As schools get ready for a new school year, we face a great deal of uncertainty. Even in communities where schools say they will be back in business full-time, it’s clear that some percentage of families will want to stay with the social distancing for at least a while longer.
Given that, there are ideas that many prominent educators have been suggesting for years that can be particularly applicable for thinking about your curriculum and assessment for the upcoming school year.
Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Allison Zmuda ran a 4-part series on preparing curriculum and assessment for the new year for the site Learning Personalized. Check out the links below:
Jay McTighe and Giselle O. Martin-Kniep write about how the concept of badges can guide instruction. These strategies can be just as useful in the face-to-face classroom as in a virtual learning environment:
In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo and Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green have challenged all students in Rhode Island to read for at least 20-60 minutes every single day in the month of April.
Students can easily keep track of their reading with a “Reading Log” on the Richer Picture platform. Students can use the log to record what they’ve read, and how long they’ve read each day.
Teachers and administrators can see, at a glance, what students in each class are reading and how much time they’ve spent.
Richer Picture is being used in districts across the state for maintaining Individual Learning Plans, Digital Portfolios and Senior Projects. A free trial version is available until the end of the school year.
It’s becoming increasingly likely that some schools may not re-open before the end of the school year. So what can schools do instead of having a traditional final exam?
Digital Portfolios can achieve the same goal as your exam: to demonstrate what your students have learned in your course. The portfolio can honor and reward the hard work your students have done this year – and incorporate the home-learning activities that are happening now.
Let’s take this in 3 steps.
Step 1 — Make a list: What goes into your portfolio?
A final exam is supposed to assess the key skills and knowledge that students have learned throughout the entire course. So, as a starting point, make a list – what are those key skills and knowledge? At the top of the list, write “My final exam assesses” and just write what comes to mind.
It can help to prioritize the skills more than the knowledge.
For example, an English teacher might list the following skills:
My final exam assesses:
Ability to read and understand a text
Understanding key ideas in literature, such as theme, plot, characters
Ability to write in different genres
Simply put, a digital portfolio is a collection of student work. To design the portfolio, look at the list you just created.What assignments could go along with those skills?
Next to each skill, you can make the list of assignments. NOTE: the assignments can include BOTH the assignments you gave in class AND home-learning assignments that the students can do now.
1. Ability to read and understand a text
• Responding to MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail
• Commenting on the News
2. Understanding key ideas in literature, such as theme, plot, characters
• Shakespeare unit
• Dissecting “The Lottery”
• Response to a Library Book
3. Ability to write in different genres
• Short Story
• Research Paper
• Narrative on “How Things are Different Now”
You’ve now designed the structure for your portfolio! Essentially, what you’re asking the students to do is to collect items from the right column.
You can give students choice in what they submit – in the example above, the student could submit any one of the responses to literature to meet Skill #2. Alternatively, for some skills, you may want to see a breadth of skills; for Skill #3 above, the student might need one submission for each of the genres of writing you’ve addressed (such as narrative, fiction, persuasive).
The key here is the portfolio can come from assignments that are already part of your class. You can refer both to assignments that are in your gradebook from the first part of this year, or any of the home learning assignments that are coming up.
Now, because the portfolio is digital, you potentially could add requirements that you wouldn’t normally have on a traditional exam. For example, you could add an “oral presentation” requirement, and ask the students to refer to a presentation done earlier in the year or to record on an online chat now.
Step 2 — Collect the Evidence
Now that you’ve thought about what you want in the portfolio, it’s easy to set this up. In Richer Picture, you can set up a digital portfolio as a “tour,” as shown below.
The Tabs along the top correspond to the different sections: Understanding Text, Key Ideas in Literature, the different genres of writing – Narrative, Report ,Fiction – and an Oral Presentation.
Students can upload their work into the portfolio, and give you a record of what they have achieved.
Step 3 — Review the Portfolio
To assess the portfolio, you can set up a rubric.
Percentage of Final Portfolio Grade
Key Ideas in Literature
You do NOT have to re-grade the student submissions; you could use the grades that you issued earlier. (So, if a student received an 80 on the Understanding Text entry earlier in the year the student’s score would be 80 x 15%).
There are, of course, lots of variations on this theme. You can add more of the home learning assignments, and have the students truly personalize their portfolios to show more about themselves.
With students spending lots (and lots!) of time at home, they are probably looking for things to do. Families are getting creative; kids are learning to cook or helping more with younger siblings or finally picking up the musical instrument.
So even if they are not in the classroom, students certainly are learning new things – and those things are probably connected to standards!
So how can they show what they’ve learned?
With Richer Picture, students can create a portfolio of “personal entries.” These is an easy way for students to document what they have learned on their own.
Adding a personal entry is as simple as adding a post on social media. (If you have a Richer Picture account, click on “My Work” and then “Add Entry.”) For each entry, the student can include:
Upload the Student Work – In a personal entry, a student can upload something about what they’ve learned. Maybe it’s a photo of something they’ve made in the kitchen, or a description of a book they’ve read. It could be or a link to a virtual field trip they’ve taken, or a video describing how they have divided the chores in the house with their siblings. This “artifact” can be in any format – a piece of writing, a Google doc, a presentation, an image, audio or video.
Select Standards from a Checklist – Then, the student can link that entry to the school’s expectations. For any school, Richer Picture contains a list of what all students should know and be able to do; this can be the set of standards from the state or district, or it can be the school’s “portrait of a graduate.” In any case, the student can simply go down the list, and select the expectations that they have demonstrated.
Add a Brief Comment – Finally, students can add a little commentary. They can give a summary of what they’ve done, and provide a brief reflection on how the artifact is a good demonstration of the selected standards.
Link to Class – Students can connect an entry with any of their classes just by selecting the teacher from the drop-down list.
You can see an example in the image below:
Students can add entries at any time. At some point, you can ask the students to take their best learning and assemble a tour of their work, to show all the standards that they have met.
Learning can take place anytime, and anywhere – the Richer Picture portfolio can let your students show what they have accomplished, even when they are having fun!
“Personalization” is one of those things that educators all agree is important, but have found it hard to do in practice. The structure of schools is designed to work with students in large groups, and to essentially treat all students the same.
There are a few strategies that can help with personalizing assessments. Some have to do with the structures of the assessments themselves; others have to do with how we use assessments.
Jay McTighe, who is one of the foremost thinkers on assessment, has pointed out a few ways that tasks can be designed to better incorporate student voice and choice. One is the notion of a “task frame” – a type of assessment that can be used in a variety of situations. For example, a task frame could be “Interpret the data on ____ for the past ____ and use that data to make a prediction.” This frame can be used in elementary math classes (“interpret the data on student height for the past six months”) or high school social studies class (“Interpret the data on voting patterns in our town for the past 10 years”). There are similar skills happening here, across multiple disciplines. This can lead to personalization in a couple of ways: if the task frame is used multiple times, students could select the assignment where they felt they did the best; in another way, students could devise their own task using this frame, and show how they can apply the skill of “interpreting data” to a question of their own choosing.
Another strategy is to allow students to use the assessments to tell their own story of growth. Students can create a tour of their best work over time (which we discussed in an earlier blog post). By selecting the tasks that show their best work or their growth through the year, students are displaying their thoughts on what the assessments mean to them.
To go further on the scale of personalization, students can create their own tasks. Some classroom projects and tasks have student voice and choice embedded in the assignment; a student’s creative writing project or history fair display can start with their initial idea. In some cases, students may create their own personal badge, allowing them to do a “deep dive” into some area of interest. The assessment, in this case, will be as much about the process – what did the student explore? how did they decide what tasks to pursue – as the final deliverables.
One of the most powerful uses of digital badges occurs when students present their work. To earn a badge, students can submit a “tour” of their best work to show that they are meeting the requirements. For example, to earn a badge in Spanish, a student could prepare a tour showing their skills as a Listener, Speaker, Reader and Writer of the language. The tour is then reviewed by a teacher to determine if the student has earned the badge.
In the schools using Richer Picture, we have seen many approaches to tours. One common way is the end of year review. Here, a student will go through their portfolio and select their best pieces of work. Schools can provide some structure to this selection – maybe the student needs to select one piece from each class, or connect work to specific skills, such as problem solving or the ability to work in groups.
What has proven to be a great strategy is for the students to present their tour to one or two teachers. At some high schools, this is an annual ritual – students have a block of time set aside where each student will have an individual review. The teachers listen to the student present their tour, and then provide feedback. What is useful here is that the student is talking broadly about their progress, but tying it to the specific evidence shown in their sample work. It’s a chance for the student and the teachers to talk about the student’s overall growth – not just in one class, but across the board. Particularly in high schools and middle schools, where many teachers see their students for just one subject, this kind of conversation is all too rare; students can talk about how they learn, what they do well and where they struggle, and become more reflective on who they are as learners. Teachers regularly say that this process tells them things about students that they didn’t know – even if the student has been in their class all year.
Of course, this review doesn’t have to be at the end of the year; elementary teachers have used these tours as a part of their student-led conferences with parents, sometimes at multiple points during the year. The overall idea still stands – students select their work, reflect on their progress, and present their tour for feedback.
Other tours can help students show their work to different audiences:
Subject area tours can show the depth of knowledge within a discipline -whether that is showing skills in different genres of writing, or how they apply common skills (such as lab reports / scientific inquiries) in different courses.
Project tours can show the steps that a student used to complete a project, from initial idea through the final product. These tours can show the student’s work – and can also illustrate how the student overcame obstacles along the way.
Growth over time tours can show a student’s progress. This kind of tour is like time-lapse photography. In music, for example, we can show a student’s skill when they first pick up an instrument, and then the student can add a recording every few months. This tour can show what the student has achieved, and also illustrate patterns in the student’s development.
Digital Badges can help students show all the ways in which they are learning and growing. Schools can set up badges that represent a student’s academic knowledge, work habits, social skills, and personal interests.
All of these areas of growth can be present in any entry of student work. Consider a group of students working together on a science project. The content of the project will show the students’ understanding of the subject area – but in addition, the project will show many other things – how well the student listens to others, whether the student is a reliable partner, or if the student can set and meet deadlines.
Digital badges can show student growth in each of these areas. When the student submits this group project, the student can link this single project to multiple badges. In this example, the project can link to the “science” badge, to the “work habits” badge and to the “listening” badge.
Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
In a similar way, teachers can have badges representing each of these tenets. As part of their professional development and ongoing growth, teachers can submit things that they do – from lesson plans to parent-teacher conferences to committee work – to illustrate how they are demonstrating each of these tenets.
Think back to your own years in school. What academic work do you remember? You probably don’t remember a specific test or the questions at the end of the chapter. More likely, you remember something like a science fair activity, a re-enactment in social studies or a stock market game. What usually comes to mind is some type of project.
Project-Based Learning (PBL) has come a long way; much of the recent activity can be credited to the good work coming from PBLWorks (formerly the Buck Institute). Their “Gold Standard” Project Design and Teaching Practices have helped many schools design effective projects that have a lasting impact on student learning.
When schools are setting up digital badges and portfolios, projects can be very useful. To earn a badge, students usually assemble a portfolio of work. And what should go into that portfolio? Schools find it helpful to have demonstrations of basic (or foundational) skills – AND schools usually want students to show an application of those skills. Projects let students show how they can take their skills and knowledge and apply them in a new situation, or to answer a question stemming from their own curiosity.
Digital portfolios work well with PBL in a couple of ways. First, a portfolio can provide a structure for the project. Usually, projects have multiple steps – identifying a driving question, preparing resources, building the project through research or field work. The portfolio provides a place where students can log each of those steps along the way. In the Richer Picture platform, teachers can see at a glance how far each student has progressed.
Second, portfolios allow students to present their work. Projects always have some kind of deliverable, whether that’s a research paper, a poster, or a slideshow. A digital portfolio provides a record of that work that can be shared. Just as importantly, the portfolio can link the project to a school’s standards. Projects can be fun and interesting – they can also be solid demonstrations of subject area skills and knowledge.
To be useful, projects and tasks need to be “portfolio-worthy.” Such projects are:
Aligned with standards
Demonstrate a level of mastery
Generate useful evidence (something both teachers and students can view)
Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) are common across the country. Whether your state calls them ILPs, Student Success Plans, or some other name, students are asked to think about their goals and how they want to achieve them.
All too often, though, the ILPs are just seen as a side activity; the students write down some goals, but don’t really have a way to follow up.
With Digital Badges, students can have a concrete way of following through on their goals. Whether they are setting academic goals, thinking about their potential careers or college majors, or looking to grow along some social / emotional dimension, students can link their goals to digital badges. Richer Picture has a couple of methods for handling this.
First, students can set up a personalized badge. Suppose a student is interested in a career in health care. When setting the goal, the student is asked, “what steps can you take this year to move towards that goal?” The student might respond with, “I can do a job shadow with a nurse,” “I can make sure I pass my science class,” and “I can learn CPR at my local Red Cross.” In Richer Picture, this list becomes the evidence for the badge. When a student does any of the things on this list, they can upload evidence – a picture from a job shadow, a piece of work from science class, or a scan of a CPR certificate – into the system. This provides a way for students to show evidence that they have worked towards their goal.
Second, schools can have school-defined badges that represent the activities already in place at the school. A school’s badges can simply be a list of extracurricular activities, extended learning opportunities, or community service projects that the school offers. (Some of the activities might be embedded in the ILPs, such as completing an O*NET career profile or taking a skills inventory.) Many students, when setting their goals, often don’t know all the opportunities that are available within their school or district. When students set their goals, they can see a list of these activity badges, and select those that make sense. Again, as the student participates in the activities, they can indicate that they have moved towards the goals.
We want ILPs to be more than an empty exercise; when students set goals, we want them to be able to follow through. Digital Badges can help.