The True Value of Student-led Portfolio Conferencing

2014-04-16 11.23.52I was first introduced to the concept of a student-led portfolio conference many years ago, and quickly became a strong advocate for their use as part of any effective reporting and assessment practice within a school. For further information about student-led portfolio conferences please have a look at the links below:

Student-led Portfolio Conference prezi

Blendspace lesson link: Student-led Portfolio Conferences

The whole process of student-led portfolio conferencing just made complete sense to me from the very beginning, and so I am always taken aback when educators around me require a great deal of convincing into their value and effectiveness as part of the learning process. In the world we live in today, in order to be successful, we must become extremely self-reflective and able to self-regulate and evaluate.

Now, I could list the many valid reasons as to why this type of conferencing has a positive educational impact upon learners, however, following our recent ‘Portfolio Conference Day’ at ISM I was reminded as to the fact there is one over-arching reason to value these:

learner pride = sense of fulfilment

For anyone, at any age, I would argue that pride and feeling valued are crucial in gaining a sense of fulfilment as a learner. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want all learners to feel and achieve? No matter what ‘level’ or ‘grade’ or ‘score’, learning to learn, motivation to learn and gaining fulfilment or feeling proud, is essentially what we should aspire to enable all our students to gain.

Student-led portfolio conferences facilitate young learners in developing crucial life long skills of self-reflecting and communicating effectively. The conference does so in a way in which the learner is encouraged to:

  • feel valued to have those most important to them take time to sit down and listen
  • meet in a space where they can be the ‘leader’ and feel confident
  • exhibit pride in their learning progress
  • find value in, and be encouraged to learn from their mistakes
  • share personal goals in their learning.

Some of the comments by students following our conferences, reinforced for me just how valuable these conference are.

“I felt proud of myself and I also felt quite confident.”

“I’m happy looking back at all my old work and seeing how have improved since then.”

“I felt smart, important and proud.”

“I think my parents enjoyed listening to me show them my work.”

(Year 6 student reflections on their conferences.)

For me, learner pride & fulfilment are the true value of student-led portfolio conferences.

The Power of Blogging & Twitter for Teachers

The Power of Blogging & Twitter Prezi

At our recent #ISMTeachMeet, I shared the prezi above outlining the value of blogging and twitter as valuable tools for personal professional learning and growth. The power of both these tools combined has enabled me to truly ‘make learning connections’ and develop as a leader and learner. Here are some examples of the tweets I shared with ISM teachers which were generated by asking other educators on twitter about the ‘power of twitter’ for educators today.

Spring is in the Air: Time for another #ISMTeachMeet

My school community is filled with educators who come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide variety of expertise so it would be foolish for us not to take advantage of such a skilled and knowledgeable bunch of teachers and encourage a professional sharing practice.

John Jones, @mrjonesICT, and I first introduced the idea of a TeachMeet to the ISM teaching community well over a year ago. Our first session was met with a mixture of extreme caution, some resistance but mostly curiousity and enthusiasm.  We welcomed some risk-taking teachers to stand up and share their experiences, wisdom, learning and innovative ideas to colleagues. They led the way in ensuring that gradually TeachMeets are becoming part of our School community culture.

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Many teachers found it an enlightening experience to hear what fellow colleagues who they share their morning break with every day actually find useful, engaging tools to inspire learning in the classroom. Since then the #ISMTeachMeet has gained momentum and we have scheduled to have these school-wide at least once a term. Our Spring TeachMeet is lining up to have everything from Design Learning presented by Jen Rhodes @JenRhodes to using Pinterest & Smore to create and share revision guides by Michael Cotgrave @Miclaaa.

Now, my next thought is how about we create a StudentMeet for teachers and students! Why don’t we ask students to present for 2 or 5 minutes about the technology tools and learning practices that engage and inspire them in their everyday learning….. Wouldn’t it make sense to hear what they find successful? My next goal has been set!

Focusing on Focus Groups

Consistent policy and curriculum review, responsive actions to school culture and embedding meaningful and lasting practices are, of course, always at the forefront of school leadership. In a busy, dynamic school environment time can be one of the most critical barriers to implementing changes effectively. One of the most effective models I have experienced in order to facilitate change in policy or practice was that of introducing Focus groups as part of leading the Primary School team. Once key areas to focus upon had been selected from the school’s strategic plan this approach was most effective because:

– teachers selected an area of interest from these identified focus areas, therefore allowing them to develop and invest time into something they were particularly passionate about or interested in.

– all community members were involved, class teachers, specialists, assistants and support staff.

–  meetings were flexible – the group decided when to meet each week and how to facilitate this.

– each focus group set their own shared goals.

– a simple, clear structure for the focus groups was developed with teachers.

– regular reporting back time was scheduled into the 8 – 10 week period with a final date given for groups presentations.

– emphasis for focus groups was placed upon gathering, reviewing data and presenting proposals for change or solutions to problems.

– discussion and collaboration became more embedded practice in professional culture.

– teachers benefitted from working in smaller groups, giving individuals greater opportunity to share their own personal ideas and discuss at length with colleagues.

– final decisions could be made in the various ‘focus’ areas by the whole team. This followed the group presentations and feedback, ensuring decisions were shared with the whole team.

Using time productively and effectively made everyone feel like we were progressing forward and sharing the workload in doing so. Just as we would do in a classroom, breaking tasks down, differentiating, giving ownership and allowing individuals the space and time to select areas of interest and take control is always going to be the most powerful approach for everyone!

Being Mindful following BETT 2014

I was delighted to be able to attend BETT 2014 in London this past month and, just as last year, have come back inspired and renewed with ideas as to how to engage and inspire students through using technology mindfully; with purpose and taking a balanced approach. Reflecting on BETT this year these two words, mindful and balance, are what spring to the forefront. I believe  being mindful and finding balance are going to be fundamental in moving forward with how we enrich student learning through use of technology.

At present, I have, quite literally, maxed out the memory space on my iPad with the number of apps I have downloaded, however, I know that my first step post BETT will be deleting apps and reflecting on the tools I will use and introduce to teachers and students now back at ISM. That is not to say that all the apps on my iPad aren’t brilliant in their own right, but what is relevant, suitable and going to be effective right now at my school?

Being mindful, I believe, is going to become a term that we will hear more and more in our everyday lives, it is actually something that we actively now have to draw attention to, as evolution has pulled us away from doing just that, from being aware in the present. We  are so ‘busy’ and ‘connected ‘ all the time that we  quite simply have forgotten to be present in the here and now.

I think being mindful can also can be applied to our use of technology as educators; we must be mindful when introducing new tools and experiences to students, and whilst embracing the innovation we must also evaluate and reflect upon its use. Here are some questions I will be asking when deciding what tools and apps to share with teaches and students.

Is it serving a true purpose in this moment?

Is it enriching the message or learning that I would like the learner to engage in?

Is it delivering or conveying information in the most effective way?

Is it helping to provoke questions and engage the learner in deeper thinking?

I also believe that balance is going to be something we must consider in both our teaching and learning. I certainly have come away from BETT with a determination to be more mindful about the tools I use, and, how they impact learning.  Finding balance, well that, as always is going to be a constant tightrope walk!

All Change

Change is something which affects us all on both a small and large scale, sometimes we choose to change a routine or habit or sometimes we are faced with change in a much more dramatic or life-changing way. I recently was discussing ‘change’ with friends and colleagues and it got me wondering,  is it the actual change  itself that presents the challenge or is it more the context or way in which we view the change that impacts us? Furthermore, what makes children so much more adaptable to change?

Working in an International School environment, change, on a larger scale is, in many ways part of daily life. Colleagues, students and families come and go, and change in opinions can be widespread (and sometimes surprising) with such a mixture of cultures and backgrounds.

When I really started to think about ‘change’, one word came to mind, and that was acceptance.

The beginning of the school year always brings about a great deal of change. Whether it be change of teachers, students, books and materials, or even greater change such as moving countries or schools. I have noticed that quite often change is deemed as ‘bad’, ‘unsettling’, ‘challenging’ or ‘disruptive’. When you share the term ‘change’, even on a basic level ‘change your shoes’, ‘change your attitude’, ‘change your mind’ for all of these tasks effort is involved and acceptance that there is actually a need for change.

Yet when I started to think about well known sayings or quotations that related to change they seemed to have more positive connotations.

‘A change is as good as a rest’ and  ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi

So what is it really that so often heralds this gloomy dark cloud over the idea of ‘change’?images

It seems to me that any sort of  ‘change’ requires three ingredients, effort, acceptance and self-awareness.

First of all to initiate any change large or small, effort is required to make the change happen. Secondly there needs to be an acceptance of the change or need for change and finally we need to demonstrate some self awareness of how we respond and react to the change.

When I consider how children seem much more adaptable to change it seems that their willingness to accept change, itself changes their outlook to being one of simply just ‘being’, that ‘change is going to happen so what must I do to cope with the change?’. Much less time is spent by children over how to prevent change and much more time is spent accepting and reflecting on what they must do to cope with the change.

So, whether I consider making changes, large or small, or I am faced with changes I am going to try to do so with acceptance, effort and self-awareness! Who knows, maybe this small ‘change’ in attitude might just ‘change’ my outlook for the better.

Learning Attitudes

Fostering positive attitudes towards learning is as crucial to young learners as any other piece of knowledge or skill I can share, so weekly assembly is the perfect space in which to do so as a Primary School community.

We started off the school year with introducing two of our Learning Attitudes, Independence & Confidence. I am always fascinated by our students’ interpretation of our Learning Attitudes, and no matter how many times we discuss these something new arises, for example ‘Can NO be a word that shows confidence and Independence just as much as YES?’. I loved how students questioned each other, and me in our sorting activity during Assembly!

I am always looking for engaging ways to make the meaning of these words, which is what is really important, stick with students, so what more perfect way than a Sesame Street song! Find the assembly prezi below.

This Frog: Independence & Confidence Prezi

Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn!

School seems eerily quiet at the moment, you know that feeling when something just isn’t quite right?

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Well, the thing is, we have yet to actually welcome any students into school for the new term and, in reality, a school is not really a school at all unless you have students. I had blogged about this concept of students making the learning environment previously in, ‘What is a classroom?’

https://jennyofee.com/2012/08/27/what-is-a-classroom/

In many respects, it seems the wrong way round for teachers to be creating, planning and preparing everything students are ‘going to learn’ in the year ahead when we haven’t even met the students in our classes yet!

It made me think of this wonderful TED Talk by Adora Svitak, ‘What adults can learn from kids’:


So, when the students do arrive at school, we need to listen to them to learn and to facilitate learning; learn what they need from us, learn where they are in their learning journey, learn how they learn and learn what interests them to challenge and ignite a passion for being curious to learn more.

We also are blessed with possibility to learn new skills and knowledge from them, for example, I hope to continue to develop our ‘Digital Leaders’, a role that @mrJonesICT  began to develop with Primary School students last year. These ‘Digital Leaders’ can teach and support learning in classrooms immensely with their extensive skills and knowledge in ICT. Adults learn from kids.

We all have curriculums to follow, standards, benchmarks and perhaps exams to prepare our students for, but ultimately, if we want to connect with and help students achieve their potential we need to listen to them and believe in their capabilities. I fully intend to listen and to learn from the young learners around me. Building self-awareness around listening to our students can only serve to continue strengthening learning in our community. As @adorasv said, ‘Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal’.