Is My Classroom a Significant Learning Environment?

That is a question I’ve been thinking about lately.  After all, I know it is a learning environment. I mean, we “do” school there.  I provide instruction, students complete activities, and I assess them.  But is it an environment where “significant” learning takes place?


According to Merriam-Webster, for learning to be significant, it needs to have meaning.  I can assure you that some of the material we study in class doesn’t hold much meaning to our students. If it doesn’t have meaning, then it can’t possibly have much influence or effect.  Dr. Tony Bates (2015) reminds us that true learning isn’t just like shoveling content into the students’ brains. Instead, we want our students to gain a deeper understanding by learning how to learn.  This can be applied in any content area so that it becomes lifelong practice.

I know that to create a significant learning environment for my students, I need to first focus on the needs of the learner.

I remember when I first learned about Facebook.  I thought, “Why would I want to announce whatever I’m doing right now to the world?” I had never done that before, so I didn’t know why I would want to do that, or even if anybody would care. I know we need to start somewhere, but my first posts in 2009 literally announced that I was grading papers or waiting on my children to be picked up. Only two years later, I sent my first Tweet.  Again, I thought, “What’s the purpose?” It really seemed that the only people tweeting were celebrities and people who WISHED they were celebrities! I had no idea that a decade later, social media would be such a significant (i.e., meaningful, influential) part of my life.

Technology along with social media has been a part of our students’ lives since they can remember. They learn by sharing their experiences with each other.  They communicate and refine their ideas. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011, pg. 67) report that through technology and digital media our students’ learning can be intensified because it can be related back to their personal lives.

This blog is a platform for me to reflect and share my learning with others, to create a collaborative effort, and learn with others. I am using this digital portfolio to express my experiences with my own voice through authentic learning.  It also allows me to take ownership of my learning. I want my students to have the experience of creating a digital portfolio of their learning as well. Creating a significant learning environment means allowing students to have the opportunity for deeper learning by taking ownership of their learning, having a platform for peer-to-peer interaction, and providing authentic learning.  My significant learning environment will include digital portfolios.


Bates, T. (2015). Building effective learning environments [Video].

Brown, J. S., & Thomas, D. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.



Quick Learning or Deep Learning?

It is so difficult to emphasize the process of learning and to take the focus from “the test,” whatever that may be.  In the New Culture of Learning (2012) video, Thomas reminds us that passion, imagination, and constraint are keys to meaningful learning.

While watching the video, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my brother. He has a toddler grandson whose mother is from Asia.  She has only lived in the United States a few years and English is not her first language. This little boy seemed to have a speech delay which was causing concern.  However, he was listening to two differently languages intently.  Although he was quiet, he was sorting out very different sounds and words.  One day his speech just started pouring out, and he actually has an amazing vocabulary in two different languages. He was certainly more capable than most people would’ve thought.   If his parents limited his exposure to only one language, he probably would’ve spoken sooner, but would not have the bilingual head-start he has now.

As a teacher, I struggle with the idea that I want to prepare my students for the spring assessment, but I want them to learn and have a desire to learn. If I expose them to more than just the curriculum, they might go farther than expected, but will it be enough by April?  I’m excited about using technology in new ways to help expand their passion and imagination, while still living within the constraints of the curriculum.


Thomas, D. (2012). A new culture of learning. (TEDxUFM) [Video]. htps://

A Digital Portfolio

That One More Thing

I know teachers are always being asked to do “that one more thing.”  That one thing added to the many others can be overwhelming.  But suppose “that one more thing” is just what’s needed to help our students achieve the deeper learning we all want.

When researching the idea of what would have the greatest impact on our students, I knew that creating this blog, this digital portfolio, of my learning has helped me grow tremendously.  I knew that our students would also benefit from the authentic learning experience a digital portfolio provides.

I first designed a proposal.  I knew that the use of digital portfolios in the classroom would be beneficial, but I need to share it with my administration and other stakeholders.

Next I developed an implementation plan outline.  This is an overview of how the digital portfolio process will look in action at our school.  Each faculty member and student has a part to play in the process.

Finally, I wanted to make sure the research and data supports the use of digital portfolios as a learning tool. The evidence in my litrature review shows that students do achieve deeper learning and take ownership in their learning when creating digital portfolios.

I am looking forward to watching our students excel when sharing and reflecting on their learning experiences through their portfolios even as I learn more.  Although I have researched the benefits of using the digital portfolio as a tool in the classroom, there is so much more for me to learn.  As we move forward, I will continue to study and develop the plan as needed.  There are additional sources for me to review for our portfolios to be most effective.

Annotated Bibliography

Clark, H. and Avrith, T. (2017). The Google infused classroom: A guidebook to making thinking visible and amplifying student voice. Ivine, Ca: Ed Tech Team Press.

This book discusses numerous ways teachers can use technology to engage students in their learning.  It encourages teachers to design instruction so that students will demonstrate their learning through authentic experiences.

Renwick, M. (2017). Digital portfolios in the classroom: Showcasing and assessing student work. Alexandria, Va: ASCD.

This book is a guide for teachers to implement digital portfolios in the classroom. It details the collection and organization of student work. One focus is the use of the portfolios as qualitative assessment.

Reynolds, C., Patton, J., & Rhodes, T. (2015). Leveraging the ePortfolio for Integrative Learning: A Faculty Guide to Classroom Practices for Transforming Student Learning. Sterling: Stylus Publishing.

This book is a guide to help make student learning visible to peers, teachers, colleges or future employers.  The book also include strategies for teachers to use digital portfolios in their courses to scaffold learning and for student reflection.

Appeal to the Heart

The Behavioral Science Guys video really stuck with me over the last couple of weeks.  I’ve seen this behavior and response in myself and others many times.  It is like a default setting that I switch back to when I don’t plan what I want to say AND think about the response that I’m hoping for.  Behavioral-Science-Guys-Blog-Cover_1920x1080-1

I don’t know if it is the “parent” in me, the “wife” in me, or the “teacher” in me that frequently makes me feel the need to share the information I think the other person needs to know…. sometimes I share it over and over or loudly, and then I wonder why the other person becomes defensive.  As I’ve reflected on the video and the phenomenon, I think about how I react to people and sometimes become defensive or display reactance.

If I want a change in behavior or at least the acknowledgment that I change MIGHT be beneficial, it would be wise to remember the BS guys. They said to first provide a safe environment for people to explore the motives that they already have.  I know that asking non-judgmental questions to help a person explore their own motives at their own pace is more likely to open the lines of communication.