Developing Thoughtfulness in 5K: E-portfolio archiving and Self-Assessment

“A link to the design of core academic experience becomes clear: any genuine learning has to involve perspective on what is learned, not an authoritative march through Official Knowledge[…]”-Grant Wiggins

The rethinkED team started off this fall working with a 5th Grade teacher at Riverdale Country Day School. The driving question behind the project is: can alternative portfolio assessment, namely e-portfolios, be used to more effectively assess students and to increase students’ capacity for critical thinking and self-evaluation?

From there, we developed the questions: How can students become active participants in their own learning and assessment? How can students develop the communication skills and metacognitive practices necessary not only for assessing themselves but also for communicating that assessment to others?

Developing Thoughtfulness in the 5th grade seeks to draw the line between self-critical vs. self-congratulatory analysis by developing an appreciation of the process and an understanding of what “good” means. This involves finding ways to make students comfortable with their own shortcomings and successes. That is, this project aims to give students permission to fail and creative confidence in designing their own educational futures through portfolios.

Many students feel they are engaged in a “race to nowhere,” to use the title of the widely acclaimed movie. Students are trained to seek the approval of teachers without learning the critical thinking skills to evaluate their own work and dialogue with their peers about their work. Research has begun to show that portfolio evaluation, especially beginning at an earlier age, is an excellent way for students to learn critical thinking, argumentation, and dialogue skills to assess their own work, the work of their peers, and their own learning in a broader sense.

This rethinkED project will influence the ways students and teachers think about the work produced in school and at home, about grades and student report cards, and most importantly, about the educational goals of RCS and the kind of thinker the school is trying to develop.

Working with one 5th grade teacher at RCS, the rethinkED team interviewed, brainstormed ideas, and developed a proposal that included step-by-step instructions for setting up a Google site for e-portfolioing until we can find an ideal e-portfolio platform (a project another team at the school is working on). After further interviews, readings, and conversations, it became evident that even before students could fully engage in the process of e-portfolioing, they needed to become engaged in learning about their own learning.

In order to hold student-led parent-teacher conferences and have students reflect intelligently about their own work in light of shared sense of a standard, it became evident we had to take a few steps back and engage students more in critical thinking about their own work.

Inspired by Grant Wiggin’s piece “thinking about thinking” and the Visible Learning work coming out of Harvard’s project Zero, the rethinkED team worked with the the 5th grade teacher to develop a menu of strategies for creating habit, language, mindsets, and character traits for portfolio-archiving work.

Sample of ideas from our Menu of Strategies:

1. Outward Bound/ Experiential Ed Games

  • Use games to begin to develop a metacognitive sense of the learning that is happening.
  • Have student begin to be aware of the character traits they are using in their learning processes.

2. Have a workshop where students think about how they learn

  • Have conversations about homework.
  • Run a reflective portfolio hour–maybe as a group analyze a shared piece of work?

3. Interview students to develop rubric

  • How do you know something is good?
  • What standards do you set for yourself?

Depending on the assignments, some could use a rubric and others have reflection and critical thinking as part of the work. A generic rubric that could be applied to all assignments could be similar to the Visual Thinking Strategies three questions:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

4. Culture and Conversation of Archiving

  • What did I learn today?–daily blog entry

5. Using Google Docs
5th grade students can look at their own revision history using Google doc.

  • Self-control mindset example: How early did you start the assignment? Did you start it the night before or a week before? This kind of decision making is reflective and involves self-control.  Helps avoid a student being pushed to plagiarize.
  • Alleviate the concern of “getting it right” the first time. Learn through experience that its okay not to get spelling right the first time. Possible to go back during editing process and correct spelling.

The next step of the project for the rethinkED team will be to observe students, interview and begin to conduct workshops in class. Stay tuned for more!

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