One of my goals with using online portfolios at my schools is to find new and dynamic ways to share student learning. The portfolio itself is a tool for student documentation, reflection and presentation but it also has the potential of changing the nature of the “report card”. Having worked in many educational environments I know that report cards can look very different. At my first teaching job in a small private school we wrote four to six page narratives that took hours per student. At a public elementary school we had a checklist of boxes that signified progress with no opportunity for comment. At Trillium we have a combination.
Whatever they look like, report cards are complicated in that they ideally are meant to show where students “are” (often in comparison to their peers) but really can only give a basic understanding of achievement and progress. They are sent out 2-4 times a year and rarely represent a conversation. It is the teacher’s determination received by the parent or family.
How would the educational landscape change if rather than a report card that goes out a few times a year, the work and progress of each student was an ongoing conversation, not a one way sharing of information? What if each student was personally responsible for collecting, reflecting upon and sharing their learning on an ongoing basis with their families? What would it take for a school or a district to move in that direction? Is it possible to do away with report cards all together?
This conversation is in the early stages at Trillium. At the intermediate level (3rd-5th grade) we have been thinking of ways to eventually phase out the report card as it presently stands (a twice a year 4 page document created by the teachers). If families were made aware of progress on an ongoing basis, would there be a need for a report card?
Of course there are questions such as “what if we wanted to move to a new school that HAD report cards?” “What about getting into college?” “How would the families know the progress of work?”
One answer to the last question is the use of rubrics. The creation and the use of rubrics that are aligned with standards in conjunction with portfolios may make clear where a student sits on the academic spectrum. These rubrics could be uploaded into each note that a student creates with a place for teacher comment. The students progress along a rubric would more clearly demonstrate where they “are” than a letter grade or a checkmark in a box. Plus, the evidence of the student’s work would be sitting with the rubric in the portfolio so a teachers assessment could be understood.
For a real conversation to happen Evernote will need to allow comments, like one is able to do with a blog. This is something that I hope they will consider in the future as a tool to improve communication. If parents and teachers can comment on work, give suggestions and feedback, which a student could respond to, an ongoing dialogue could occur.
The work on replacing the report card has a long way to go. It is just an idea, but one that my collegues and I are taking seriously. We are fortunate to be in a setting that allows for this kind of conversation and even the flexibility to see if this could work. I know that many people who read this will be part of a larger institution or district where change is slow and the idea of doing away with report cards in favor of portfolios wouldn’t be possible. However, using online portfolios does allow teachers, students and families to make clear connections between grades and work done That is the first step.