From grade-oriented to reflection-oriented, this Netherlands High School is successfully teaching their students to take ownership of their learning.
High Schoolers in the Netherlands select one of two paths: to attend a school specifically focused on teaching them the skills they need to begin their career after graduation, or to attend a school focused on teaching them the skills they need to attend a university. Ichthus Lyceum is a high school that sets their students up to take the university path. To ensure their students are successful in this journey, they are continuously reflecting and innovating new strategies, including:
- In addition to attending core classes like Dutch, math and science, students are given two hours per week to work on something creative like painting, play writing, music, or building something.
- The high school partners with Dutch companies to help solve real-world problems. Students help to identify solutions and develop new product offerings. If the company is satisfied with the student’s work they will use what was created.
- The high school created a team of teachers who use technology to enhance student agency in the professional learning community. They call themselves the “PLC-team” (Professional Learning Community Team). Dutch teacher, Anja Schoots, and History teacher, Deemer van Werven, are part of this team.
Despite implementing these incredible learning opportunities, they still had a problem. They needed to find a solution to help students develop ownership of their learning. Their current strategy of assessing students with grades was not working. They realized, when students think more critically around a process, they learn more over time and become more aware of their capabilities and talents. They also realized the importance of reflection in all of this. They created a new plan, to find a way to encourage reflection and the learning process. During the 2018-2019 school year, Anja and Deemer started searching for a technical solution. They attended BETT London in 2018 and found bulb Digital Portfolios, and decided to give it a try.
Introducing bulb into the classroom
After BETT, the PLC Team became increasingly more excited about the possibilities of a digital portfolio. Students could use this tool to show their progress. They could document their process. They could create assignments using different formats, music, pictures, drawings, and videos. The team was hopeful that this was the tool that their school needed, and the tool that would help students take ownership of their learning.
In the 2019-2020 school year, they introduced bulb through their Dutch classes. Students began by publishing their writing and giving direct peer-to-peer feedback in the portfolio. Students were encouraged to make edits, incorporate the feedback they received, and republish all on the bulb platform.
Changing the student mindset
In the beginning, there were challenges with the digital portfolios. Students thought it was difficult. They had a hard time deciding what to write, what to formulate, and they were overwhelmed with how to start building their own digital portfolio. Plus, these students were used to working for a grade. If one of their assignments was going to be graded, and the other was not, the student would put their efforts towards the one that was going to be graded.
To shift the students’ mindsets slowly, and to a go from being a grade-oriented school to a reflection-oriented school, they devised a plan. Knowing that grades incentivize the students to do better, the students would now receive a grade for their overall portfolio at the end of the year. The solution, however, was not just shifting the focus of the grades. Teachers and students also had the important and empowering discussion around why they were making the shift.
Changing the feedback loop
Before bulb, no one really took feedback seriously. Students would be very kind and leave each other surface level responses. When teachers left comments, some students would implement the feedback, some would not. The feedback was not as sticky as it could be.
After a few months of using the digital portfolios, the feedback loop dramatically improved. The students became more interested in feedback and started to find it helpful. Now, after creating something in their digital portfolio, peers and teachers leave inline comments for each other. Students then edit their work directly in their portfolio, producing better work, and if needed, they repeat the feedback loop.
Teachers have noticed students are more open to asking questions. Students are the ones asking for feedback. They even started giving each other more thoughtful and direct comments to help lift one another up.
Benefiting the teachers
The digital portfolios help display the learning process of each student. Since some teachers at Ichthus Lyceum have up to 200 students, it is difficult to know exactly where each student is in their learning cycle. Looking at a student’s portfolio helps the teachers gauge and remember where each student is at.
When students move from teacher to teacher, digital portfolios make it easier to enhance the learning curve. Typically teachers take several weeks with each new class to get to know their students. Once students are able to produce several pieces of work, teachers are then able to assess where students are at and what they are capable of.
The platform has made it incredibly easy to personalize learning too. Instead of using the same approach for all students, bulb helped each teacher dive deeper into the abilities of each student to figure out which teaching approach works best for the student, where they need more explanation, and where they can be challenged more. It makes it easier for educators to differentiate and remember every detail because it is all documented in bulb.