The Vatican is More Transparent Than The Classroom.

This year, as we wind to a close around here from the student side of things, amid all of the chaos of the crescendo that is the end of a school year, all I want to think about is transparency.

I don’t usually get parent phone calls in this position, but when I do, it’s almost exciting in a sick sort of way.  The best are when there is a little time to prepare, as in when someone from one of the schools passes me a heads up so that I can prepare some resources.

The few calls I have received as of late all point to one of the most puzzling problems we have: (to quote) “I don’t see anything coming home.  I have no idea what is going on in the classroom.”  Our teachers are excellent and among the hardest working I have ever been around, but why was I hearing about this so frequently?

Puzzling?  Extremely, and here is why.

Look at this example, and this one, and this one.  There are teachers who are leveraging the power of their students to produce evidence and examples of what is occurring in the classroom if not on daily basis, at least a weekly one.  This idea, of course, did not arise with the Google’s purchase of Blogger, but rather has been around forever; however, as our children rise out the elementary school and leave the trappings of the elementary classroom behind, the practice of the “Friday Folder” appeals less and less to them.  The neatly typed and clip-arted newsletter just isn’t making it to the refrigerator in 6th grade.

Use the technology to increase transparency.  These four organizations, long considered bastions of rigid secrecy and privacy, are far more likely to divulge information about what is going on within their walls than a good percentage of classrooms around the country.  Why?  I think we should be proud of what is going on in our classrooms and schools, and we should invite discussion and dialogue into them around student work.

Going one step further, the rebirth of the student portfolio has me intrigued within this format.  Teachers who have worked with their students to create a blog often run into one big problem: what do you do at the end of the year when those students no longer are yours, yet they still have an account in your class blog?  Does their work permanently reside with you?  Several schools around the world are using platforms like Moodle, WordPress MU, Google Apps for your Domain, or even local server tools available through the Mac OS X server to house student work in a manner that it follows them through the course of the years within a district or school.  Let’s promote that!  Let’s talk about having easy access for students, and parents, to student work as it’s in progress.  How many conversations have you seen occur on-line between students who would never speak to each other in class?  Will the same be said for parents and children who cannot relate to one another well in person?  Will their on-line interaction over their published work help them relate to one another at the personal level?

Perhaps I am taking it too far, but there is merit here, and I am actively looking for examples of how schools are doing this type of work.  Please add yours!

Cross-posted at TechLearning and Ecology of Education.

My Reflections on Tech Forum Northeast-Bretag’s Push

In several of the informal conversations I had with Ryan and David last Friday, they laid out their plan for a  learning space whereby all of student work from moment they enter the high school will travel with them through the four years of high school.  Let me clarify a little from what I gleaned from them.

A problem, as Ryan pointed out in our panel discussion, occurred at several points in their experience with student blogging:

  • What happened if you were blogging in science class, in English class, and in social studies?  Did you as a student have the responsibility for maintaining three distinct blogs?
  • What happened when you finished the year with that teacher?  Did your blog die?  Were you able to take it with you and continue to write on your own?

These points came up as we were trying to get at what lies beyond the tools.  Having students keep isolated, individual blogs goes against most of what we strive for: transfer of understanding from seemingly unrelated areas to others.  We want students relating semi-permeable cell membranes to porous and non-defined border policies.  Having isolated learning spaces goes a long way toward furthering that view of education that our learning is isolated into small, un-meshed parts, when in actuality we learn through our connections to already processed material.

What this calls for is a systemic change within a school whereby students are asked to create their own learning space and tie it into the appropriate places within their subject areas.  For example, if a student sat down to write a piece for social studies on their blog, but found connections within the topic to a novel or short story they read in English, they could tag it with both socialstudies and english and the learning space would feed it to both of those courses’ Moodle site.  The teachers could then review the writing and help the student make deeper connections between the two.

Having some platform for blogging that is external, but able to be configured to be private is key here.  Google Apps may work, and I am sure you could configure WPMU to do this as well (both of which are beyond my realm).  This way, the students, as they graduate in four years, are able to take a body of writing over time with them to the college level, thus it becomes their portfolio.

I am truly just beginning to think beyond the glitz and glam of this tool or that one and delve into the deep possibilities we now have.  It’s empowering to know that we are capable of giving students this ability and that it really is very close to happening in certain places.  However, the biggest hurdle is getting more of my staff on board with the architecture of it.  Not every teacher understands blogging, tagging, or even what RSS is, nevertheless the connective and transformative nature of the tools.

That, however, was my second takeaway from last Friday.

Online Portfolios

A colleague of mine asked me the other day whether or not I knew of anyone that had on online portfolio for other teachers, administrators or prospective employers to view. It got me thinking about the nature of what we are all doing here.

One of the principles that is most important in the transformation to school 2.0 is that of ethics and what Will Richardson describes as “being clickable.” I am going to venture to say that my online portfolio exists in the content I create, and how I am able to collect that content via the feeds and links that extend from my blogs. If we are asking our students to be aware of the content they create and to adhere to an ethical standard, I am hard pressed to find a better example to give them the the blogs that we keep.

As professionals, a portfolio is essential. In one of the schools I work in, we are given a yearly “brag sheet” to list all of the accomplishments that we would like included in our yearly reviews. While the content I create here is not done for the purposes of recognition on a yearly review, it is nonetheless something I am proud of, and would want to share with colleagues, supervisors, and yes, future employers if that should ever come up. Portfolios, like these spaces here, also give us the opportunity to reflect on our practice. What goes in? What stays out? That decision making process in itself forces us to contemplate our daily and yearly progress as a teacher or administrator.

As is the case with me lately, I still have to wonder if there is some better method out there. A quick search in Google under portfolio’s in education reveals some interesting things. One that immediately catches my eye is that from Ohio State University’s Faculty and TA Development center. Outlined at the site are some very effective reasons for keeping a teaching portfolio to show the depth and scope of what you have taught. But nowhere does it say that it should be digital or not. Another search under portfolios online, yielded a company called blueskyportfolios, who specialize in creating online portfolios for executives and artists. This resonates, and while I might not want to shell out the money for their services, their layouts appeal to me.

I think I have hatched a new professional development class for my district….

Progressivism, Again.

From the Joan Adler of the Green Acres School, via the Washington Post (“Teachers Can Spur Learning by Listening“):

Imagine a classroom where children are saying, “I have an idea! What
will happen if we try to run this motor with three solar panels instead
of just one?” rather than “Do we have to know this for the test?” or
“How am I doing?” In a progressive environment, children are listened
to, and their ideas are considered valuable and worthy of further
consideration or investigation.

A few years back, when I was finishing my master’s, we were required to submit our mission statement as part of our teaching portfolio, and I remember mine having a lot to do with grounding my teaching in reality, where my students would leave with something useful, tangible and that made sense to them in their world while still taking a part of mine with them. By saying “my world” I meant the world of what I thought of as the world of knowledge–that which was contained in books.

Reading Adler’s quote, it is easy to remember several times since the penning of that mission statement where I did not create that environment, and where that idea of validating student curiosity could have been subjugated by desire to give information. As a matter of fact, my first public school teaching job was partly a basic skills position where I was given six students and asked to do whatever I needed to to get them to pass the GEPA. After I finish here, I am going to dig up that portfolio and that mission statement and give it a good dusting off. What has changed about how I deliver information? I know one thing, it most likely will not exist solely on paper.

Would your fellow teachers or your staff have anything different to emote in their mission statements? How would you revise your mission statement if you were asked to do so?

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