It has been a wild couple of weeks as my two classes of 7th graders have created and published their portfolios. We are on a trimester system, so this is the end of the first trimester. For the first time, I am teaching an ungraded, portfolio assessed class. As I have written earlier, the students have grown more and more adept at identifying the skills that they are learning as well as their strengths and challenges. They have moved away, not completely but to a large extent, from expecting that I will tell them, through a grade, how they are doing, and they have begun to develop an independence around their learning, which is very exciting.
History 7 is the only class in the school with this form of assessment, so it is new for the parents and for the students. I wanted to make sure that I guided the students carefully through the process of building a portfolio that showed what they had learned. I gave back to them examples of their earliest work of the year that I had saved just for this purpose.
Together we created a Google Doc in their History collection that was titled “Portfolio Planning.” We talked about the skills that they had been working on and the kinds of activities that they had done to learn and practice their skills. We generated a great list, everything from new memorization strategies to taking walks to get the blood circulating, from how to annotate a history text to writing an effective paragraph. They did a great job of remembering the trimester.
I then organized the skills that they had generated into four categories: Studentship (which included preparation for class, class participation and collaboration), Thinking and Learning (memorization, organization, learning styles: strengths and challenges), Reading and Writing. For each of these categories, the student wrote about what she felt comfortable with and where she felt challenged. For each page, she needed to chose at least one photograph, scan or screen shot to add to the page, very some visual interest. They had an album of photographs that I had created with images of them working at various tasks. Then we had an amusing “reenactment” of hand-raising to answer a question. They took screen shots of the lists of documents in their Google History collection. They scanned examples of their first attempts at annotating and their last. They took screen shots of mind maps that they had created. When they had generated all of their ideas and images, I went through their documents and left comments: How will you do this? What steps will you take to make this happen? Explain your thinking more. It definitely took more time than slapping a grade onto a piece of paper, but I wanted to push their thinking beyond their initial ideas.
With that feedback, they wrote paragraphs. They took those and put them into their Haiku ePortfolio, along with the images they had chosen. They also created a movie, 20-30 seconds, in Photo Booth to use as an introduction for their parents, explaining how to navigate their way around the portfolio and what its goal was. At that point, I again reviewed all of them – very time consuming, but also very exciting. They were demonstrating a control over their growth as students that was very exciting!
I decided that I was not going to do the actual editing of their work. While I knew that that would mean that there might well be uncorrected errors, I wanted what was there to fully be their own, awesome writing as well as spelling errors. I made a Word document for each student. When I saw a mistake, spelling or grammar, I cut and pasted it onto the document for them to find and correct. Also, if there were places where the language was confusing or the student needed to explain further, I did the same thing and added a question to help her understand what was missing. I emailed each girl her corrections and gave them time in class the next day to make the changes.
I then wrote a blurb that was posted in the report cards, directing the parents to the online portfolio:
“In history this trimester, your daughter has grown in her understanding of herself as a student. She has learned to identify the skills that she is practicing and to monitor the level of her mastery. With my guidance, she has reflected on her learning at each stage, and has then set new goals for herself.
Each girl built a portfolio to share how she sees herself as a student of history at the end of the first trimester. Without worrying about grades, each girl focused on the process of her learning, becoming increasingly empowered to develop, articulate and understand her strengths and challenges.
All of this work was closely monitored throughout the trimester. While I edited every website and gave each girl notes for revisions, some errors have been allowed to remain. One goal is for the girls to improve their proofreading over the course of the year, and when they look back on these, see their growth.
It was a lengthy process, one that was not specifically devoted to learning more history, but nonetheless it was one that clearly led the students closer to owning their work and being able to set and achieve new goals for themselves.”
I did have one student turn to me and say, “Now that we are done the portfolios, will you give us our grades?” It was unbelievable to her that I had actually meant it when I said it was ungraded, not un-assessed, that there had been no gradebook hidden away somewhere.