“When are we going to use this?”
Oh, that phrase. It has haunted many teachers, but those of us in PBL schools often pride ourselves in not hearing that phrase very much at all. In good projects, we hear it almost never, because the kids see the wherewithal of the ideas in a truly authentic learning experience.
Perhaps, however, I have been too smug in my self-congratulating, because there is one piece of work that keeps on generating that phrase in my classroom: Portfolios.
“Are we going to use this sort of thing in college?” “Do colleges actually look at your portfolios?” Ugh. As much as I want colleges to look at my students’ work in sum, as much as I want colleges to have students maintain portfolios, neither has happened with the ubiquity that could justify any claim on my part about a portfolio’s utility outside the classroom, in the post-secondary world.
So why do we keep on doing them? I think there remains a reasonable justification for the use of portfolios, particularly at the lower grades: it helps parents understand the depth and breadth of the work at school, and those of us receiving students from the previous year gain a deeper understanding of the student by looking at their portfolios. However, I teach seniors, and those two reasons become much less of a factor compared with work that aids the transition out of high school. For that reason, I was coming to dread the notion of revisiting the portfolio this coming year with my students.
Then I attended a workshop at the New Tech Annual Conference, about, well, portfolios. A group of teachers pitched an idea to the participants: What about a Blog-as-portfolio? They gave some justification, and we at nex+Gen jumped at the idea, and immediately started embellishing and elaborating. Here is our plan:
- Students don’t create a “blog-as-portfolio”. They create a blog. The blog is about learning, and they can post some of their work on it, but it is, at its heart, really a blog. This answers the question: “When am I going to use this?” Our answer – it has use immediately, because it immediately starts to create a positive internet footprint for the students. Two of the senior teachers have professional blogs, and we maintain them to help establish ourselves in the world of education and authorship. Employers might not ask for a digital portfolio, but they certainly look up people on the web, and if there is a blog with your name on it that indicates that you are a thoughtful, engaged learner, then you are much more likely to create a positive impression.
- The blog will serve as the turn-in destination for certain assignments this year. Over the course of the year, students will turn in their work not to our learning management system, but to the blog. In our LMS, students will just provide a link to their work-in-the-blog. That way, if the students wish the blog to serve the function of a portfolio, work will already be there. No extra step of transferring work from the LMS to a portfolio, no extra layer of effort for which the students see little return.
We’ll be using WordPress, because you can password-protect certain entries, because they have robust commenting features, and lastly because the blog is their own, not tied to any school domain or control.