Monday, November 27, 2006

Learning to Learn Portfolio Model

I just found this Learning to Learn Portfolio Model developed by Ian Fox, the Principal at Bucklands Beach Intermediate School, Auckland, New Zealand. This model provides a wonderful framework for thinking about portfolios in schools: Metacognitive Development, Assessment to Improve Learning, and Development of Home-School Links. His online paper, Learning to Learn in the 21st Century, provides further explanation of this model and how it is implemented in his school.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Model of Portfolio Differences

I spent last weekend in Boston with Evangeline Harris Stefanakis, where we set up plans to collaborate on several projects, including a Symposium entitled, "Researching Electronic Portfolios in Schools: The Role of Teacher Professional Development" that was just approved for the next American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference (to be held in Chicago on April 9-13, 2007). We also wrote a paper responding to a recent news article about portfolios. Here is a brief excerpt from our paper:
The Nov 15, 2006 EDWEEK article headlines “Reacting to Reviews, States Cut Portfolio Assessments for ELL Students”. What a reactive mistake!!! It’s not about portfolios instead of state tests—it is about portfolios and state tests!!!
Dr. Stefanakis published the book, Multiple Intelligences and Portfolios, which contained a diagram which placed portfolios along a continuum of Learning and Accountability. We took that same diagram and added my chart on differentiating between portfolios used for learning and those used for accountability. I'm calling it the Stefanakis-Barrett Model of Portfolio Differences (between Learning and Accountability).

After discussing these differences, and the research behind the Assessment for Learning model, the article ended with the following:
We have an obligation to our ELL students to provide them with assessment strategies that will help them improve. If we don’t give all of our students the knowledge of how they can succeed, based on analysis of their own work that they can understand and use to improve their own learning, we are indeed failing them.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Updated WordPress Portfolio

This is an updated version of my WordPress online portfolio, from an earlier version of this program. The tool allowed me to reconstruct my portfolio in less than an hour, copying and pasting the information. I also experimented with the hosted version of WordPress for my portfolio.

The major advantage of WordPress 2.0 is that it has two ways of posting: a blog (organized in reverse chronological order) with categories (the Home link), and Pages (organized hierarchically and show by name on the main page menu in the template that I am using). What this means for the portfolio process is that the functions of a learning portfolio (reflective journal stored in chronological order) are published separately from a presentation portfolio, where the information can be ordered thematically. This is one of the best Web 2.0 tools I have used so far that covers the portfolio development process. Feedback can be provided through the Comments function of the blog, although I have turned them off on the portfolio pages.

Most of my artifacts were weblinks, but I was able to upload a few files (in the Portfolio-at-a-glance page) and easily link them to the page. The software lacks a folder system to organize the artifacts, something it would need to make it useful as a full-featured portfolio system.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Trojan Horse for ePortfolios?

I am currently teaching an online course on ePortfolios. In response to one of my articles, one of the participants raised the issue of developing a portfolio culture, and how to get a school district to adopt ePortfolios. I think he identified the real issues we face when implementing portfolios: how do we create a portfolio culture in a learning community? That question goes along with our approach to assessment: how do we adopt a system of assessment that emphasizes as much formative as summative assessment? In our accountability-driven system, there is a temptation to use more summative than formative methods. We can aggregate numeric data very easily; multiple choice tests are much easier to score. Portfolios are hard work. I think a mandated portfolio could be successful, as long as the implementation focuses on student learning (the story approach), rather than institutional accountability (the checklist approach).

I think the problem is that the predominant experience of educators is with these more summative (behavioral?) approaches, rather than the constructivist paradigm, which is where portfolios really began. Very few educators have experience using portfolios in their teacher preparation, and even now, I see a lot of incompatible uses of portfolios implemented in teacher education programs: the model of portfolios implemented with student teachers is not compatible with how their students would use them in schools. We aren't modeling appropriate practices.

How do we break this cycle? I recommend having administrators and teachers develop and maintain their own reflective portfolios, and create a collaborative environment where portfolios are used for collaboration and professional development, not only for high-stakes evaluation purposes.

This brings up a much larger issue... change. I published a web page called Professional Development for Implementing Electronic Portfolios where I include my recommendations, a discussion of the "Adoption of Innovations" (the Change Process) and a preliminary look at the competencies (both Portfolio and Technology Skills) to implement electronic portfolios. You will find some Resources for Professional Development as well as Recommended Professional Development and Readings... a graduate degree's worth of reading!

One thing I learned when I did my own dissertation research (on how adults teach themselves to use personal computers) I found that there is a simple formula about change: the benefits of a change must exceed the cost of that change, whether real or simply perceived. I think we will eventually reach a "tipping point" on the adoption of ePortfolios, but it will take a lot of small successes, with both grass roots advocates and top-down support to make it happen. But if there are enough of us who believe in the portfolio process, who are willing to model promising practices, and who are willing to tell our stories, then I think we will see some real change.

I once wrote in an article that stated, "Perhaps ePortfolios can become the Trojan Horse for integrating digital storytelling into the curriculum." What is the Trojan Horse for integrating ePortfolios into the curriculum? I think it is the evidence that we can collect that will show how portfolios can help improve student achievement, based on the model of formative assessment for learning. There is a research base from the Assessment Reform Group in the U.K. (Black & Wiliam) that supports this assertion (as I referenced in the article). I am also encouraging one of my colleagues on the East Coast to report her research, where the implementation of ePortfolios with ELL students in middle schools in New York City has led to increased test scores. According to her, the ePortfolios make it obvious to teachers where their students needed to improve, so that they can focus their remediation efforts. When her research is published, I will be the first to post it on my blog!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Online Course

Next week, I was asked to facilitate a one-week online class which I am calling Interactive Electronic Portfolios. I have been learning to use Moodle as the course management environment. I know, I'm pretty late trying this tool, since I was an early user of Blackboard at UAA in 1999. I just have not had access to a server or a reason to use it until now. It also helps to have an experienced guide as I explore the different tools.

I got so inspired that I bought new webserver space for two years to host the three URLs that I've owned for three years but have not used so far:, and The hosting service provided automatic installation of Moodle, WordPress, MediaWiki and Joomla, a content management system. This website is going to be a Dreamweaver-free site. I want to see what I can do with some of these open source tools on my own server space, without using any HTML authoring tools.