Badges, Pathways and Success Plans

Most schools ask students to think about their goals beyond high school. Whether it’s called a “Personal Learning Plan,” a “Student Success Plan” or an “Individual Learning Plan,” schools want students to consider what they might want to do after graduation – and thus be able to take steps to achieve those goals.

Digital Badges can help students track their progress towards those goals. As part of the success plan, students might be encouraged to select specific badges to complete in order to pursue those goals. For example, a student interested in video game development could look to earn badges in computer programming, art (for the graphics) and writing (for the storytelling).

In Richer Picture, schools can set up Pathways. These can be combinations of badges that students will find useful to pursue different fields. By defining the badges, the school can also set up the specific steps that students can pursue within the school. For example, the student could use a course mapper to determine which classes will be most useful for completing the pathway. The school could also set up requirements for the badges that include both in- and out-of-school experiences.

We’ll be talking about this topic in more detail in our  webinar next Thursday, December 14, 2017, at 3:00 pm Eastern . We hope you can join us!

Digital Badges and Goal-Setting

Many schools ask students to set goals for themselves. These could be academic, career, or social goals; these could be goals for the quarter, the year, or something to be achieved before they graduate. This is a good exercise  – but to be useful, there has to be some follow-up. That is, once a student has set a goal, someone needs to check in to see if the student is following through, and taking steps towards achieving those goals.

Digital badges can be helpful here. If a student has a vague goal of wanting to get better at math, the teacher or advisor could suggest that the student work on some math-oriented badges — such as completing a project, or working on certain “math practices” like problem solving or modeling.

 

Similary, a student who think she wants to pursue a career in “business,” could be directed to specific badges, such as participating in a business club / organization (like DECA, FBLA, Junior Achievement or SkillsUSA) or earning a badge through certain courses offered in the school.

The idea here presumes that the school has a set of badges in place. But even if your school is just beginning with badges, a way to follow up with student goals is to generate specific next steps that the student can take, and a timeline for those steps. As the student accomplishes them, these milestones can be displayed as completed badges.

 

Portfolios and report cards

For most schools, we’ve recently passed the first quarter, and the first set of report cards have gone home (or, more likely, been posted on the school’s SIS site).

Many schools have tried to figure out how to combine portfolios with traditional report cards. A portfolio has a great a deal of information about a student’s progress – which is why we’ve always called it a “richer picture” of student achievement. Report cards, though, have two things going for them — they are familiar, and they are easy to look at.

RIcher PIcture can generate reports to accompany the traditional report card, and many schools have created customized reports that fit best for their environments. Some schools list all of the graduation requirements on a report, and then summarizes the student’s progress. (For example, a student might need to submit 6 entries into a writing portfolio; the report can indicate that the student has successfully completed 4 of them) Others use a type of standards-based report card, listing all of the school’s standards, and indicating the student’s progress (using a scale such as Beginning, Developing, Secure). As schools begin to do more with digital badges, a report summarizing the progress on each badge can accompany the report card.

The key here is that the portfolio report provides an easy-to-read summary of the student’s work thus far. If it’s online, the report can include links to the student’s actual entries and the teacher assessments; but at the top level, there should be a way of getting an overview of the student’s current status.

Reflecting on reflections

Digital portfolios are often described as a collection of student work. Of course, that’s true; but it’s not quite enough of a definition. If a portfolio is just a place to store work, then the portfolio is little more than an online file cabinet.

What makes a portfolio useful as an educational tool is the fact that students can look at a body of work – and then think about what they see. Hopefully, the student starts to see growth over time; the work from the end of the year is an improvement from the work at the beginning of the year, which itself is an improvement on the year before.

Students may also start to see patterns emerge — what work was most engaging? Maybe they were the ones most related to a particular topic — any chance the student had to work his or her favorite interest into the project was the one that they spent the most time on. Maybe it’s a more subtle pattern – projects where the student got to make more choices or were asked to work with another person (be it a fellow student or a mentor) might be the ones that are most interesting.

All of which is to say that a critical component of the portfolio is the ability to reflect on the work. Taking the time to look at the portfolio components and figure out those patterns or to take note of the growth is often what makes the portfolio worthwhile.

Now, students don’t always know how to reflect on their work; I’ve seen classes where the students were whispering to each other, “what does she [the teacher] want us to say here?” In the forward march of the school year, the idea of looking back at all – let alone with a reflective viewpoint – is something that requires some practice. To that end, the question to think about for now is this: how do we help students reflect? 

Depending on the age of the student, there are prompts that can be useful to guide a reflection. .Some basic prompts might be, “what work are you particularly proud of?” or “where do you think you could have done better?” (And, of course, asking the students to articulate why they thought those things will help.)  Students can look at a set of expectations and determine which ones are represented in the portfolio, and which might be missing.

There are different techniques for deciding how often a student should reflect, and what body of work might be most useful to examine (everything from this year? everything from a certain subject?). It’s worth it, though, for schools to give students the time to complete these reflections well.

How do we introduce portfolios in our school?

Digital portfolios allow a student to keep track of their best work over time; the idea that a student could have a (curated) collection of their progress through all the years of elementary, middle and high school is very attractive to many schools.

While the long-term goal may be to get everyone connected to a portfolio, schools still need to start somewhere.

Some steps that might help:

  1. Start with a small group. You can begin with a small group of teachers (about 4 to 6) who can conduct a pilot project. This group commits to starting with a portfolio for at least a semester, and having students from their classes add one or two entries into their portfolios. Critically, this group isn’t just there to rubber-stamp the process; they are looking to see how portfolios can be integrated into the life of the school. As this gruop works through the pilot, their feedback about what works well and what needs adjustment (not just with the software, but with the process) is important.
  2. Share a vision with the whole school.  Two of the essential questions that emerged out of the original digital portfolio research were, “What is the purpose of the portfolio?” and “Who is our primary audience?” The leadership of the school needs to identify a purpose for collecting and reviewing the student work. There are many legitimate purposes, from wanting to show progress over time to a deeper focus on skills that aren’t measured as well by traditional testing methods, to wanting to reach parents on a different level. Pick a purpose, and have the conversations to help everyone reach a shared understanding of what that purpose means to them. Professional development activities (like these workshops) can be helpful here.
  3. Plan a roll-out. Assuming that the pilot goes well, some attention needs to be paid to rolling out the portfolio to the rest of the school. You could start one grade level at a time, or move from department ot department. You may not bring everyone in all at once, but everyone should know that they are going to be involved at some point.

Of course, this all needs to fit with your situation. When assembling a pilot group, one principal deliberately chose one of the less tech-savvy teachers – but who was clearly a teacher that others looked up to, and who could keep the focus on the educational aspects of the pilot. Your may have many reasons for wanting to work with portfolios, and your school community can help you focus on what problem they most want the portfolios to address.

 

How do we share rubrics?

Rubrics are now a common sight in classrooms; most teachers at this point use rubrics for at least some of their assessments. When they are used well, they can help students focus on the key parts of any assignment, and help them understand what it means to “meet” expectations.

Often, teachers create their rubrics in isolation, or do their own search for rubrics on the Internet. As a result, the language in a rubric can mean something different from one teacher to another within the same school — or even from one assignment to the next within the same class. This means that the feedback from one class might not mean the same thing as feedback in the next room over.

One way to handle this is for teachers to work together. But, it’s worth asking, “How do teachers share rubrics?” We’re not talking about just emailing a rubric from one person to another; we’re talking about sharing rubrics so that multiple teachers can use them.

The answer is to create schoolwide rubrics. There are a couple ways to do this:

  1. You can look for common tasks and create rubrics that can be used any time that task comes up. For example, a school can create a “response to literature” rubric for a certain grade level. In one district, the 4th and 5th grade teachers agreed to a common rubric for these writing assignments; the rubric could be applied whether the student was reading The Phantom Toolbooth or Little House on the Prairie  or A Wrinkle in Time.
  2. You can create common rows that can be used by teachers in different rubrics. For example, you can create a common rubric  row for “conventions,” dealing with spelling and grammar errors; teachers might agree to use this row for their writing assignments, even if the other rows in the rubric vary from teacher to teacher.

Richer Picture can help you with common rubrics; once a rubric (or a row) is entered into the system (and marked as “shared”), it can be used by any other teacher. Ultimately, this can help to provide some consistent feedback from teacher to teacher and from assignment to assignment.

What does “personalization” mean?

“Personalization” is a hot topic; every school, state and district seems to be promoting its efforts to personalize education. Still, it’s not clear that everyone is approaching this in the same way. It’s worth asking: what does ‘personalization’ mean in our school or district?

The State of Rhode Island’s Office of Innovation has looked at how 10 different organizations, from the US Department of Education to the Gates Foundation, has defined personalization, and found that certain “key phrases” appear throughout the defintiions, including:

  • competency-based progression
  • meets individual student needs
  • standards-aligned
  • student interests
  • student ownership
  • socially embedded
  • formative assessments
  • flexible learning environments

Each school needs to come to a decision about what aspects of personalization they have in mind.

Just as importantly, schools need to think about whether their initiatives are really meeting their definitions of personalization. Many Learning Management Systems claim that they can help you personalize — but often the only part of the definition they mean is that students can go at their own pace. In these environments, students use the same curriculum in the same order in the same way . Students don’t have much choice in how they interact with the material – the only thing they can control is how fast or how slow they move through the lessons.  The concepts of “student ownership” or “student interests” are low on the priority list.

Teachers are the critical factor in creating a personalized environment in schools – because they are the ones who get to know the students well. The concept of “meeting individual needs” is very different from a human perspective than from a computer’s.  (Allison Zmuda and Bena Kallick talk about the importance of other components in personalization, including student voice, co-creation, social sconstruction and self-discovery in their recent book Students at the Center.) The teachers who know their students well are the ones who can help a student see a problem from a different angle, or make a different analogy, or can connect today’s issue with something that student has accomplished before. And that’s just how teachers help students interact with the material — teachers are even more critical in understanding student motivations, things going on outside of the classroom, and in being a part of the school community. (Consider the heroic efforts teachers in the Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico are making right now as their communities are rebuilding from the recent hurricanes.)

Technology has a place to help with personalization – but ultimately, personalization starts with teachers who are committed to understanding their students, and schools committed (as Debbie Meier put it), to ensuring that no child is anonymous.

Mini-exhibitions – a first step on the journey

When you’re planning backwards, you start with a vision of what you want students to know and be able to do. Teachers and students should have a common view of where you’d like to be at the end.

Now that we have a destination in mind, we have to think about the journey. And as the old saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

The early weeks of a curriculum usually start with the preliminaries; reviews of what happened in past years, and laying out the fundamentals of the current course. The theory is that focusing on the fundamentals will establish the building blocks for the rest of the year.

What can be just as helpful in these early weeks is to think about the question from last time — what should a student be able to do in May or June that the student can’t do in August or Septemberi? —  and to start to envision what parts the students can do now.

If you want students to be able to have an exhibition, or a performance at the end, what about asking students to do a version of that exhibition now? Can students create a mini-version of their final exhibition in these early weeks of the year?

Many courses build towards independent projects at the end of the term. In many cases, students can have difficulty with the “independent” part — coming up with their own experiment or idea to pursue. At this stage, it can be helpful to ask students to come up with a small-scale version of the final project. The students may not have yet mastered the material that you expect them to demosntrate at the end – but they can start to get a feel for the type of brainstorming and idea generation that will be needed then.

A mini-version of the exhibition has many of the same trappings as the final exhibition. If you want students to be able to defend a point of view at the end, ask them to pair off and have a mini-debate now. If you want students to be able to transfer their math skills to other settings, ask them to start looking for situations where those skills will be useful.

Sports teams typically have pre-season scrimmages; actors will have “workshop” performances before going to fully-staged productions. The rules may not be fully enforced – actors in the workshop may still be reading from a script, but there should be enough engagement to start to feel like the real thing. Both the performers and the coaches / directors can see things in a walk-through that can be developed over time. An “early-season” exhibition can help your students and you better understand your vision of where you want to be at the end.

Starting at the End

It’s the beginning of the school year – and so it’s the best time to think about the end.

As you get to know the new faces in your classrooms, consider this essential question – what should a student be able to do in May or June that the student can’t do in August or September?

what do you want them to be able to do by the time the course is over? The idea of “planning backwards” has been around for quite a while and can be stated simply – we figure out where we want to be at the end, and then design the classroom experience to work towards that end.

Often, curricular goals are still listed as a set of topics to cover. Instead, by thinking about what a student should be able to do by the time the course is over, you can recast the course as a journey towards some ending achievement. The portfolio can represent the steps that students are taking towards that end.

For courses that already focus on performances, such as music or programming or physical education, it’s easy to envision an endpoint: students will perform in the concert or complete the code for the robot or improve their exercise routine. In other courses where content coverage has long ruled, the performances can still be found: maybe you can picture your students having a conversation in Spanish, making connections among historical eras, or completing an investigation.

Before we get too caught up in quarterly and yearly grade averages, it can help your students if you can share that vision of what you believe they can do. This helps students to think about the course as more than a set of grades.

In this age of personalization, it’s important to include your student’s voices in that planning. As you describe your vision of what you believe they can do, the students can also start to picture themselves doing it as well. Undoubtedly, some students will start to generate their own ideas, and with guidance, as you get to know your students, you can help them associate their own goals with this larger exhibition.

So as you start your work on digital badges and portfolios for the year, look to where you want to be at the end – and share what you’re thinking with your class.