Archive of ‘Documenting Learning’ category

A Guide to Documenting Learning – Book Review

If you look back at the date of my first post, you’ll see that I have not been blogging for long at all. Documenting my learning in this format, on this public platform, is very new for me. It began as a tool provided to me and my colleagues who were fortunate enough to participate in a learning cohort with Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (who I have mentioned many times in my posts) and has quickly turned into something I enjoy doing, value doing, and am eager to share out.

As with many things that are new to us, we often look for resources that can help us do what we’re doing, better. One such resource for me as I have begun to capture and reflect on my learning, has been A Guide to Documenting Learning, by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano and Janet A. Hale. This is not a book that needs to be read cover to cover. It is also not the book that I read at the beginning of my journey and now sits on my shelf. It is full of post-it notes, some weathered pages and has been the inspiration for many of the lessons in my classroom. This is because the authors have made this static book as interactive as possible, by including QR codes, website links, tool suggestions, annotated images and infographics to help the reader understand exactly what is possible. It is in and of itself, an artifact of learning that models what each of us can do to grow professionally and personally.

What I love most about this book is that it highlights that we are all learners. The line between teacher and student does not need to exist. What applies for educators in terms of documenting our learning applies for our students as well. The book recognizes that we are all at different points in our journey and there are no excuses as to why you can’t start now. Whether you are documenting your own learning as a professional, documenting the learning of your students, or helping your students to own their own learning and become reflective and critical thinkers for themselves, this book has many strategies to help you get started and continue learning every day.

Blogging Bingo

(Cross-post from my class blog)


Here is our newest Blogging Challenge. Students will add to their personal blogs, and are challenged to complete as many of these challenges as they can! We will also continue adding work based on other activities we are doing in class. Students are always allowed, and encouraged, to post about things they are doing in school, in all subjects.

It is my hope that we will have a mini student led conference, where you will come into school and your child will walk you through their blog, including all the artifacts of their learning. More information on this to come.

Please continue to check your child’s blogfolio and comment! Remember to leave your last name off when commenting to help keep the privacy of your child. Asking questions, adding information, and offering suggestions are all great things to include in your comment.

And as always, if you have any questions or comments for me, please leave them below 🙂

The Four Kinds of Documentation

As I work on creating a Blogging Bingo Challenge for my students, I felt an inforgraphic explaining some of the tasks would be helpful for my students. I contacted Kelli Vogstad, whose blog post on Digital Portfolios has been a guiding light for me as I go through this journey. I first asked for permission to use her descriptions of the Four Kinds of Documentation. I also inquired if any graphic already existed. With her full approval, I set out to create my first infographic using Piktochart.

The learning curve was pretty minimal and I was extremely impressed with the vast supply of graphics, borders and backgrounds. It was fun and easy (and time consuming!)

This is the first draft I sent to Kelli, asking for her feedback, as these are really her thoughts, not mine. One thing to note is that I am using a free account on Piktochart. In my working copy, I linked Kelli’s name to her blog post (linked above as well) where she goes into more detail and supplies examples. With my free account I am only able to save as a PNG, and would need to upgrade to save as a PDF, which would allow for the link to be live.

I patiently await her feedback!

Parents: All Aboard!

At this point, I’ve dipped my toes in the documenting waters with my students. I’m ready to jump in and launch individual blogfolios. I have to decide:

  • What will the URLs be?
  • What permissions, if any, do I need to get from parents?
  • How will I manage posts and comments?

I spoke with my Head of School to get the school’s perspective. I then spoke with the documenting guru, Silvia Tolisano. She shared her views, which helped guide me towards other educators’ thoughts and experiences.

Combining all this information together, along with my own opinions and knowledge of our parent body, I have written the parent letter below. I wanted to include information about what a blogfolio is, why documenting learning is important, and offer options that fit our school’s needs and meet the parents where they currently are. The hope is that most families will opt to allow their child to have a completely public blog. If parents opt for one of the other options, the hope is that they will eventually change their privacy settings once they, and their child, see the added value of a public-facing blog.

The Ghost of Lost Reflections

Back in December, during Winter Break, I read Hacking Homework by Starr Sackstein and Connie Hamilton. I read it on my phone, thinking it would be great to highlight and screenshot as I read, to be able to go back and document what I learned from the book. I read it on the plane and ABSOLUTELY LOVED it. I must have taken about 30 screenshots, had tons of ideas floating through my head while I read, and I finished the book, cover to cover, in about 2 hours. It completely captivated me. So you’re probably wondering…where’s the blog post???

I never wrote it.

Time passed. School started. Life continued. I shared some of what I learned with my colleagues and launched an activity with my students based on some of what I read. But I never fully captured my learning because I consumed too much too quickly and didn’t properly document my thinking in the moment. You’d think I would learn from my own teaching, that a picture alone is not an authentic artifact of learning. I didn’t allow myself the time to sit with it, think about it, ask questions, and reflect why I even highlighted something in the first place.

Today I began my first Ampeduca course, Step by Step Guide: Learning About Blogging for your Students. Module 1 was an introduction with important terms, and then Module 2 started talking about things teachers will discover once they start reading blogs. I immediately took this screenshot, that teachers who read blog will get better at…

I LOVED this. I thought to myself: This is what excites me most about blogging with my students. How often do I hear my students say, “Mrs. Thompson, I’m done! I’ve written, I’ve edited, I’ve submitted, I’m done.” From now on, I would love to hear, “Mrs. Thompson, I’ve written, I’ve edited, I’ve shared, I’m ready to begin the conversation and get feedback!”

I was about to click the Mark as completed button, to move onto the next lesson. But then thought, WAIT! I have to capture this! Don’t make the same mistake twice! Start a blog post, save it as a draft, annotate the screenshot, DO SOMETHING! But don’t let the time pass with a screenshot sitting amongst millions of others in a folder waiting to become the ghost of lost reflections.

I guess one might say I’m learning 🙂

A Great Problem to Have

So much has been happening in my class, that it feels like I have TOO much to blog about for one post…that’s a really great problem to have, and definitely not one I ever would have imagined having when I started this journey. Just a few short months ago I worried I wouldn’t have enough to say!

So, let me fill you in…

This past week my students and I read Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine. We were reading this book in anticipation of Emil Sher‘s visit to our school, to speak to grades 5-8 about his experience of turning Hana’s Suitcase into a play.

I decided to try something a little different for this reading experience. Keeping Sketchnoting Tip #3 in mind, I asked my students to sketchnote as I read the story. What stood out to them? What images, words, symbols, etc. could be used to help capture the text in another way. Each time we read, the students ran to get their papers and pencils to draw. It comes as no surprise that no two sketchnotes were the same. Yet they all told their own story in their own way.

Emil’s visit was extremely captivating and he taught us many things playwrights need to consider when turning a book into a play (stay tuned…he has inspired some exciting new Language Arts activities based on this!)

After Emil’s presentation, my students and I sat together and decided we wanted to tweet about our experience. The first thing we did was look at the pictures we’d taken to see which one was the best representation of our learning. The students discussed the pros and cons of each image, and settled on this picture, since it showed Emil, the book, and a larger image of Hana’s suitcase.

Next, we discussed what needed to be included in our tweet. What did we want to tell people? Who should we mention? What hashtags should we use to amplify our post?


We made this list first, writing down all the suggestions they came up with. But we weren’t sure if all these people had Twitter, or if these hashtags would be helpful in amplifying our tweet.




After a quick search, we were able to discover which we could find and what should be included.



Through collaboration, we eventually tweeted this:

But our learning didn’t end there. This morning, when we checked on the activity of our tweet, we found that someone had retweeted our tweet….but who? and what did they say??

Thank goodness we know that “tools are our friends” 🙂 A quick Google Translate helped us know what this person’s Twitter name was, and what they had to say about our post…almost.


Now we needed to figure out if this person could add value to our learning.

Students made suggestions, and after exploring the Twitter page more, we discovered their website, Kokoro, which finally identified them as a Japanese Holocaust Resource Centre. The students are so excited to continue amplifying their learning by reaching out and seeing what other connections we can make through this centre.

Teaching and Documenting and Personalizing..Oh My!

As I’ve mentioned before, we often ask students to write a reflection on their work and encourage them to set goals for themselves. But do we actually teach them how to look at their work critically?

As I’ve been learning, documenting FOR learning can be really helpful for students to see and compare their work over time, to see where they have grown, and what patterns they’re able to uncover. Sometimes though, reflecting on one piece of work is important too, and it is a skill that needs to be taught.

As a Language Arts teacher, I believe strongly in providing useful, detailed feedback for my students. I’ve spent hours creating rubrics, provide comments and tips throughout their work, and hand them back in the hopes that they will read what I’ve written, take it to heart, and then apply it to their next writing piece. And what happens when I hand back a graded assignment?? The students flip right to their mark, ignore all the comments, and then tuck their work into the depths of their locker, where it turns into a crumpled mess, only to reemerge at the end of the school year when we clean out their lockers!

I tried a few new techniques on my last writing assignment. The first was inspired by Jennifer Gonzalez from The Cult Of Pedagogy, around the #SinglePointRubric. I created the rubric below for my grade 5 short story writing piece.

As you can see, I also added a link at the bottom of the document. This linked to a Google Form to scaffold the reflection process for the students. I got this idea from Emily Aierstok from Read It, Write It, Learn It, who also gave me the idea to highlight areas where editing needed to be done, rather than correct it myself.

With these three additions, the students had much more interaction with their work than they normally did in the past. They actually had to read my comments to understand why something was highlighted, they actually had to make edits to their work, putting into practice right away what they needed to work on, and they then had to think about their learning and then write about it to make their learning visible.

With this grading format and editing procedure, I was also able to personalize the feedback and goals for each student as well. While some need to work on sentence fluency and figurative language, others are still working towards properly punctuation and capitalizing their sentences. With the digital rubric, I was also able to link to tutorials I created for different skills on EdPuzzle.

So now what? At this point, all the work I’ve done with my students around documenting learning have been isolated lessons that relate to each other, but aren’t all living in one place. I think at this point in the year, the easiest thing would be to create Google Documents for each student, where they will add their work so far, and then continue to add as we do more work and practice around documenting their learning.


Documenting Learning

I have chosen to focus on documenting learning for my Principal Qualification Program practicum project.

There are a few goals I have set for myself in order to complete this project:

  1. Create a bank of lessons that teachers can use to begin documenting learning with their classes.
  2. Use these lessons myself with my own students to get them to begin documenting their own learning.
  3. Invite parents in at the end of the year in a mock ‘Student-led conference’/visiting day to get their feedback and thoughts compared to regular parent/teacher conferences

However, these last few weeks I’ve found myself in an interesting place, where I have failed to keep up with my own documentation of my documentation with students of their documentation of learning. Did you follow that?

Even though I started this project in January, this is my first time actually writing about it and documenting my progress. On February 26. 2 days shy of March. Blogging as a form of documentation is new for me. I recently read somewhere (I will link it when I find it) about the 21/90 rule – it takes 21 days to develop a habit, and 90 days to develop a lifestyle. I guess it makes sense then that I am going through some ups and downs of documenting my progress. Blogging as documentation has not yet become a habit for me. But it’s all part of the journey.

I believe it’s always better late than never, so here is a quick(ish) recap of what I’ve done so far.

I decided to begin with the topic of ‘Authentic Artifacts of Learning’ with my students. During a recent field trip, I took lots of photos of my students participating in various activities. Once we returned to school, instead of having students write a reflection of what they liked, what they didn’t like, or what they learned, I asked them to choose a picture or two (if one existed) that was a good representation of something they learned while on the trip. They acknowledged that a picture alone is not evidence of learning – that it needed “something else” to raise it’s quality and authenticity as an artifact of learning.

Here are some examples of what they came up with:

This student has started to work on annotating an image to add meaning for readers. I can see she enjoyed feeding the birds, knows what they are called, and what she needs to do in order to feed them. I am not sure though, if this is new knowledge for her or not. A follow up discussion would have to be had in order to ask questions I’m still wondering about. This feedback will be helpful for her the next time she chooses to include an image as documentation.


This excerpt comes from another student’s work. She did not choose to use any image, and seems to be stuck in the traditional end of field trip reflection format. I think she had fun, based on what she’s written. I know they did a scavenger hunt, but I’m not sure what they were looking for. I also know there was something to do with beaver fur, however I still have lots of questions.


The student below chose to draw her own representation of the day. From her text, I can see that she is not clear on what the birds are called, and that she has learned that some plants are edible for people and have health benefits, even if we don’t like the taste.


Finally, this student added labels to the picture and also added text on either side to go into even more detail about what he learned. I believe this would be a really helpful example to guide other students as to how they can clearly show their learning.

Although no students chose to do so, the option to make a video recording was also discussed, and hopefully some students will opt for this at another occasion.

My next step will be to repeat this activity with a new set of images, once a discussion has been had and feedback has been given. As we compile the different artifacts, students will see the documentation OF their learning of subject matter, and will begin to take ownership of what they document and how to move towards documenting AS and FOR learning.