Portfolios and Self-Reflection

This is my 3rd year using eportfolios in the classroom and my second year using them as a reporting system. I really feel that I'm starting to dial in what I want them to be and I've used a lot of other people's help and ideas to get to this point, particularly Hilary Braid-Skolski and Kelli Meredith from SD61, and Comox Valley School District.

My Portfolio Beliefs

Portfolios can be used in a variety of different ways so I just want to clearly state my intentions with portfolios. I use portfolios as a reflection tool for students and our self-reflection comments are the most important piece. My goal in using them is for students to build a better understanding of where they are at in their own learning and where they need to go (strengths and goals). Our portfolios are the presentation piece of our learning; we do a lot of practice with peer and teacher feedback before we post an example to our portfolios. All of our posts are tied to a curricular competency in an "I can" statement in student-friendly language. In our district we are using FreshGrade and although there are some areas where it still needs to be improved, overall it is a nice format that is simple for students to use.

My FreshGrade Bulletin Board

Portfolio Entries

Kelli and I created this sample entry after we had narrowed in on what we wanted our portfolios to look like (using Bart Simpson's name because we teach middle school - obviously!)

Each entry starts with the "I can" statement which is entered by the teacher. For my portfolios I usually write them as "Math: I can estimate reasonably" to make it easier for parents to find since one of the negatives of FreshGrade is that there is not sorting option for Parents or Students and it can be quite a lot to look at.

After the curricular competency, each entry needs to have a learning artifact (video, picture, document, etc.) and a student self-reflection. My job is to then go in and comment on each student's self-reflection which can be as simple as "I agree with your assessment here" or it can involve writing a goal to a student or asking them to come check in with me. This is also the space for parents to engage with the portfolio.

Self-Reflection Comments

This year, our self-reflections have to have four parts to them:

  1. Assessment of learning
  2. Evidence
  3. Strengths
  4. Goals

To start with I give students the language to use through sentence stems. From there, some students are able to write reflective comments that touch all four parts but are written less formally and some students stick to the sentence stems given.

"For this learning goal I am (Approaching/ Satisfactorily Meeting/Fully Meeting/Exceeding Expectations) because I (evidence to support assessment). I would like you to notice (strength in work). A goal for next time is (goal)."

It took about 6 weeks for students to get the hang of doing a full self-reflection every time we post to FreshGrade but now they need very few reminders.


Overall, I love using portfolios and would never go back to any other form of assessment. I believe using electronic portfolios streamlines the whole system, provides easy communication with parents, and it has made the student self-reflection piece more consistent and powerful.

I met with each of my students (yay for smaller class sizes!) before report cards this term and almost every single student knew where they were for letter grades even though I have not given a single "score" on anything. We are using purely anecdotal feedback from me and then self-assessment. It has been a very powerful switch for me and I am so happy that I've been able to play around with it to get it to this place.

At this time, I am happy with FreshGrade as the platform but I can see that there may be benefits to other platforms at the middle school level. I really like the idea of having a password protected blog or website for student reflection as it would give them a little more ownership over the space and you could use pages or tags to allow for subject sorting of portfolio entries.

Does your district use eportfolios?

How do you engage students in self-assessment practices?

Dance and Social Studies


Feel welcome to press PLAY and rock out to this awesome song while you read about grade 3/4 dance and social studies and how those two subjects make quite the delightful combination.

About six weeks ago Sean, the grade 3/4 teacher at my elementary school, told me he had friends coming to visit in late November.  These particular friends of Sean's used to lived in New York City.  Sean's friends wanted to see what the day to day life in grade 3/4 was like and thus, New York Day was born.

New York Day became the hype of Sean's grade 3/4 class and for five weeks every lesson we did in music and dance was in preparation for New York Day.  We talked about Broadway, listened to various songs from elementary school appropriate musicals and we made up a New York dance to Jay Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", complete with subway seats (desk chairs) and newspapers/magazines for reading.  For the final touches leading up to New York Day I took on the Broadway musical poster portion of the New York City brochure Sean and I co-constructed six weeks earlier.  Sean's class and I talked at length about all things Broadway (tickets, seats, directors, musicians, dancers, costumes, etc.) and the students created their own Broadway musicals, ensuring that all the details for a typical Broadway show were included in their work.  See a few examples below:


After weeks of practice, New York Day finally arrived last Thursday! That morning on my way to my super early high school dance job the radio played "Empire State of Mind" (which I haven't heard for years before Sean and I dreamed up New York Day) and I felt a flurry of excitement for the coming day. Yes, even I was excited about New York Day!

We all got to meet Sean's New York City savvy friends and the students spent the entire day asking the former New Yorkers all kinds of questions about the Big Apple. Sean's class spent some time on Google Earth mapping out the best breakfast spots and other iconic sights, but I must admit, the best part for me was witnessing those eight and nine year old students rise to the occasion when they presented their New York Day dance to our principal, vice-principal and the esteemed New York City guests. Every single student was at their best and not one missed a beat or talked out during the performance (a struggle for many!) Seeing these kids perform made my (dance) teacher heart soar.

New York Day ended up being a rather important epiphany for me, but I'll talk more about that another time.  For now I will close with a generous THANKS to Sean, who had the initial idea and creativity behind this dance/social studies combination. I am totally looking forward to more cross curricular work with dance and music!

Classroom Tour: Music & Dance

Disclaimer: Wordpress tells me I originally drafted this post on September 7th, so in the spirit of being productive this evening I will add a few touches and updates and keep the rest as it originally was written.  Nothing like a classroom tour post one third of the way through the school year!

The bulletin board outside our teaching space.


Happy back to school season everyone! We hope your start to the 2017/2018 school year has been inspiring and exciting so far!

Like every educator we know, we've worked hard throughout our summer break to collect, prep and plan for this school year and we are excited to show off our work here on the blog.  I am particularly excited about my new position at my new school. I am still teaching dance, but I've added music to the repertoire as well! I have decided to leave middle school for a while and have put down some roots at an adorable, beautiful elementary school (K-5).

My teaching space is temporary for this year as we await a brand new portable, so a cozy, "homemade" dance studio has been created for me.  Our district facilities team did an amazing job putting up a temporary wall between the gym and the gym's stage, so my classroom is essentially a walled in stage, but it works for us! I have amazing, massive studio mirrors arriving soon, which will be the grande finishing touch.


The teaching space I created for my K-5 students.

Because I also teach music this year I've managed to store some smaller instruments in bins and on shelves.  In addition to instruments, I've been working on creating some music based manipulatives/games for us to use in our "smaller than usual" work space.

We will be using the smaller instruments this year because of storage struggles.  I'm excited to see how creative we can get with what we have!


Our class set of ribbons have been a hit in primary so far this year.
The Kindergarten students are slowly working on writing a shape/movement based book, complete with rhyming verses. This is the Lyrical Wall we have been keeping track of various rhyming words on; however, it just fell down last week (mid November) so I will have to make us a new one.



We haven't used this bin of lego/notation manipulatives yet, but we are just beginning our learning about music notes and their names/meanings, so I am sure this fun manipulative will make its first appearance soon! (This lego/notation idea is not my own. You can find the amazing Mrs. KIng, and American music teacher/blogger, and all her work HERE.)
I drew various music notes on plain labels and stuck them to the lego blocks.
This was my September music/dance mini library, but it has since grown quite a bit! I promise I will do a "book walk" on the blog of all the amazing text resources I've found in the last few months (hopefully I'll get to this before winter break!)

A few other amazing things we have in the studio to infuse our daily lessons and fun include:

  • a Party Rocker Max (complete with disco ball...the students LOVE it!)
  • a rolling cork/chalk board
  • mini chalk boards, markers and erasers
  • a parachute
  • a sensory music bin (I will do a whole post on music/dance based adaptations that are working for us...soon)
    Early in October I arrived to school to a closed studio door. I could hear some kind of construction going on inside, but after weeks of not having mirrors I had kind of grown used to teaching dance without them, so I didn't expect them to greet me when I opened the door. I did a legit happy dance when I walked in to see a facilities man installing the mirrors for me! My principal knew they were coming, but she kept it a surprise. What a lucky teacher I am!
    After five years of teaching I finally have a space to call "my own" in a school that I truly love. I am home in this place and SO happy about it!

    Stay turned for more posts coming up in the next few weeks about what we've been up to in this temporary-for-one-year music and dance studio space!

Victoria Summit Presentation: How Do We Learn?

This weekend I had the opportunity to present at the EdTechTeam Victoria Summit. I did my best to condense a month long inquiry project into an hour long session and now I'm attempting to condense further to a blog post that is a readable length. My slides can be found here: http://bit.ly/AbraLearn  Feel free to fire away some questions in the comments if you want more information on any part of this.

How Do We Learn? An Inquiry Approach

(This project is inspired by Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie, our book review can be found here.)

Although I've covered Growth Mindset each year with my classes and really brought this language into our classroom, my goal this year was to create an inquiry project we could use at the start of the year that dives into this question of "How do we learn?"

Why? I wanted a project that starts to introduce some of the expectations in the classroom but also builds relationship between myself and the students, as well as with each other. Three of the "rules" I set for myself in the classroom are: relationships first, keep my thoughts/plans student-centered, and make our work meaningful to students. With these in mind, I started to plan a unit that would fit with some of my beginning of the year goals. Additionally, this is a structured inquiry to start building our language and understanding around inquiry in our classroom.

Unit Goals

Overall - Mostly I want my students to realize that they already have skills that make them a learner and that those skills are going to be valued and celebrated in this classroom.

Classroom - I want us to have common language to discuss our learning with each other. I also want students to have the time to share and talk about our learning styles and needs as I believe it makes us more away and compassionate to our classmates.

Curricular (BC Curriculum) - This unit is packed with Core Competency lessons, as well curricular competencies in Science and goal setting. The BC Curriculum has the nervous system in Grade 6 science so learning how are brain work falls in with this.

Technology - I wanted to give my students the opportunity to practice skills such as colour fills, word art, adding images, text boxes, etc. in order to make a final presentation they are proud of. My hope is by allowing them to spend time to be creative with this in September, we won't have to spend as much time with this when we are doing projects where content needs to be the main focus.

Unit Overview:

Big Idea - When we understand how we learn, we become better learners

Essential Questions - How do we learn? How do our brains grow and change? Who am I as a learner?

Performance Task - To create a personal learner profile

Learning Plan:
Please see resources in the slides linked at the top.

  • Start with a read aloud picture book around Growth Mindset (e.g. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires)
  • Do a team building STEM project that requires problem solving and perseverance
  • Growth Mindset videos (e.g. Class Dojo)
  • Growth Mindset Lessons
  • Look into Multiple Intelligences, etc. and discuss pros/cons
  • Connect to self through exploration of First Peoples Principles of Learning
  • Co-Create Criteria for Learner Profile
  • Create Learner Profiles
  • Reflect on work (FreshGrade)

Learner Profile Template

My Example

I used my example as a way to share more about myself with my students. Growth Mindset doesn't have to be about school subjects - my example is about my shyness growing up and what I learned to do about it.

Student Reflection

I am planning a full post on my FreshGrade responses this year (co-created with Kelli Meredith) but here is a little preview with a student reflection on his Learner Profile.

"I believe that I am fully meeting expectations because I took the time in making this learner profile the best I could and took my prior knowledge of google docs and used that knowledge to the fullest :)

I think the thing I did best was the writing and sentences and made sure that the learning goal was realistic and achievable.

The thing I want to work on more is adding more descriptive words next time."

He was able to take some of the language directly out of our co-created criteria and apply it to his reflection - This is what we want, right?!

My Reflection

Through creating this presentation, I was able to deeply reflect on the pieces of this inquiry that were really successful and informative for my teaching. The space where students chose three words to describe themselves was very insightful for me in not only getting to know how students view themselves, but in the ways they value themselves. As with anything we do, there are definitely ways I would improve this unit next time. I really loved connecting with the First Peoples Principles of Learning and I feel that I have made adjustments to do this more deeply and with more reflection.

It feels like a blog post doesn't totally due justice to a project that was filled with so much heart and relationship building. As always, please connect if you have any questions!

Real "Self-Care"

As I was walking down the hall to put another load of laundry on this morning I was thinking about all of the things I could do today to make my week better. This is something that doesn't come naturally to me - I'm really good at making choices that will make my day better, or my hour better, or my minute better, but what will make my life better? And then Karley posted this article she found on "Self-Care" and what it really is. Read it. It's worth it.

My favourite line: "If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot to do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness."

This past year has been hard. Really hard.

I have given a lot of myself to others and not been the best at taking care of myself. Between teaching and Masters work I have been consumed by education. At home I have felt out of control with moving (twice!), and mental health issues, and not having enough time. There have been so many personal lessons I've learned this year (many too personal to share here) and I know that it all happens for a reason. But real self-care has continuously been my learning curve

Things I have learned about real self-care:

Sometimes self-care is making sure my kitchen is clean before I go to bed but it can also be not allowing myself to care about the unpacked moving boxes in the corner of the room.

Sometimes self-care is taking a day to relax but also making sure the laundry gets done.

Sometimes self-care is letting myself leave work early, but sometimes self-care is staying late to get things done so I can feel better the next day.

Sometimes self-care is saying no to the awesome Halloween party I have wanted to go to for three years because I know getting a good night's sleep is what I need.

Sometimes self-care is not caring that I don't have time for an hour workout and choosing a 20 minute walk over nothing at all.

Sometimes self-care is deciding not to buy something that I desperately want, because the stress of paying for it is not worth the desire to have it.

Sometimes self-care is choosing the salad when I actually want the nachos.

Sometimes self-care is turning off my favourite TV show and picking up a book.

Sometimes self-care is walking home from work.

Sometimes self-care is giving up caffeine because the pick-me-up is not worth the anxiety it causes me long term.

Sometimes self-care is simply saying no.

And more often then not, self-care is forgiving myself for not choosing real self-care AND doing things better the next time. (Because you can forgive yourself for something and still care about it).

Self-care is about learning more about myself and being in tune with my long-term needs and it is totally un-glamourous. This week I'm going to do better with this and be more realistic with my goals.

My three self-care goals this week:

  1. To workout three days
  2. To get up 20 minutes early
  3. To practice mindfulness/meditation 5 days

(Now that it's in writing I'll have to do it, right?)

When you come in here... (Classroom Tour)

Most bloggers post classroom tours in August or September but at Tale of Two Teachers we believe in keeping things realistic for our readers and I did not have my act together to post anything about my classroom before November... So here you go!

When you come in here... you feel welcome, loved and ready to learn. 

This was my one and only goal this year in setting up my room. I don’t use a theme. I don’t follow the “rules” about minimalism or colour or perfect organization. This was my only goal and although I’m still working out some kinks, a class environment is more than the space and I feel that I’m meeting my goal in many ways.

Tables for working and lots of space for our morning talking circles
Our Cozy Book Nook
Global Read Aloud board with postcards from other classes
First People's Principles of Learning and Reminders board
They aren't neat but they are full of learning!
Our organization board for FreshGrade portfolios - a work in progress
Our caricatures and symbol names from the first week - So much fun!
Our Learning Targets and Essential Questions
Growth Mindset Board - A classroom essential!

It's not perfect but it works!

I love my room, the giant space, tons of bulletin boards and beautiful windows. Our space is about being welcome and loved and about learning.

My bulletin boards aren’t straight, and it drives me crazy about 50% of the time. But we are using them for our learning and I don’t have time to fix them right now.

My book bins aren’t labeled and my categories are all messed up. But kids are reading like crazy and talking about the books they’ve read.

My tables are now in rows instead of groups. But we are focused during quiet work time and spend plenty of time up and moving with partners and working with partners/groups.

And that's our classroom!

November Eve

Long time no chat!

Has anyone else's start up been BANANAS this year? Everything is great but I feel like I'm just finally coming up for a breath... How is tomorrow November already?!

Since I haven't written anything on here since June (thanks to Karley for checking in more regularly!), be prepared for what is probably the longest post I've written - updates, rants, and excitement all included. I'll start with an update on life and teaching in general - bullet point style since it's been so long!

  • The main ideas from one of my courses this July.

    In July I was away for the month working on my Master's courses. The first course was one of the most positive, life affirming, job love filled experiences I've had and the second course had me thinking deeply about so many issues in Education. It was a lot of work and hard to be away from home but so, so worthwhile!

  • In August I had some vacation time, ran the SeaWheeze, did a little Masters work and a little teaching prep, set up my new classroom, attended some weddings, spent time with my family and friends
  • In September I started up my new classroom with a wonderful new group of students. It came with all the bumps of switching schools again but I have a beautiful, huge new classroom and a fun, energetic, hard-working group of grade sixers. September is the month for building class community and relationships. We also got possession of our new condo (our first time buying!) which was exciting, slightly terrifying, and crazy busy! We painted most of the living spaces in that first week so after school each day it was go time. After that we moved all of our stuff in from storage but stayed a little longer with my parents so we could take our time setting things up (such a gift!) And finally, my second to last Masters course started up and I got to see all those lovely friends and classmates that I had been missing for August.
  • In October, we officially moved into our place, had a family wedding, had our first house guests, and are starting to feel settled at home! At school, I have been working hard to establish a hard work culture in the classroom and we are really focusing in on our skills/competencies and our self-reflection of these skills. I also got to meet Susan Close of Smart Learning and watch her teaching in our school - it was an amazing opportunity and I have a lot of new tools to use in the classroom.

So what is November bringing?

Report Cards... Sigh! I had a minor panic yesterday over report cards and ended up feeling so frustrated with the system we are in. I know things are changing and we are sitting on the brink of a big shift in education but I feel so frustrated that I pour my work in September into developing a growth mindset with my students, and then in October we are focused on self-assessment and setting learning goals. We use positive language about where we are at, how much teacher help we currently need, and where we want to get to. I don't assign numerical values to our work, students get descriptive feedback and peer feedback. We get second chances after feedback has been given. And then it's time for a report card. I feel like I don't have enough done and need to rush through the learning process. I have to assign a letter grade that is supposed to sum up this term, but first term is the beginnings of growth and learning and just getting used to middle school. It's stressful for teachers, it takes away from developing learners to their potential, and it goes against what the research says about feedback. But now it's November, so here we go.

FreshGrade... Along with the report card rant comes my excitement over our electronic portfolios this year! I am working with an awesome team of teachers to collaborate one what we want portfolios to look like and we have a good system going so far. This will be a blog post in itself at some point but I feel that we are really getting the portfolios dialed in this year - Learning Goals, Artifact, Self-Assessment, Direct Feedback.

Presentations... I've applied to present at the Google Summit Conference in Victoria this month. I'm VERY nervous already but definitely excited too! I'm going to be going through my first inquiry project of the school year - How do we learn? We dove into brain research, growth mindset, and the First Peoples' Principles of Learning and then created "Learner Profiles" on Google Slides. I may regret writing about this here because my secret hope is that I have a very tiny group that shows up to my presentation since this is the first time I have done something like this.

French TPRS Unit #2... This isn't specifically a November item but I am feeling so excited about the TPRS units my two colleagues and I have developed. I have never had students so engaged and speaking so much French before - and it's only November! I wrote a bit about TPRS here. If you teach French or another second language and have the opportunity to go to a workshop on TPRS you have to go!

Masters Thesis... A few friends and I are having a "writing getaway" on Remembrance Day weekend to work on our theses projects. We found a beautiful little rental unit near some nature for writing breaks and I can't wait to get a good crack on writing! I may have changed my thesis topic this summer even though I'd already written 2.5 chapters of it... Typical! I'll write more about my topic once I wrap my head around it a little more.

Elementary Musings

I am well in to my elementary music and dance life and I have noticed that in elementary school everything is (obviously) smaller...the students, the school building, the class sizes, the length of my classes and of course the chairs! I'm starting to wonder if my switch to elementary school is a sneaky, well timed trick the Universe has played on me.

Make.  Things.  Smaller.

I am a self-proclaimed workaholic.  Since the birth of my daughter three years ago I have tried in earnest to keep up with my workaholic identity, but being a wife/mama and being a workaholic is too difficult for me, especially when I want to be a good wife/mama and a perfect workaholic.  I am learning to let go and say no (thank you).  I am also learning to to scale down my plans and ideas.  This doesn't mean I am stifling my creative nature, but rather enabling some constraints on what I can realistically do, and do well. This means clearly identifying my key interests in both my work life and personal life and honing in on those specific details, rather than spreading myself thin across a myriad of activities and tasks.

My hand drawn version of Greg McKeown's "Essentialism" image.

I didn't prep very much this summer for my new job because I had no idea what I'd be walking in to this school year.  I did scribble down a few ideas, but instead of planning them to their entirety, I decided to let them simmer and see what the learners were interested in first. Now, with one month of school complete, I realize even my few scribbled ideas will inevitably be too much for a year's worth of music/dance lessons at the elementary level.

Make.  Things.  Smaller.

Last year I struggled a lot with the idea of applying for a Masters degree.  I'll be honest and say I think the reason for this Masters obsession is because I know how much Meaghan is learning right now and I know she works so diligently on her Masters degree and I have extreme FOMO when it comes to all things education related.  After a lot of counsel from wise educators I trust, I decided to step away from the Masters idea...but I started looking into various 5+ certifications instead.  Let me be clear in saying that I do not have time for post-graduate studies right now.  I think I've finally settled with the idea that I am going to attend one (maybe two) professional development conferences in Vancouver this year.

Make.  Things.  Smaller.

I am curious about this newfound life pattern of constantly shrinking and consistently focusing in all areas of my life.  I used to want more, be more and do more, but I have reached a point at the very early start of my third decade that has me thinking and believing that less is indeed more.  I've always had a tiny, thin thread of minimalism in me...maybe it's time to explore where that almost nonexistent thread leads!

The Dance Current - September/October issue feature

Several months ago I interviewed for the September/October issue of "The Dance Current", a Canadian dance magazine focusing on all aspects of dance (from dancer friendly recipes to various types of choreography).  I stumbled across the opportunity to be involved in this interview via social media and I am so grateful to have been selected as one of the featured dance teachers in this issue.

I am looking forward to another year of high school dance, while adding elementary dance and music to my teaching repertoire! I have many creative plans and thoughts and ideas bubbling constantly...I almost can't keep up with myself. More to come on the blog soon concerning my plans for the year!

You can purchase an online subscription of The Dance Current HERE.

Thank you to The Dance Current for featuring me, to Sarah Lochhead, for the interview and careful fact checking/follow up, and my former VP, Michelle Haidar, for immediately offering to proofread my writing. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to participate in this issue! This post is not sponsored.

Teachers on the Run

In November 2016 we were both lucky enough to snag an August 2017 entrance into SeaWheeze, lululemon's super fun  and scenic half-marathon.  While we co-write a blog and furiously text back and forth on the daily, we rarely get to spend quality one-on-one friend time together.  Thanks to SeaWheeze we had a full 24 hours (and 21.1 kilometers) to catch up in person!  Here are a few fun shots that weekend's adventure.


The SeaWheeze backdrops this year were gorgeous.

Meaghan contributing to the community fibre art project.
The very cool mandala tent over the meditation/foam roller station in Jack Poole Plaza.


Community yoga with 600+ people! Amazing!
Around the 16k mark at Lion's Gate Bridge (connecting Stanley Park and North Vancouver). I always get emotional when I first spot the bridge along this route because just across the water is where my high-risk baby was born. Thanks to Meaghan for capturing this memory for me.


We did it! Both of us were undertrained and slightly injured so we decided our mantra was, "just run, don't race".  We ran slowly, stuck to our run/walk intervals and adjusted them at 11k as our bodies started to fatigue.  We took care of ourselves during the run and we finished super strong! What a fantastic friend-date weekend - can't wait for next year!  Thanks lululemon and SeaWheeze.