Purdy school district introduces student learning folders

Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Purdy school board members Rex Henderson and Todd Schallert, right, with Ed Mareth at rear, reviewed a student learning folder provided by teacher Beth Abramovitz. The folders provide detailed tasks and achievement, enabling students to explain their success and to outline their own goals, claiming their education in a new way at the district. Abramovitz and her student, McKenzie Corn, are shown on the screen at rear in a video going through Corn’s folder. Murray Bishoff/Cassville Democrat

Documents show achievement, problem area to focus teaching

Purdy school board members gained a greater appreciation for a new strategy used at Purdy Elementary School, introducing student learning folders to the classroom through which students can take ownership in their learning process.

Assistant Superintendent Mindi Gates discussed how last school year, faculty concentrated on essential learning standards. Now they are writing common assessments for the new Missouri learning standards. To help the process, student learning folders have been introduced.

The folders record progress on learning strategies, such as how high a student can count, recognizing lower and upper case letters and key words, referred to as “popcorn words.” With each step of mastery, the student colors in a smiley face or other graphics on a page and moves on.

The folders, Gates explained, become especially valuable in parent teacher conferences. Rather than the teacher providing an overview of a student’s progress, which may or may not be clear to the parents, the student leads the conversation. Using the folder, students can describe what they know, explain what letters they are working on, and write on a card what they have achieved.

Board members watched a video of kindergarten teacher Beth Abramovitz going through a learning folder with student McKenzie Corn. The student walked the teacher through her progress.

Superintendent Steven Chancellor said the folders vary per grade level, describing progress on different tasks. He was especially struck by how described their own goals and where they needed to apply effort.

“I have yet to run into a parent who does not want to hear about their kid from their kid,” Chancellor said.

“It’s interesting to see,” Gates said. “Kids know the steps they need along the learning journey. Before, kids went along for the ride. Only the teacher knew where they were going. Now that they know the essential learning standards, they can track their progress.”

“Parents love it,” Abramovitz said. “This is the first time parents saw the notebook. They also went through the grade card. Parents see the work and are saying, ‘We need to work on this at home.’”

Gates said the folders are still evolving, and hopes to package the information so that the folders can follow students to their next grade level, giving next year’s teacher a document to see work accomplished and where some obstacles may lie that tripped the student previously. Chancellor added he could see the portfolios follow students in some form all the way through high school.

Abramovitz said the detailed breakdown of achievement has enabled her to group students together by areas where they need work, focusing on specifics while freeing those past that spot to turn to other work.

Gates said classes have 30 minutes of built-in Response to Intervention time. [AmeriCorps] Reading coaches work on basics with students, and as progress is made, they move to different groups.

“What we’re seeing with the data is groups are getting smaller over time,” Gates said. “The reading coaches are pumping up the vocabulary. Students are not having as many recognition issues as they had a few years ago.”

Abramovitz added that tutoring and special work helps students lagging behind to catch up. The folders show, for example, which popcorn words the child has mastered, so they can concentrate on others. Chancellor noted teachers face on ongoing challenge in raising performance by students who slip further behind.

Principal Julie Dalton observed the ClassDojo behavior reinforcement strategy easily incorporates into the portfolios. A record shows where a child has excelled.

“We had a parent who came in mad at the teacher,” Chancellor said. “The folder showed where the kid was, and the kid admitted he was not applying himself. That shifted the conversation to the student.”

Dalton added that 100 percent of parents attended the parent-teacher conferences. High attendance provided an ideal forum to share the new tool. School board members, flipping through a sample notebook, found the information clear and concise.

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