Evernote Portfolios

Every year I expect my students to maintain an orderly notebook (3-ring binder) with all of their notes, journal thoughts, article summaries, writing assignments (all drafts), tests, and other class activities. (“Orderly” is a stretch and very few maintain and actually utilize the notebook. Remember, I teach 8th grade English.)

When we reach the end of the year, I stare at their bulging notebooks with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and awe– kind of like when I sit on my deck and look at my yard after I just mowed it. The hard work is finally over. I’ve done my job. It’s beautiful.

Most students don’t understand it and they just think I’m weird, so they quickly bring me back to reality by asking, “Can I throw away my notebook now?”

All my vain attempts to have students keep a portfolio abandoned at the first sight of a trashcan! Tracking progress is vital to student growth, but it’s never gone as planned for me.

This past week I read Clark Aldrich’s book Unschooling Rules. Aldrich makes several bold, thought-provoking, and– at times– sad observations about our education system, but he doesn’t leave his audience hopeless. Below is an excerpt regarding using portfolios as opposed to traditional grades and transcripts:

“The future is student portfolios. Portfolios are skimmable but dense collections of media that show off a person’s capabilities and passions. They can exist in both electronic and paper form.

Many students at graduate levels, as well as professionals, already use portfolios, of course. Artists, architects, and producers, as just a few examples, all have portfolios that they shape over time and present to potential partners or customers.

The best student portfolios must feature these attributes, among others, if they are to be of most value:

  • The collections of work will cover years, even decades. Only over time can the threads of passions and other themes be drawn. 
  • They will be multimedia, using words, photographs, and video clips. 
  • They will include external validation, where appropriate. This may include awards, references in local papers, and letters of thanks from recipients.”

Using portfolios to document student growth is not a new concept. The way it’s done just hasn’t worked. Evernote is  one  the solution. (Of course it’s the solution– this blog is called “Evernote for Students”!)

While I am certainly not (yet) an expert on using Evernote in the classroom, there are some pioneers blazing the trail. Rob van Nood is one educator who has been using Evernote for portfolios and it seems as if his students are soaring (follow his blog here http://evernotefolios.wordpress.com/).

The more I’ve thought about this, the more excited I get. If a student kept all major works from an entire school year (or school career) in a portfolio, that student, his teacher, and his parents would be able to see regular progress with documentation and artifacts rather than depending on an arbitrary letter-grade sent home every 9 weeks. Traditional grading does not show actual growth; updated and maintained portfolios do.

A student’s portfolio should include several of the following artifacts:

  • Writing pieces (all drafts with revisions noted)
  • Book reviews
  • Reading Notations and Documentation
  • Fluency (student audio recordings)
  • New Vocabulary
  • Article Summaries (with attached articles)
  • 3-D projects (pictures)
  • Multimedia presentations (PowerPoint, video, recorded speeches)
  • Rubrics
  • Daily Journal Entries
  • Personal Academic Goals (and daily updates)
  • Daily Reading Log
  • Cool web clippings (current events, articles of interest, pictures, etc.)
  • Class notes showing understanding (in student’s own words)
  • Collaborative Projects
  • Awards and Recognition

When the first full year of using Evernote in my classroom comes to a close next May, I’ll be certain of three things:

  1. I will still look at my students’ notebooks with that same sense of pride and accomplishment (like after mowing my lawn).
  2. My students will still think I’m weird.
  3. We won’t need to wheel in the “big” trashcan.

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