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.
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?