Task: Show your learning any way you want in a digital portfolio of your choice.
Reaction: Okay, but how many words should it be? What do you mean “show your learning” – do you need it to be visual? What’s it out of and how do you get an “A?” How many different uses of technology do you want? Do you want text references with citations and foot notes? So and so is doing this – should I restart and do mine like that? Is this enough?
Take a bunch of ‘seasoned students’ and have them create a final project that is like the ones we want our students to make and you will have a group of whiney and frustrated students. We were all asking the questions that I want my students to stop asking, but it’s hard to judge any of us for reacting that way. I know for me, I’ve gone through school with final assessment at the forefront of my mind and not my learning. This is why I have been able to write lengthy essays and a week later not be able to tell you what my thesis was. This is because it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter when I wrote it, and it definitely doesn’t matter now. But with a portfolio and freedom? The process and end product ended up mattering the most.
In my Summer 404 Semester at SFU I was fortunate enough to take part in the Elementary Generalist Pilot Project where a group of PDP students took four courses, module-style, throughout the summer. Our final project was a digital portfolio showing our learning and connections throughout the courses (Mathematics, Technology, Literacy and Art). The guidelines for this project were pretty loose and gave you the ‘creative freedom’ that frustrated most of us. We were all hung up on “This is too much freedom for a project worth 40% of our grade in all these courses! We need to know what you want us to do!”
But, like all great teachers, they knew what information to give and what to hold back. Give us too many guidelines and we start creating something less “us” and more like everyone else’s. I’m so glad they did. The differences in all of our projects were big and sometimes jarring but each summed up our individual learning so uniquely and so wonderfully. At the end of the course and after viewing all of the different projects, I felt as if we all had experienced something truly incredible.
For my ‘Portfolio of Learning’ I chose to do what I always feel the need to do when I have way too many ideas bouncing around in my brain – write. But instead of leaving it as an essay, I used Garage Band to record myself reading it aloud. From here. I plugged the audio into iMovie and started to compile images and create videos of the projects I/we did over the Summer. I started to find visual representations of my words that added so much depth and richness that would have been missing if it had just been an essay. If you do watch my video essay, you may not ‘get’ some of the references as you really had to be in the course to know what experience I was drawing upon. So those who understand it most were the ones with me that Summer. When I hit play and had my cohort watch my images and hear my own voice – I couldn’t help but feel vulnerable. I was allowing them into what I was experiencing in my head and heart as we all sat in those rooms together. In doing this process with my own students, I feel like I’d be able to gain insight into my student’s experiences that I may not otherwise know with a more criteria driven project.
I remember how frustrated we all were in the process of creating these portfolios. We felt like we weren’t given enough criteria and guidance. But we were all better for this – it had us thinking about all the possibilities and gave us the freedom to find the medium that best expressed our learning; video essays, ahead.com or prezi presentations, digital scrapbooks,blogs, iBooks, stop motion, Powerpoint, Keynote, videos and more. Granted, this was a long process and I’m sure we could’ve done without the stress over not “doing enough,” but in the end we all did what was expected: show our learning in our own creative way. I wonder if students will be able to do this with more ease if they’re always given this kind of freedom. We’re all University students who’ve gone through a system of producing what our teachers/professors want for a standard grade. Imagine how different it would be if students showed their learning in their own way throughout their K- 12 education?