Tomorrow afternoon, a team of Harold Martin School teachers (Dot Helm, Deb Jones, and Terry Grady) will join me and David Niguidula of Ideas Consulting in presenting our work with digital portfolios at the elementary school level. Here’s a summary of our journey…
The third grade teacher logs on to her home computer in mid August as she prepares her head and heart for the upcoming school year. She will have 21 diverse students in her class, and she is both apprehensive and excited about the challenge that awaits her. She knows that to be successful in the fall, she will need to review her students’ previous records. However, instead of trudging through 21 cumulative files, she is able to point and click her mouse on each student’s digital portfolio on a specific Internet web site, which includes brief videos of her kids reading appropriate text, images of writing complete with online rubrics, digital pictures of art work and music files.
For the past four years the Hopkinton School District has been implementing digital portfolios as a way to balance the quantitative requirements of assessment with the qualitative benefits of examining and archiving student work. We are utilizing the Richer Picture software developed by Ideas Consulting of Barrington, Rhode Island as our main tool to meet our portfolio objectives.
WHAT GOES IN A DIGITAL PORTFOLIO?
Truly anything that can be on a web site can be in a digital portfolio. We began with digital videos and photos and now we have scanned writing complete with rubrics to display progress as well as music files and plenty of digital pictures of art work.
At Harold Martin School, we developed a committee made up of administration, teachers, and technology professionals who have designed the professional development and charted the course for this initiative. After our first year piloting the program, we embarked on a slow and steady plan to institute the digital portfolio concept into the culture of our school. The timeline we designed was practical and we were able to establish “buy-in” from the majority of our staff. Our goal in the first year was to produce two digital videos of students reading a comfortable text, once in the fall and once in the spring.
Our timeline in our first year:
• September: Technology staff attended teachers’ grade level meetings demonstrating the procedure for taping students.
• Last week in September: Our computer lab manager gave a Digital Portfolio intro to each class in the computer lab.
• October 11-25: Teachers facilitated the video taping of students with a member of our Technology Staff helping out. I secured a substitute teacher who went from classroom to classroom as each teacher videotaped her students according to a schedule. Each class took about an hour and a half to videotape.
• October 26/27: We used two back-to-back early release days for reading video viewing time. Our reading staff helped facilitate the process so that teachers could glean information from the videos that would help in their instruction.
• January 8-12: Using Survey Monkey we surveyed the staff as to the effectiveness of support, professional development and how the initiative is proceeding.
• February 12-23: Teachers facilitated the second round of taping, but this time they required very little tech support.
• March 29-30: We will use this time for a more concentrated viewing of the second round of reading videos. We have developed a specific checklist/rubric of reading behaviors that will guide teachers as they assess each child’s video.
THE EQUIPMENT NEEDED
In addition to the software that we chose to use from Richer Picture, the cost of the equipment needed was relatively nominal. To record the videos, we use a dedicated Mac iBook G4 loaded with QuickTime Pro, a Mac mini-camera that clips on the top of the laptop and a small USB Microphone, which does a nice job picking up the audio. To upload writing, we began using a scanner, which is certainly more conventional. The we discovered that taking pictures (Jpg’s) of the writing was simpler. The best technique at the time was to set up an easel at a 90-degree angle to the floor to minimize the “Star Wars” affect when the distance between the camera lens and the subject is not equal. Then, we set up the digital camera on a tripod and click away. Now we use an advanced copy machine in our school and a parent volunteer to scan and upload our student writing pieces to a folder on our local server. To input text, develop rubrics, design each student’s page, and upload it, all you need is a web browser and an Internet connection.
For students below third or fourth grade, the portfolios are truly designed by teachers. However, beyond that grade level, students can begin to have a strong role in developing their portfolios themselves. This can provide relief for what can be a labor intensive pursuit by a teacher of younger children. We are looking at eliciting the support of a cadre volunteers in Hopkinton and training them to handle some of the recording and uploading. There are ways to maintain confidentiality, especially with written work by using codes to identify writing and having teachers fill in names later.
THUS, WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF DIGITAL PORTFOLIOS?
• Help to document what students need to know and be able to do.
• Can be used in parent conferences as conversation starters about student work product and progress.
• Are a tool for capturing, storing, and examining student work.
• Allow students to help explain their understanding of content, skills, and knowledge.
• May be a tool for us to drill down into specific learning outcomes and issues, e.g. examination of reading video to highlight a student’s difficulties reading. Just this week, our speech/language pathologist utilized a reading video to analyze a second grader’s articulation which the classroom teacher had expressed concerned with.
• Can capture music, artwork and other 3 dimensional work.
• Highlights students’ academic and emotional behavior in areas outside of the classroom.
• Can be a strong tool for student self-reflection.
• Are more manageable that using paper over time.
• Provide “fly on the wall” information for parents in parent/teacher conferences.
We began utilizing digital portfolios at my school four years ago as a pilot with a variety of teachers who were brave enough to combine what they knew about solid portfolio practice with a technology challenge they had not faced before. This year, some teachers at Hopkinton’s Maple Street School, grades 4-6, will pilot the concept and grades 7-8 at Hopkinton Middle High School will focus primarily on using the portfolios to meet the new ICT Standards. A number of high school teachers will likely pilot the program as well without any mandate from administration.
With any school initiative, it is never the “splash” that is difficult to attain. The ultimate goal is sustainability. The future of digital portfolios at Harold Martin School will be successful to the extent that teacher leadership drives the project and it becomes a regular tool to assess student progress. Only then will digital portfolios become part of the fabric and culture of our school.