Tech for Teachers
Digital Portfolios Demonstrate Accountability
Increased accountability is one education reform staple that's here to stay. Although I favor increased accountability and transparency for students (and for teachers and administrators), limiting that to test scores shows an incomplete picture. One accountability alternative that allows for greater range and actually encourages student learning and sharing is the student portfolio.
The primary purpose of a student portfolio is to demonstrate student learning and progress made in that learning. Student portfolios, of course, can also be used for other purposes, such as sharing knowledge and reflecting on what one has learned. Most student portfolios now are digital, so that they can be accessed from anywhere, and public, so that anyone can see them. Digital portfolios can be set up to be private if the student's age or school policy deems it appropriate to do so. However, one of the main benefits of a digital portfolio over a paper counterpart is the ability to share with others to extend the learning and demonstrate its importance for the student. Similarly, a public portfolio empowers parents by giving them a real window into the content and depth of their children's learning. In this scenario, such transparency serves both students and parents with little risk.
It's important to discuss how to select what goes into a portfolio and how to provide time to document it. Most curricula are so packed with standards that need to be covered that it can sometimes seem daunting to try to add new tasks or procedures. To work, portfolio-making needs to become a routine that is integrated into the learning process. Instead of covering one standard or objective and then moving on to the next, the process becomes learning one standard or objective, reflecting on what was and still needs to be learned, connecting it with prior knowledge, and then possibly applying the knowledge before focusing on another standard.
Many different web-based tools can be used to create student portfolios. Some examples include
Elementary teacher Kathy Cassidy in Moose Jaw, Saskatchawan, in Canada recently wrote a wonderful post about how she uses digital portfolios with her 1st grade students. She has a great model. She chose a blog as the platform to use, so the posts are ordered chronologically with the newest posts at the top. As she says, the portfolios "reflect each child's learning in many subject areas from the first weeks of school until the last."
Because her students are young, she starts the year out by having them enter mostly text. Then she helps them progress, allowing them to take pictures of work they have done in class and create projects online to include, such as audio recordings and digital stories.
One of her most interesting techniques is allowing the students to have input on what to include in their portfolios. Students should have a say in determining what they feel they have done well and what projects should represent them. Looking at her students' e-portfolios, you can see how the students have progressed in several areas. Cassidy links to several in the post above.
It is widely accepted that for learning to happen, the learner must reflect on the concepts being learned and make connections to what is already known. A digital portfolio is one way to manifest that process—to help students develop a routine to reflect, connect, and process their learning. This allows students to become independent, lifelong learners. The strategies they employ in creating a digital portfolio are useful far beyond any one class. This is teaching students how to learn on their own.
Watch a video about a student's digital portfolio:
Jason T. Bedell is an instructional technology consultant and a library media specialist at Belmar Elementary School in New Jersey. He explores how effective technology integration can deepen student learning and make the school environment more student-centered.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 14. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.