Thursday, February 24, 2005

50 Words for Portfolios?

I find it interesting (and frustrating) that many educators are using the word "portfolio" to represent what I would be more apt to call an online repository or collection (or an assessment management system). There is a huge misunderstanding about what portfolios are and part of the problem is the widespread use of the term to mean many different things. Alan Levine refers to the classic story of the blind men touching the elephant (and each describing something different, based on their sense of touch). My friend John Ittelson says it is like Eskimos having 49 different words for "snow" but those who don't live in that environment tend to see it all as the same cold white stuff. That's why I try to always use an adjective with the word portfolio that describes its purpose (learning portfolio, assessment portfolio, employment portfolio, working portfolio, presentation portfolio).

Thursday, February 17, 2005

ESchool News

My interview with eSchool News was published yesterday. As usual, some of my comments were taken out of context or misquoted, but on the whole, the article outlines the REFLECT Initiative sponsored by TaskStream. The opening story is innacurate. I said it might be urban legend, but the reality of how some students feel about their portfolios can be seen in the trash cans at the end of the school year. He also didn't tell the complementary story, the other side of the coin, about the student who offered a $50 reward for the return of her lost writing portfolio, as related by Jim Mahoney in his excellent book, Power and Portfolios, published by Heinemann. The reporter also began by talking about "how students feel about creating learning portfolios" when I was really talking about students creating assessment portfolios. But then, most readers wouldn't know the difference. On the whole, though, it was a good representation of what we want to do with the REFLECT Initiative.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Revenge of the Right Brain

Here is a fascinating article from a recent Wired Magazine, where the author, Daniel Pink, proposes that success in the Conceptual Age (following the Information Age which is ending) will come from our abilities to use our right brains for more creative activities. Using Naisbitt's concept of "High Touch" he proposes:
High-concept means the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft satisfying narratives, to detect patterns and opportunities, to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention. High-touch means the ability to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in the pursuit of purpose and meaning.
This article provides one more argument for including reflective portfolios and storytelling in the curriculum of schools and colleges.

Friday, February 11, 2005

A High School Inquiry

I recently received the following inquiry from a high school student from Kentucky:
I am a student in high school. Why is it manditory for me to make a proficient on my portfolio for me to graduate? I have all of my credits to graduate, but if I make lower than an proficient I don't get to graduate.
Here is how I responded:

I am so glad you wrote to me. I'm sure other high school students have the same questions. I shared your message (anonymously, of course) with a group of educators who help students develop electronic portfolios. Here are some of our collective thoughts. Your question raises a number of issues. My first question is whether you raised these concerns with your teachers, and what their response was.

My second thought is that your portfolio should be a representation of who you are through samples of your work. High graduation represents a significant accomplishment in your life that provides evidence that you are capable of doing many things [reading, writing, math, etc.] and that you are now ready for the world of work or further education. I'll bet there are four levels that your portfolio can be judged: Distinguished, Proficient, Apprentice, Novice. If you are a senior and don't know why your work should be the best you can make it, or rated at least Proficient, some people might say that you are not ready to graduate.

It is not really enough in today's climate just to jump through the hoops. Schools must build a culture of evidence. No longer is society content to accept the school's word that students are well educated and prepared for college or career. Schools must provide evidence that they are doing what they say they are doing--that their mission is, in fact, being fulfilled--that students really do have the skills and knowledge base they claim they have. I think the ePortfolio is the best means of providing evidence that students have met the school's requirements and state standards.

Would you rather spend a day taking a series of tests that just make you nervous, don't help you learn and only assess how well you can remember a lot of facts or solve a lot of problems, most of which are irrelevant to your life? And if you don't pass those tests, you have to keep taking them until you do pass? Isn't it much better to carefully and reflectively develop a portfolio that showcases your strengths and your growth over time?

If done with the right attitude, your portfolio can be useful for you to show to an employer or use in a college admission interview. It is also something that you can look back on later in your life, to remind you what high school was like and how much you have learned since you graduated!

Make your portfolio your own by showcasing those things that you are most proud of, even if they aren't done for school assignments. I hope you are allowed to individualize your portfolio, to put in pictures and maybe even some audio and video clips (that's why I like electronic portfolios!). Remember, you are telling us a story, and not just any story. Your portfolio is meant to be your story of your life over the last four years as well as the story of where your life might be going during the next four years: tell it with pride!

Good luck!
Many thanks to members of the eportfolios Listserv on Yahoo who shared their thoughts with me, as well as the Mead School District's Draft Presentation Guidelines for their Senior Culminating Project.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

UBC Videos online

The videos have been posted online from the University of British Columbia conference on Electronic Portfolios and Reflection last November (view from the agenda). I am encouraging them to change their QuickTime videos to "hinted" streaming format so that they can begin playing before they are fully downloaded.

A New Computer!

When Apple announced the upgrades to their PowerBook line on January 31, I submitted my order before breakfast. Then I followed the FedEx tracking page as my new computer left Shanghai, through Anchorage and Memphis until it was finally delivered to my home early last Tuesday morning. In the setup process, Apple lets you transfer all the data from your other computer. In less that two hours, all my files and data were transfered, and I thought I was looking at my older computer, of course with a larger hard drive, a SuperDrive and almost 3x as fast! And of course the new iLife software. I am in heaven! Now, I feel like I can get back to work with a reliable computer!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Response to NY Times

As the editorial in the New York Times (Reinventing High School, Feb. 1) notes, American secondary education is rife with gaps: achievement, graduation, reading, teaching and others. Ultimately, these gaps can be closed only by students themselves, and only if they have the drive to succeed. That drive comes from motivation and engagement, characteristics sadly missing in some high school students. Many of today’s teenagers’ communication and creative skills revolve around personal webpage building, file and photo sharing, music downloading, text messaging, video editing, IM-ing, and blogging. It is difficult to see where traditional 20th Century approaches to learning are motivating and engaging for these 21st Century high school students.

One promising solution is electronic portfolios, which enable students to share their accomplishments, show off their creativity, reflect on their work and be accountable for their own performance. High schools that are experimenting with e-portfolios are seeing new excitement about learning, and a narrowing of those troubling gaps.