Monday, February 9, 2015

Documenting Student Learning

As British Columbia's curriculum is under a major transformation (major for some, reassurance of  practice for others) we are not only looking at a different approach (for some) to teaching and learning but also to reporting this student learning to parents.   My district has been piloting new reporting practices and some of us have been exploring Fresh Grade.  If you aren't familiar with Fresh Grade I have previously written about it here.  This past Friday I was fortunate to be invited to a discussion session that took a look at the Fresh Grade platform and how it can be used to document and share student learning privately with parents.

It was interesting to be a part of this discussion and to hear how other teachers in my district are working through this new 'portfolio' based way of reporting student learning.  While many in the room are just dipping their toes into using Fresh Grade, the conversations we had are what struck with me most.

The biggest discussion that I can't stop thinking about is what exactly should these portfolios contain?  The focus of what I have been including is the documentation of the 1:1 conferences I've been having with my students.  For example when I conference with a student over his/her writing I typically take a snapshot of the writing then ask my student what they are proud of.   I ask them what they would like to improve with their writing.  Together we talk about how they might go about doing this.  Sometimes I'll add to the conversation around what they should be proud of by pointing out great things they have done that they didn't  realize.  When necessary I'll also add to the goal setting part of the conversation. Then I typically sum this all up with a note or two directly for the parents suggesting ways they can help support their child's learning at home. Our entire conversation is documented and shared on their portfolio, and most often immediately sent home as a quick email snapshot too.

Obviously not everything being added to the portfolio is quite as rich in assessment information. I am trying my best to include  simple images, videos, and voice recordings of students going through the process of learning.   This type of documentation has allowed my students to have some pretty rich portfolios.

One thing that is missing from my students portfolios is where their learning is in relation to the widely held expectations of their age/grade level. This was what I've been thinking about since Friday.  Should these portfolios only show work  but not actually reference these work samples  to the widely held expectations?

Each and every day I tell my students that they are in my room exactly as they should be.  I don't ever compare the progress of one student, to the progress of another but instead I expect my students to regularly do their best work.  I see my job as their teacher to help push their learning forward so their best work continues to get better.  And yes, I have several students who are not yet with in those widely held expectations but instead of focussing on what they aren't yet able to do, I focus on what they are able to do and how we can continue to work together to push learning forward.

But as a parent looking into these portfolios am I doing enough?  Is it important for  a parent to know where their child is in the developmental process or does knowing that just become a road block to learning? Do I want students who are constantly reminded that they are not where they "should" be or do I want students who are focussed on constantly learning and improving.

For term one my report cards were based HEAVILY on these exact digital portfolios.  I did send home a simple one page letter with a paragraph comment speaking specifically to a child's social emotional growth, work habits etc.  It was only here on this single paper that I made reference to learning in relation to widely held expectations.  Specifically I wrote:

_________’s Language Arts skills are (not) within age expectations. 
_________’s Math skills are (not) within age expectations.

I wonder though, is this enough or maybe this is even too much.

Is it more important to document exactly where a child is in their learning journey, or is more important to be clear on where they are in that journey in relation to widely held expectations? Or is it a combination of both?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I totally understand what you're saying here, Karen, and I have many of these same thoughts. While I think that there's so much value to the type of the documentation that you're doing, I wonder if it's worth parents knowing that their child is performing below expectations. (By no means do I think that this should be the focus of the documentation -- not in the least -- but maybe it needs to be included.) Do you think that this information would change the type or amount of support that the parent would offer his/her child? When the parent receives this report card comment, will he/she be surprised? Would their be any benefit for next year's teacher to know how this child's progress compares to the standards? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I think it might be worth including this information. What do you think?


    1. Aviva while I do believe it is important for parents to know how their children are doing I don't think saying does or does not meet is the way to go about it on an insert to a report card heavily based on portfolio documentation of student learning and growth, particularly for those children who are not yet meeting. Do parents need to know when I have concerns re academic or social progress? Of course and I am the first to call, email, or most often meet face to face to discuss these concerns. There should be no surprises. But I don’t believe writing “does not meet” is the way to report this information.

      Some things I talked about this weekend include looking at the language we have now –not meeting, approaching, meeting, exceeding and changing it. Robyn Theissen talked about how she’s changed it to beginning, developing, and accomplishing. In my discussion with another colleague she talked about communicating the amount of support the child needs for Language Arts, Numeracy, and Social Emotional Learning. The key I think is that there are other, better ways to let parents know how their child is doing that keeps a child’s dignity intact. I heard too many stories about students who felt they were “stupid” because they were not YET making expectations despite an incredible amount of effort and support. How many students have you taught that didn’t quite fully grasp the concept of reading by he end of grade one, yet were excellent readers in grade three. Our words are very powerful, and I want them to keep doors open for my students instead of shutting them down.

  2. If we are about personalized learning then it is about where they are in their journey. What do they know what are they still working on? If we focus on Mastery Scale then all peope will do is translate it to A, B, C, or D. This is all subjective reporting and then makes all that rich qualitative data that you've collected, provided descriptive feedback on less important. Almost always what will be looked at is where they are on a subjective mastery scale & use it to compare & rank against others rather than to use the feedback to improve & reflect on their or their child's growth easier from one grade to another.

    1. I agree, Hugh..As I become more familiar with the program and what it is we are trying to show, it is the aha moments and growth that we should be concerned with. This helps direct future growth and learning opportunities. Moving away from mastery will definitely make it more personalized.

    2. Hugh my focus has always been on each student and their individual journey. My room is run on choice and open-ended activities so all children can be successful at their level. I do not tell children how many sentences they should write, nor how many books they should read. I have also never had to give letter grades so ranking isn’t something I deal with. I totally understand what you’re saying and agree. I know the information we are collecting on the Fresh Grade portfolios is strong and meaningful for both the students and their parents. The feedback I’ve received has been excellent, so far as to have parents tell me that they feel like they know how their child is doing on an on going basis. It’s been an excellent way to communicate student learning as well as provide ways to help at home. As I mentioned in my reply to Aviva my concern is finding a way to document when a child is not yet meeting expectations. My assessment notes in Fresh Grade are clear stating what the expectation for an activity was and then what the child did. Is that clear enough? I also no longer want to write that a child is not meeting expectations. That is a very closed mindset and as simple as adding a “yet” in front of that statement makes a difference. Lots of things milling in my head and I appreciate you taking the time to add to the conversation.

    3. Kimberly as I said at one point on twitter this weekend, to me the learning is actually what happens between the snapshots we take. I don’t know if we can actually see the learning as much as we can see the growth/changes that occur with each snapshot. I have also talked about many times how I have an issue with summative assessment because it implies that we are done learning. Yes they do (hopefully capture) a child’s knowledge at a specific moment in time, but summative seems so final. What about the child who could not show a skill one day, but two weeks later they can. These are all things that are spinning in my brain. Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Lovely discussion. One I wanted to talk about, so thanks for that. How do you think parents would react if we used formative assessment lang instead; so rather than not meeting we are telling them what the child's next step is on the continuum (scaffolding). Everyone has a next step...

  4. I think it really depends on the parent’s experience with school. I believe it’s my responsibility to educate the parents of my students to this “new” way of reporting student learning. I am doing my best to do my part there for certain. I still believe parents need to know where their child is struggling but it’s finding the best way to communicate that that I’m thinking about.

    I like the idea of sharing a continuum with parents. One of my discussions this weekend was with Niki Leech and Lora Sarchet was around adding their scope and sequence in reading and writing right to the Fresh Grade portfolio. I know their parents have seen great value in that. As you can probably see by the comments I’ve written this evening I am exploring many different options to best meet my students’ needs and best communicate concerns.

    As for the Portfolios, they are an incredible way to share and celebrate student learning and I am happy that they have comfortably joined my practice. I feel like it’s taken what I was doing before but now all invested parties are apart of the conversation.

  5. Hello from Geneseo, NY. It is interesting to see your method of documentation of learning. It's amazing how considerate you're being regarding placing the pressures of expectation on children. With the implementation of common core rapidly infiltrating our education system here, it is not uncommon for children to rattle off their reading levels and know the reading levels of their peers sitting next to them. I think that it's a great idea to communicate real examples of student learning to parents, as opposed to the very common single letter or number so often utilized in our grading system. I think that parents would really appreciate this attention to their child, but some may be more concerned with where their child stands compared to the expectation.