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How Eportfolios And Reflective Writing Can Improve Outcomes In Economically Disadvantaged Schools
ePortfolios and Project Based Learning, (PBL), have demonstrated the ability to enhance learning through reflective writing. Through the same reflective writing process, ePortfolios have demonstrated the ability to improve students’ writing skills and critical thinking. While this is an admirable initial goal when implementing ePortfolios, the subsequent long term benefits can be transformative when we look at the effect they can have on our least advantaged students’ outcomes. From reducing arrest rates, increasing college readiness and college attendance, by focusing on students’ reflective learning, we help their socio-emotional development as well. When used together, ePortfolios and PBL have demonstrated that when implemented properly, they can have a substantial impact on student outcomes.
ePortfolios are needed in Career and Technical, (CTE), education as a way for students to reflect and learn, drawing conclusions from successes and failures in their project based learning, (PBL). Constructivist learning is the linking of past, present and future as students take ownership of their learning. CTE focuses primarily on PBL as a primary means of learning, allowing students to make lifelong connections to build learning upon. By utilizing the reflective blogging and learning aspect of ePortfolios, it has an impact on other areas of student development in economically disadvantaged students, (Tubach, 2021). These other areas are those that can lead economically disadvantaged students in poor districts to close the ‘outcome’ gap in education in economically disadvantaged districts, giving students the socio-emotional support they need, (image: researchgate.net).
ePortfolios and Writing Skills:
As educators, we are always looking for ways to improve our classrooms, student engagement, learning and outcomes. ePortfolios are a tool that has numerous benefits for students, (and teachers). Improving writing skills can be accomplished through the use of ePortfolios. Having students document and post their PBL will help with student engagement. After all, who does not like to show off what they have done? It is through reflective blogging of the learning process that we can expect to see an increase in writing skills, (Alsamadani H., 2017). In light of the aforementioned emphasis on writing skills in CTE, the need to use a new approach to teaching writing skills to students has to be taken into consideration. Today’s students are not responding to the sit & get, kill and drill, regurgitative factory model of instruction that predominates our classrooms, (Wagner, 2009).
ePortfolios allow students to have a completely personalized learning experience. It is important to have the student take ownership of their learning through personalizing the experience. COVA+CSLE is an acronym that reflects Choice, Ownership, and Voice, leading to Authentic learning by Creating Significant Learning Environments, (Harapnuik & Thibodeaux, 2016). The COVA+CSLE approach to PBL can have the greatest impact on economically disadvantaged students, helping their socio-emotional development, not simply test scores, (Jackson, Porter, Easton, & Kiguel, 2020). The importance of reflective blogging and the resulting improvement in writing skills measured by reductions in grammar, spelling and punctuation errors is a way to begin assessing this important tool, (Alsamadani H., 2017).
ePortfolios are the digital evidence of learning, (Harapnuik, 2019). In other words, the ePortfolio is a personalized account of a person’s learning journey documented in a web based platform. It contains projects in a format of the learner’s choice, written work, reflections, feedback, and items of interest to the learner, such as other blogs, video channels, career information, etc. As a result, each ePortfolio is different in appearance, layout, structure, and content, reflecting the thinking of the individual learner. Just as no two people think exactly alike, no two ePortfolios should be exactly the same. The ePortfolio allows for collaboration, group projects, and peer feedback on their work and reflections, leading the learner to a heightened awareness of their work. They are posting this ‘on the web’ for the world to see. This separates this work from the normal, just get it done and submit assignments, (Curran, B. 2019). What ePortfolios are not is a solution to poor writing skills. They are a valuable tool to use, to implement writing curriculum in a format that the learner recognizes as familiar, and already being used by this generation, (SREB, 2013). In other words, a new way for learners to take part in their learning and interact with the curriculum, (Harapnuik, 2020, quoting Dewey, 1938). We cannot simply say ‘start blogging’ and expect better results. The key aspects are what they always are, curriculum and pedagogy.
While looking for research to support the improvement of writing skills through the use of ePortfolios and reflective blogging, it became clear that there is not much research on the subject. It seems to have been studied more abroad by schools teaching English as a second language than here in the United States, for example studies by Marsden N. and Piggot-Irvine E., (2012), and Alsamadani H., (2017). Whether that is a result of our reliance on standardized tests, and the resulting reinforcement of the factory model of teaching, or a reflection of poor writing instruction at the middle and high school level, (SREB. 2013), or any combination of changing demographics, attention spans, and the aforementioned we can discuss at length without reaching any definitive conclusions. In the opinion of this author, it is believed that the old adage, ‘What gets measured gets done’, reflects the emphasis on teaching to the test and dropping anything that is not measured on the test. In light of this, we have to start somewhere and CTE, with our emphasis on PBL is a good starting point.
So we begin with writing skills. The need to improve our teaching skills for writing has been mentioned. One of the obstacles to overcome is the reluctance of content teachers to teach writing, (SREB, 2013 & Marsden and Piggot-Irvine, 2012). In addition to the reluctance of CTE teachers to teach writing, there is also going to be push back from the students, since CTE teachers are not “English” teachers. It is an experience that can rattle a newer teacher’s confidence. A more experienced teacher is more likely to get defensive and resort to, “this is the assignment and what we are told to teach”, (this author’s experience). Before introducing reflective writing to increase writing skills, professional development, (formal or informal), for content teachers’ to emphasize writing skills should take place, (SREB, 2013). The emphasis should be on writing for the teacher’s content area, using the same language the subject uses. Who better than content area teachers to grade and understand the language used in their area, (Chauvin R. and Theodore K., 2015)? Another way to improve our skills in teaching writing is to blog ourselves. One study demonstrated that the teacher’s writing skills improved along with the student’s writing skills, (Alsamadani, 2017). Teaching writing skills using proven resources such as the “5 insights for implementing writing by discipline or area of content”, (Chauvin R. and Theodore K., 2015), and “Eleven Elements of Effective Adolescent Writing Instruction”, (SREB, 2013).
Assessment is difficult, yet doable, (Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, Volume 43, Number 2. 2006). At no time should a student be given a ‘letter grade’ for a completed assignment. It is the feedforward and coaching through the writing process that is important. It would be self-defeating to ask students to self evaluate, reflect, and take risks while learning, then fall back on old methodology, (Wiliam, 2016, Wagner, 2009, et al*). Truly one of the greatest advantages with using reflective blogging in an ePortfolio is the ability to catch misunderstandings, misconceptions and lack of comprehension of material, enabling corrections of these deficiencies that lag measures, (testing), miss, (Kilbane, & Milman, 2017). The only letter grade to be given is for incomplete or unsubmitted assignments. The overall grade for the ePortfolio will be based on on-time submissions, (quantitative), and completeness using a rubric, (qualitative), (Morris, K. 2021).
ePortfolios and PBL have demonstrated the ability to enhance learning through reflective writing. Through the same reflective writing process, it has been demonstrated to improve students’ writing skills and critical thinking. While this is an admirable initial goal when implementing ePortfolios, the subsequent long term benefits can be transformative when we look at the effect they can have on our least advantaged students’ outcomes. Reflective blogging as part of PBL, empathy is one aspect of the learning process, (Tubach, 2021). This empathy, combined with the authentic learning that occurs with PBL and reflective writing, has been shown to increase writing scores by a minimum of 8% across all reading levels, (Terada, 2021). We know that increasing writing skills leads to better outcomes for our students.
As a Culinary CTE teacher, PBL in Culinary is an experience that engages all of our senses. Our sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste are all engaged when cooking and preparing food. The very process encourages students to share their experience, (and food). In the four years that students are in the program, (9th through 12th grade), it is a privilege to watch students mature and develop their socio-emotional skills. ePortfolios give my students the ability to expand the sharing of their learning journey with their parents or guardians, friends and family, and the world around them. ePortfolios and PBL have demonstrated that when implemented properly, they can have a substantial impact on student outcomes.
- Alsamadani H., (2017). The Effectiveness of Using Online Blogging for Students’ Individual and Group Writing. Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education. Retrieved from eric.ed.gov, 6/21/2021. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1165114.pdf
- Chauvin R. and Theodore K., (2015). Teaching Content-Area Literacy and Disciplinary Literacy. SEDL Insights, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2015. Retrieved from sedl.org 06/21/2021. https://sedl.org/insights/3-1/teaching_content_area_literacy_and_disciplinary_literacy.pdf
- Curran, B. (2019, February 19). How Blogging Can Improve Student Writing (Opinion). Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-how-blogging-can-improve-student-writing/2012/11
- Harapnuik, D. (2017, October 23). CSLE+COVA vs Traditional. It’s About Learning: Creating Significant Learning Environments. Retrieved February 1, 2022, from https://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=7143
- Harapnuik, D. (2021, November 10). Four keys to understanding learning theories. It’s About Learning. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from http://www.harapnuik.org/?p=6344
- Harapnuik D, 2019. What is an ePortfolio. (2020, June 7). It’s About Learning. http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=5977
- Harapnuik, D. 2020, June 7. Why Use an ePortfolio. It’s About Learning. http://www.harapnuik.org/?page_id=6063
- Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, Volume 43, Number 2. (2006). Journal Writing in Career and Technical Education: A Tool to Promote Critical Thinking Skills. https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JITE/v43n2/pdf/cooper.pdf Accessed from: CTE and Literacy: An Excellent Match. (2019, December 19). Lexia Learning. https://www.lexialearning.com/blog/cte-and-literacy-excellent-match
- Jackson, K. C., Porter, S. C., Easton, J. Q., & Kiguel, S. (2020, December 14). Who Benefits From Attending Effective Schools? Examining Heterogeneity in High School Impacts. NBER. Retrieved January 21, 2022, from https://www.nber.org/papers/w28194
- Kilbane, C. R., & Milman, N. B. (2017). Examining the Impact of the Creation of Digital Portfolios by High School Teachers and Their Students on Teaching and Learning. International Journal of EPortfolio, 7(1). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1142755.pdf
- Marsden N. and Piggot-Irvine E., (2012). Using blogging and laptop computers to improve writing skills on a vocational training course. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. Retrieved from UNITEC New Zealand, 6/21/2021. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/55e7/595147d037abc298e5d96c2b35e1401ef91c.pdf
- Southern Regional Education Board. (2013). GET IT IN WRITING Making Adolescent Writing an Immediate Priority in Texas. SREB. Published. https://www.sreb.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/getitinwriting_tx_final.pdf?1491838376
- Tubach, T. (2021, July 2). How Project-Based Learning Can Teach Empathy. Https://Www.Edutopia.Org/. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-project-based-learning-can-teach-empathy
- Wiliam, Professional Development, “Implementing Formative Assessments,” (2016).