I Love the Writing Portfolio

I’ve long been using the writers portfolio in my writing program. I like the way it helps students to focus their thoughts. There’s a few hacks that I put on it that I think are necessary.


I usually start my portfolio with the definition of the big skills and strategies we been working on. I get the students to define the skills giving examples from their work. This is a way for them to reflect on what we’ve done.

I then get them to reflect on the diagnostic assessment that we did for this unit. I get them to reflect on what they did well and what they need to work on, both in their plan and in the writing. I like this throwback to the beginning of the unit for them to consider where they were.

pexels-photo-247708.jpegThen I get them to submit a certain number of plans and writing from the practice portion of the pathway. I get them to prove that they have been working on the feedback from the initial assessment. I get them reflect on why it is good. This is my attempt to get them back to the success criteria. Did they do what was expected of them?


One piece I’ve really enjoyed adding to my pathway is for the students to re-do the initial diagnostic assessment. My thinking is that after three or four or five weeks of work, they should be better writers. They will prove this by making big improvements to the writing diagnostic assessment. I think it’s important for the kids to look at the work that they’ve done and see how far they have come. This is a real motivating factor to make these big changes. With a first copy and the second copy, they can clearly see that they’ve made changes.

One thing I struggle with, especially at the end of the writing pathway, is managing all of the assessment. One thing if you want to try to limit in the amount of practice pieces that they give me. And get them to choose only the best and that is the piece that I can assess. Plus I don’t want to mark a whole lot of things if I can just mark a couple of things!

I also need to manage feedback for this. It’s tricky when I give feedback at the end of this pathway. It’s more of a summative assessment and proof of the learning. But at the end of the pathway managing all of that work and getting the right amount feedback is still a struggle.



I can’t blog because I hurt my leg

Part of my goal to increase my workflow efficiency, and I’ve also wanted to blog more. This is also helping my goal of dictating more.

So my routine now is that when I walk the dogs I will blog. I get the dogs ready. Then I plug in the headphones. And then I dictate my blog while I’m walking. Then I reward myself by listening to music when I’m done.

Yesterday, however, I didn’t get out for my walk. That means I didn’t get to blog.

So I put this here is a moment in time. Remind myself that there is flexibility in efficiency.

But also as a filler.

Struggling to Find Balance

I had a meeting this past week with a parent. Not the first time we chatted. We’re struggling at home to manage the devices and screen time. Their son is, at times, not using the technology appropriately. And they’re starting to find a balance there. And this is impacting his school life.


In this meeting I realize that I’m not willing to give up this technology. The benefits far out-weigh the negative consequences. But I do recognize that there are consequences to these technology gifts.

I’ve spoken before about technology being a distraction. I spoken before about the struggle to manage this distraction. I’m determined to teach the students to master these devices. But I also think I need to help parents teach this management. After feel that I’m on the cutting edge. I’m solving problems that I’ve never experienced before. This is both thrilling and terrifying at times. But I’m not willing to give up.

I’m determined to teach the students to master these devices. But I also think I need to help parents teach this management.

The following is a list of things that I think I need to address:

Keeping devices out of bedrooms. I think it’s important to maintain good sleep hygiene. This requires technology to be shut down at least a couple hours before bedtime. There’s lots of research to support this. I need to dig into this research more and pass this on to my parents.

Putting limits on technologies. There is no normal reason for my students to be on their devices from more than an hour a night. I don’t believe in a lot of homework. But some students do need to work a little bit longer on certain things. There is always reading and writing to do. Sometimes the science test to be studied for. Sometimes a math test to get ready for. But overall it should not be a lot of homework required on the device.


Getting students to earn the screen time. I don’t think screen time should be a given. I don’t think it’s an automatic right for the students. I think they need to earn their screen time by finding balance elsewhere. Perhaps an hour of doing chores gives you an hour of screen time. Perhaps an hour of reading give you an hour of screen time. Either way there shouldn’t be unlimited screen time.

Parents need to monitor what their children are doing. Parents have every right to check the phones and check the devices. This device should be in a public area. Students should not have unlimited privacy. The parents are still ultimately the guardians of the children’s safety. They need to know what they are doing on the technology and who they’re interacting with.

Students will make mistakes with their devices. It is not OK but it should be expected. They should learn and grow from them. I sometimes fear though that the consequences of these mistakes are really big. But I also believe that if caring people are involved they shouldn’t be too big. I sometimes wonder though, if this attitude is a bit naïve. But fear of mistakes is not enough to give up these devices.

These devices are powerful tools. I spoken about this before, but I need to stress it again. These devices are just so powerful. They are more than just passive entertainment. I know we’re just scratching the surface of what these kids can do. This requires a lot of imagination and innovation. That’s where education is going. We need to foster these skills. Brilliant things are happening. This is how these devices are going to transform education.

So, moving forward, I’m committed to keep using technology, and finding this balance is going to be a struggle that is worthwhile.



Sharing is Not the Same as Bragging

I’m trying to get a challenge going at my school. It is a Twitter challenge started by George Couros. He is challenging teachers to share at least once a day one thing that they’re doing in their classroom using Twitter. This is shared through a school hashtag. So I put the challenges of sharing out to my colleagues. I want to share with them, and I want them to share with me.


One thought I’ve wrestled for a long time, and it is by no means my own ideas, is this: many teachers are hesitant to share, simply because it seems like they’re bragging. But I think we need to get beyond that. We need to embrace this idea of sharing. On my email today, one of my favourite lines is this: your ordinary could be somebody else’s inspiration – again, this isn’t my own idea – but I love it!

Your ordinary could be somebody else’s inspiration!

Teaching is sometimes a very isolated profession. Too often we are in our room, in the trenches, we don’t get enough opportunity to see what else is out there. I often have to actively seek out inspiration. I have to go to other peoples rooms deliberately to see what’s going on. Too often I’m consumed by my own teaching that I don’t give myself the chance to do this.

So I think there’s something to be said about sharing. It’s not meant as a brag. We need to be able to share our ideas – good or bad – without fear of judgment. I believe this will help us AND helping each other. So share away!


Conferencing about Writing in Google Classroom

I have to post again about how transformative Google has been in my writing program.


I have a pretty unique year this year. I’ve never had so many reluctance writers before. I’ve had a few in years past but never this many at the same time. I am also doing language on rotary, so this means I have 50 students rather than just 25. What makes this year especially unique though, is that I need to keep a really close eye on these writers. In years past I could get them started on the task and walk away. This year I don’t have that luxury. This post isn’t about getting to the root of that problem. It’s more to celebrate one possible solution to the problem.

Google has been incredible for me. I’ve been working hard to manage my workflow. I’ve been trying to also collaborate with my students more effectively. To that end I have been trying to work collaboratively with students on their writing. I’ve also been trying to get real-time feedback in place for my students: feedback that is immediate and can be utilized right away.

I’ve always been one to have multiple tabs open in my browser. I don’t think this is a unique problem. But lately I’ve discovered that I can have students working with me on different tabs. So across my browser bar, I have six to eight student’s work right in front of me. I can pop in for a minute at a time on each student’s work. I can offer some feedback and suggestions. It’s virtually one step away. Rather than me travelling across the room and turning my back, and able just to click on a new tab. Just these last two days, I’ve got more writing that I have had all year from some of my students.

Tabs and Writing

My next step is to figure out why this is effective? My initial assumption is that it is simply babysitting. The simple act of monitoring is enough to keep them going. But what if something else is in play here? What if it is the motivation of immediate feedback that is important? What if it is the writing directly to an audience – me – with a response right away? I’m literally right there. And they are writing to me. Perhaps this is something to do with it?

Either way I’m really pleased with results so far. I’m getting a lot of writing from students that haven’t been writing. And I feel that I’m doing better monitoring the progress. And I feel it’s more efficient use of my time.