Teacher’s Rein Loosened = Student Creativity Abounding

Posted on April 2, 2008

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Yesterday I formally introduced the overview of the ePortfolio project to my AP English Language students–the subject of this post. I am thrilled with their initial response to the project, and I’m hoping their enthusiasm doesn’t dwindle.

During my explanation, before I could even finish explaining, students were jumping ahead asking questions, thinking aloud about what digital formats would work best for their artifacts, thinking aloud about what tools they could use to create their portfolios. Silly me–I had assumed we would all use their existing blogs to create the portfolios. My students, on the other hand, were considering other tools: wikis, web pages at hosts I didn’t even know about, new blogs that would serve the single purpose of the portfolio. Last night, one student called me at home to ask me if I’d checked out PBwiki’s new 2.0 site. This morning, before school, he told me he had discarded the PBwiki idea:

          Student:  It’s not very visually appealing. You can’t send                              something to a college that looks terrible. It took                              me  forever to figure out how to use it. Maybe I                               should just create a new blog.

           Me:           Have you looked at WetPaint wikis? I haven’t                                played with their site very much, but, at first                                glance, they seem more visual.

Wow–here’s a student that is thinking critically and creatively, problem-solving, researching what tools will best serve his purpose–proof positive that portfolios are not only an end product for assessment but a valuable process that engenders learning, the very learning outlined in NETS for Students:

              Standard 1:  Creativity and Innovation:                                        Students demonstrate creative                                        thinking, construct knowledge, and develop                                        innovative products and processes using                                        technology.

              Standard 4:  Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, &                                         Decision Making: Students use critical                                         thinking skills to plan…and manage                                         projects, solve problems, and make                                         informed decisions using appropriate                                       digital tools and resources.

 A couple weeks ago, edublogger Ewan McIntosh noted that portfolios should be more than an “end result of project work.” They should be created not at the end but “generat[ed] as real-time performance portfolios.” He’s right. How much more would my students have learned if we had started ePortfolios at the beginning of the year?

  • Students would see the learning standards upfront, familiarizing themselves with what it is they are supposed to know and be able to do when they finish my class.
  • They would take more responsibility for their own learning, noting–and perhaps generating on their own–processes and activities undertaken throughout the year that help them progress toward the learning standards.
  • They would catalogue their learning journey as they go–with video recorders, digital cameras, VoiceThreads, documents, slideshows, podcasts–collecting artifacts and reflecting on what and how they learn.

 I see it now, sadly too late for this crop of students. I see that ePortfolios need to be the beginning of the learning journey for my students, not an end project.

Next year will be different.

Still, this year’s students are excited, and I’m looking forward to what they will teach me, what new ideas and options they’ll share, where their creativity and critical thinking will take us. I’ve given them a loose framework and will be scaffolding along the way, but it looks like the best thing I can do is get out of their way!                            

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