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16th November 2012 at 00:00
Across Scotland, 60,000 youngsters have created Glow e-portfolios and more than half of Fife's secondaries are using them to great effect. Now they are feeding into their pupil profiles at the end of P7 and S3.

National guidance is useful but it's always nice to see how other teachers get something done. Methods of producing pupil profiles at the end of Primary 7 and Secondary 3 - required last session and this respectively - are well advanced around the authorities.

"What Fife has done is brilliant," says Olivia Wexelstein, who teaches at Wellwood Primary and whose experience in e-portfolios (TESS, 16 September, 2011) has led to her being seconded, this session, to the Glow development team.

"You make sure the children are tagging comments and reflections in their e-portfolios and at the end of the year it creates the profile for them. It will make teachers' lives so much easier. At first we had to do the profiles manually and it was nearly impossible to remember what everyone had done."

The method of producing profiles automatically from e-portfolios that pupils update regularly was developed in Fife in partnership with Education Scotland, says Jim Birney, Fife's education adviser for ICT. "We had a working party of headteachers and teachers who decided the content and layout of the e-portfolios.

"I then worked with Alex Duff at Education Scotland, who created a theme for us that did exactly what we wanted. It's working now for all our primary pupils, in the form of a blog within their own personal space in Glow. We have an interim solution for Secondary 3 that's being piloted in several schools and will be finalised next year."

A similar approach has been taken by the majority of education authorities around the country, says Mr Duff, Education Scotland manager for emerging technologies. "The profiling is tailored to local requirements. But the basic idea is the same everywhere, and so is the profile that will be produced at the end of P7 and S3. That means pupils can move from one authority to another and their profile can go with them, with no extra work."

The method devised to square the circle - by combining local authority choice for everyday posts with national standardisation on end-of-year profiles - is easier to use than describe, says Mr Duff. "Pupils don't find it difficult because they're using technology all the time."

In essence, two sets of classifications are in play - known as "categories" and "tags" - the former specified by the local authority, the latter by the national format for P7 and S3 profiles.

Local authority categories can be anything they choose, says Mr Duff. "Glasgow wants skills and responsibilities of all, including employability, enterprise, health and well-being, ICT, leadership, literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, thinking skills and working with others."

Fife has a different set, says Mr Birney, consisting of the eight curricular areas and the four capacities, as well as numeracy, literacy, health and well-being and ICT. "Pupils are not restricted to one category - one post can have several. They write about their achievements and they can upload an essay, a video, photos, a presentation or an audio recording."

For ongoing e-portfolios, pupils need only create their posts and categorise them to suit their local authority. But if a post is particularly good, a P7 or S3 pupil can select it for inclusion in his or her end-of-year profile. In that case they also need to "tag" it as belonging to one of the profile classifications - namely all the curricular areas, learning across the curriculum, as well as "My personal achievements and awards", "Memorable moments" and "What my family thinks".

"It's about becoming reflective learners," says Mr Birney. "We've taken a variety of approaches to training them. I've gone out to a number of secondary schools, while other schools have taken the training materials and delivered it themselves.

"Glenrothes High, for instance, where there's a lot of staff buy-in, is well into its second year of using e-portfolios. A nice model we used there was to combine e-portfolios with a transition day, by having P7 pupils come to the high school and get shown how to set up e-portfolios by S1 pupils originally from their school."

At Inverkeithing High, a group of S3 pupils has been selected to train their colleagues in e-portfolios and profiling. "Throughout the year they'll be the `in-house gurus' that all their pals will go to if they get stuck. That reduces the burden on the teacher."

More than half of Fife's secondaries are now using e-portfolios and others are planning to come on board, says Mr Birney. "It's not a requirement of Building the Curriculum 5 that profiles have to be done electronically. They can do it in paper format. But that's a lot more work.

"Pupils don't find it difficult to write posts and match them to categories. It's the technology they've grown up with. It's second nature to them. What might take more time is to get every subject teacher thinking across the curriculum and reminding pupils, when they have completed a piece of work, to write it up as an achievement. The teacher has that wider knowledge of the curriculum and should tell them that they haven't just achieved in geography today, they have also met a literacy outcome, say."

Across Scotland, 60,000 pupils have created Glow e-portfolios for themselves, says Mr Duff. "Most are primary pupils, but secondary numbers are growing. We've been working closely with 30 local authorities to help them deliver their P7 and S3 profiles. Secondary schools are coming to us all the time to ask how they can come on board.

"It's a journey and a lot of Scotland's schools and local authorities have joined us on that journey and are sharing their strengths and good ideas."

Sample e-portfolio and profile:


Not all education authorities are adopting the Education Scotland method of producing pupil profiles. East Lothian has developed a system that is less automatic and means extra work for teachers. But the benefits more than make up for this, according to the authority's learning technology specialist, and former teacher, David Gilmour.

"Learning is enhanced if pupils are asked to write down why an activity represents one of their best achievements. Ticking tags on posts risks becoming superficial. It cannot create evidence of why the post represents one of the learner's best achievements."

The process of producing e-portfolios is as valuable as the product, say the teachers at Windygoul Primary.

"We've been working to develop profile exemplars for the National Assessment Resource," principal teacher Ruth Johnson comments. "We learned a lot and so did the children."

It's an approach that produces good profiles, but it is ambitious and the Windygoul pupils were not ready for it at the start of last session, say the teachers.

"E-portfolios and profiles are both written by pupils. So we devised a series of lessons to teach them how, by reflecting on their learning. Thinking back on what they had learned had been part of whole-class discussions, but they hadn't done it individually."

David Gilmour came to Windygoul and demonstrated how to use Glow to create e-portfolios and profiles, says depute headteacher Dianne MacKenzie. "We weren't ICT experts so we learned a lot. It took pupils time to understand the new technology and ways of thinking. But that was valuable. It's the impact on learning and teaching - the journey to reflective learning - that interests people when we give presentations."

That journey is what justifies the effort, says Mrs Johnson. "My first reaction was that this was a huge amount of work. I thought I'd have to write much of the profiles to get the quality. I was determined not to."

First steps in scaffolding saw pupils studying examples already on the NAR, and identifying key words. "I was surprised how well they did that," says Mrs Johnson. "We then compiled a word bank, as a reminder for their writing."

Other techniques to help pupils dig deeper included five categories for their blog posts - literacy, numeracy, health and well-being, wider achievements, joined-up learning - and a list of questions to structure each one, such as "What have you learned?" and "What do you still need to work on?"

When the time came to create their profiles, the P7s had plenty of material to work with and were now quite skilled in thinking about their learning. But a little more teaching was needed.

"As a class, we brainstormed the term's work and drew a big mind map of all our learning," says Mrs Johnson. "We put that up on one board and the word-bank on the other. Pupils put them together to write their latest and best achievements into their profile.

Begun as a project to create exemplar materials for P7 profiles, the work at Windygoul has achieved much more, says Mrs MacKenzie. "There's the effect on learning and teaching. There is children having a voice, understanding their learning, and being involved in their own assessment.

"It has all had a much wider impact than we expected - and it will develop and grow as time goes on."

- Profiling on the National Assessment Resource: tinyurl.combs88zw4 (Glow login required).

- David Gilmour: @dgilmour


Jack: "At first I thought, `Oh no, this is going to be really hard.' Then they showed us a lot of it was already there and we just had to insert posts and do our profile. Mrs Johnson gave us questions to answer and we learned how to put up media and images, like screen-shots, to show our learning. It was a lot easier than I thought."

Tiegan: "Most of the class thought making a blog would be hard - like a white page with nothing on it. But you start by answering one of the questions, then the others give you little prompts to keep you going. The word-bank made it easier and we got a scanner a few weeks ago, so now we can scan our work as evidence."

Kirsty: "I found it easy from the start. I like writing. But adding hyperlinks and media to our blog posts was different from anything I'd done. Like when we did a Second World War post we added a hyperlink to the Secret Bunker (pictured) website in Fife, which we visited. It's nice to be able to do that."


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