This weekend, I had the privilege of being invited to lead a session at North Bay CUE Marin on how to implement digital portfolios in elementary school classrooms. As part of my presentation, I shared a quote about how motivating it is students to have an outside audience for their work from one of my favorite books, An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger (2003):
Every final draft my students complete is done for an outside audience. It may be for a small audience of Kindergarten children or a national audience on educational television. Either way, my role as teacher is not as the sole judge of their work but rather similar to that of a sports coach or a play director: I am helping them to get their work ready for the public eye. There is a reason to do the work well, and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way.
Before explaining how teachers could have their students create digital portfolios via Google Sites, I shared my story of how I have attempted to continually broaden the audience for my students' work, while introducing them to more specialized tools and opportunities for choice.
As part of my unit on writing paragraphs last winter, I allowed my students the opportunity to type final drafts on Microsoft Word and post them on one of the walls in the classroom for other students, parent volunteers, and visitors to read. While this audience was small and inside the classroom, it was a wider audience than when they were simply writing their work for me. They appreciated having a bigger audience and a chance to use computers, and they took their work more seriously.
Within a few weeks, we ran into logistical problems as their paragraphs needed to be saved on flash drives in order to edit them on multiple computers. I introduced students to Google Drive so that they could more easily edit their work inside and outside of school, and they now had the opportunity to share it with anyone who had a Google account. Again, as their audience grew to include friends and family outside of the classroom, they took their work more seriously, and others not only had a chance to enjoy their work but have a forum to offer ideas for revision, which was important in itself.
After I attended the Deeper Learning Conference at High Tech High last spring, I saw how students and teachers in middle and high school were using the Internet to share their work publicly. I introduced students to the concept of digital portfolios so that they too could have the opportunity to share their work with anyone in the world. As expected, as their audience grew to include third graders whom we had connected with via Skype and others we had never met, they took their work more seriously still.
Finally, as I started the new school year last month, I not only introduced my new students to typing, Google Drive, and digital portfolios, but I taught them how to make their own Google Sites so that they would not have to rely on me select their best work or determine how it was presented. The result, as expected, was that they they put forth more effort into their school work than ever before, but they also explicitly - in their written reflections and conversations with me - made the connection between specialized tools, an outside audience, and choice and how these things motivate them to produce high-quality work. I know that they will seek out opportunities to share their work with others - not to mention produce work worthy of sharing with others - for the rest of their lives. This idea is summed up by another Ron Berger quote from the same book that I have written on a poster in my classroom:
Once a student creates work of value beyond the classroom - work that is sophisticated, important, and beautiful - that student is never the same.
During the rest of the day, I was able to attend two fantastic sessions by @awelcome and @LS_Karl about podcasting with Audio Boo and providing effective feedback with Goobric and Doctopus, accordingly. I strongly encourage you to check out their resources!
Blogging my work as a teacher, educational consultant, speaker, and host of New Books in Education.