So it’s the beginning of the year. You’ve probably spent a few out-of-contract days setting up your classroom to look ready for the masses. You’ve hung brightly colored bulletin boards and surrounded them with stapled up content-related borders. The same borders you recycled from last year because, let’s face it, borders are flippin’ expensive! The school poster of rules that goes something like: “No Gum, No Foul Language, and No Tardies” hangs somewhere hidden in the corner above the whiteboard. After all, how inviting is the reprimanding “Don’t do this” poster anyway? Maybe there’s your own college banner above your desk or a cat-themed “Hangin’ in There” poster smack dab in the middle of a cabinet.
Regardless of what you have in your classroom to greet kids, you’re probably already thinking of ways to do the next wave of decoration to greet parents for Back to School Night in two weeks.
Now, I know this sounds crazy. But don’t.
In general, teachers have developed this pattern of posting student work for only a few weeks at a time then eventually resetting the entire room in one minimum day afternoon in time for Open House in the spring. I say ditch that model.
What would happen if you treated your classroom like a growing portfolio of student work that happened over the course of the school year? Instead, start with a blank portfolio and build it up over time.
Not only would that avoid your own mad scramble to set up for the spring event, but it would allow the students to take ownership of the classroom and begin to build it’s environment from scratch,
WHAT A CLASSROOM PORTFOLIO MIGHT LOOK LIKE
I say treat the room as you would a student portfolio. So in the first few days of the school year, the students and I create the structure of our individual digital portfolios in which to host academic artifacts of their work. Their portfolios are Google Sites with pages such as:
Homepage – a reflection of the purpose of school and our portfolios
About The Author – 3rd period bio of the student
Works in Progress – links to rough drafts and documents that show feedback from students prior to revisions
Research Library – MLA formatted bibliography broken down by assignments that show the research throughout the school year
Links to Culminating Projects – links to external Weebly sites, YouTube URLs etc…
For Open House, Chromebooks are stationed at each table group with tabs open for each student’s portfolio so that families can click around and see what they’ve accomplished throughout the school year.
Before technology, we would do the same kind of thing using manila folders. Each student would label their own folder, put them in a labeled hanging file, and each of those would be put into crates designated by period numbers. These would be whipped out and set out at desks on Open House so that families could flip through the documents within.
But there’s a great power in also treating the classroom itself like a portfolio, a community portfolio, that’s
built up over the course of the school year with examples of each vital assignment.
In other words, start with a relatively blank room and build it up over time so that when Open House comes around, the room reflects the year’s accomplishments, not just the three weeks leading up to that night.
Yeah, you run out of room quickly. You’ll have to make some choices. After all, some assignments deserve the real estate of yearlong recognition, while others don’t. And you won’t be able to showcase work from every student (not that you feel that pressure to showcase every student’s work in middle school and secondary levels). But remember, this model isn’t instead of individual portfolios; this is the classroom portfolio. This model isn’t meant to show off what individual students are accomplishing. It’s meant to show off what the class has accomplished as a community.
Start empty. Build the environment together. Celebrate the growth of the academic community. Save yourself the springtime panic by prepping for Open House now.