How digital portfolios have killed portfolios at my school



portfolio_wai_1Students at my secondary school use a blog (set up and organised by the school) to organise their digital portfolios and I think this does a disservice to both blogs and portfolios alike

Why is a portfolio important?

A school portfolio of work should provide an honest representation of a student’s school achievements.  Format discussion can be saved for another time.  The required content can range anywhere from just the highlights to absolutely everything – the good, the bad and the ugly.  However, I accepted that there should be evidence from all subjects.  For all the evidence which enters the portfolio, a student should reflect upon what has been learnt from the whole associated experience – not just a final grade.


The downfall of the portfolio

Few people enjoy looking at themselves critically and, unless well supported, the vast majority of students will not choose to do this.  Furthermore, a blog is open to the world and demands interaction whilst a portfolio is a something which is shared with those that you trust, admire or want to impress.  Therefore, the use of an individual’s student blog to represent a student portfolio defeats its purpose, and hence stifles both.


The re-birth of the portfolio

To help our students produce informative portfolios will require our guidance and our support and our time and an expectation that this should be done.  Our guidance must be shown in teaching our students how to reflect effectively.  Our support must come in the form of templates and/or scaffolding for student to initially follow.  As educators, we should be setting aside time both in class (when work is returned) and before that (in extra feedback that will ignite their thoughts).  Our expectations mean that this needs to be done and it is not something a student can avoid.  Now I appreciate that the blog provides excellent digital portfolio functionality – an opportunity for a reflective statement and to embed school work.  But this needs to be private in order to avoid plagiarism issues and to increase the value of events such as a Student Led Conference.

How digital portfolios have killed blogs at my school


Students at my secondary school use a blog (set up and organised by the school) to organise their digital portfolios and I think this does a disservice to both blogs and portfolios alike.

Ace elementary bloggers

Students coming up into my secondary school are ace school bloggers. The elementary class blogs represent class learning, individual reflection and shared interests at their best. These blogs reach a wider audience, including people relevant to topics of inquiry. The students reflect a genuine enjoyment of this style of writing and, more importantly, a culture of commenting on each other’s thoughts.

The downfall of the blog

As they make their way through secondary school, our model is clearly failing as I see students becoming progressively disinterested and unmotivated to blog. The reasons behind this, as I see them, are:

1) Logistics – In secondary school we do not have one consistent class – classes are split into a range of groups – from arbitrary letters to House groups, interest and/or ability. As a result, the close knit group of students involved in one shared experience with one central teaching figure no longer exists.

2) Size – Year level blog posts become too large and unwieldy, a subject class blog becomes ineffective (unless there is a very strong related project) which means that innumerable student school blogs become the unfortunate norm. As a result, it becomes very difficult for a blog to rise up from the mire.

3) Motivation – Students soon become unmotivated to complete these because the content is prescribed by teachers as part of a digital portfolio (or more often than not ignored as a medium by teachers).

4) Audience – Parents and a few teachers do not make a credible audience. The lack of an authentic audience provides no opportunities for the much needed dialogue with others; which is what essentially makes blogging so rewarding.

Blogging with passion

To overcome these problems first requires the school to recognise that a blog without passion and/or an audience should not be described as a ‘blog’ and should not be enforced by anyone – on anyone. I would like to see the school provide the time, space and support for students to produce blogs on topics of interest. I am even happy for groups with similar interest to run a shared blog. All I want is to find a practical way for student to express themselves and be part of a wider dialogue and to enjoy that experience.

Does the digital age bring the downfall of the student led conference?


Student Led Conference


A student led conference is a school organised forum designed to allow a discussion between a student and their parents (and sometimes teachers) around the portfolio of work created throughout that academic year.  With suitable guidance and support this encourages students to reflect honestly on both their work and themselves as learners.  Especially when work was often paper based, and might not make its way home, this format makes a great deal of sense.  The key objectives are:

  • To increase student accountability and autonomy concerning academics and their habits of work and learning
  • To hone student verbal communication and critical thinking skills
  • To emphasize a student centered philosophy
  • To build open relationships with families concerning student progress
  • To help students meet speaking standards
  • To teach students how to persuade by substantiating claims with evidence


These objectives are still important but with the development of a digital portfolio, the requirement for a specific school arranged time-space has seemingly becomes less pressing.  In reality parents, if they choose, can follow their children(s) progress at any time.   Hence, over the past few years I have seen fewer parents are attending these days – particularly with upper middle school students.


If the student led conference held at school is abandoned then in the best case scenario student-parent discussions at home could follow a guided student led conference model but this removes a teacher involvement.   In many cases this will reduce the high expectations and it also reduces the insight which this process can provide for the teacher about the student.  So even the best case scenario is floored and worst case scenario of no guaranteed interaction becomes far too likely to occur.


So I believe that schools should re-mind themselves of the original objectives and acknowledge that process should be re-examined.  This should include dialogue with the parents, students and teachers.  This should also include a re-examination of the tools used – especially digital portfolios in the form of blogs, but that is another post entirely.

Effective Communication


An “I” message is a structured statement so designed to promote effective communication.  The proposed, basic, structure is:

When you (Behavior)

(consequence of the Behavior) happens

and I (feeling).

Click on this link to see an example provided by my course – AmericanHistoryX

Here are some “I” messages I have developed and the associated thoughts:

For my pupils during registration (a correction):

When you arrive to school late

You have less time to get yourself organised

I am concerned that you are not giving yourself the opportunity to be your best


Note: I believe that registration (15 minutes at the start of my school day) provides aa vital cushion between for the baggage of the outside  world to be put down and the mind set of a motivated learner to be found.  However I am not sure that the benefits would be clearly identified by those students most in need without a range of other negative impacts also forcing the acceptance of such a message.

For my students (a positive)

When I see you accepting constructive criticism

I know that the quality of your work will improve

I am happy that I play a part in your deeper understanding

For my students (positive)

When I see you asking thoughtful questions

I know this helps you developed a deeper understanding of the topic

I am more confident that you will perform well in the assessed tasks

This is an extra thought but as it is the school holidays one which I can actually test at home – the smile he gave seemed to indicate success.

For my four year old son (positive):

When you show good manners

People want to help you

And I am very proud that you are my son

Who am I?


Upon taking the Baum-Nichols prototype profiler, to no surprise to my wife or myself, I was identified as a “practical manager”.  I also scored highly as the “creative problem solver”; this would seem to come as no surprise to my senior-managers who accept me as a big ideas/visionary.  In fact that perception is starting to infuriate me as it apparently overlooks my practical manager side and, to me highlights, the fact that my bosses do not have a true grasp of what I am capable of.

I asked my wife to take the same test.  She came out, quite clearly, as a “learned expert”.  Now I would initially also have opted for this, but only because she less fitted each of the other options.  However, it was when we sat down to talk about the results the fit became painfully apparent.  As my wife, true to profile type, proceeded to critique a question with respect to internal needs or the external feedback of others.

So from that very limited two person sample I can confidently say that this test does effectively identify a characterization of our selves.  So with some delight I can now, go to my to-do list and mark off another task, as I am sure all the other “practical managers” out there would do.

Violent Crime Analysis


As part of a unit I am studying on conflict resolution I was asked to consider, and ask others to consider, these questions:

For a graphical review of the solutions to these questions click on this link at the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In Europe over the last 200 years increased  urbanisation and education have led to more people learning about the acceptable requirements of a modern society and having to live within the close proximity with others so accepting  those learnt practices and hence the fall in violent crime.  The quirk of America exception to this rule has several underlying roots – as identified by Erik Monkkonen – as including mobility, federalism, slavery and tolerance.  Yet I knew that on Monday Nov 27th, 2012 there were no recorded “murders, stabbings or slashings” in New York City. And furthermore, while we would assume that robberies go up during times of economic downturn, that this hasn’t been the case national in the US during the past four years.  My age means I was first exposed to an America through stories of gun-crime, gangster rap and crack ghettoes, which relates to my own initial overestimates on the issue.  Although as an Englishman the prevalence of firearms would seem to be culturally de-stabilizing, I am aware that the cities of Washington, New York, L.A. and Chicago are vastly improved – and my North American friends seemed to be equally informed.  These more recent developments in violent crime statistics and the required related analysis seem more important than the grand historical perspective.  Is this more recent fall due to an increased policy on incarceration or is it as Steven Levitt argues in Freakanomics related to a 1974 ruling which allowed more abortions and hence fewer children were born into troubled homes. Now that is what I want to find out.

Torture an acceptable option?


As part of my current masters unit on conflict resolution I have been asked to briefly consider my opinions relating to the acceptability of torture – who knew my blog would take such a path.

I am not a supporter of either enhanced torture techniques which “invoke existing fear” or more traditional methods which tap into the bodies response to pain.  This would come as no surprise to anyone who know me.  Yet this task has made me consider the reason for this statement in even the most contrived “24” esque life or death of millions situation.  Torture is always floored because it is the short term solution for people who want to get a specific answer.  For which reason the bodies response mechanism for survival will cause it to tell people whatever they want to here to stay alive – and this therefore could equally be the truth or the required lie.  Furthermore those that would claim that they intend to do the right thing when this crisis is later averted are clearly misinformed as the information gathered becomes inadmissible in a court of law.  Now a truth serum, as is alleged to exist from some basic internet searches, does seem a more humanitarian solution.  However, its use in conjunction with other forms of torture does seem counterintuitive – it either works or it doesn’t.  Here I also respect the need for everyone to keep a secret.  When it comes down to it I feel that it is an investigators job to put the pieces together with firm evidence and that means there is never any point for torture.

A Peaceable School?


What follows is the imagined conversation I would have with my Hank, my professor on a course I am taking on conflict resolution and peaceable schools.

Hi Hank.  Thanks for making the effort to come out to visit.  It must have been a really tough for you to give up your time in upstate New York during the winter months to come here, tropical Bangkok.  How about we drop off all that winter clothing in my classroom and then I can show you around.

So as you can see I like my students to have a positive attitude towards learning and I hope that is reflected by the sign on my doorway.

The school itself promotes a community of respect so I have these posters above my board which for me when it comes to classroom management (and beyond) say it all:







If you look down the corridor most of the teachers still have posters up from book week where we were asked to share books that just blew us away – this one is from Jenni our head of mathematics.  The students use the stairways so the posters here provide quite an insight into what’s happening.  You can see the big friendship sports tournament is taking place tonight which will bring the whole community together supporting our sports teams.  As does the senior production, which took place earlier this week.  One of our students has produced their own anti-bullying campaign with the support of the counselors   For many years the school has supported students in poor and rural northern Thailand and each Christmas we have a toiletries drive to help provide for even more people in that region.  We also run a trip supporting an orphanage in Tanzania.  Next week there is also Spirit Day where the houses have a lot of fun competing for the cup.







The humanities corridor has some great displays that reflect the issues considered within those classes.







Let’s pop into Kristen’s classroom on the English floor.  There is a lot of color in the room and she really gets the most out of her young (red) houseroom and it really feels they get what it means to be a united as part of a house within the larger school population.







All of the year 7 houserooms were recently involved in a pastoral service activity were they had to design something which brings more happiness to our school – the smile competition was one such activity.

Service is an embedded requirement within all the International Baccalaureate programmes.  The school also provides additional time and space after school and during i-choice periods.  Today is the Friday before World Aid’s Day so “Dreams that we believe in”, a service group supporting children (including many Aids victims) at a local orphanage, has been raising awareness and funds.

I agree Hank, I am fortunate that there are many positive elements which make my school generally peaceable.  I also know we can still move forward.  I think, although we are getting better, too often we just shake a box and expect donations but the student population’s awareness of sustainable support is still developing. I still do not feel we have a truly representative student council.  I also think an effective student press would both help student develop real world skills and expect greater transparency.

Nature and Nurture in American History X


As part of a educational masters unit on Conflict Resolution I was asked to consider the evidence for the impacts of nature and nurture within the film American History X:


American History X relies on the convenient premise that nature has produced a set of academically able children within the Vinyard family; Derek the straight “A” student, Davina the liberal book worm and the untapped potential of Daniel.  From such a starting point the films sees Daniel forced to review the origins of his own extreme right wing attitudes through the completion of an essay analyzing and interpreting the events relating to his brother’s incarceration (for killing two black criminals trying to steal his car).  This provides the film maker with the context to explore causes for Derek’s metamorphosis from enthusiastic student to influential Nazi gang leader and the eventual breaking down of those ideals through the tough realities of the U.S. judicial system.


Daniel acknowledges the issues of being white working class in a challenging economic climate seemingly invaded by different ethnic groups.  Yet this is not an example of nurture, but just the acknowledgement of the environment.  For, to nurture requires a third-persons pro-active influence.  This was initially his father but he died.  Derek’s related grief is again only part of the environment.  This environment certainly amplifies Derek’s continued shift but it did not cause it.  Furthermore the missing father did not create a negative nurture void, causing the retraction of ideals.  With his father gone he was simply no longer nurtured by him.  However, this environment did make him more accepting of a new mentor who had some shared opinions to that of his father.  This was Cameron, the elder Nazi gang Svengali, and a man who did help nurture Derek’s ideas and opportunities.


School appears as another environment within the film; on its own it has no influence.  The film shows that a range of individuals exist within its confines and they are clearly not all following a similar direction.  It is clear that the film is not trying to push some of the more current ideals (See Seth Godin)relating school to the requirements of the industrial revolution to produce basically educated people who understand how to follow instructions.  Yet in school it is made clear that teachers are in a position to potentially nurture.  Dr. Sweeney is shown to be the original inspiration of the young Derek; unlike all other teachers he had the potential to nurture this individual in a positive direction.  Alas the nurturing of ideals is a battle and Dr. Sweeney initially lost.  Simultaneously the film shows how they many teachers choose not to always take on the responsibility for or make the connection to allow the nurturing of students.


The seeds of hate in this film were planted much earlier than school – displayed in the film as a warning not to take an inspiring black teacher and his related black literature as anything more than a subtle form of oppression from a father.  The seed of hatred that then got planted grew only because that negativity and the related anger were never confronted. What would have happened if at that dinner table his father had applauded his son’s enthusiasm and encouraged the exploration of something new without applying additional baggage?  Yet also how could those influential and nurturing teachers know about the baggage from home they need to take on every child with an unreserved optimism.

Academic Honesty – a whole school issue


In response to a educational masters degree unit considering on-site leadership I constructed an action plan for a whole school response to the issue of academic honesty.  Although the situation is fictional I have identified considered the support structure presently in place at my present school.

Academic Honesty at a School Level

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