A Framework for Personalization – “Students at the Center” by Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda

Students At The CenterPersonalization is a trending word in education — but it’s clear that the word means very different things to different folks.

In their terrific new book, “Students At The Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind,” Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda outline the most important attributes of personalization. As they talk about these attributes (voice, co-creation, social construction and self-discovery), what’s clear is that true personalization requires increased levels of student engagement and teacher feedback.

All too often, educational technology products claim to be personalized – but all they really mean is that a student can go through a pre-ordered sequence of lessons at their own pace.

Bena and Allison talk specifically about portfolios and exhibitions, and they note it isn’t enough for students to collect work or to “engage in superficial reflection.” Rather, portfolios can be powerful tools for personalization when students “play a much more prominent role in assessing their own work,” when they use the portfolio to set goals and “decide on next steps” and can “learn to describe themselves … in richer ways than ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at something.”

If you’re looking to take steps to become more personalized, Bena and Allison provide a terrific framework. It also builds on earlier work on personalization like Joe DiMartino and Denise Wolk’s “The Personalized High School” and Allison’s own  Learning Personalized  – in both book and blog form.

Computer Science Standards

Increasingly, many states are encouraging the integration of computer science across all the grade levels. One of the best guidelines for organizing this work is from the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). CSTA’s recently revised K-12 computer science standards introduce the fundamental concepts of computer science to all students, present secondary-level computer science as part of STEM credits, and increase the availability of challenging computer science for all students, especially those who are members of groups underrepresented in technology-driven fields of study and work.

The CSTA computer science standards are organized into five strands:

  • Computational Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Computing Practice and Programming
  • Computer and Communications Devices
  • Community, Global, and Ethical Impacts

These revised standards come at a time when many school districts are in the process of computer science implementation. According to Code.org’s “K-12 Computer Science Policy and Implementation in States,”

Tens of thousands of teachers are going through professional development to bring computer science  into their schools. Hundreds of school districts have embraced computer science in their curriculum. New York City and Chicago Public Schools — two of the largest districts in the country — have announced that computer science will be in all schools, and in Chicago, it is a required graduation credit. And in the past three years more than 30 states have responded to this growing interest by passing policies to boost computer science.

Computers & Communication Devices Digital Badge Icon

Computers & Communication Devices Digital Badge Icon

As your school moves toward computer science implementation, RicherPicture can help. Within RicherPicture, teachers can link assignments to the CSTA standards and create digital badges that define what students need to be able to do to demonstrate any of these expectations. 


Digital Badges and Portfolios

Digital badges are emerging as an exciting tool to assess student proficiency and integrate student interests with attainment of standards. Digital badges help increase student engagement, record achievements and measure students’ skills and readiness. But how does a school community come to agreement about what it means to earn each badge, and how do badges connect to school and state requirements?

A digital badge is a credential that students earn credit toward graduation requirements through their accomplishments. Most of us are familiar with badges in the context of scouting, and that’s a useful basis of comparison, because those badge represents proficiency in a specific skill, not just time spent learning.

In the context of schools, digital badges allow students to show their progress and for schools to implement competency-based teaching and learning. Digital badges can represent work completed within or outside traditional classes–for example, a student can earn a digital badge that demonstrates her mastery of biology standards through a science investigation completed in an afterschool community service experience. The same goes for music, dance, video production, or many other achievements that might easily count for academic credit. Well-defined digital badges allow students to measure their accomplishments via standards, and the flexibility that this provides can make those standards matter much more.

The key to successful digital badge implementation is agreement among school staff members about the specific requirements of a digital badge, and that badges need to be approved by a teacher as acknowledgement that they demonstrate learning aligned with academic goals. The upside of digital badges is that they are very flexible, but definitions need to be clearly understood by students and teachers. In addition to deepening personalized learning for students, digital badges fit elegantly into Richer Picture and other existing digital portfolio systems.



Portfolios vs Scrapbooks

A portfolio should be more than a collection of student work. For a portfolio process to be useful, schools need to have a purpose for putting the work in place.

Simply putting student work into an online folder doesn’t do very much. Without a purpose, what you have is a digital scrapbook – a random collection of work that isn’t organized in any meaningful way.

There are many useful purposes for a portfolio, including:

  • Conferencing with parents about student achievements
  • Demonstrating how a student has grown over time
  • Demonstrating how student work is linked to standards
  • Connecting what students are doing in school with their college / career goals
  • Keeping track of all the steps in a student project (like a science fair exhibit or a capstone project)

Each of these purposes helps students figure out what they need to collect into the portfolio. For a parent conference, maybe we want to see show progress in reading and math – and any special skills the student has demonstrated. If we tie the portfolio to student goals, then the student can start making connections between classwork and what they want to do after high school.

As you explore the work with portfolios, having a purpose in mind can help focus what teachers and students are collecting.

Organizing Your Portfolio Around Competencies

What should a student know and be able to do? When you think about your students at the end of the school year, what do you hope they have learned?

Your expectations can help you organize your portfolios.

For example, in a typical language arts class, students should be able to demonstrate how well they can read, write, speak and listen. You may have specific expectations, based on the standards adopted by your school; you might also have expectations that make sense for your individual students.

Whether you call them expectations, or standards, or competencies, your vision of what students should know and be able to do can guide your work.

1. Start by listing your expectations: “every student in my class, by the end of this school year, will be able to:____”
2. Next, think about your assignments. What are some of the performance tasks that will allow students to demonstrate their skills?
3. Finally, link your assignments to the expectations. When the students complete the project, or essay, or report (or any other assignment) that you listed in question 2, what expectations will they demonstrate?

When you think about the assignments for the portfolio, this process can guarantee that your students will have enough opportunities to meet all the competencies. For example, the language arts teacher will want to make sure that students can show their skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking sometime during the year.

What Goes into a Portfolio?

One of the most common questions schools ask about portfolios is, “What goes into it?”
It helps to start with a couple more essential questions – “What is our purpose for the portfolio?” and “Who is our primary audience?”

  • Most of the time, schools want the portfolio to be a demonstration of a student’s best work. One simple way to start is to select 2 to 4 assignments for each subject. (That is, for elementary schools, you might have a couple of reading samples, a couple of writing samples, and a couple of math samples; for middle and high schools, you might ask students to include 2 to 4 assignments from each full-year class.)
  • Some schools focus on a certain subject area; in that case, you might want a sample of each of each type of assignment. For example, a student’s writing portfolio could include a narrative essay, an argumentative essay, and a response to literature; a technology portfolio could show students’ use of word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and Internet research.
  • A “growth over time” portfolio could include examples of the student doing something similar at different times of the year. For example, we could see a first grader’s ability to read independently at the beginning, middle and end of the year; we could also see a Spanish student’s ability to speak in the language at various points. Sometimes, the growth over time is around some deeper skill; by filming math students working through problems throughout the year, we can see how their problem solving skills grow, or science students could show how their ability to create a good hypothesis has improved from one quarter to the next.
  • Project-based learning allows us to see the process of building the project, from initial idea through to completed
    work. We can see the steps – and the mis-steps – along the way.
  • The key element when you are getting started is to build on what your teachers and students are already doing. Your students are undoubtedly doing interesting things; the portfolio should allow you to capture those moments.


    Welcome to the Richer Picture blog!

    This is a blog about both ideas and implementation. Since the 1990’s, we’ve learned a great deal about how schools effectively use digital portfolios and other proficiency tools. We’ll share stories of what has worked well for schools, and what might be useful for you.

    Ideas: From the beginning, we’ve said that the best educational technology projects start with the education, rather than the technology. How do you want your school to be better? What is it that your school community – students, teachers, parents, administrators – needs? What’s your dream for your school?

    Implementation: Turning a vision into a reality is the critical piece in any innovation.  We’ve seen schools come up with creative ways of using time, providing training, and communicating plans, and we’ll have posts that let you know what other schools have put in place.

    Just so you know, this blog is being written primarily by David Niguidula. If you have your own ideas that you would like to share, or questions you’d like to see addressed, just drop us a line!