Implementation of Electronic Portfolios – A Survey

At UNIS Hanoi we have recently formed a task force to look at the best options for implementing electronic portfolios across the school. We currently use portfolios in our PYP and MYP years. We are looking for solutions – both in terms of pedagogy and platform – that will help us implement electronic portfolios across the school (even in the Diploma Program, which currently does not keep portfolios). If your school is currently using electronic portfolios, I would love to have your input. I have put together a Google Form (link below) to help collect information about how schools are currently using electronic portfolios. All responses are public and can be found at the second link below. Thanks in advance for your help!

Survey – Implementation of Electronic Portfolios

Results – Spreadsheet

Image: Anoto Digital Pen by Anoto Group licensed under CC BY NC ND

Guess the Learner Profiles, pt. 1

The IB Learner Profile is pretty important, if you teach in an IB program(me). Heck, it’s pretty important even if you don’t. Who doesn’t want their students to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk takers, balanced or reflective?

I’ve been trying to push this idea for an advisory lesson but with no luck so far: ask students to search for CC licensed photos that represent the IB Learner Profile. This would get the students really thinking about what each of those terms mean and how they can best represent those ideals. It would also be an excellent way of introducing Creative Commons to students (and teachers).

I thought I’d give it a try myself. My initial attempts have been more on the literal side so they might be easy. Can you guess the Learner Profiles? 

Guess the Learner Profile Guess the Learner Profile

Twitter, Professional Development and MYP

This has to be the best weekend for all-around professional development – bar my MYP Workshop Leader Training – that I’ve ever had. And the best part: I very rarely left the comfort of my house. With the 21st Century Learning (#21CHK)  conference taking place in Hong Kong and the MYP Workshops (#MYP) taking place in Bangkok, I had my two main areas of interest covered. Add to that the webinar given by Dr. Helen Barret on e-portfolios, sponsored by Classroom 2.0, and I was set.

The MYP Octagon

This is by far the liveliest Twitter discussion on MYP I have ever seen. One aspect stood out in particular: How does MYP prepare students for Theory of Knowledge in the Diploma Program? Eric MacKnight weighed in with his feelings on his blog and he bring up some very good points about the implementation of TOK. A major concern is that “students have little or no experience thinking about the sort of issues that arise in TOK.” His solution:

So let’s solve two problems at once. A weekly or biweekly ATL course in the Middle Years program would provide an opportunity to address learning habits and skills explicitly, and to engage in the kind of age-appropriate discourse that would give students invaluable practice thinking about how they think, so that when they arrived for their first TOK class in Grade 11 they would resemble fish in water, instead of deer in headlights.

This is a very logical solution for the TOK issue except, as my friend and (ex-) colleague Adrienne pointed out “the idea of ATL as [a] separate course is directly in opposition of philosophy of MYP’s AOIs.” (emphasis added)

The MYP, when practiced conscientiously, is a very good program. It has taken me years to be able to write that sentence – when I first laid eyes on it in 2002, I hated the MYP. Part of the problem I had, I realize now, was that I was looking at it from a Diploma Program point-of-view. There were too many things that I felt it didn’t do to prepare my students for the content -heavy IB Diploma. I didn’t buy in fully to Interdisciplinary Units (IDUs). I didn’t fully understand the importance or centrality of the Areas of Interaction (AOIs). (In my defense, neither did very many other people. With the recent release of the document “From Principles to Practice” (.pdf 1.26 MB) it has become much clearer. This is a must read – cover to cover – if you are an MYP teacher.) In short, I was teaching my MYP courses like they were Diploma courses.

The MYP is not designed to be a pre-IB Diploma course. It’s organization and structure do not explicitly follow from or lead into the Diploma Program**. The only thing that seemingly binds them is the IB Learner Profile. But if you teach MYP for the sake of MYP, if you use the AOIs to give focus to your units, if you use significant concepts to forge links between subject areas, if you strive to integrate the Approaches to Learning skills into every lesson, students will be well prepared to tackle any content-focused Diploma course, including Theory of Knowledge.

Thanks to @melanievrba, @krea_frobro747, @BrianLockwood, @ericmacknight, and  @amichetti for a fantastic discussion. I hope we can do this again!

** – While the organization and structures of all three IB levels (including PYP) are all explicitly different, I would like to see the introduction of a common vocabulary between the three programs. That would make everybody’s life so much easier!

Assessing Assessment

There has been a fantastic free-for-all going on over at Beyond School. I won’t get into the specifics – check it out for yourself;the real excitement is in the 75+ comments – but it has focused on, among other things, assessing students in an English Language Arts classroom. In this age, how much weight should be given to “traditional” writing assignments and what is the place for

At the same time, the Faculty Room has been giving assessment a closer look. Dan Meyer expounds on his system, which is well-suited for mathematics (I should know: I’ve adapted his strategy to implement an on-going revision of algebraic concepts in my Grade 8 class). Simon Cheatle gives his perspective from an international school in the Phillipines.

The American Paradigm

The vast majority of commentators present a very American slant on assessment. After spending the last 6 years overseas in truly international schools (my first two years were in a school that could have been situated in the middle of Iowa or California or North Carolina) I wonder why this American paradigm persists? Only in the arguments put forward by Grant Wiggins do I see any reference to criterion-based assessment. Being a mathematics teacher, I wonder how English teachers or History teachers go about grading an essay. How do you tell a B+ from an A-? Do you apply some sort of percentage? What do you do with the student who has a clear grasp of the language but a poor working knowledge of spelling? What do you do with the student who knows all of the grammar and structure protocols, but can’t present a reasoned argument? (For those who didn’t check it out, this is the initial focus of Clay Burell’s post.)

Enter Criteria

The answer, in my mind, is criterion-based grading. Why not separate the necessary skills of your course and grade each one appropriately? As an IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) school, we do exactly that. For example, in mathematics we assess four separate criteria: Knowledge and Understanding, Investigation of Patterns, Communication, and Reflection in Mathematics. If a student obviously knows the material but cannot present her information clearly, I can grade her higher in Knowledge and Understanding and lower in Communication. I don’t need to find a middle ground and she can know exactly what her strengths and weaknesses are.

A Step Further

At the end of the term, I look into my gradebook and find the highest sustained level of achievement for each criteria. I do not find the mean. If a student starts the year poorly but shows improvement, I reward that. If a student does poorly on one assessment task, it does not come back to hurt him.

Not Perfect

I will be the first person to admit that this system is not perfect. There is no room for formative assessments to influence the final grade, except as practice for the summative assessments. In my subject, life would be simpler to assign grades based on percentages. The assessment criteria, in my experience, lend themselves to major assessment tasks which are difficult to write, time consuming for students, and bloody hard to mark. Oh, and it’s a difficult system to get your head around, especially coming from The American Paradigm. Ask any other MYP teacher and they will probably have their own list of grievances.

The debate surrounding assessment is one that is necessary. There is no “right” answer as each teacher, school, and district is in a different situation. However, that doesn’t mean we should not strive to find that perfect way of assessing student performance. On the contrary, only by looking critically at our own practices and our motivations behind those practices can we, as professionals, ever hope to evolve.

 MYP Criteria