiscing and looking through our pictures. While updating his portfolio, one student looked back to a Year 4 post of his where he made a picture collage of himself showing different emotions. Encouraged by his ‘find’, others in the class promptly did the same.
The lesson this week was all about sharing our work by adding subscribers. Again, the students grudgingly 'invited' their parents to visit their portfolio. Excuses like, 'My parents never check email' and 'They won't be interested in my posts' were quickly muted when 3-4 parents responded DURING CLASS. It was an absolute pleasure to see parents joyfully reading and commenting about their excitement to have access to their child's learning.
But these reasons pale in comparison, in my opinion, to the real reason why students should be posting about their learning. As part of a course, I, too, was reluctant to post my thoughts online (apparently I have gotten over this reluctance ;-) ). Who would want to read what I was saying? Then I read a post by Shelly Blake-Plock (Why Teachers Should Blog) where his argument, summed up, is that people should blog because it forces them to think about their thinking. In other words, it doesn’t matter what others have to say about what we are thinking (although it often helps), what really matters is that blogging forces us to justify opinion and really think about what is important. To me this was profound. Equally, I think it applies to students when they post to their portfolios. By going through the process of documenting their learning, students should get a much better sense of who they are, know their strengths and interests, and what they need to do to get better.
I often admired and envied my peers who knew what they wanted to do at an early age; those that knew they wanted to be a doctor, artist, or lawyer. Me? I had no clue. I think most high-schoolers don't question what they are doing and just 'do school'. They graduate from high-school and then go blindly into their next chapter of work, or more school, all the while not knowing themselves, let alone what they’d like to do.
This is where I think it is imperative that educators regularly ask students to reflect on their learning in order to help forge long term goals. Do they know what they are good at? What do they enjoy or find interesting? Have they considered looking at the skills they'd still like to develop?
No doubt, creating a portfolio is extra work, but it just might end up being the most important work they do.
NOTE: This post is an extension of another post done almost 7 years ago called Reluctantly Blogging.