Back in my high school years, each ELA teacher required that students write a variety of essays. These essays were scored, entered into the grade book, passed back to us for a quick review of our grade, and then saved in our teachers' filing cabinets. At some point, usually in the late spring, the teachers returned all of our essays and asked us to pick the 3 best samples to create a portfolio. I'd make the recommended changes my teacher had listed and hit print -- good enough. Knowing that my teacher was going to be the only one who would be reviewing my work (again) did little to motivate me to think critically and improve my writing. Usually, my score did not change.
"If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good. If they are just sharing it with you, they want it to be good enough." - Rushton Hurley
In my college years, after all my learning had been finished, I was again asked to build a portfolio as the cumulating task. After hours of scrapbooking and collecting artifacts, I had a beautiful 3" binder full of lesson plans, photos, and beautifully designed (and protected) pages only my professor would ever see. My hard work would never be looked at by a future employer or anyone in my industry. Although I was proud of the final product, much of my time felt wasted and little was actually learned by doing this task, with the exception of becoming a better scrapbooker.
If you think back to your educational years, I'd bet you have a similar experience building portfolios to demonstrate learning. Creating a portfolio of student work can be a very beneficial activity for both the student and the intended audience, but how we build them can be better than what I experienced. To do this, we can consider having students create digital portfolios. Essentially, digital portfolios are the same as a traditional portfolio, but what differs is the manner in which the learning is presented. What makes digital portfolios relevant is that they give students the ability to demonstrate growth of learning, skills, and reflection over time to an authentic audience. This authenticity helps build confidence and a sense of achievement for the learner as they share their work with the world. It also encourages them to go beyond "good enough." In secondary years, students can develop a brand or image for who they are as they apply for continuing education and seek employment opportunities.
"Digital portfolios aren’t just a way to archive work—they’re also an excellent vehicle for students to reflect on their growth and learning." - Avra Robinson
3 Types of Digital Portfolios
The Google Infused Classroom, by Holly Clark and Tanya Avrith, outlines 3 different types of digital portfolios that could potentially be created by students in any grade level or subject, as a demonstration of learning. If you haven't read this book, it's a great one to add to your library. Here is a brief synopsis of the different portfolio types:
The Process Portfolio:
The purpose of the process portfolio is to make students' thinking visible by documenting and reflecting on learning. Throughout this process, students create, reflect, receive feedback, and publish. Students' very best work is mixed in with work that shows improvement over time.
The Showcase Portfolio:
The showcase portfolio highlights a student's very best work. This type of a portfolio is an assessment of student learning. The students create and then publish only their final products. The 3" binder portfolio from my college years was an example of a showcase portfolio.
The Hybrid Portfolio:
As you might guess, a hybrid portfolio is a combination of a process and showcase portfolio. In this portfolio, students create, reflect, receive feedback, then select one (or more) of their favorite pieces to share with a global audience. A hybrid portfolio can be a great way to carry learning forward from year to year as a student progresses through grades. My first experience with the high school essays was a hybrid portfolio.
Digital Portfolio Tools
Although there are many options for creating digital portfolios, the new Google Sites and Seesaw are two of our favorite tools for this purpose.
"It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn't online, it doesn't exist." - Austin Kleon
A few last thoughts...
The purpose of digital portfolios is to create an opportunity to share learning with a larger and more authentic audience. Sometimes this can feel frightening when thinking about student data and privacy. Instead of limiting an audience and locking down a portfolio, consider having students use their first initial and last name, or just a first name, to keep student work global but their identities private. Also, remind students not to share personal information such as their address or phone number on their portfolios.
As you are considering ways to integrate digital portfolios into the student learning experience, it is important to remember that not all artifacts have to be digital. Snapping a photo of a physical piece of evidence, or recording a video of a student speaking, is a great way to allow the physical and digital worlds to collide and create a bigger picture of what a student can do!
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