The How (and Why) It’s Time to Create Digital Student Portfolios

First published on Edudemic on November 25, 2013

The Connected Student Series:

Warning: True Confession of an Educator Ahead…I always find it quite confusing when educators tell me that students in their classroom are reading at a 7th grade reading level. What does that really mean?  Does that mean that they are truly reading? When I say truly reading I mean with full comprehension. They are able to share their learning, demonstrate it in many different ways and extend that knowledge.  Too often when I hear that students are at a particular reading level the person is referring to decoding not reading.  Reading is only when true comprehension happens. I want to think I know what a 7th grade reading level is, but in actuality, I am only guessing. I am not sure this categorization does enough to prepare me to help that student grow as a learner. I have to spend a lot of time getting to know that child individually – only then, am I prepared to help him or her grow as a learner and reader. Usually it takes until October before I have enough information to be  equipped to make a difference in the life of that student.  I wish instead, I had more valuable information that I could draw on at the beginning of the year: past work, oral reading examples, all the things that would help me to make a difference much earlier than October. The problem is, I think,  that we are assigning numbers and values to things that we could have much richer and detailed information about.  Enter digital student portfolios.


Digital Student Portfolios are becoming more important now than ever! Students are creating and remixing information like never before – and where is all that amazing work going? At my old school it was wiped off the devices at the end of the year – a heart-wrenching idea that I was personally against. This is why we need to publish student work in one place and let it serve as a home of student reflection, and a become a destination to unleash student pride and curiosity.


There are many reasons to begin the journey to digital portfolios – here are just a few.


We MUST Archive Student Work

Students are creating amazing work in both analog and digital versions. It is becoming more crucial that students learn how to curate their best work to share it with a larger audience other than the teacher. I would love to have access to the work I produced in 4th grade – for nostalgic purposes of course – but today’s students may want to use their work from 4th grade and expand and build upon it in 9th grade or whenever they have developed a better skill base for making that work richer.  In those classrooms with devices most work has been already digitized and the task of keeping it in one place, for students to access later is imperative. For those without the devices, your classroom probably has more cameras than students  – because most of them have a camera on their phone which are right in their pockets not even being used. Have them take photos of their work and upload it to Google Drive or Evernote – to be reflected and expanded upon at a later time.

Empower Students to Create Their Own Digital Footprint

Students are building their own personal web presence with each post and status update they share. Many students give little thought as to how this might impact them in the future. Set the stage for allowing kids to see the power of creating and populating their own digital footprint by having students share their work in an online portfolio. Students can learn to curate their work, thoughtfully and reflectively choose the best pieces and then showcase these for a global audience. Students will have begun to populate their digital footprint with great work and important contributions.  What appears online about them won’t be placed there by others, but curated and carefully constructed by them – this is so powerful!


Students Can Expand on Work as Their Skill Base Improves

Can you imagine the impact on student learning if a student could take a story they started writing in the fourth grade and expand on it later – in 9th grade – when they had a better grasp of writing mechanics, word choice and voice. What about a science project that could be passionately developed over several years? The possibilities are limitless and will happen organically if student work is digitized and housed somewhere that is easily accessible to them.

Reflection, Reflection, Reflection

Students need to reflect on work, not just take tests where they are required to recall facts and regurgitate information. When students are given unit tests – more often than not, they are never given the chance to reflect on their learning – taking time to thoughtfully ask more questions, envision real life connections and find ways to relearn something they might have missed. Digital Student Portfolios allow students to do just this. This process can spark curiosity and ignite passion and should be part of every great unit of learning.

Pushing the Envelope of Redefinition

One of the great intangibles of students’ digitizing work happens at the instructional level. During the digitization journey, teachers begin looking at lessons through a new “portfolio worthiness” lens. They often ask themselves whether or not a lesson has had the proper curriculum upgrades that make it something kids would want to highlight as part of their learning journey. Most teachers want  to have students digitize work that is a bit more cutting edge and engaging, and now they have just the platform to push a re-design of a unit that might need some updates.

A Place to Show Growth – Not Just Talk About It

With digital portfolios parents can “see and hear” student growth from the beginning of the year to the end. Think of it as a  longitudinal learning study. Imagine having kids record their reading fluency during the  first week of school and then ending the year with the same task. What about uploading a writing piece at the beginning and then again at the end for a comparison to help ascertain growth. Imagine the power of showing parents’ growth rather mailing home numbers from a one-time, one-chance, high stakes test.

Next week I will detail the best ways to start and maintain digital student portfolios

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