Tag Archives: portfolio

How to put the learning to work part 2: The End of Year Reflection

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Idea #2: The Summative Reflection

These few posts focus on how to bring the school year to a close in a meaningful and interesting way that also, most importantly, deepens the learning. The first post explored using the form of the Cento Poem to push students back into their work over the year and to remix it in a creative way. Go here to see how to make that happen in your classroom. In this post, I open up the idea of having students do a summative reflection at the end of the year to remind themselves of what they did, highlight particular strengths in that work, analyze areas for growth, and plan for what they would like to do next.

The summative reflection that I am going to share with you is connected to a portfolio, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to identify questions that you want your students to address that give them the chance to do the following:

  • Take stock of what they have done over the year. Often times, learning is designed in such a way that it is easy to forget. Quizzes and tests are taken and then thrown away. Books are read and not revisited. Notes are taken, put to use once, and then not used again. The summative reflection gives students the chance to go back through that work, whether it is for the year, the semester, or the quarter and remind themselves of what they have done. This is an essential first step in reflecting on one’s work.
  • Identify work that they think is particularly strong. Students need to develop the ability to think critically about their own work and to recognize when they have done something well and why. Chances are, if they can do that, they will repeat the kind of work over time.
  • Think about what they could do differently. It isn’t enough just to praise oneself for particularly strong work. Students also need to be able to be honest with themselves and point out particular work or a skill that could be improved. They then need space to think in writing about that and come up with a plan for how to improve.
  • Project forward. Learning should not happen in prescribed time allotments. Learning should also not happen in siloed classes. Real, enduring learning is connected across time, across classes, across subjects. Students need a space at the end of the year to be able to write about what they want to do next with what they have learned. This summative reflection helps them do that.

Semester Reflection

Click the image to see the Summative Reflection

Ideally, a shorter, targeted form of this kind of reflection would be happening throughout the year so that students would be skilled in this metacognitive practice. If you are interested in that, click here to see my form of a weekly audit. But, even if that isn’t happening, the end of the year reflection is worth doing. To set it up, the last week of your classes, introduce the idea to your students. Take the template I have provided, manipulate it to fit your context, and hand it out. Give them the week to do it. Encourage them to take their time. Have this be the last piece of work that they do for the year.

I have my students send it to me electronically. It is a lot of emails, but I can respond more quickly. Plus, I want to make sure that they get it back. In terms of feedback, I approach it like a conversation. I either track changes or use the comment tab to ask questions, highlight really interesting things, connect them to resources, and encourage them to make something happen. I have my coach’s hat on when I do this. The feedback is always constructive and encouraging. When it comes to grading these, I normally do not grade them. I tell them that this final piece of work is more important than a grade. Teachers often question whether students will turn it in if there isn’t a grade. When I have established a culture of reflecting over time in this way, and my students are receiving regular feedback from me, it is very rare that a student does not turn it in. Even if you have not been having your students reflect on their work over the year, I think you will be surprised by the number of students who will turn it in even if it is not graded. But, if you want to grade it, I would tell the students that they receive an A for this assignment if they turn it in. If they don’t, they fail the assignment. Enough said.

This summative reflection is not only important for students, it is also important for you, the teacher. It provides a great window into the year, the semester, or the unit, depending on how you frame it. You will get ideas for how you might design next year. And, maybe most importantly, they are going to make you feel good about yourself and about your teaching. I can’t emphasize this enough. Teaching is tough, challenging work. It is crucial to design some kind of vehicle in your class to receive positive feedback. Without joy, we don’t have the energy to overcome the challenges.

The End Of Homework?

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hillman students 3I received this email from a great high school English teacher the other day. In it, she wrestles with the difference between assigning homework and having her students live a writing life that involves work outside the confines of the classroom. At the end of this post, I attach a portfolio specification sheet that describes the kind of work that her students are doing, for context and for anyone who is interested. Here is her email:

So, with my senior classes, I did a warm up today (which took up the whole class, not a problem) where I asked them their opinions of the French president’s proposal to ban homework for all elementary and junior high age children.

You can imagine – many made compelling arguments in support of the abolition  of homework. They reasoned that they would be less stressed, more productive in the things they actually loved, and one student cited the Finnish model of education (which I need to read more about)…

Then one senior looks at me point blank at the end of the discussion and says, “So why do you make us write logs every weekend and do projects outside of school? Why are you part of the problem?”

What a moment! Silence drained the room.

I came back with some pretty valid responses, if I say so myself, but I left the conversation full of contradictory thoughts –

I stand by what we are doing more than I have ever stood by anything I’ve done in the classroom. As a result of these new methods, they are stronger and better thinkers, speakers and writers. There is no doubt of that!

But, I can’t help but wonder, how would you have answered that senior boy’s question if you had been sitting in the classroom and where do you stand on the abolition of homework? Do you feel the classroom should be changed in such a way that all logs, essays, projects (however awesome they are) should be done during regular school hours?

Am I part of the problem?

Here is my response:

Great question posed by the student! The distinction that I make is that our goal within the class is to design meaningful work that breaks down the barriers between classroom and the world. This means that the work that we are doing should inspire passion and interest that makes the work far more important than just doing it for a class. The work that we do in school should be personally meaningful. We should want it to be a part of our lives, part of what we do, part of the way that we see and interact with the world. Most traditional homework does not meet this criteria.
Second answer that I give, when confronted with this issue with my students, is that in order to become really good at something, we need to practice it. Practice involves meaningful and difficult rituals and routines that we do consistently and mindfully over time. This means that the practices cannot just happen in the confines of a classroom. They need to happen at other times in our learning lives as well. The key is that these practices need to be meaningful. We need to feel over time that we are developing, becoming stronger, getting better. These practices should enrich our understandings, the way that we see the world. These practices should enable us to do and think things that we have not done and thought before.

The kind of question that the student asked is a perfect opening for a work conversation around what it means to be involved in a discipline. How do we live our lives in ways that enable us to develop skill in something and to understand the world in deeper, more nuanced ways? Also, I tell my students that if the work of the class is not meeting this criteria, we need to sit down and work together to make it so. That planning meeting can be one of the most productive and enlightening experiences of the year for all concerned!

Here is a specification sheet for a writing-based portfolio. It intentionally pushes students to work as writers in four distinct ways – writing critically about what they read; writing many drafts of stories, poems, plays, essays, speeches, etc.; reflecting in writing about their life and their work; and asking questions and researching those questions in interesting ways. I have found that this kind of portfolio challenges the traditional practices of homework, putting the responsibility more on the student and connecting the work of the class in genuine ways to the lives of the students.hillman students 2

Portfolio Specifications