Over the Hills and Far Away?


Categories and Tags help you navigate the mountains of information, just follow the footsteps….

One of the big focuses for my Digital Portfolio Task Force is to examine the use of categories and tags in student portfolios. It is hoped that by using these navigation tools more effectively it will allow the student’s work to come to life and their understanding to the forefront.

It seems simple, for this is what categories and tags were designed for. They help sift through the shifting sands, navigating digital content to quickly locate the relevant information. Not unlike Nomads wandering the desert guided only by stars; in practice it is not so straightforward. For an excellent description of how best to use categories and tags let us turn to KeriLynn Engel of the Elegant Themes Blog. She calls it the skeleton of your blog.

“In understanding the difference between categories and tags, it’s helpful to think of your blog like a book. Categories work like the chapters of a book: All of a book’s content is organized into chapters. Looking at the title of each chapter will give you a good idea of the topics the book covers and how it’s organized. If the book author or editor wanted to change, add, or remove any chapters, it’d be a pretty big structural change for the book.
Tags work more like the book’s index. Indexes are a much longer list of more specific topics the book mentions. If a topic is in the index, it’s probably covered (albeit briefly, maybe) in more than one area of the book. A book’s index is usually much longer than the table of contents, and adding or removing an item doesn’t affect the structure of the book.” Best Practices For Using Categories And Tags In WordPress

Earlier in this post I protested that it was not as straightforward as it seemed, and it’s not. For adult oriented platforms such as WordPress or EasyBlog; categories and tags are a mainstay. Used as navigation tools, they become as clear and applicable as road maps directing you through the globe to your desired location. However within the realm of a Grade 2 classroom, on the EasyBlogJr platform, they do not exist. This is where the conundrum begins.

As the students are not able to add categories or tags to their work; the beast of burden, nay; the opportunity, falls upon the teacher to add the signposts of student understanding.  The students plan, create  and execute the content based on their learning; adding it to their blog. It is at this stage, before the teacher publishes the post; where the categories and tags can be added. This can be quite difficult to establish and initially time-consuming, though it should be pointed out that it is not an onerous task. The real work goes into planning the chapters of your book and identifying the words to be indexed by, as alluded to by Engle. On my Tags & Categories Glossary (please add yours!) you will find the list of categories and tags created for use within my own classroom and across our Primary School. They are based in our curriculum and my own educational philosophy. As we are a PYP school, the majority of content is delineated by the natural pillars of the PYP. The vocabulary translates directly to tags while the major chapters shaped by the broader strokes of our education form the categories. Created by me, digested by the Primary Digital Portfolio Committee at ICS, in collaboration with the Digital Portfolio Task Force and put into practice in 2ag.  

From my own experience on Digging Out of a Digital Hole and my 2ag classroom blog, I know that categories and tags evolve and change as the author finds their way through the changing curriculum and communication needs. My own on DODH categories and tag’s  have changed several times. After my first year, I needed to do a category reboot of my postings. Once I got the hang of it, I developed a greater understanding of how the architecture works behind the scenes. With this in mind, I went out of my way to create a comprehensive tag list and identify the categories early in the year so that they can be established and effectively utilized each time. In order to add them all to the baseline dictionary of my blog, I wrote a post explaining what purpose they serve and how they can be applied to a Student’s work. This meant that not only did the readers who access the blog understand their purpose, but they were then populated on each Student’s site for the year ahead.

To revisit the skeleton analogy, once established, categories and tags allow you to connect student learning and understanding. Now comes fleshing the rest of it out. Check out how incredibly complex yet simple the human body can be. Enjoy building your ePortfolio Frankenstein with your class.

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