Category Archives: Process Portfolio

Different Approaches To Using Student Blogs And Digital Portfolios

More and more educators are discovering the importance of having their students build some form of digital presence. Blogging is an excellent way for students to create their own online space, but what do you call this?

  • Simply a student blog?
  • Digital portfolio?
  • ePortfolio?
  • Learning showcase?
  • Blogfolio?

When I first started teaching in 2004, each of my grade one/two students had a scrapbook where they would paste their work samples each term. The goals of this process were: documentation, reflection, assessment and sharing with parents.

Often the same goals apply to the online equivalent of this scrapbook. But if we aren’t doing things any differently than 10-15 years ago, why are we bothering with student blogs? Why aren’t we still cutting and pasting in a scrapbook?

When blogs are used as more than substitution, they offer many advantages.

  • Research tells us that student work is of a higher quality when it involves an authentic audience.
  • The opportunity for feedback and discussion through an online presence is greater.
  • There are many skills to do with writing online, using technology, understanding digital citizenship etc. that are not only useful for students to know, but required in most curriculum standards.
  • Influencing your own digital footprints from a young age can be a powerful experience.

This post explores a range of approaches to student blogs and digital portfolios. We have included classroom examples, and encourage you to share your approach to student blogging in the comment section.

When To Set Up Student Blogs?

When I first started blogging in 2008, I didn’t really know what sort of blogging framework would work for me, but along the way I came up with a model that suited the age of the students, our combined experience, our objectives and our equipment.

This digram shows the progression some classes make from class blog to student blogs

The model I adopted was as follows:

  1. I established a class blog and wrote the posts, while teaching the students to write quality comments.
  2. As students became more familiar with blogging, some students start publishing guest posts on the class blog and learned posting skills.
  3. When I was teaching grade two, had limited computers and was new to student blogging, I didn’t think it was practical for all students to have have blogs. Instead, certain students who had demonstrated enthusiasm, parent support and blogging skills, earned their own blog. This added a new layer to the skill set of commenting and posting: maintaining a blog.
  4. When I was teaching grade four, had a one to one netbook program and had experience managing student blogs, I set up blogs for all students, as digital portfolios.

Throughout all four stages, quality commenting and parent participation is taught and encouraged.

Many teachers begin their blogging journey with a class blog and perhaps progress from there. However, you can jump in at any point of this framework.

You might only be comfortable with having a class blog initially. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, although keep in mind that aiming to have more student involvement at some point in the future can be advantageous.

At the other end of the spectrum, you might have the confidence, experience and equipment to set up student blogs from day one. Go for it!

Whatever your approach, a class blog always complements a student blogging program. It provides a home base where you can post assignments, showcase student work, publish recounts, communicate to parents, establish community/global connections and more.

How To Set Up Student Blogs

We have many resources in our Edublogs Help Guides that will walk you through the process of setting up student blogs. Sue Waters’ five step guide to setting up student blogs is a good starting place.

One really useful feature on Edublogs, that takes the hassle out of the logistics of student blogs, is called My Class. This is a tool that allows you to:

  • Easily create your student blogs after you’ve set up your class blog
  • Control the privacy of the blogs and control moderation settings
  • Read and/or moderate student posts and/or comments right from your own dashboard (no need to open up 25 tabs in your browser to keep track of what your students are up to)
  • Install a widget to the sidebar of your class blog and student blogs which links to all the student blogs in your class. This means students and readers can easily visit all the blogs, without searching, bookmarking, or adding links individually.

Digital Portfolio Expectations and Frameworks

Many educators refer to their student blogs as digital portfolios.

Academics and thought leaders often debate the meaning of the term digital portfolio. What does this mean? What does it look like?

Perhaps an useful alternative term is ‘blogfolio’ which Silvia Tolisana describes as the glue that can hold it all together in learning. 

Blogfolios are the glue that can hold all curricular content, goals and objectives as well as support school initiatives, observations, assessment and accountability requirements or personal passions, interest and projects together.

Diagram breaking down the concept of blogfolios

For the purpose of this post, we are less concerned with semantics and more concerned with exploring the different frameworks that teachers adopt. Hopefully considering how other teachers approach student blogs will give you some ideas on what would work for you and your students.

I have observed differences in how student blogs work in a variety of areas. There appears to be a spectrum in at least six key areas:

duration privacy content reflection quality control - 6 aspects of student bloggingLet’s break these down and consider where you might sit on each spectrum.

1. Duration

Some student blogs are only active for a year. The student might move up to a non-blogging class and their individual blog remains stagnant. This can be frustrating for teachers who invest time in establishing an effective system for their student blogs. It can also be disappointing for students.

Other institutions think ahead with a whole-school approach. At The Geelong College, which operates their own Edublogs CampusPress platform, there are long term plans.

Director of Teaching and Learning, Adrian Camm, explains the philosophy:

…each student from Year 4 to Year 10 at our College will have a digital portfolio that follows them throughout their time at the College and has a unique identifier accessible on the web.
The ability to export their content easily when finishing Year 12 to be used in the tertiary admission process or in future work endeavors has also been a key point…

Consider: If you’re investing time in establishing student blogs, how can you showcase this to the wider school community and motivate them to establish a school wide plan?

2. Privacy

Should blogs be public or private? This is always a contentious issue.

Ronnie Burt raised some excellent arguments about the advantages of public blogs a few years back, including the power of an authentic audience, ease of access, and the potential for collaboration. Ronnie noted,

If you hide student work behind passwords, then you might as well have them print everything out and hand it in the old-fashioned way. You are losing out on connections, extended dialogues, and the motivating factor of working for an authentic purpose.

In the comment section, there were some well considered opposing views.

J. McNulty argued the consequence of permanence,

Try to imagine that every stammering oral presentation, every 5th grade writing sample and every stick finger drawing you ever made in a classroom was permanently posted online, forever. As a teacher how would you feel if your class of iPad toting students were surfing through your complete “virtual portfolio” while you were trying to assign them an essay?  … Blogging is great but this new information era needs educators who fully appreciate the long term consequences of posting everything publicly.

There is a middle ground. At The Geelong College, students are encouraged to decide for themselves whether their blogs will be public or password protected.

Another option is to create a public blog but password protect certain posts or pages.

Consider: What are the pros and cons of having student blogs as public? Some schools seem to default to the private option if in doubt. Does this mean you’re giving up all the powerful advantages of posting publicly?

3. Content

What will form the content of your student blogs? What will they actually publish?

At one end of the spectrum is total freedom where teachers are less concerned about what the students are writing about, and more concerned about the students simply blogging and finding a voice.

At the other end of the spectrum, some teachers see the blogs as a space that must be in line with the curriculum and demonstrate what is happening in the classroom.

Certainly not always, but sometimes the age of the students influences this issue.

Julie Moore in Tasmania, Australia, teaches grade 2/3. The students begin by contributing to the class blog before some students establish their own blogs. Julie says,

Mostly – the children have a free spin on what they would like to write a post about. It gives them an outlet for writing about their passions/interests, and it then gives me an “in” for feedback and improvements to their writing.

She also finds this approach opens up a very wide range of possibilities to meet certain individual’s requirements.

For example:

Julie understands that the students do require some explicit teaching around blogging. She finds The Student Blogging Challenge a great way to achieve this. In addition, she runs a lunchtime club and a weekly timetabled blogging session.

Heather Alexander in Florida teaches year 9-12 ceramics. Her students use their blogs purely to document and reflect on their own art work, and respond to the curriculum. Teaching the same class multiple times, Heather has come up with a logistal framework to organize the student blogs,

What I have done is name all the students’ blogs with their class period prefacing the name so they appear in order on the page.

Heather encourages students to comment on classmates’ blogs and set up an effective system after finding students were taking too long to find a post to comment on.

I have students work in “peer blog mentor” groups. They self-select a group of 3 -5 peers and then I match their group with a group in another class. I moderate the comments so I can check for accuracy and completion before they are published.

This idea touches on the additional issue of feedback. Who will provide feedback to your student bloggers? Will you set up a peer system like Heather? Or will you personally visit blogs? What are your goals for feedback? Simple encouragement and conversation? Or scaffolding to reach learning goals? All questions to consider.

Can your blogging framework involve set tasks and freedom?

Somewhere in the middle of the freedom/structure debate, is the approach adopted by Adam Geiman, an educator from Pennsylvania. He used the first 30% of the school year to provide structure around tasks for his fourth grade students.

The students were given guidance, yet also had some freedom of choice in how they’d present set tasks. Some would do a Google Doc, while others would present their task as a comic, infographic etc.

For the remaining 70% of the school year, students were given more freedom and many came up with their own ideas on what they wanted to publish. For example, Jackson announced the new school trout, while Brooklyn talked about her new glasses. 

Consider: What are the needs of your students? Are you trying to engage them in the blogging process and help them find a voice? Or are you wanting the blogs to be a vehicle to demonstrate curriculum outcomes? Are these two things mutually exclusive?

4. Reflection

Some form of reflection is often a key feature of digital portfolios or blogfolios.

Educator Jabiz Raisdana, has documented some compelling thoughts on student blogging. He advocates for freedom, stating that:

If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them.

Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it.

Wait until they find a voice, find an audience… before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning.

Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum is the argument from Matt Renwick in his blog post ‘Think You’re Doing Digital Portfolios? Think again’.

Of course, all of the posted artifacts of student learning are accompanied with reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting for the future.
Otherwise, it’s only sharing content. Nice, but not necessary for students’ education.

Many teachers use a mixed approach

Teacher, Lee Pregnell, from Moonee Ponds, Australia, described how they include some set tasks in their grade 5/6 blogging program. One of these tasks is a weekly 100 Word Challenge response (see student Carah’s example) and a report on a Behind the News article (see student Mariana’s report on dreaming).

While the Behind the News task has some element of reflection, there are other set tasks that involve more meta-cognition. One of these is based around term goals. Check out the example by Alexis to see the format of this reflective entry.

What about our youngest students? How can they reflect?

Using tools like voice recordings can offer students with emerging literacy skills the chance to reflect. Kathy Cassidy is well known for providing all of her six year old students a blog. The students regularly used tools like Book Creator to document their thoughts and learning. Here is Gus reflecting on his writing. 

Another idea is to collate social media posts in a Storify like kindergarten teachers Aviva Dunsiger and Paula Crockett. Short student interviews and reflections offer a rich insight into learning. These innovative teachers have created a special section of their blog called ‘The Daily Shoot’. This is something Aviva has done with students from K-6. It is worth checking out.

Following in her students’ footsteps, Aviva even uses a blog of her own to reflect. What a mighty combination!

Consider: Most teachers agree that some sort of student reflection on learning is powerful. How can you incorporate this into your student blogs without making the process a chore or turn students off the enjoyment of blogging?

5. Quality

Would you like your students to document their learning journeys or their best work? Will your student blogs be process portfolios, showcase portfolios or hybrid portfolios?

This is a tough decision, but also one that can evolve as you go along. It also links back to the public/private debate. Do your students want every evidence of learning as part of their digital footprint?

Again, there is certainly middle ground. George Couros reflects on his dilemma about what end of this spectrum he would sit on: ‘growth’ or ‘best work’.

Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both. The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages”.

Consider: Is George’s approach something that could be worth exploring in your own blogging program?

6. Control

Many of these five areas are underpinned by the question of control. Who is in control? The teacher or the students?

Can there be a gradual release of control as the students become older and more experienced?

Perhaps there are some aspects of their blog that even the youngest students can have some control over?

For example:

  • Their title
  • Theme
  • Choice of tool or post format
  • Where they leave comments

Most teachers would agree that it’s important to consider how students can be in charge of their own learning. Digital portfolios and blogging offers a lot of potential for student-centered learning.

The My Class tool also allows you to hand over responsibility as you choose. You can begin by moderating all student posts and comments, and then turn off these settings as appropriate.

Conclusion

Are your student blogs igniting a passion for learning or are they just another chore to be completed?

How can you set up digital portfolios or blogfolios that allow for rich learning, creativity, excitement, deep reflection, collaboration and authenticity?

These are some key questions to ask yourself but in the end, sometimes you just need to throw in the canoe and start paddling.

Figure it out as you go. There is a big blogging community and support behind you.

Don’t let fear or indecision around student blogs freeze you into inaction. Worrying too much about whether you’re ‘doing it right’ can lead to not doing it at all.  At any level, student blogs provide benefits. Embrace them.

We would love to hear your ideas. Please comment and share your thoughts on student blogs. 

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How to Create Graphic Organizers for Seesaw – Igniting Learners into Leaders

This is an interesting article that describes in some detail how Seesaw Activities can be a holding area for useful graphic organizers for learning & learners.

These ideas have been developed by Melissa Burnell who is in her 13th year of trying to brighten the futures of her amazing learners! She’s taught in the USA for five years before moving to Dubai, then China, and now she calls South Korea home. She approaches learning with inquiry and a growth mindset.

What is impressive is the ease with which these organizers are created and deployed to her students. These organizers could also be co-created based on criteria or intents developed in class. Or they could have differentiated easily enough within the Seesaw environment simply selecting a subset of students to deploy the activity too.

 

 

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Disclaimer: If you want to read about the WHY behind designing custom graphic organizers in my class, keep reading.  I like to talk, so if you want to go straight to the instructions, scroll down!

This is the first year that I have had the opportunity to guide my learners through Project Time, sometimes know as Genius Hour or Passion Project.  If you are not familiar with this, Project Time is one period a week in which learners have the freedom to learn about something that speaks to them, or interests them, and probably wouldn’t appear in the usual units taught in the classroom.  Maybe a students wants to know more about composing music, or harp seals, or making slime.  As long as learners have a purpose in mind and are working towards their goals, it’s doable!  Pretty cool if you ask me.

I was eager to jump on the Project Time bandwagon at the start of the year and was happy to have some help getting started with organization thanks to Kath Murdoch’s The Power of Inquiry (a must read for any inquiry teacher!).  She includes several great tools in her book to get learners on the right track to be purposeful in their personal inquiries.

As Project Time got underway in my classroom, I found myself running to the photocopier more than I wanted.  Two students wanted to change their project topics–go copy.  Another student can’t find her daily planning sheet–go copy.  And each week daily planning sheets needed to be handed out again.  Plus, with learners working at their own pace, new project proposal sheets needed to be made at different times.  I knew there had to be a better way to avoid this headache.

My first attempt at going digital was to ask my class to hop onto Seesaw and add a quick post at the end of each Project Time period to let me know what they accomplished and what their next steps were.  Not bad, but this only cut down my paperwork a little bit.  I needed to do something more.

When I became a Seesaw Ambassador this year, I remembered coming across a slideshow containing different graphic organizers that could be used for Seesaw.  Aha!  I could create my own and go completely digital!

I used Kath Murdoch’s graphic organizers from her book and recreated them with small changes to the spaces for student input.  Here are the final products:

Project Time- Seesaw OrganizersProject Time- Seesaw Organizers (1)

I wanted to make sure it worked the way I hoped it would, so using Seesaw’s file upload option and the abilities to add text and draw, I was able to do this:

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BINGO!  Now I have a solution to paper waste and wasted time!  The beauty is that you can custom make ANY kind of graphic organizer you want for you learners.

Here’s how:

1.)  Use Google Slides, PowerPoint, or Keynote to make your custom graphic organizer template.  For mine, I used Google Slides and added lines, shapes, images, and text boxes to create the desired look.  I started with a blank layout, changed the background color, and built up from there.

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2.)  Once your graphic organizer is made, save it as a JPEG image.

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3.)  Now open Seesaw.  In Seesaw, choose the green add button to add a new item and choose the option to Share Activity.

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4.)  Choose Create New to create a custom activity for your class/group of students/individuals.

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5.)  Fill in the information for the new activity.  Choose “Add template for students to edit.”

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6.)  Choose the option to Add File.  This is where you will upload your custom graphic organizer.  Choose your file from your device.

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7.)  After you have selected the file, click the green check button.

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8.)  On the next screen, you can either choose the green check button, or if you want to add further information, choose one of the options at the bottom of the screen.

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9.)  Next, either choose to Preview the activity or Save as Draft.

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10.)  Finally, choose the green Share button at the bottom of the screen.

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11.)  When your learners open the activity in Seesaw, they will have the option to add text anywhere on the graphic organizer and draw/write their responses.  It’s that easy!

If you want to use a common graphic organizer, you can search online for an image of one, save to your device, and use the same steps as above without the hassle of designing your own.  If you have a resource book with graphic organizers, you can take a photo of the desired organizer, upload to your device, and again follow the steps above.

I hope this helps you as much as it helped me!

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Marin Voice: Grade expections — focusing on learning instead of letters – Marin Independent Journal

Two thing stuck out in the article for me: The willingness of staff and administration to look at more than just grades as a measure of what a student is or is not. And the ability to “sell this to parents” by highlighting standard criteria related to “soft skill” areas (skills that the business world is in fact looking for) like those put forth by Michael Fullan’s 6 Cs!


At the beginning of each year, I am asked by parents, “What is the homework load for my child?”

What they’re really asking is, “Will you see my child if she is soaring to new heights and needs to stretch?” Or, “Will you see my child if she is flailing under an avalanche of anxiety?”

Really, “Will you see my child?” is the point.

Teachers and administrators are tasked with educating students and effective assessment is integral to the process. Yet the predominant form of assessment via grading eliminates opportunities for comprehensive evaluation and in fact offers a narrow view of one’s abilities.

In response to the IJ’s Sept. 17 article, “Private schools join up to dump A-to-F grading,” I applaud the goal of the Mastery Transcript Consortium to create a more balanced approach to grading and wanted to highlight that changing the grading system is just the beginning of a needed overhaul in how we as educators prepare our students for their future.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium advocates for change due to good reason. As Madeline Levine documented years ago in “The Price of Privilege,” we who live in Marin see stress bubbling up from our students and their parents on a daily basis.

Anxiety about college and future work is one culprit.

According to the World Economic Forum, in less than five years our lives will be even more transformed by advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Listen to a handful of the jobs predicted by the Institute for the Future: soil programmer, pre-crime analyst, neuro-marketer, (and my favorite) gut florist.

We can’t predict and teach to each future job. That’s why we need to teach students to think, to adapt and to search.

I ask you, is it possible for a single letter grade to measure a student’s ability to adapt, or would an authentic demonstration and narrative assessment better measure learning?

Moreover, the purpose of education has expanded beyond offering mere content and a student’s success extends far beyond letter grades on a report card. The future is dependent on kids who also master life skills. These include social intelligence, cross cultural competence, virtual collaboration and computational thinking.

To measure such life skills requires that we adapt our assessment techniques beyond letter grades.

As parents and schools across the country debate the adoption of the new grading standards proposed by the Mastery Transcript Consortium, I wanted to offer a perspective of a school right here in Marin that has been using narrative grading for the last 15 years. Greenwood School has used comprehensive teacher reports and standards-based criteria to provide a fuller picture of the whole child — assessing for academic achievement, artistic expression and life skills like the ability to focus (mindfulness) and compassion (emotional intelligence).

As educators, our goal is to release into the world students who have grit, a zest for life and are grounded in the belief that they can tackle any problem that comes their way. It is a fuller picture than any traditional grading system can depict and while at Greenwood we do believe there is a place for letter grades in middle school, we augment them with a narrative on each student, written by teachers who truly understand kids.

In this way, we can reassure the parents that their child is actually seen. After all, isn’t the goal of grades and assessment to offer a full picture of a student who is prepared for their future?

Shaheer Faltas is the head of school for Greenwood School in Mill Valley and was selected as a finalist for the California Legislature Assembly’s Project Tomorrow’s Innovation in Education Awards for use of science, math and technology in the classroom.

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Intentional by Design: We Build in Opportunities to Learn in the Presence of Students, by Risking Our Own Significance and Demonstrating Instructional Cycles

Interesting look at conversations around intent sharing, co-creation of criteria, & learning along side students & how it affects the learner and their process….


In January, we identified hallmarks of a structure that we use when working with a system or school over time. The following is the fourth of seven posts that serve to illuminate those hallmarks.

As leaders, we know that the most important relationship in schools and school systems is the instructional relationship between teachers and their students. We talk and write about the primacy of this relationship and, yet, it can be easy to simply do that – talk and write about it.

Because the learning that takes place “at the desk of the student” is so critical, we often find ourselves in classrooms teaching a group of students whom we have just met and often at a level or in a subject area that is unfamiliar to us. It certainly would be far simpler to share examples and images of students engaged in learning; however, the potential benefits far outweigh the moments of doubt as one begins a lesson in front of a group of 18 or more educators. (In a subsequent blog, we will more clearly articulate the role of those educator observers, but for now, let us reflect on some recent experiences.)

The body of writing in the area of ethical leadership often refers to leaders who “risk their own significance” and we know of no better way than to model a strategy or an instructional sequence for others. Certainly, this can be done in a learning session where only adult learners are present. That is, we can engage in a strategy or series of strategies and then discuss classroom adaptations and applications. Nevertheless, inviting others to observe a strategy in action with a group of student learners allows us to watch intentional instructional design unfold and to mitigate sentiments such as, “Well, this is a good idea, but I can’t imagine how it would work with a group of Grade 10 Science students.”  

A group of 17 teachers gathered in Debbie’s classroom to observe a process of co-constructing criteria with Grade 11 Pre-Calculus students. In two or three minute chunks, I solved math problems for the students, by not only modelling, but by engaging in metacognitive talk along the way. Students gave me immediate feedback in the moments between the modelling chunks and identified what they noticed me doing and saying that would inform the criteria. At the end of approximately 40 minutes, we had, together, created robust and comprehensive criteria to answer this question – What counts, what matters, and what is important when we solve a math problem completely? The details of the criteria included statements like, “Clear your mind before solving the problem so that you can focus.”, “Think about a problem that you have done before that is similar.”, “Draw on prior mathematical understanding.”, “Take a brain break, if you need it.”, and “Determine what the problem is actually asking you.” At the end of the lesson, I invited one teacher to meet with a group of two students to discuss what he/she had learned about instruction, as a result of the observation. The discussion was not about what the students had learned or what the teachers had learned about the students. Rather, the focus was on that which the teachers took from the demonstration to inform their next instructional steps. In this way, the teachers are making their learning public to the students and modelling the adage that is often repeated – We are all lifelong learners. And perhaps more importantly, the teachers are risking their own significance by talking about something that they now know more about than even an hour earlier.

For two years, teams of K-8 teachers observed every day for four days as I taught writing in two classrooms. At 8:30 each morning 25 to 30 of us gathered for half an hour, digging into the learning destination, discussing evidence we might collect, and, after the first day, considering what the evidence suggested as next steps for tomorrow’s lesson. During those two years, I did the teaching, simultaneously working with students and teacher learners for an hour twice a morning in classrooms ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 8, with students I did not know, and on topics negotiated with teachers in advance, based on what they were studying at the time and their students were deeply interested in. I did not impose the topic to make it easier for myself. My only requirements were that we find something that would be authentic and meaningful for the students and connected to outcomes, content, topics, genres, or big ideas already under study. After each lesson we met to make sense of our evidence – the conversations, observations, and products from the classroom. At the end of the second year, the divisional Literacy Leadership team asked for pairs of teachers to become hub teachers, each planning a writing lesson study week and inviting four to six teachers from schools new to the project into their classrooms. Fourteen teachers opened their doors and made their practice public, using the structure I had modelled and the big ideas of assessment and instruction in the writing workshop that had been the focus of our two years together. In year three, while I began the work with a new team, fourteen teachers took a leadership role, benefitting colleagues from their own school and other schools in the district and making the learning their own. When they repeat the process next year, the hub teachers have suggested that they would like to include time in the visiting teachers’ classrooms. Their feedback has inspired more teachers to volunteer to become hub teachers.

As leaders we deliberately build opportunities to learn in the presence of students and risk our own significance by demonstrating instructional practices. It is our experience that this modelling inspires others to try something that may not have been attempted before.

Risking your own significance is contagious.

In our next post, we will further examine the fifth hallmark that we outlined in January 2017- We use the gradual release of responsibility model not only with student learners, but with adult learners as well.

 

Written with my colleague Brenda Augusta

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