Demographics:

Hillsboro High School is part of the Hillsboro Independent School District in Hillsboro, Texas. It is a rural district that serves over 2,000 students on five campuses; 77 percent of the student body qualifies for free/reduced lunch.

Biggest challenge:

Our school is required to enforce a series of standardized tests every year to assess a student’s achievements and knowledge learned in the grade level. When students weren’t passing these tests, their self-confidence was diminished and it affected their willingness and effort during difficult tasks. Instead of worrying about a single test score, I wanted my students to shift their focus on their day-to-day growth.

Solution:

I teach English, so I started using mini-lessons for essay writing to break down skills. My goal was to change the climate and culture in my classroom to help students feel more comfortable with trying, failing, and, most importantly, improving.

After assigning a “standard” written essay based on materials that we were reading in class, I would have students read their essays at the front of the class while I recorded them. Later on, I would upload these videos in their FreshGrade portfolio. The goal of these videos was for students to “see” how their writing skills were progressing over time.

Once students overcame their shyness, I saw a drastic shift in my classroom. Students were correcting their work as they read out loud, which translated to better writing the next assignment. They were able to view their essays and noticed their improvements for themselves, something that wasn’t happening with the traditional approach to essay writing.

Related: 4 things you should know about digital portfolios

How we turned around our students’ confidence and scores

Before, students were mostly concerned with getting the work done; now, they are motivated to reflect and improve. Through online portfolios, students know if they are meeting standards and are able to adjust as necessary. Students are taking ownership of their writing and focusing on their improvements, not their failures.

In addition to this strategy, students complete journal activities that are uploaded to their portfolios throughout the year. Recently, students researched Supreme Court cases that may impact them and reflected on this in their journals. Through this, I’m not only connecting real-world events in the classroom, but giving students the opportunity to hone their writing skills over time and reflect on their progress throughout the course of the school year.

Lessons learned:

  • Confidence affects effort.
  • Focus on growth, not scores.
  • Encourage student engagement.

Next steps:

To continue building student confidence and ownership by using digital portfolios, and to celebrate wins and progress throughout the school year. Since parents have the ability to access student portfolios, my hope is that we can increase family engagement inside and outside of the classroom as well.

Next week:

See how a district turned around its reading program.

About the Author:

Gaila Sanders is an English teacher at Hillsboro High School in Hillsboro, Texas.


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