And the portfolios started rolling in …

At the beginning of this semester, I wrote about my revised portfolio project that I give my preservice teachers. I was in a portfolio funk, and I needed to try something new before I started resenting this project altogether. Isn’t it funny that after you have taught for awhile, you can start talking about your projects as if they are people? Maybe it’s just me. I have this metaphor in my mind where each of the assignments are these unfamiliar visitors that enter my classroom at about the same time each semester. I introduce them to my class and talk about them a lot for a week or two, then I give my students a chance to get to know this stranger a little more on their own until he isn’t a stranger anymore. Then he leaves and doesn’t come around much until the final portfolio is due.

OK. Focus. So, I rolled this assignment out at the beginning of the semester and showed them several examples. Of course, these examples were all based on the old way of doing the portfolio. So, I created a couple of examples on my own using the new way of doing things. Then I proceeded to remind my students very often to get started early on their portfolios and not wait to the last minute. They did anyway. Then I offered a work day where I didn’t take attendance but they could come and work on their portfolio and ask questions. Many of them came, some did not. They probably should have. Some students didn’t come to the work session but later e-mailed me long lists of questions. Not cool. Then today they turned them in.

Coincidentally, I went to visit my 94-year old grandmother this weekend. She has no Internet and I didn’t bother driving to Panera or Starbucks to find a connection. So, during the final crucial moments in the semester for my students when they finally have one last chance to put it all together and make a case for that A they think they deserve, I was silent. I had no idea what kinds of messages I would have when I finally checked my e-mail. I was already constructing responses in my head as the blue bar moved across the screen toward the newly refreshed Gmail inbox. And there it was, a very full inbox …

But none of the messages were from my students. At least none from the section who had to turn in their projects today. Could this be? I had to know for sure. I went to Moodle, and sure enough a large portion of the class had already turned in the assignment. They did it! I looked at a most of them, and I was beyond pleased at their work. Yes, there were some errors and missing items, but for the most part they looked great.

But the thing that really struck me was the learning that took place in order to get these projects completed. This was no easy task, no matter which tool the students chose. They had to learn how to host files online, and how to make sure a file was readable by anyone who happened to see it. They learned about file sizes and formats, and how to make navigation simple and effective. It was really amazing to see how so many of them stuck with their questions until they figured it out. All things considered, I didn’t have one person who expected me to bail him or her out. This is a huge win in my opinion.

So, for now my faith is restored in the power of portfolios. I am left being a little less cynical and little more confident in each student’s ability to meet a challenge head on. Yes, I had a couple of them confess that they were up all night finishing, but I can hardly take the blame for that. I will probably never know the full impact of this project, or class, on the bigger picture of their teaching career. For now I am just basking in the satisfaction that they did such a great job and took ownership of their work.

I will follow up in a few days about some of the tools they used to create their portfolios and discuss (at least from the perspective of my class) the pros and cons of each tool as a portfolio management system.

And now that I think of it, I need to have Mr. Portfolio come by more often. Maybe dinner or tea, and he can tell me how his kids are doing …