ClassPortals

Brief Overview

A ClassPortal is a way of using a blog to promote deep inquiry, productive habits of mind and the joy of learning.  Typically a Class Blog is used to post homework, showcase student creations, communicate with parents, etc.   These are all good things, but I advocate shifting the focus a little and reaping huge rewards.

When of group of students and a teacher run their own ClassPortal, it creates a shared purpose and mission that puts students and teachers together in a significant endeavor, inherently encouraging Real, Rich and Relevant learning. The critical attributes of a ClassPortal are sites that:

  • Focus on one compelling topic (with all its interesting connections to others)
  • Display a passionate interest of the teacher and students
  • Tick along in the background of the class drawing attention when something in the real world provokes it
  • Act as a platform for things like blogs, podcasts, photo galleries, data collection and wikis
  • Make a contribution to learning

More Indepth

A ClassPortal is an online space that is contributed to and maintained by a group of students and a mentoring adult who share an interest in a specific topic or question.  Many teachers use a blog to facilitate the typical activities of the classroom: post homework, celebrate student achievements, communicate with parents, stimulate interest in subject matter, link to useful Web sites, promote writing for an authentic audience, etc. All these things are wonderful and easily accomplished by any teacher with average technical skills.

The ClassPortal is a natural extension of this approach to using an online space to enhance student learning.  Quite simply, what sets it apart is that the ClassPortal focuses on a particular topic or question and uses the power of the Web to fuel this shared interest.  This one difference holds the potential to transform classroom learning from a series of engaging activities to actually building a body of knowledge and expertise.  As illustrated in the opening examples, the students and mentoring adult share a sincere interest in the topic and use the power of digital technology to fuel an ongoing and evolving pursuit of their passion.  Never before in the history of humankind has it been possible for the average person to so readily access information in a range of media and to participate with others around the world in a shared effort to understand and contribute to a body of knowledge.  The reason developing a ClassPortal is so important is that it embodies many of our best hopes for education in one single endeavor.  When students pursue questions, search for truth, disagree with common knowledge, or take action that makes the world a better place, they are experiencing the joy of learning.  To return to the previous discussion on effective pedagogies, students participating in a ClassPortal are autonomous learners focused on developing competence within an affectively supportive environment that helps them stretch their native abilities, invest effort and serve a purpose larger than their own self interests.  While participating in the typical activities of the ClassPortal, students engage in critical thinking, collaborative team work, problem-solving, learning-to-learn, differentiated instruction, mastering content – you name the catch phrase for any significant educational reform or strategy and a true ClassPortal provides a simple mechanism to facilitate its achievement.

Additional Background by Tom March

The inspiration for the ClassPortal strategy comes from a Web site I’ve been watching for years: The Child Slave Labor News Updates

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