69 Student portfolios awaiting distribution. 

Prepared Portfolios & Dissent.

Last week, the tri-fold portfolios arrived.

When I’d originally begun considering alternate forms of assessment, I really wanted my students to create online portfolios. After a little time spent researching, and because my students aren’t yet 1:1, I went the tangible route. This week, just before parent conferences arrive, my students will choose the work that best represents them over the past trimester and put them into their new portfolios. All quizzes and tests must be added, along with their self-assessed participation rubrics. I’ve still to decide how many other artifacts should be contributed, or if there should be a set number at all. Maybe a range would be more appropriate, since each student is different? I’ll ask them what they think.

This morning, I read an article in the New York Times about the value of dissent. I found three parallels to myself and my current place in space:

  1. Pittman makes sure everyone involved in his projects has a voice. I see this more and more as I’ve shifted in teaching philosophy from a classic teacher: student dynamic to one of a more democratic approach. I have the space to hear the needs of my students and alter my approach to suit these needs. That type of feedback is so important as a teacher, but I must make sure my students are comfortable being honest with me if they find my methods inadequate.
  2. Moving to portfolio-based grading is a risk. I do not know that this solution will solve my philosophical dilemmas about student assessment, and I can’t anticipate all of the problems that will arise from this new approach. The advice Pittman received from Steve Ross really stuck with me, though: “You’ll never be fired here for making a mistake. You’ll be fired for not making a mistake. Because if you’re not making a mistake, it tells me that you’re not trying anything new.”
  3. And perhaps least pertinent and most self-serving, I often take up the role of devil’s advocate in group settings, and found some solace in this piece. I also realized that the good must be found in the temporarily-frustrating times of dissent, and attempts to improve and move forward should be immediate.

In what ways can I encourage my students to find their voices and share their honest thoughts with me, when they’ve for so long been shown to work within the teacher-set boundaries? I’d love to hear your thoughts.