Alan Rowe is an old friend and one of the principals at Torah Aura Productions. Alan has been a tech guy in Jewish education since before the internet was available to mere mortals (those of us who were not in the military or at one of a handful of universities using PLATO). He for as long as I have known him (almost 25 years) he has been beta testing one program or another. Sometimes to see how it can help Torah Aura in their work, sometimes to see how it might help Jewish teachers. And as often as not, just to see what cool things were possible. He is that kind of guy.
A few weeks ago he sent me a link to a blog posting about using Evernote to create student portfolios. He wanted to know if I thought there might be an application for synagogue or "complementary" education.
[GEEKY EXPRESSION OF AMAZEMENT OF YOUR CHOICE]!
GREAT CAESAR'S GHOST! [O.K. Not that one.]
Dr. Helen C. Barrett maintains that one of the many purposes of the educational portfolio is "to support reflection that can help students understand their own learning and to provide a richer picture of student work that documents growth over time." We in complementary schools have many frustrations - not enough time or enough days for learning, the supply of teachers, parents who bring their children to us for many different reasons, and not always the ones we think they should have - just to name a few. I think that getting students to reflect more deeply on the learning and meaningful evaluation are two that we don't often even get to when we are bemoaning the things we wish we could do. Barrett continues:
I first learned about portfolios as a graduate student in Jewish Education a long time ago. They sound wonderful don't they? Imagine if we could collect the creative output of each of our students over the course of the year. Every once in a while a teacher could ask each student to share what they think their best work was so far, or to discuss an idea they have been developing."Artists have maintained portfolios for years, often using their collection for seeking further work, or for simply demonstrating their art; an artist's portfolio usually includes only their best work. Financial portfolios contain a comprehensive record of fiscal transactions and investment holdings that represent a person's monetary worth. By contrast, an educational portfolio contains work that a learner has selected and collected to show growth and change over time; a critical component of an educational portfolio is the learner's reflection on the individual pieces of work (often called "artifacts") as well as an overall reflection on the story that the portfolio tells. There are many purposes for portfolios in education: learning, assessment, employment, marketing, showcase, best works."
Parents could be invited to review the portfolio in a conference with the teacher and student and get a real sense of what their child has been doing at temple each week instead of a progress report with letter grades and a brief paragraph that might include the phrase "I really enjoyed having Ploni in my class this year." And items from the portfolios could be displayed, celebrating each child in the eyes of the congregation!
Ah well. That sounds awesome for a day school or general education school. They have enough hours in the day and enough days in the week. They have professionally trained and licensed teachers who have more time to give. Our teachers are awesome, but they have so little time and we pay them so little. We all know that song. We sing it every time we come upon an educational innovation. Poor us. We are too small, too poor and have too little time. We could never do it.
(Those of you who can remember the comedian David Steinberg know what that really means.)
I am tired of those excuses. Saying "Yes We Can" is more than political slogan. I have spent a fair amount of time evangelizing for using Web 2.0 technologies to leverage the things we might be lacking like time, money and staff.
We can and we should be using portfolios. They hold so much promise for making meaning. And Evernote just might be the way to do it with all of the limitations we believe we are our burden.
Evernote's logo is the head of an elephant. When you got to www.evernote.com the headline is "Remember Everything."
It is actually "a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving. A "note" can be a piece of formatted text, a wb page or exerpt, a photo, an audio recording or even a handwritten ink note. They can be sorted into folders, tagged, annotated, edited, given comments and searched. They can even be exported as part of a ntoebook."
What's so Shazam about it?
This is where Rob Van Nood's posting comes in. He begins: "I started teaching 15 years ago and that is when I first came across this concept of a ‘portfolio.’ A portfolio is a storehouse for projects, writing pieces, art, and performances. It can be used by students, teachers, and parents to document what they’re doing (either day-to-day things or through their best work or improvements they’ve made). I see portfolios as a way to hold onto and think about what you’re doing." He is on the same page as Dr. Barrett. Here are some the things he does:
- When our school first decided to use Evernote, we set up demos with the students to show them how to use Evernote. At their age, students familiarize themselves with technology really quickly and naturally. A few picked it up immediately and started teaching their fellow classmates. Getting everyone up to speed didn’t take a lot of time.
- Before setting students up with Evernote accounts, I created a set of guidelines for the students so they knew what kind of things to put into Evernote. We also discussed the kinds of tags that they should be using, so we’d all be on the same page.
- Students started asking, ‘How can I put this into Evernote?’ I set my classroom up with a Lexmark Pro scanner so students are able to immediately capture their work and send it to their Evernote portfolio. They can also capture using any number of mobile devices where they have Evernote installed. They’re even able to access their work on their iPod Touch in class.
- When a student comes up with an interesting strategy on a whiteboard, I have them write down their name next to it and take a picture of it, or record them explaining what they came up with. Great ideas are saved to Evernote to show progress over the course of the school year.
- I’ve actually started emailing parents with these progress notes immediately after I capture them. I’m able to show the parents that their kid had a great growth moment or did something they’ve never done before. The real-time sharing was appreciated not only by the parents, but also excited the students.
- The final ‘piece’ of the portfolio work is, of course, sharing. For our Spring conference, we asked students to have one example of work from each area (math, writing, art, kinesthetic) to share with their parents. The students actually taught the parents how to use Evernote at our conference by familiarizing them with their portfolios.
I will be spending some time with our Religious School Vision Team and some members of our faculty exploring using Evernote Portfolios. I am hoping to introduce them in one or two grades next year. In our school, our students in Kitot Alef - Vav (1 - 6) have two teachers. One is for general Jewish studies and the other focuses on Hebrew. I think that the portfolios will give the two teachers a powerful tool for connecting the learning between their classes.
And I am incredibly excited about curating these portfolios in a way that will allow us to share students' work with the entire congregation (with their permission of course). And the opportunity for kids to share their work with grandparents will open opportunities for intergenerational learning.
Are you using Evernote Portfolios? Please share. And contact me if you are interested in exploring the possibilities with me. And also check out Van Nood's Evernote Portfolio Blog.