Chapter 5: Tours – Student Presentations of Badges and Portfolios

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 5 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Question:

  • How do students present their best work?

In this social media age, it’s very easy for anyone to send their thoughts into the world. It only takes a few moments to create a tweet, a post or a text  – and that is fine for communication that is only meant to last for a few moments.

Every now and again, though, it’s useful for students to be a little more deliberate. A “tour” is a type of presentation where students can take a step back, look at their accomplishments, and consider what they have achieved.

A tour typically consists of multiple entries and a reflection. The students are given a set of guidelines for what they need to present; this lets the students curate the entries in the portfolio, and create a presentation. Teachers then review the work and determine if the tour meets the expectation (and thus, earn a badge).

One thing that’s important about a tour is that it is a collection of work. It’s not often that students are asked to look at more than one entry at a time; here, the student is deliberately being called upon to discuss how different entries show a variety of skills and abilities.

The guidelines of the tour can vary. Chapter 5 in the book discusses a number of different tours, including:

  • Subject-specific. Students can present a tour of their best work in a subject, such as writing or the arts. For the tour, the student can select the best work in different categories; for a writing tour, this might mean a best example of a report, a narrative, a work of fiction, and so on.
  • End-of-year / term. In this tour, students show their best work from a certain period of time. A middle or high school student might select a best entry from each class; an elementary student could show a sample of reading, writing, math and each subject. The tour, then, will show all the areas that the student is studying, and the student will discuss where their strengths lie and where they need improvement.
  • Growth over Time. The guidelines for a “growth” tour asks the student to select an entry from earlier in time, and to compare it to a more current entry. For example, we could record a video of a first grader reading independently at the beginning of the year, and then make another recording at the middle or end of the year. In the tour, we can review those two entries and see the students’ progress. (You can imagine the same kind of tour for older students who are, say, learning music or a world language.)
  • College / Career Readiness. This kind of tour can start by asking students what type of career they would like to pursue, and to select entries demonstrating they are ready for the college / career requirements. For example, a student interested in health care could include evidence of their work in science, and also include the reasons she wants to pursue this field (such as an essay on how a health care worker helped someone in her family). The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success has helped make it easier for connect this kind of tour and reflection to be part of the college admissions process; you can hear more in our webinar on New Directions in College Admissions here.

The book goes into more detail about how these tours can be assessed; as the Chapter 4 blog post mentioned, feedback is a critical component of any successful digital badge initiative. The presentation of a tour can be both an assessment and a celebration of accomplishments.

How do your students demonstrate the work in their portfolios? Please feel free to comment below.

Chapter 4: Effective Feedback and Rubrics

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 4 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Question:

  • How do we decide what’s “good” or, at least, “good enough”?

Over the years that I’ve worked with digital portfolios, there’s one key element that separates successful implementation from those that go through the motions: feedback.

If students are going to put in the effort to assemble a portfolio, they want to know that someone is going to pay attention to it. If at the end, all that happens is the student gets a “check-plus” or some such grade, students are much less likely to do a good job.

Badges themselves provide one level of feedback; when a teacher marks that a student has completed one of the requirements, and the student sees that they have filled in part of the digital badge, that visual cue is useful.

But perhaps more importantly, digital badges and portfolios offer an opportunity for schools to think about their assessment practices in new ways. In particular, the essential question asks, “How do we decide what’s good?” For many schools, the key word in that question is “we.” Schoolwide badges offer an opportunity for faculty to talk about what they collectively agree is “good enough.”

Chapter 4 of the book provides a few strategies for schools to think about the assessment work:

  • Common Rubrics. When students submit work for a badge, you can have that work assessed with the same rubric. For example, if part of a science badge is to submit a lab report, your school could use (or create) a common rubric. This way, if a student submits a sample from biology or chemistry or earth science, the teachers can use the same lab report rubric and focus on the same qualities. (A quick note – this is NOT implying that all tasks have to be assessed with common rubrics; teachers can certainly personalize their assignments by adding task-specific rows to the common rubric.)
  • Calibration. In a calibration exercise, teachers get together and score a few pieces of student work with the same rubric. The idea is to see where teachers agree and disagree on the scores, and to come to a consensus about what qualifies as “meeting” expectations. By doing this on a few student entries (particularly those near the “meeting” / “not meeting” line), schools can gain more consistency in the scoring.
  • Focusing on common skills, such as “problem solving.” It can help to go beyond the specific content-area skills, and to look at the “soft skills” that come up in all classes. Creating or using a rubric for items such as “problem solving,” “working collaboratively” or “demonstrating citizenship” can help define what we really mean by those terms.

It’s easy, when thinking about digital badges and portfolios, to focus on the process of assembling the student work. Deciding what goes in, what tasks are badge-worthy, and figuring out the logistics of uploading are all, of course, legitimate items for a school to work on. Still, if you want to make the portfolios “stick,” and have a lifetime that extends beyond a pilot stage, schools need to pay attention to how the work will be assessed – and take the time to have the conversations among faculty and students about what it really means for work to be worthy of a badge.

What changes in your assessment practices have worked for you?

Chapter 3: Creating Portfolio-Worthy / Badge-Worthy Tasks

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 3 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Questions:

  • How do students earn the badges?
  • What goes into the portfolio?
  • How do we create portfolio-worthy tasks?

Here is where badges and portfolios become real.

Setting the vision of a graduate (Chapter 1) and defining the badges (Chapter 2) are critical to establishing the overall direction. Now, though, we have to figure out the actual work that students and teachers are going to do.

There are many, many possible tasks that can be used to earn a badge; they can range from the very simple in-class assignment to long-term projects, to anywhere in between. The thing to keep in mind is this: what we want to see is convincing evidence that the student has completed the requirements. This Is what differentiates digital portfolios and badges from traditional transcripts – a reader can look to see what the student actually did to earn the badge.

In looking at many portfolios over the years, students and teachers tend to navigate to the same kinds of tasks. Chapter 3 describes the qualities of these tasks; among those qualities, we know that a task will be “portfolio-worthy” or “badge-worthy” if the student has to put forth some real effort and will involve some level of student choice.

The best place to start is with the assignments that are already being used at your school. At the end of the year, what are the tasks that provide the best evidence – the real indicators of student mastery? What are the students going to remember a year from now?

The concepts of badges and portfolios may be new to many of your faculty. By asking the teachers to start with tasks they are already using, it helps to ground this new initiative in something familiar. The task might need a little tweaking; for example, if students have usually done some kind of presentation for a particular task, it may be helpful to figure out how to record those presentations. Still, the task should be something that the teachers are already comfortable in using.

As schools move forward with thinking about tasks, you may want to incorporate a couple other initiatives you may already be doing.

One is personalization – how can we design our tasks so that students can express their individuality? One great resource for this topic is Allison Zmuda’s Learning Personalized website. Allison and Bena Kallick in their book Students at the Center created a definition of the four personalized learning attributes. The site also has a section on reimagining assignments.

The second is project-based learning (PBL). Projects have been around forever, but recent work has helped to clarify what makes a project a true learning experience. A few resources on this:

So, consider this while you think about your tasks – what kinds of things do you want to see going on in the classroom? Connecting the tasks with the badges has the potential to provide a new kind of incentive for students – and build on the things teachers are already doing.

Let’s talk more about this in the comments – what types of tasks would you include in the portfolios? What tasks would you consider “badge-worthy”?

Chapter 2: Defining Badges

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 2 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Question:

  • What do we want our students to know and be able to do?

Digital Badges are a declaration of purpose. The badges represent what we want students to achieve, and in turn, where we want to focus our teaching.

Some of the early work with digital badges has focused on defining badges in particular areas, such as community service, or demonstrating tech skills. That’s fine; it gets both students and teachers thinking about what a badge means.

Chapter 2 of the book suggests a more systematic approach. What are the skills, knowledge and habits that we want our students to possess?

It’s easy enough to come up with an initial list: students should be able to read, write, and problem solve. They should be able to work independently and to be part of a team. They should demonstrate good work habits (such as showing up on time) and strengthen their habits of mind. Undoubtedly, your school will have its own list.

One way to generate this list is simply to have all the faculty identify the different ways they see students gain skills and knowledge. You can ask, “In your roles as teachers, as coaches, as advisors, what do you see students learning?” This can create an interesting list.

This list can be a set of the different badges that students can earn. The next question becomes, which of these are required for all students, and which reflect a personal interest? Some things may be very common – for example, you may have the great majority of our students studying a second language. But is that a requirement? Would a student need to complete a World Language badge to graduate? Similarly, which habits are required?

The key here is to look at the set of badges as a whole – not just as individual items on a checklist. The required badges represent a vision of the whole child, in both academic and non-academic skills. If your goal is to have all of your students prepared for the transition to the next level , or to demonstrate college and career “readiness,” then the set of badges should represent the important elements of what it means to be “ready”

Some questions to consider:

  • What skills and knowledge are most important to you?
  • Are they all represented on your transcripts?