Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Power of Digital Portfolios

Student portfolios are nothing new in the world of education. Many teachers have been using them for years.

They can vary in appearance and purpose. Some may be physical binders, or hanging folders in a crate. Others may have become digital, in the form of slide decks, blogs, websites or a tool such as Seesaw. Teachers use them in various capacities, as well. They may be used to showcase exemplars of students work, or they may focus on process and house an array of work showing growth over time.

In a recent PD session, we focused on how digital portfolios can help students reflect on the process of learning. Often, we save reflection for the end of an assignment, unit or project. But by the end, we've missed the opportunity to improve, set goals and try again. Reflecting at the end of a learning experience is not entirely bad or wrong, and I've done it many times, but if we only reflect at the end of a learning cycle, we've neglected the valuable process of mistake-making and the growth that results. And many of those mistakes may have gone unnoticed by our students until the end–when it's a bit too late.

The school day is busy, that is a fact. And many teachers may feel constrained by the school schedule and the limited time they have with students to "cover content."

But we must find time to build-in opportunities to reflect. A digital portfolio can do just that. Even our youngest learners, with a tool such as Seesaw, can learn how to reflect on their learning and set goals for improvement.

Let's start in the top-right corner of this infographic.

Ownership & Independence: Digital portfolios provide a platform for voice and choice. Students have access to a variety of tools such as text, pictures, drawing and voice recordings. They can take photos of their work. They can choose which items to add. All of these pieces are empowering to students, and lead them toward more ownership of their learning and independence in how they reflect on that learning.

Track Growth: Most digital options store student work chronologically. This makes it easy for students and teachers to look at growth over time. What an incredible way for students to celebrate how far they've come as more items are added to the portfolio. And teachers? This is heaps of formative assessment at your fingertips to help guide and differentiate your instruction. More on that below.

Timely Feedback: Research shows there is nothing quite as effective and impactful on student learning as direct feedback to the student. In a digital portfolio, teachers (and potentially peers and/or parents) can leave immediate feedback, helping deepen the student's understanding and learning. For more information about feedback, check out this Edutopia article or The Power of Feedback by John Hattie).

21st Century Skills & Digital Citizenship: Digital portfolios are likely to hit on whatever technology expectations and standards you have in your district. And what a natural platform for discussions around digital citizenship and how to critique the work of peers respectfully online.

Reflection & Goal-setting: This is the true gem of digital portfolios. Give your students a chance to slow down and think about what it is they're learning–and how they're doing learning it. (Meta-cognition, anyone?) This is hugely powerful for all learners. We don't want our kids just going through the motions of school, learning to be compliant school do'ers. Nope. We want them to understand why they're learning things and how those things apply to the world. And, as teachers, we want to know how they're doing as they move along the learning process.

Formative Assessment: Every item in a digital portfolio is formative assessment for us. Have your students take a picture of their "just right" book and record themselves reading it. Boom, you have yourself a running record! Say your students are working on multi-digit multiplication. Have them choose one problem and write a story problem to go with it. They can draw a representation and record themselves explaining it. Immediate assessment at our fingertips, at any time of day (or night)!

Authentic Audience: Many digital platforms make sharing with a wider audience easy. A class blog, student website, slide deck or Seesaw are all great ways to encourage student sharing. And students love hearing the feedback of their peers. Why not invite your principal and other teachers at your site to participate in your students' learning? By providing an authentic audience, you are legitimizing student learning. Students will realize that their learning matters to real people other than you, their teacher (which, let's be honest, may not matter a whole lot to them). Let them share their awesome!

Digital Tools for Digital Portfolios

There are lots of platforms for digital portfolios. Think about your class setting and the access you have to devices. A blog or website might be appealing, or you may choose to start with a simple slide deck. 

My personal favorite is Seesaw. It is incredibly easy to use and intuitive, for both students and teachers. And... parents can be invited to participate in their child's portfolio! This is a huge boon for parent-teacher communication and helps parents feel connected to the work their child is doing at school. (I speak from experience!)

If you use iPads in your classroom, Seesaw is likely compatible with the majority of other apps your students are using. Projects on DoInk, Book Creator and Sock Puppets are easily integrated with Seesaw and can be added to the student's portfolio. 

Seesaw is also web-based and works on any computer or chromebook.

When students add a new item to their portfolio, they are presented with this menu of choices:


After selecting one of these options, students can then use multiple tools to further enhance their portfolio item. They can add labels and captions to pictures, record audio, take video (up to five minutes) and annotate using the drawing tool. 

Parents can also use some of the tools above. They can "like" their child's item (as they would on social media), leave a text comment and even record an audio comment for their child. This is amazing for students during their school day. What? My mom left a comment about my fluency practice? Awesome! 

The Seesaw folks are great and very responsive to teacher questions and requests. Check out their website, as well as the Seesaw Help Center for tutorials, implementation ideas and loads of PD in Your PJs videos!

Here's a Getting Started video to get you started!

1 comment:

  1. If the question is how digital portfolios can help students reflect on the process of learning, then some answers can be found in Jorrick Beckers PhD-thesis:"With a little help from my e-portfolio. Supporting students'self-directed learning in senior vocational education". In this study Beckers describes the design of PERFLECT, an electronic development portfolio aimed at supporting students' development of skills for self-directed learning. This e-portfoliosystem is rooted in the four component instructional design model (4C-ID). Students using PERFLECT reported higher levels of self-direction and intrinsic motivation than regular students. More about the design and support on