“Mrs. Cassidy, I showed my blog to my parents last night. I showed them everything on my blog. I showed them all the things on the computer!”
That was my morning greeting from one of my six-year-old students not long ago. He had received a surplus computer1 from my school division the day before, and had suddenly been able to show his parents all of the learning artifacts he’d been adding to his digital portfolio through the course of the school year.
My students all love to put their learning online. They love that they have an audience and even more, they love to get comments about their work.
What Do the Portfolios Look Like?
I have been using my students’ blogs as digital portfolios for several years. By the end of the school year, they reflect each child’s learning in many subject areas from the first weeks of school until the last. In addition to showing the development of our writing skills, we make podcasts of our reading fluency at different points in the school year, and show our learning in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies and health.
The content of these portfolios changes from year to year, and varies somewhat from student to student. At the beginning of the school year, most of our blogging is only text, as the students become accustomed to their new tool.
Gradually, we begin to add drawings and use other media to show our learning, such as video, Audioboo (for voice recordings or podcasts) and Storybird (to make embeddable storybooks). We have also used tools such as Animationish and the ScreenChomp app for the iPad. We have taken pictures of posters or other things they have made, or posted combinations of these if we feel that using only one tool is not adequate to show what we can do.
How to Choose What Goes In
Choice is an important component of any portfolio. I think my students should have input into choosing what they have done well and should appear in their portfolio. I also want to ensure that the students discover how to show their learning in a variety of ways and that they show their learning in many subject areas. In practicality, the portfolios of my students are a combination of two things—student choices and teacher suggestions.
Sometimes, especially if a tool is new, we will all show our learning in the same way or at least using the same tool. Other times, such as at the end of each unit of inquiry, I let the students choose their own tool to show their learning. Even if we are using the same tool, I try to ensure that there is some element of choice for the students, such as the topics they write about, or what drawing tool they use. Seldom is it entirely prescribed. I have never had my students NOT want to post something on their blog.
Some Portfolio Examples
Ember was a student in my classroom last year. If you scroll down to the bottom of her blog you can see the improvement in her writing from the beginning of the year until the end of the year, as well as her growth and learning in other subject areas as well. Gus, who is a student this year, has a totally different “feel” to his blog, reflecting his interests and strengths.
Since the parents are all able to access the content of the portfolios from home, there are no big surprises at our student led-conferences. Just kids showing their learning and talking about their new goals. Their journey to meet those new goals will also be documented step by step on their digital portfolio.
- I know some of you will wonder about the “surplus computers” reference. My school division has a set life span for its computers. After that, they take too much tech support to keep running. If the computers are still working at the end of that time, they are made available free of charge to students who would not otherwise have access to technology at home. [↩]