Everyone has their panties in a knot these days over accountability. Much of the arguments hinge on test results and data interpretation but there’s a better way to approach the issue. I’ll argue here that there is an easy way to make both students and teachers accountable for the learning that happens in our classrooms: publish everything you do online. Make it attractive, make it easily accessible, and make it an accurate reflection of what happens in your classroom.
One observation that I’ve made over the last couple days as we’ve had parent conferences/open house at my school is that having student blogs has totally changed how I communicate student progress to parents. When I get the oft-asked question “why does my kid have a (insert letter grade here) in your class?” I can point that parent to their student’s blog and to the link to all the other student blogs just in case the parent wants to see what their student is doing compared to other students. Is each blog private and secure? Nope, but it doesn’t have to be. What if my students are making cool stuff that others can learn from? Why hide it.
Besides, the actual assessments of the blog posts are shared with students via a private GoogleDoc spreadsheet. If needed, I can give the parent access to their kid’s spreadsheet for another layer of accountability for the student (and myself). Nobody outside the student-parent-teacher triangle needs to see my evaluation and comments, but they might benefit from seeing the learning artifacts created, so that part is open and visible.
The student blogs are starting to be a good outreach to the community as well. At least a couple parents have passed on the list of student blogs to others at their workplace who were interested in what we were doing around here. Someday, perhaps, we’ll expand our reach to a regional/national/global audience with the students interacting with the readers of their blogs, but we are not there yet.
In the meantime, the activities that we do go deeper because students know that they probably will be posting a record of their work. For example, in a couple classes this week, students pulled out their cell phones and took pictures of labs they were working on. The pictures will enhance their final learning artifacts on their blogs, especially for my anatomy students studying for their histology exam from the pictures.
Can my students pass a standardized test that you give them? Maybe. But that doesn’t tell us anything, really. Look at their blogs, though, and you might have a better idea of what’s going on in their head. All we need to do now is find a way to scale up the process to the building, district, and state levels, but who knows how that would work. Best to keep accountability measures local where they actually mean something besides more “data.” I do know that some of my seniors are starting to figure out that the colleges they are applying to might be watching their blogs at some point, and I’ll be darned if that isn’t the best sort of accountability ever.