Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Why I am not interested in “Tech in ECE.”

This post has been brewing for a long time, bubbling and simmering in my head and heart. Thanks to friends @learningmurd and @hechternacht, who read it in advance, and encouraged me to publish, even if it does ruffle a few feathers…

It has diminished somewhat, now, but for a while, on the Twitterz, I had something of a reputation as “She-Who-Tweets-With-Kindergarten” Thanks to some very positive media exposure, it was widely known that I tweet with my class. Then, my blog post about using Evernote for student portfolios got a fair amount of attention. In addition to that, I myself am very active on Twitter. I co-moderate the #kinderchat community. I run Kindergarten Around the World. I blog right here. Altogether, I manage 4 twitter accounts, 3 blogs, 2 facebook pages,  a pinterest account, and a partridge in a pear tree. I love my iPad and my shiny new iPhone 5 like nobody’s business. I lust after a new MacBook. I own (and proudly wear) an Evernote t-shirt.

OBVIOUSLY, then, I MUST be passionately interested in The Use of Technology In Early Childhood Classrooms, right?

Ehrm, actually, no.

I am very very ambivalent about being perceived as a “techie teacher.” To be utterly completely honest with you, the “tech in ECE” (and, by “ECE” I mean infants thru 3rd grade) conversation is BORING to me. It is tiring. It often feels faintly dirty, as, far too often, the people advocating FOR screen-based technology in ECE/primary classrooms,  turn out to have some personal or financial interest in putting  tech into those classrooms, while on the other end of the spectrum, the anti-tech people tend to deliberately misrepresent and misunderstand how tech is being used, and construct elaborate criticisms of tools that they themselves do not use and therefore do not understand.  I have often felt like I was being recruited by both sides of this conversation. I have deliberately been non-committal, even downright slippery and evasive, while secretly squirming in discomfort. So here, I’m throwing it all out there — all the random reasons why the “tech in ECE” conversation is not my thing. Maybe sharing them here will help me make sense of them. Maybe this will help move the conversation in a more compelling direction. Or maybe this will just help me feel a little lighter by getting things off my chest.

  • I guess the very word “technology” is a good place to start. The word “technology,” in this conversation, is really just a cover for “screen-based technology.” The conversations and debates are never about whether we should use CD players or listening centres or digital cameras or tape recorders or or even electric pencil sharpeners (all of which are “technology”). The discussion is ALWAYS about: iPads, iPods, computers, smartboards. Let’s make no mistake: this is about screens.
  • And THEN, because the “tech” conversation is really the “screen-based tech” conversation, the “anti-tech” people get to start talking about the evils of “screen time” as if there is no difference between a 2 year old parked in front of ScoobyDoo for 8 hours a day while the babysitter does her nails, and a 5 year old dictating a tweet that will be sent to (and replied to by) another 5 year old on the other side of the world. And any conversation that requires that many sets of quotation marks to describe is ALREADY exhausting. And boring. And probably futile. I have experienced first-hand how the anti-screentime people don’t want to hear about how an inner city classroom uses a smartboard to go on virtual fieldtrips to the rainforest, or how tweeting with friends in Indonesia brought empathy to a whole new level in my classroom. If it happened using a screen, it apparently… doesn’t count? Really?
  • All of that being said, if pushed on it, I have to say: I’m just not sure that handheld screen-based tech has a place in classrooms for children under 5. There. I said it. I said “no, thanks” to iPads in the Preschool and Junior Kindergarten classes at my school. Those kiddos have too many things to do with their brains and their bodies and each other to be spending time on a screen while they are at school. I’m also really not sure that putting a device worth several hundred dollars in the hands of 3 year olds is the world’s soundest decision. There, I said it.
  • I think that screen-based versions of real-life things are rarely the better option.  The people who sing the praises of these sorts of apps seem to be inordinately focused on the “easy and convenient” factor: No cleanup! Less noise! Easy and convenient is for 7-11, not kindergarten teachers. Maybe I will someday encounter a situation where virtual pattern blocks provide more learning opportunities than the real thing, but until then I prefer real, three-dimensional blocks that kids can touch and move and feel and manipulate.
  • As it says in my bio, I believe tech is a tool. Nothing less and nothing more. What’s more, “tech” is a category of tools. Asking “what do you think of technology in ECE?” is like asking “What do you think about writing utensils in ECE?” Well, um… they are definitely good to have. I like some better than others. Different utensils are better suited to some tasks/age groups/goals than others. Some require adult supervision. Some require specific instruction to use them properly and safely. Some are really not my favourite in kindergarten, but may be great for other age groups. I think there are teachers who are not very thoughtful about which writing utensils are most appropriate/provide the most learning opportunities for their students. Even the ones I don’t LOVE may have their place for a specific child trying to master a specific skill or complete a specific task…  You see? All of these things are true about technology, too. And yet, we do not devote hours of debate to the question of writing utensils. (Sidebar: I can actually get quite worked up about writing utensils in kindergarten, and WHY CRAYONS ARE BETTER THAN MARKERS, but that is another post…) We don’t have conferences about writing utensils. We don’t get pressure from admin to better integrate writing utensils. We don’t have to apply for grants to GET writing utensils. We don’t have to prove why we need them or how they will benefit our students. Writing utensils are not that interesting. To me, tech isn’t, either.
  • Also in my bio “if you don’t have a sandbox, you don’t need an iPad.” We have so many bigger fish to fry in this field right now. There are teachers who have had their dolls, blocks, sandboxes, sensory tubs, housekeeping centres, ripped out of their classrooms and replaced by desks and worksheets. There are schools without recess, without daily PE, without any fine arts programs. When and if you are confident that your students are getting adequate play time, exercise, fresh air, interaction, exploration, creative expression, time in nature, sensory stimulation, and rest time, THEN let’s talk about careful, thoughtful, use of screen-based tech. What would happen if, when an administrator offered an iPad to a kindergarten teacher, that teacher asked for $500 worth of toys and books and puppets and puzzles? Or even… a sandbox? $500 will buy A LOT of paint and playdough and dolls and blocks. It will even buy a sandbox.
  • And, on the other hand, to borrow from a comment I made earlier today on my friend Matt Gomez’s blog: in a program where “play” has been systematically eliminated (and those programs and settings DO exist, let’s make no mistake here), an app or software package that feels like a game to a child might help create some positive associations about school.  Even if that app is “worksheety.” (That is SO my new favourite adjective.) Even if it is dressed up drill & kill. A child who looks forward to SOMETHING about school is always going to be a better learner…. right?
  • A lot of the praise-singing for tech in the classroom talks about “sharing with an authentic audience.” I’m really not sure about this one.  I’m not sure that this sharing is truly motivating for kindergarten students. Often, they are far more interested in the process of creating something than they are in the finished product, and I WANT IT THIS WAY. The learning is in THE PROCESS, right? Once the goal becomes the sharing of the product, what happens to the process? When my students DO take an interest in the product, their first question is “Can I take it home?” They want to show Mom and Dad, Sister and Brother, MAYBE Grandma and Grandpa. Sharing students’ work with a global audience is undeniably exciting for teachers, but is it interesting to 5, 6, 7 year olds? Do they even care? Are they more excited by seeing it posted in the classroom or the hallway? By inviting the principal or librarian to come see it? By taking it home and put it on the fridge? Who is the sharing really for? When we ask for #comments4kids, how authentic IS it?
  • A global audience is not the same as building global relationships, and we need to be careful not to confuse the two, or to treat them interchangeably. If screen-based technology is helping kids build relationships with others (especially other CHILDREN), and those relationships motivate our students to share their work and learning, I am all on board. Heck, I am more than On Board. I will captain the ship and take Kindergarten all the way Around the World.

There. It’s out there. Part of me is worried that I may have offended some of you with this post. Another part of me says that at least I was pretty even-handed in distributing potentially offensive comments; people on BOTH sides of this conversation could (and likely will) take issue with some of my points. But that’s exactly the thing, isn’t it? There shouldn’t be a question of “sides.” Somehow, on this issue, we hear every question as a criticism. Every mention of a useful app becomes an Endorsement for iPads in All Kindergartens. Jebus Crisco. Just because I like a new kind of Sharpie doesn’t mean I think all teachers everywhere should scrap the crayons.

So, let’s stop. Let’s stop talking about “tech.” Let’s talk about the children we love and ALL the tools we use to reach and teach them.


       Because that conversation? Now THAT is interesting.

 

 

23 Comments »

Ask Miss Night: How to ensure “student led” program for all 23 students?

And awaaayyyy we go!

Thanks to  my new friend JB, who submitted my very first Ask Miss Night question, just hours after I first added the page. JB, you will never know what a confidence booster that was. The very least I can do in return is reply to your question first!

Starting very soon, JB will be teaching Junior Kindergarten, in Ontario, Canada. In the province of Ontario, JrK is included as part of the public school system. She has 23 students in her class, most of them are 4 year olds, although there will be a few 3 year olds for the first part of the year: children must turn 4 before December 31st to be eligible for JrK. Her children attend full days, but on alternating days – she will have 2 different groups of 23 children. (I’m assuming it is something like this: Group A comes Monday, Wednesday, and alternating Fridays; Group B does Tuesday, Thursday, alternating Fridays). She will have a classroom aide only if she has a student who needs extensive support, and if that happens, the aide will be for that student only, not the whole group. (This surprises me – I thought the Ontario model included a teacher and an ECE in each class, but maybe I am wrong? Or maybe funding has not turned out as promised?)

The Ontario Kindergarten Program requires that teachers offer a play-based, student-led program, with very little whole group instruction. From what JB has told me (as well as my own research), the role of the teacher is to serve as a guide: enhancing and extending the natural learning that occurs through play. JB has a good grasp of what this means, and seems at ease with the underlying philosophy (YAY JB! The Ontario program really is a model for other provinces, as well as other countries. You go, girl!), but her question is this:

“Do you have some tips, suggestions, strategies to help me move around the room of 23 three and four-year old children throughout the day, quickly and efficiently so that I might respond to, challenge and extend each and every child’s learning ?”

 

Eeep! Ok, my first thought here is: TWENTY THREE 3 & 4 year olds ALL BY YOURSELF? Cheezus Crisco, brace yourself! However, I realise that is not exactly a helpful response. Also, while we all KNOW the advantages of student-led programming, it is still a little daunting to figure out how to follow the lead of 23 children, without having to do 23 things at the same time, or split yourself in 23 different directions. (We all know the very maximum, even for teachers, is 15 things/directions at once, right?) And JB, I already admire your commitment to connecting with every child, every day. That is a big commitment, but so important. It is so easy for the quiet, compliant, meek little ones to slip under the radar until one day you realize you haven’t had a conversation with one of them ALL WEEK.

So, I think that, if I was in your situation, this is what I would do: I would make a daily checklist that I carried around on a clipboard (or maybe you could bind a bunch together in a little booklet…?). The checklist itself could be super-simple: just a spot for the date, a list of kids names, and room for notes next to each name. If you wanted to get fancy, you could make columns for things like what activities that child was doing, who they were playing with, what skills you saw, what skills need development. But, if it was me, I would just do a “Name” column and a “Notes” column. As I circulated around the room, I would add at least a checkmark, and if needed a quick note about the children as I observed and interacted with them.  I would extend the children’s play as I interacted with them, but would also then use those notes to plan the next day’s play activities. I know that carrying a clipboard is a little unwieldy… if you can write really small, you could maybe make the list just a  half-page, and then bind a bunch into a notebook half the size? As a bonus – think of all the rich material this would give you at report card/progress report/assessment times – you’d have daily notes on each kiddo! With 23 kids, your notes would have to be in some kind of code or short-hand, but that wouldn’t be hard to develop. This could get fun if the kids catch on to what you are doing – it could evolve to a point where they have input into what is in your notes. Once they are settled and into the routine, it might be really interesting to explicitly tell them that you make notes every day about what they are learning, what they enjoy, what they could learn next, and that if they have things they want you to remember, they can tell you. How cool would it be for them to have an active, explicit voice in the direction of their own learning?? “Please write down that tomorrow I want more time to string beads.” “Please write that I want to learn to zip my coat.” Fun, right? If you went that way, you could also make the “by request” lists public, on a white board. (You could take a picture of the whiteboard before erasing it, so you have it documented.) The more I think about it, the more potential I see to involve the children in this process…

If you have an iPad and/or iPhone/Smartphone, the other tool that could be really great for this (regardless of how/whether you involve the children),  is an app called Evernote. I used it for digital portfolios for my kids last year, and am already thinking about how to also use it for ongoing notes this year. I blogged about it in detail here. You could make a notebook for each child, or a notebook for each class group, and then title or tag your notes with kids’ names… With a phone or iPad, you could type a quick note (or even snap a pic!) about each child. The iPad interface makes it pretty easy to see if there are any notebooks you haven’t updated on any given day. Once again, you would also end up with great documentation to answer parent questions and/or  help you write reports.

As much as possible, I would try to move through the room naturally, interacting with the children in small groups as they play, rather than being super-systematic about following the checklist. Once there was less than an hour of potential interaction time remaining, I would check to see if there was anyone I was missing, and make a point of checking in with that/those child(ren). Again, if the kids were involved, and knew this was part of your daily routine, they would be happy to let you know if you have not checked in with one of them!

To me, the important thing here is that JB is on board with the philosophy of her program, and has a good understanding of what “student-led” should mean. JB, I hope this is helpful in some small way – please check in and let us know how it all goes! Readers, if you think of something I have missed, please jump in in the comments.

Smiles and Sunshine to all;

Miss Night

Do YOU have a question for me and/or the readers (who are, truly, ever so much smarter than me)? Click here to share the juicy details!

 

 

 

25 Comments »

Of bellybutton lint & glitter…

So, you teach. (At least, I assume that most of my readers teach.  Those of you who don’t teach, this is still good, I promise.) You are tech-friendly, as evidenced by the fact that you read blogs. (Or, at least, you read THIS blog, which seems like a good first step.) Maybe you LIKE some teaching-related stuff on Facebook. Maybe you blog yourself. And maybe you have heard or read a little bit about how teachers are using Twitter for professional development. And you think it sounds sort of cool, but it’s also like trying to decode a whole other language. What in the name of heaven is a hashtag? What’s with the @ symbol in front of everything? With 100 million users, how do I even FIND these amazing teachers?

Alternatively: you teach. You are tech-friendly (if not downright tech-crazy). You blog and you read blogs and you belong to 856 Facebook communities related to education. You are on Twitter and you LOVE it, and you sing the praises of your PLN to everyone who will listen. The problem? No one will listen, because “Twitter is just a bunch of celebrities tweeting about their bellybutton lint and what they ate for breakfast,” and they “just don’t have time to figure all that out.”

Whoever you are, this, my friends, is for you:
(Watch it in full-screen, if you can; it’s better that way.)

4 Comments »

So you want to tweet with kindergarten…

So, based on the response I have had to my recent media exposure, it seems that another how-to post is in order. Many people have asked me how to get started tweeting with young students, and honestly, the responsibility of guiding you through this is sort of daunting. To simply tell you: “Set up an account and go!” is woefully inadequate, and possibly negligent. As I have described in previous posts, my own decision to tweet with kindergarten was slow, thoughtful, deliberate. Your decision should be, too. With that said, this is my attempt to walk you through Twittergarten (as it has been coined by a reporter I know…). This process remains equally true if you are tweeting with any grade level, by the way, so don’t be turned off by the frequent kinder-references. Also: I stand by my statement that this is not a how-to blog. I don’t think I tweet with kindergarten any BETTER than anyone else.  This is just how I do it, and this is the only way I can, in good conscience, advise you to do it.
**An opening sidebar:  If you are tweeting with just one other class, in the context of Kindergarten Around the World, I’m not sure that ALL of these steps are strictly necessary, and some of them have been done for you, by me. In fact, Kindergarten Around the World would be a great way to start tweeting with your class, and then move on to tweeting with multiple classes. That said, effective 2012-13, participation in Kindergarten Around the World has required teachers to have their own twitter account, independent of their class account, for all of the reasons listed below. End of sidebar.**
https://i1.wp.com/twitter.com/images/resources/twitter-bird-white-on-blue.png?resize=200%2C200&ssl=1
  • Step 1 – Get on Twitter yourself. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you are not active on Twitter yourself in a professional capacity, I’m not sure that it is responsible for you to start tweeting with your class. From perspectives both technical and ethical, I believe it is important in this situation for teachers to KNOW the medium. Create a personal account, start building a network. Start with me, @happycampergirl, if you don’t have anyone else to start following. Other good choices are @hechternacht (my partner in #kinderchat crime, more on that in a  second), and other #kinderchat stars: @mattbgomez, @mr_fines, @mathmurd @tori1074, @havalah. Follow us, interact with us (we’re nice, I promise), get a feeling for who is who and what is what. Follow links, read some blogs (and comment, too!), make some friends. Participate in a chat or two (the Newbie’s Guide to KinderChat is here, and holds true for other chats, too). This is important for several reasons: a) you will learn HOW to interact on Twitter; b) you will develop some instincts for who your “people” are, and when something is just not right; c)people will get to know you and trust you, which you will need once you start tweeting with your class and are requesting to follow other teachers’ classes. Let’s put it this way: I do not accept follow requests for my class if I have never interacted with their teacher, and (to be completely honest) my class interacts more with the classes of teachers I know well.

 

(And, all of this aside: even if you do not want to  or cannot tweet with your class, get yourself on Twitter. It is truly the greatest, free PD you will ever find. If #kinderchat doesn’t float your boat, find a chat that does. There are chats for most grades and subject areas. @cybraryman has a great guide, here.)

 

  • Step 2 – Think through the logistics and reality of tweeting with your class: When will you do it? Do you have the technology? I honestly can’t imagine tweeting with my class without having an Interactive White Board. If you don’t have one, how will you facilitate students’ interactions? (A good PLN can help you figure this out, by the way.) When in your day can you work it in? Twitter is only meaningful if your kids are building relationships with other kids, and that means tweeting regularly. Are you, yourself, completely sold on this medium as a meaningful tool for young children? (Obviously, I am, but you need to draw your own conclusions on this). Read some of the criticisms, here, and here, and think about them, please.

 

  • Step 3 – Figure out your curriculum connections. What are your goals for tweeting with your class? These will provide you a road map for how you will use twitter in your classroom. Are you focusing on geography and social studies? Literacy and literature? Second language development? Math and numeracy? Intercultural awareness and internationalism? It is okay if your answer is “all of the above!”, just be sure you know where you are going.  Again, there are teachers around the world who are using Twitter for all of these things, and being active on Twitter yourself will help you find them.

 

  • Step 4 – Talk to your administrators. I want to be clear that, while tweeting with kindergarten seems  to be considered cutting-edge, and, in some eyes, makes me some kind of rebel (if I figure out what exactly I am rebelling against, I will let you know), my boss (and her boss) has always been completely, 100% aware and supportive of what I am doing. Another good reason to be active on Twitter yourself is that it will help you build your case with your admins. Long before I wanted to tweet with my class, my boss knew about all the great ideas and support I was getting from teachers I knew through Twitter.

 

  • Step 5 – With your boss’s help, think through privacy and security questions. Will you tweet photos/video/audio that shows your students? Your classroom? Your school? How will you identify your students? Full names? First names? Initials? Can you/should you name your school and/or city?  Will your class account be private or protected (I highly recommend private to start, but I know of classes for whom a public account best meets their goals, and I know their teachers are handling safety and privacy very well.) Who will you follow? Who will be allowed to follow you? A good PLN can help you think through these things, and share samples of their own policies/consent forms (are you starting to notice a pattern, here?)

 

  • Step 6 – Talk to your students’ parents, preferably face to face. Even if your school already has a photo/video/online release policy that covers the use of Twitter (this is pretty unusual, by the way), talk to parents and get their written consent. My students’ parents KNOW what we are doing, they signed written consent forms, and about 1/3 of them are following our class. Before I created my class account last year, I added twitter to my agenda for our November parent-teacher conferences. I explained it to parents, encouraged them to talk/think about it, and to follow-up with me with any questions or concerns.

 

  • Step 7– When ALL of this is done, and (as my grad school advisor would say:) all of your ducks are in a row: create your class account. Share your screen-name with your admins and your students’ parents.  Use DMs (a DM is a direct, private message on Twitter) to share your class screen-name with teachers you know and trust through twitter, yourself. My class’s screen-name rarely appears in the public stream on Twitter, because I don’t want to field follow requests from spammers or people I don’t know. I share our screen-name only via DM. With your students’ help and input, write your twitter bio, choose an avatar, and send your first tweet.
With that, you are off to the races. I trust that you are all competent teachers, and capable of creating your own activities, organizational systems, and management tricks (although I’m happy to share my own, if you ask.) If all of this sounds a little confusing, and you are wondering why I kept putting a “#” in front of kinderchat, and you’re still not sure how a DM is different from a regular tweet, well…. I would suggest you are not ready to tweet with your class. There are lots of situations where I am completely in favour of learning alongside our students, but, given the attention span of 5-year-olds, and the (manageable, but still present) risks of a social media environment, my position here is that Twitter is not one of those.
For perhaps the 347th time: If you want to get your class on Twitter, you need to get yourself on Twitter, first.
14 Comments »

Scrapbook is not a verb: How to Use Evernote for Student Portfolios

So, the thing is… this is NOT a “how-to” blog. I’ve never really been comfortable with the idea of using my blog to explain my tools, tips, routines, rituals, in great detail. It always somehow feels like bragging. Don’t ask me how TWEETING about some new trick (something I do all. the. time.) doesn’t feel like bragging, but it just doesn’t. Maybe because Twitter is a conversation, so sharing something there feels more like TALKING? And writing a blog post seems more like hanging a poster saying “Look at me, I am so awesome?” Does that even make sense? Writing a “how to” here seems so much like saying “Behold the brilliance that is me!” Ick. I also tend to not like most “how-to” teacher blogs, for the very same reason. Of course, if you are reading this, and you write a “how-to” teacher blog, I don’t mean YOU. YOUR BLOG, I LOVE.

Ok, great, I am not even up to the how-to part, and I have already probably offended half of you. So, let’s just pull out all the stops here: BEHOLD THE BRILLIANCE THAT IS ME, while I tell you all about How I Use Evernote for Student Portfolios, and You Can, Too.

Back-story: This School has portfolio-based assessment as part of our 3-year strategic plan, and we decided that this year was The Year that every teacher at every grade level would include portfolios in our assessment strategy.

More back-story: Up until now, the kindergarten teachers at my school have always done scrapbooks for the students, containing art projects, work samples and photos. I have always been HORRENDOUSLY TERRIBLE at doing these, because I am one of those people who doesn’t think that scrapbook has any business being a verb, and I just feel like, if parents want a nice souvenir scrapbook of kindergarten, they are WELCOME to make one. At home. On their time. Because making a cute scrapbook for each kid is 110% NOT FUN FOR ME. (See? Now I have also offended the scrapbookers out there, haven’t I?) Oh, my glee, why do you people even put up with me?

Ok, so: we needed portfolios, I wanted a way out of scrapbooks (not a verb, not a verb, not a verb). Even before we decided this was Portfolio Year, I had begun playing around with Evernote. Evernote is an app, downloadable for free, to computers, tablets, and most Smart-type-phones. I installed it on my Macbook, and my Android phone, and, when my school gave me an iPad to play with over the summer, I put it on there, too. (Quick disclaimer: I have the paid, premium version of Evernote, and have been using for long enough that I am no  longer sure which features are in the free version, and which are only available with a paid account. Basically, if you are considering using it for student portfolios, you need the paid version because you need the extended memory and (believe me) you WANT the capacity to add video clips. If more than one teacher at your school is going to use it, the best value is to set up a sponsored, group account, for education.)

Evernote is such a broad-based app that it is hard to describe it in a general way. Basically, it allows you to create digital notebooks for any topic that interests you. Within each notebook, you can add notes that may be:

  • text (typed right into the app on whatever device you choose)
  • photos 
  • audio clips
  • web clips (there is a web-clipper tool that allows you to insert a link or an entire webpage into an Evernote notebook)

You can also add attachments to your notes, of nearly any file type: Word, Excel, PDF, Powerpoint, video. Notebooks can be shared with other users, so, for example, specialist teachers can add their own notes, photos, work samples to student files. More on that later.

So, I first started using it to document my own teaching, because I am fantastically gifted at teaching an amazing lesson by the seat of my pants, and then being unable to replicate it the following year. I created Evernote notebooks for each unit/theme, and as we did different activities, I:

  • took photos of completed projects/crafts/writing activities, etc
  • took photos of bulletin board displays or whiteboard setups that worked (or didn’t)
  • used my phone to text notes into Evernote notebooks about how to change/modify/improve/adapt an activity or lesson in the future.

The reason Evernote was so great for this was that I could walk around the classroom with my phone, open the app, go into the “Butterflies” notebook, take a picture, text a caption, and then IT AUTOMATICALLY SYNCED TO ALL MY OTHER DEVICES. There is no “take a photo, e-mail it to self, save the photo attachment, create a new note, re-attach the photo.” The photo and/or text are automatically filed in the right place, and (assuming wifi is present), almost INSTANTLY available on every device to which you have installed the app. Nearly a year into using the app, this still seems like magic to me.

Access anywhere.

The leap from there to student portfolios was a short one. At the beginning of this year, I created an Evernote notebook for each student in my class. Throughout the day, I walk around with my iPad (I much prefer the iPad to the phone, but I suspect that is because the keyboard on my Android phone is downright hateful), and take notes in the kids’ notebooks. For art projects, I make sure to take a photo of the process as well as the product. For journal writing, I take a photo of the journal page, and then add audio of the child reading what he/she has written (audio recordings can be added directly to notes, within the Evernote app). I take notes about activities students particularly enjoy, pics of completed lego/sandbox/playdough creations, notes on social skills or behaviour patterns. I also take “souvenir” photos of special occasions: first day of school, birthdays, lost teeth, Halloween, etc. Everything is filed in each child’s notebook. Evernote also allows you to copy a note to several different notebooks, so if a group of children complete a project, that project can appear in each child’s individual notebook. Student work can also be added by scanning it as a PDF, and then attaching the PDF to an Evernote note, but I find the photo technique is faster and cleaner.

About once a week, I go into Evernote on my laptop, and “clean up” each child’s notebook. I make sure the notes are clear and appropriate for parents to see, add captions to photos, delete notes that are not pertinent, and correct anything that is mis-filed (this is easy to do, just drag-and-drop). I also add tags to all my notes. Tags allow me to pull up (for example) all journal work for a particular student, or for all students.  I’m still working out the finer points of my tagging system, but I try to tag by: subject area (math, literacy, language, etc), developmental domain (gross motor, fine motor, social skills, etc), and type of content (photo, journal, audio, etc).

Last week, I had my first round of parent-teacher interviews. In the interview, I showed each parent their child’s notebook, and explained that over the weekend, I would e-mail them an invitation to view their child’s portfolio at home (I also encouraged them to look at the portfolio WITH their child, and am really hoping they will do so). Parents can choose to download the app, or to log in to Evernote online (this is true for me as well: if ever I was away from ALL of my devices, but needed to update a notebook, all I need is a computer with internet access, and I can log in to Evernote.com to to access all my notes. See? MAGIC!). My plan is to share the notebooks with parents for about 2 weeks, and then “unshare” them, so that I can continue to add new content without worrying about parents seeing typos or mis-files, or temporary notes that only make sense to me.

The next step in all of this is to bring our specialists on board. All my students have classes with our Phys Ed and Music specialists, and some of them also work with our Early Intervention teacher. With a paid Evernote account, I can share students’ notebooks with those teachers, and grant them access to add content. There is also the possibility of granting access to the Speech Therapist and Occupational Therapist who work with some of my students. If (please, God, PLEASE) we were to decide to go to all-digital portfolios next year, for all grade levels (and to do so using Evernote), I could also transfer ownership of my students’ notebooks over to their first grade teachers. (At least, I’m pretty sure I could. I haven’t tested that out yet, but it makes sense that it would be possible.) (To clarify, Evernote is being piloted this year by me, and 2 of the first grade teachers. Other teachers are doing hard-copy portfolios, in a variety of formats.)

Evernote is not perfect. I wish that I could add video notes as easily as photo and audio. (Hey, Evernote people, if you’re reading this: how about the ability to record video notes DIRECTLY from within the app, rather than having to record with a camera, download, and then attach to a note? THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!). I wish that I could create a “batch” of notes, all with the same title and tags, and then file them into appropriate students’ notebooks. Example: when the children wrote Thanksgiving journal entries, I took a photo of each journal, and then had to title and tag each note individually. It would have been great to be able to create a batch of “Thanksgiving Journal” notes, all tagged with “writing” “language” “journals” “audio.” (And if you are reading this, and know a way to do this, YOU HAVE A MORAL OBLIGATION TO SHARE IT IN THE COMMENTS!) I am cautious about my students’ privacy, and their Evernote portfolios identify them by first name only. Their last names, birthdates, personal information, do not ever appear, nor does the name of our school.

Altogether, I love the system I have created. I love that I can access my students’ portfolios from anywhere, without having to lug around a huge stack of paper. I love that I can photograph and file a whole day’s worth of activities in less than 10 minutes. I love that group projects get to be included in EVERY child’s portfolio, even if the project is big, messy, or three-dimensional. As a French immersion teacher, I love that the audio note feature allows me to document my students’ budding language skills, and play it back over and over to assess their pronunciation. As a kindergarten teacher, I love that it allows to me use and document assessment tasks that are play-based and age appropriate (rather than being limited to paper-and-pencil activities and/or standardised tests.) I love that going through a child’s portfolio has the potential to educate parents about not only their own child, but also about what and how and why I teach.

I love that Evernote allows me to create Kindergarten Portfolios that are both a lovely souvenir AND a record of growth and progress.

And most of all, I love that it allows me to do all of this WITHOUT using scrapbook as a verb.

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