My Digital Portfolio Project Planning.

Over the last year, I’ve been working on a committee in my school district to think about the role that digital portfolios can play in helping students to document their learning.  I LOVE that our district is committed to the idea of portfolios simply because they promote more reflective learners and help our schools to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback.

That’s kinda my jam.

The defining moment in my own thinking about digital portfolios came in December, when I listened to my buddy George Couros explain the difference between Learning Portfolios and Showcase Portfolios at Convergence — a meeting of the professional minds hosted by our district’s Media and Technology team.

According to George, Learning Portfolios are all about giving students chances to collect evidence of their own growth and progress as learners over time.  They aren’t about spotlighting perfection.  They are about promoting reflection.  Showcase Portfolios, on the other hand, are designed to give students spaces to spotlight their very best work.  Both types of portfolios have value to learners — but both serve very different purposes.

George went even further, arguing that blogging tools make for perfect homes for digital portfolios primarily because they allow users to house a Learning Portfolio and a Showcase Portfolio in the same space.  For George, the constantly updated stream of posts that stands at the center of a blog space is the Learning Portfolio.  It should house regular reflections — celebrations of progress made, plans for moving forward, evidence of current levels of mastery, questions for consideration.

Static pages on a blog — which are almost always found listed in a header under the Blog’s title — are perfect for housing Showcase Portfolios.  It is a place where kids can do deeper thinking around what they have actually mastered.  Students can link to their best evidence in their Showcase Portfolios — and can update the content on each page as they demonstrate additional mastery over time.

That’s BRILLIANT thinking, right?  

The truth is that encouraging students to keep a Learning Portfolio and a Showcase Portfolio promotes different kinds of reflective behaviors.  We DO want our kids to get into the habit of regular reflection on what they know in the moment.  And we DO want our kids to get into the habit of organizing their BEST evidence that they’ve mastered important outcomes.  Making those two different practices manageable starts when we use ONE tool that can create separate spaces in the the same digital home.

I’ve finally decided to take George’s advice and start a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project with my students.  Here’s what I’ve done so far:

I spent a ton of time creating a sample of a digital portfolio.

You can check it out here.  Remember:  The posts in the body of the blog are a part of a hypothetical student’s Learning Portfolio.  They show progress in the moment.  The pages listed across the top header underneath the title are a part of the same hypothetical student’s Showcase Portfolio.  The are evidence of mastery of bigger curricular ideas.

This sample portfolio has been SUPER valuable in helping kids to understand just what it is that they are going to be doing as a part of our portfolio project.  The sad truth is that few had any idea what I meant when I said, “Anyone want to create a digital portfolio to document your learning?”  Those are practices that we haven’t prioritized in schools.

I’ve created several resources for the PARENTS of participating students.

Perhaps the two most important resources are my digital portfolio permission slip — which details some basic expectations that participating students have to follow — and my Digital Portfolio Tips for Parents — which outlines ways that parents can get involved in supporting the reflective work that their students are about to begin.

I’ve whipped up a list of every essential question that students are supposed to master in their core classes this year.

Those are listed in documents posted at the top of each Showcase Portfolio page.  Here’s a sample.  My plan is to have students use those questions as starting points for content that they can put on their Showcase Portfolio pages.  I figure that if they can answer those questions AND link to evidence in their Learning Portfolio of places where they were wrestling with those essential questions, they’d have something really impressive to “showcase” for the important adults in their lives.  The questions almost serve as prompts for kids who are working to build out their Showcase pages.

Along with my buddy Pete Caggia, I’ve created several different types of posts that I want students to try writing in their Learning Portfolios.

The hardest part of this work for my kids is going to be understanding what in-the-moment reflection looks like in action.  Again, that’s a function of the fact that reflection has been pushed aside in schools in favor of rushing through required curricula.  To facilitate better reflection, Pete and I whipped up four different kinds of thinking that we’d like to see in student portfolios.  This handout details those different kinds of thinking and includes samples that students can use as models.

I’ve settled on a blogging tool and started to introduce it to the students participating in our project.

The tool that I’m using is Blogger.  That’s not because I’m in love with Blogger.  In fact, I think that Blogger templates are kind of boring.  Wordpress has templates and formats that are WAY more polished.

But Blogger is approved for use by middle school students in our district — a key factor in making ANY tech decision — AND my students are already using Google products (think Docs, Classroom, Drive, Photos, Slides) for darn near everything else.  That makes Blogger the right tool for this project.  Familiarity + District Approval = Winning for Everyone!

I also put backups of my sample blog’s template and content onto jump drives and had every student install both my template and my original content when they were getting started.  Here’s why:  By pushing all kids to install my template and content, I can introduce the different kinds of portfolios by looking at an actual exemplar.  All they will need to do to make their own portfolio “personal” is delete my content and posts whenever they are ready.

Finally, I’ve started to create a bunch of quick tutorials that students can use to learn more about simple processes and practices in Blogger.  They are posted on the Portfolio Tools and Resources page of my sample blog — which also ends up on each STUDENT’s blog after they import my template and content.  My hope is that these tutorials will be enough to get most kids started with their portfolios.  They are pretty smooth operators, after all — unafraid of tinkering to figure out how things work.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Does it sound useful to you?  What questions do you have?  Suggestions?  What resources do you like?  What resources can you share?



14 thoughts on “My Digital Portfolio Project Planning.

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  3. Learning with Lucie

    As usual, super post filled with great content, resources, examples.

    When I started with portfolios (before eportfolios) my students had a binder which included a dozen page protectors. The page protectors were places to put in showcase artifacts. The rest of the artifacts (reflections, sample work, etc were in their working portfolio with section dividers (similar to tags) If they were going to go to an event like a job or college interview they could bring their whole working portfolio with the showcase portfolio in the front section, or they could easily pull out the page protectors and slide them into a “mini showcase portfolio”. Then came new technology tools that allowed us to move from binders to eportfolios – first to CD’s then to the CLOUD.

    As my inquiry about which tools worked best for various students, I like you created some models with different tools. One of the things I tried with blogger was a technique where we used the LABELS to create PAGES that displayed certain TAGS.

    We renamed HOME in blogger to “What’s NEW” and added a page for each of our 5 “characteristics of learning” like this

    and we also used the traditional page method to create an ABOUT ME which was static

    The school I was working at liked this idea, but didn’t find the blogger solution as scalable because there was NO template creating tool and their kids were early learners. They selected a different tool from our inquiry of tools for portfolios for younger kids. But I’m wondering if your idea for adding a template to a jumpdrive would have worked. If PAGES get preserved in BACKUP and that backup can be made to easily create a template that can be easily recreated, it would be awesome.
    I’ll have to play around with this great idea to see if I can come up with a workflow.

    I can’t wait to update my eportfolio presentation with links to your work in future presentation on this topic. Here are my slides from a few years back at FETC with a link to the bportfolio slide directly

    Keep on sharing, Bill! Love your thoughtful post.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author


      This is brilliant thinking! I can’t wait to tinker with your labels idea. I love the idea of having pages that display certain tags. It’s that organizing stuff that matters most when it comes to digital portfolios. If it can’t be navigated easily by students or by readers, they aren’t worth much.

      And my jump drive strategy was probably a 6 on a scale of 1-10. It imports content — both pages and posts — without any trouble at all, so that was a win. But as far as the template goes, it’s not perfect. For example, it WILL import the basic template and all the appropriate navbars, but it WON’T automatically display the same content in those navbars. In the case of my sample portfolio, the navbar displaying the pages was automatically imported, but the pages weren’t automatically selected when the kids imported my template. They had to go back into the settings for the navbar and select the pages after we imported the content backup.

      So you are right: The templating needs work in Blogger — but I’m locked in simply because it’s the only non-education based product that we have access to, and I believe in using non-education based products whenever possible so kids get experience with something they may use later.

      Can’t wait to dig through your content! Thanks for sharing it….


  4. John Bartucz

    Hi Bill, I love the idea of the reflective portfolio. One thing I would love to see emphasized in the feedback from friends, parents and even teachers is the *effort* instead of the outcome. This portfolio idea definitely is in the spirit of the growth mindset and it would be great to use it to help parents and friends learn that positive reinforcement. Thanks for the idea, I’m definitely going to start using it!

  5. Jennifer Casa-Todd

    Bill. Love everything about this: using the sample to show kids the difference b/w the two kinds of portfolios, the communication piece with parents, and the rationale for choosing Blogger. You have created a meaningful template for others who want to get started, but just don’t know how! I will certainly be referencing this post in my own work and appreciate you sharing! Can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Thanks, Jennifer!

      Jazzed this all looks right to you.

      My kids seem really excited about the project so far. We fired up our portfolios on Thursday and Friday. I can’t wait to see what they create, that’s for sure.

      Rock right on,

  6. maryacbyu

    Bill, I just bookmarked your sample portfolio for when I’m back in the classroom. I used to have my 5th graders keep student blogs (, but they were more the “showcase” variety, though I knew I also wanted the “learning” variety, and I could never quite figure out what the roadblock was. I especially like your ideas for labels (going beyond just math, lang. arts, etc.)!

    Thanks so much!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Mary,

      I think most people slip into the trap of thinking that portfolios are about “showcasing” your work — but to be honest, the learning portfolio is so much more valuable to all of us. That was a huge a-ha for me when George was speaking about this stuff. It gave me the purpose for portfolios that I cared about while also meeting the wants/needs of my district — who is gung-ho for the showcase portfolio.

      Rock right on,

  7. Robert Schuetz

    This is terrific Bill! Silvia Tolisano really got me thinking more deeply about using labels to help organize documented learning. If there are learning targets associated with your course, students can label posts with the standards that are referenced, then gathering examplars for the showcase page becomes a matter of searching posts for the standard label. How transparent are the student blogfolios? If appropriate, I would like to read and comment on their posts. JPA – just plain awesome!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Pal,

      I like the idea of using standards as labels too — that would make it easier for me to assess the work that they are doing. BUT, I’m not sure if I’m going to go there primarily because our curricula has a boat load of standards and they are labeled in weird ways — think 6.E.2.1 and 6.E.2.1.a.

      I don’t think I want to bother teaching the kids what that all means — and I don’t want kids to get bogged down in the naming structure. I can see kids literally not posting because they don’t know what standard something is tied to.

      As for transparency, their portfolios are going to be outward facing when they go live. I’m sure I’ll share a few samples here as they get fleshed out. I’ve got them setting commenting up so that people put in a Google Address to comment. That’s the part that parents are most worried about. They want to be able to comment on their own kids stuff, but they are worried about strangers commenting. I’m not sure how I’m going to work through all that yet.

      Thanks for the nudges, by the way. Our conversations about this stuff have sat in the back of my mind for a while now!

      Rock on,

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