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ePortfolios in CTE Action Research: Improving Writing Skills with Reflective Blogging
William E. Geisweidt
Career and Technical Education, (referred to as CTE), is often an opportunity for students who are not successful in a traditional classroom environment to excel. While our current educational model is based on the factory style of delivery, CTE is the original progressive educational reform, incorporating project based learning as the primary component in the student experience, (Gordon, 2002). While this has continued to this day, we have seen CTE classes left behind in access to technology, unless the program was a technology program. Pennsylvania faces a shortage of people to fill the ‘Middle Skills’ positions, defined as those that require certification or an Associates Degree, (Career Readiness Indicator for the Future Ready PA Index and ESSA Accountability: Guidelines for Evidence Collection, Monitoring, and Reporting). Pennsylvania has decided to place an emphasis on writing skills for CTE students, with the Teacher Assistance Program, (TAP), providing professional development for CTE teachers to implement five different writing styles in CTE, (Moschetta & Lewis, 2020). To do so, ePortfolios offer an opportunity for students to meet these challenges by having an electronic, web-based portfolio that includes accomplishments, samples of writing, work, and reflections showing growth and commitment to their chosen career path.
The Action Plan that this literature review supports is how the improvement of writing skills can be accomplished through the use of ePortfolios. While documenting and posting their work will help, it is through reflective blogging that we can expect to see an increase in writing skills, (Alsamadani, 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). It is important to have the student take ownership of their learning through personalizing the experience, (Harapnuik, 2019). ePortfolios allow students to have a completely personalized learning experience. The importance of reflective blogging and the resulting improvement in writing skills measured by reductions in grammar, spelling and punctuation errors as the year progresses, will be the critical component that the action plan will focus on, (Alsamadani, 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. Of importance to this action research project is the learner has 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, 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 the team Marsden N. and Piggot-Irvine E., (2012), and separately Alsamadani, (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 light of this, we have to start somewhere, and CTE has been chosen by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a 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 which is documented by the SREB in 2013, as well as Marsden and Piggot-Irvine in 2012 both mention in their material. 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 any meaningful action plan can take place, professional development 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 and Theodore, 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 and Theodore, 2015), and “Eleven Elements of Effective Adolescent Writing Instruction”, (SREB, 2013). Once this training has taken place, we can have more confidence in the data from the action research plan.
Once we begin the action plan with students, actually implementing ePortfolios with an emphasis on improving writing skills, we can do so knowing that the data gathered is going to be valid. A mixed method data analysis will occur. We will be looking at quantitative data and qualitative data to track improvements in writing skills.
The first set of quantitative data tracked will be results from a student questionnaire concerning their outlook on writing, blogging, and technology, (Marsden and Piggot-Irvine, 2012). The second set of data collected will be the number of spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors for the first student assignment to give a baseline or starting point. The assignment will be a structured blog prompt that will help guide the students through the writing process initially, (Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, Volume 43, Number 2, 2006). We will be focusing on the second set of data as the year progresses, tracking errors and using formative assessments; mentoring, coaching, and feedback through comments and questions to guide improvement, (Wiliam, 2016). The qualitative data to be tracked is completeness. Following the blog prompt instructions, utilizing the rubric for guidance, improvement in sentence structure, and increasing vocabulary. While these are qualitative in nature on an individual basis, they will be analyzed quantitatively by grade level, reporting an improvement percentage by class, (Alsamadani, 2017). These two sets of data will yield data on the improvement of student writing, both grammar and quality.
Assessment will be difficult, yet doable, (Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, Volume 43, Number 2. 2006). At no time will a student be given a ‘letter grade’ for a completed assignment. It is the feedback 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 such as 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). Then we will be able to track actual learning, (Morris, 2021).
In conclusion, this action plan to improve writing in CTE students is just the beginning. By focusing on the basics of the writing process and using blogging as the delivery method for the student, we will be able to build upon this process to develop and tweak future action plans to improve overall student learning. The immediate goal is to improve student’s writing through the reduction of grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. The overall goal is to reduce the percentage of students at basic or below basic in writing skills, currently 43% of our students, (Pennsylvania Department of Education).
- 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
- Gordon, H. (2002). “The History and Growth of Vocational Education in America, 2nd edition,” 28-30, 38
- 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
- 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
- Morris, K. (2021, June 17). The Complete Guide To Student Digital Portfolios. CampusPress – WordPress For Universities, Schools, and Districts. https://campuspress.com/student-digital-portfolios-guide/
- Moschetta, H. & Lewis, T.; “Overview & Objectives of TAP Writing in CTE Program,” Professional Development, August 2020.
- Pennsylvania Department of Education, (2019). “Career Readiness Indicator for the Future Ready PA Index and ESSA Accountability: Guidelines for Evidence Collection, Monitoring, and Reporting,” 1-2, 5-6. https://www.education.pa.gov/Documents/K-12/Career%20and%20Technical%20Education/CEWStandards/Main/Career%20Readiness%20Guidance.pdf
- Renwick M., (2017, October 16). 10 Reasons Why You Should Implement Digital Student Portfolios. ASCD Inservice. https://inservice.ascd.org/10-reasons-why-you-should-implement-digital-student-portfolios/
- 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
- Wiliam, Professional Development, “Implementing Formative Assessments,” (2016).