Back to School, Looking Forward: New Digital Ideas for the Classroom

Photo of Patrick Woessner
Patrick Woessner

8.19.10 | I Did It My Way: Patrick Woesnner’s blog posts at Technology in the Middle are always a treasure trove of educational ideas. As he prepares for the upcoming year as a middle school instructional technology coordinator, one of the ways he hopes to improve the curriculum is to start considering students’ expression styles as much as their learning styles.

“Unlike learning styles,” writes Woessner, “which focus on how students acquire and process information, expression styles reflect the types of products students prefer to create to demonstrate their understanding.”

Woessner is attempting to adapt the work of Karen Kettle, Joseph Renzulli and Mary Rizza, who, as part of their work at the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut, identified 10 distinct ways that students create products in their lives (written, oral, artistic, computer, audio/visual, etc). That turned into My Way ... An Expression Style Instrument, an inventory that helps individual students determine their own expression style.

Once students complete the instrument, Woessner’s goal is to have them create a final product for their research project that reflects their preference. But plans don’t stop there. Woesnner wants to match up Web 2.0 tools to each expression style—so that students have plenty of suggestions to draw from and teachers can quickly and easily differentiate their lessons, giving each student the means to create in her or his preferred style.

He has created an open-access Google spreadsheet for everyone to view and contribute to an ever-growing catalog of digital tools—and he encourages your input. What tools would you suggest when it comes to writing for a newspaper, or building an invention, or playing in a band? Suggest them here.

Ewan McIntosh. Photo by Mike Coulter

Our Portfolios, Ourselves: Ewan McIntosh, while not so directly involved in day-to-day classroom work, presents equally engaging, if broader, educational ideas at One of his recent posts presents a new way to think about ePortfolios, a relatively long-running digital solution for collecting and assessing student work (which, if teachers start tapping into expression styles, might be more prodigious than ever).

Most teachers, for a variety of reasons from security to insecurity, have seen ePortfolios (and old-fashioned hard-copy portfolios, for that matter) as closed systems, a tool for “for private use, shared with a closed community of the teacher and/or class and/or school, but rarely the open web.”

By harnessing the full power of online sharing - “setting our default to social,” to put it in Clay Shirky’s terms, as McIntosh does - the ePortfolio becomes a much more dynamic curricular instrument. In this more social framework, ePortfolios would show everyone the process that led to the final product, “for all to see, contribute to, and build upon.”

McIntosh outlines the potential in the video below, including:

capturing anything that might, one day, relate to some learning - light touch tools such as Posterous are transforming blogging from a web-based technically superior-feeling activity in education to something anyone can do, even when they are offline (you post by email with Posterous, so you can ‘blog’ when on a plane if you want to, and let Outlook do the catching up when you hit wifi again). ePortfolios for teachers should resemble those useful moments of sharing in the staffroom. For students, ePortfolios should be the messy learning log or journal de bord that, frankly, not enough of them keep on paper anyway

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