As students develop through the school year, they develop and refine their skills and practice by setting new goals, creating action plans and engaging with actionable items as a means to work towards achieving their goals while reflecting throughout the process. An eportfolio is one way of documenting and reflecting on a student’s learning journey in a meaningful and authentic way. It serves as a place for students to highlight and reflect on pieces of selected work, which can be shared with parents, teachers and peers. The structure of e-portfolios can vary depending on the age of students, goals of the school and individual choice.
Questions to Consider
When beginning the process towards implementing e-portfolios, teachers and administrators should reflect on a number of questions prior to rolling them out.
What is the Purpose of an e-Portfolio?
Defining the goal of the e-portfolio is key for all of the stakeholders. Some e-portfolios may be more focused on the process of learning (snapshots of learning throughout the experience), product focused (finished pieces of work) or even a combination of both. Some schools may focus more on only studentselected pieces or they may mandate teacherselected pieces or, again, somewhere along the continuum. To summarise one approach a school might take, an e-portfolio may be a process journal to reflect on the journey of learning through studentselected pieces of work with reflections, with input and guidance from their teachers.
What Will It Look Like?
What e-portfolios look like in schools depends on a variety of factors varying from device type, platform choice and age level. The experience of creating e-portfolios is very different for students who have a laptop or an iPad.
There a number of different platforms available to create student e-portfolios. Whether using Easy Blogger Jr, Seesaw, Managebac or Google Sites, it is important for schools to consider their existing systems and how the implementation of e-portfolios may work within these systems.
One concern schools often have with the development of e-portfolios is that they must be consistent throughout the school: if one year group uses one application, all must use the same. While this is true to a certain extent, it is more appropriate to ensure that the choice of platform is appropriate for the age of the students. This could mean that it may be better for younger students to use iPads and a blogging application using pictures, videos and audio reflections, while junior students transition to a more sophisticated platform to incorporate a wider range of multimedia selections, written reflections and a more comprehensive scope of all learning of subjects, concepts and skills. Regardless of what a school uses to create its e-portfolios, it is most important that it works for the needs of the learning community.
Who has Ownership of the e-Portfolio?
It is key to define ownership as it implicates the buyin and enthusiasm towards developing the e-portfolio. Ideally, the owner of the e-portfolio is the student. The e-portfolio is created by the student for the purpose of reflecting, goal setting and sharing his learning with others. While others (parents, teachers, peers, administration) are all stakeholders in the eportfolio process and support the student through the process, the student should have ultimate control over what, when and how his learning is demonstrated to his audience.
Who is the Audience?
Identifying who will see and interact with the e-portfolios further creates a defined purpose for students. The e-portfolios should be a source of information to inform teaching practice. It is beneficial for teachers to confer with their students and their e-portfolio to gain greater insight into their work and reflection. This also allows for coaching of students on the refinement of their goals and planning for next steps.
Students may share their portfolio with other students in class and across year groups. This promotes sharing of learning both vertically and horizontally. Peer assessment/feedback is an important part of the process, allowing students to learn how to give and receive constructive feedback from others, while learning from the work of others.
Students connect their learning with home by sharing with family members and making connections beyond the classroom. Parents can review the portfolio with their child at the end of each unit and discuss their learning and growth over the course of the unit. Many platforms allow parents to subscribe to updates where they receive instant feedback when new entries are added, further adding to timely conversations to connect the learning. Parents should engage with the opportunity to ignite discussion with their child and comment on their work.
How Will It Work?
The logistics of implementation can often make or break the success of any new implementation process. Having a discussion with teachers about how to facilitate implementation in the classroom invites teachers to explore strategies with one another. How many devices do you have? Will this be a once a week task or ongoing as appropriate when students want to add? What requirements do you have for students with their reflections? How will you monitor student progress, entries and conferring? How much time a week do you need to allocate with your planning? All of these questions help to foresee potential areas that would break the flow of implementation. By visualising the plan in advance, teachers are able to plan for successful implementation.
What are the Roles of the Various Stakeholders?
As a school, identifying the stakeholders and their role allows for each stakeholder to have a greater understanding of how they can positively impact the process of e-portfolio implementation and reflections. Once the stakeholders and their role have been identified, actionable items of how they may achieve their role helps to develop transparency amongst stakeholders.
The role of the student may be to create and maintain an e-portfolio throughout the academic year as a way to reflect on his learning and share his growth. By unpacking this role, the student will have a better understanding of how to select pieces, how many pieces should be included throughout the reflection process (as a minimum), how he should reflect and how he will share with others.
There should be role clarity for all teachers who support the student with their e-portfolio: the homeroom teacher, the single subject teacher, the English as a second language teacher, educational support teaching assistants and learning support teachers. Each of these roles play a crucial part in the overall student experience. Where appropriate, the role of the education technology coach should be outlined in how they will support both teachers and students as they navigate the digital portfolio process to ensure implementation does not fully fall on either the homeroom teacher or the education technology coach. Rather, support should be shared by all.
As part of the sharing phase of the process, parents and peers become stakeholders. Parents need to be taught how to engage and interact with digital work, as it may not be a familiar concept or area of comfort. Providing parents with the educational tools to engage with the portfolio and engage in conversations with their child allows for deeper reflections and conversations with their child. Similarly, peers need to understand how to construct their peer feedback to be meaningful and effective without being critical. This is a life skill that can support students beyond the portfolio.
Finally, a shared understanding of the technical aspects of the portfolios needs to be decided. If present, it will likely be the IT department. However, where these departments do not exist at a school level, it may fall to the homeroom teacher or an administrator. To reduce frustrations, the responsibility of creating the templates and deploying them to students, as well as technical problem solving, need to have a stakeholder identified for this role.
What Opportunities are there for Reflection?
As students contribute work to their digital portfolio, they have the opportunity to reflect on any of their work samples, noticing their strengths and areas of growth. They may reflect on how they have demonstrated the learner profile attributes, attitudes and transdisciplinary skills through the selected work samples and their actions at school. Students may reflect on how they have developed throughout the year, as well as between years.
Age-appropriate reflection strategies are key to developing successful reflections. Younger students may wish to reflect through audio, videos, photographs and limited written text, whereas older students may focus on written reflection more. By allowing for choice in how reflections are documented, individual needs shine through with student reflections.
Focusing on the Importance of Students
Regardless of how the school or the teacher defines these questions, the focus of the eportfolio should always come back to the students, their learning experiences and growth. The digital portfolio demonstrates a snapshot of a student’s learning over the course of the year and time within a school. As students progress through the year groups, the portfolio evolves with them, allowing for further reflections between years and not just within a year level. When the e-portfolio is designed with students and their learning as central to the process, e-portfolios can add valuable reflection, documented evidence of learning and a platform for sharing growth, challenges and successes of students as a means of supporting their continual learning journey.
*Originally published on Education Technology Solutions at: educationtechnologysolutions.com.au/2016/10/document-learning-journey-digital-portfolios/
As I read the article by Hume (2009), I thought about how I have my own students reflect on their work. I agree with Humes that a more structured format with guidelines is often needed in order for reflection to have depth. This makes me think of my Year 5 class and their e-portfolios. For their e-portfolios, each student needs to choose a number of pieces (I ask them to choose a minimum of 8) to include in their e-portfolios for each unit of inquiry.
Similarly to Hume, when I first began teaching Year 5, I just had students reflect and I was getting very surface level reflections such as “I chose it because I did well and I had fun.” After the first unit, we talked about making our answers like big juicy hamburgers rather than skinny grilled cheese sandwiches in order to get some meat into our work and show our thinking. It was amazing to see how the visual comparison of the sandwiches really helped the students as well as the discussion of questions that should be answered. We created a sample reflection example together as a class for an activity we had done as a class as an exemplar as well. For every piece they reflected on, they would have to answer the following questions:
- What was the piece of work you chose?
- What were you trying to achieve/learn?
- What did you learn?
- Why did you choose to include it? (challenge, growth, best work, etc)
- What transdisciplinary skills did you develop/use?
- What attitudes did you demonstrate and how?
- What learner profile attributes did you demonstrate and how? (We are a PYP international baccalaureate school (IB)
- Can you connect this learning to something else from the past? How will this help you moving forward?
The other thing that also motivated students about their reflections was when they knew their reflections were going to be read. In the beginning, it was just me (their teacher) reading their reflections but I also spent a fair bit of time commenting back to them. My goal was to help to extend their thinking by asking at least one question back to them to make them think about what they had learnt. From there we started to get the parents involved in the reflection process. At the end of every 6-week transdisciplinary unit, the students were required to share their e-portfolio with their parents and the parents were required to comment on a minimum of 5 pieces. This opened the dialogue at home about what was happening at school and often would lead to more conversations and inquiry about the unit itself. The students always wanted to show their parents quality work so it helped them maintain a higher standard knowing their parents would see their work whether it was finished or not. Lastly, we started to share the e-portfolios with peers. This was a more challenging task as not only did you have to have students reflect on their work but you were asking students to reflect on the reflection and work of someone else. This was also a skill that had to be modelled through examples and repetition. By creating a diverse authentic audience, the student placed more pride in reflecting more thoughtfully. From there, it was all about feedback. When students showed me their reflections, I would ask if their reflection was a juicy hamburger or grilled cheese? If it was a grilled cheese, they knew they needed to spend some more time on it. My students were allocated time in class to do the reflections at least once a week plus often when they finished a task they would add it directly to their e-portfolio. This allowed them the ability to succeed as suggested in Humes article.
One of the things I appreciated about the journal article by Hume is that she was essentially doing what she had asked of her students. She was reflecting on her learning and thus providing everyone who reads the article an exemplar of a reflective journal entry. I believe it is important for teachers to model what we are expecting our students to do as teachers. About a year ago, I began blogging online and reflecting on some of my teaching practice. When I began having conversations about reflection with my students in my second year of teaching Year 5, it had more meaning for me as well. Seeing as I was doing frequent reflections, I could talk about my own experiences of reflecting, the challenges I would face and why it was something I chose to do on my own accord. I even showed my students a blog post or two giving them examples of when they would use their reflective skills outside of the classroom. By giving reflecting a ‘real world’ setting, it helped many of the students continue to push their reflections further. It was evident Hume had reflected regularly throughout the process and changed her thinking and action plan accordingly to best fit the needs of her students - a sign of a good teacher.
Hume, A. (2009). Promoting higher levels of reflective writing in student journals. Higher Education Research &Amp; Development, 28(3), 247–260. http://doi.org/10.1080/07294360902839859
We ask students to write and some of them do it simply for the love of it just like some play sports or painting. At some point though, doing work for the sake of work just doesn’t cut it for kids and I can’t blame them at all. Whenever I’m given a task, I’m always thinking why is this important? What is the point of doing this? If I can’t be given an answer or come up with one on my own, then I’m less likely to put forth my best effort. It’s the same for my kids.
I’ve been really trying to give my students work a voice that will be heard since I moved into teaching at the junior years level last year. It’s not enough to have their voice out there on the internet somewhere waiting to be heard but someone ACTUALLY needs to listen/read/experience what my students have to say.
Celebrating Published Work
One of the first things I did was make sure that when we completed a writing unit with published work that their work was really celebrated. This meant that it needed to be shared in a way that would make the students feel proud of what they had accomplished. Depending on the unit, we would find different audiences to share our work with. Sometimes that would be other classes, our parents or even each other. It was no longer just a type it up and hand it in and never be heard of again. My students are excited to share with others their work after going through the writing process and like the instant feedback and gratification from sharing with people they know in a face to face context. What I love even more about this is that not only do my students share their published work but they now share their process of getting to the product. As the ‘process’ of doing something has become more important than the ‘product’ in my class, I love that they enjoy sharing the experience of getting to the end rather than just being finished.
Using Google Documents to Comment and Make Suggestions
As a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school, we are very fortunate to be able to use the various Google Apps to enhance the classroom experience for our students. One of my favourite aspects of the applications is being able to use the comment or suggesting feature of Google Docs and Presentation with my students. I have the ability to access any of the documents my students are working on and give them timely feedback on their work. My students know that I’m reading their work and creates a lot more dialogue about their work and thinking as we go. I also love that documents can be shared with other students so they can do this as well. Often it happens without me knowing when a student stands up and starts asking another student across the room what he meant by this comment on his work. This idea that ‘we’ is better than just ‘me’ in our writing process allows them to have an authentic audience throughout their writing journey as well.
Weekly Reflections For Our Website
At the beginning of the year when our new class website was unveiled to my students, they took ownership of the visual appeal to it but also wanted to make sure their parents could see what they were thinking and feeling throughout the week. As a class, they decided to create a weekly Google Presentation where each student was able to design a slide (or more) with whatever graphics they wanted to and reflect on their week in any way they chose too. Many chose visuals to express themselves as a component of it but most of them wrote whatever they were feeling throughout the week. Knowing that someone would be reading their reflections each week meant that it gave them a purpose to write. This was a complete student-led initiative and is completely optional for my students to do each week. Most weeks at least 80% of my class completes it depending on how much other homework they have, etc. But they do it because they want to write and create and because they want their parents to share their experience in the classroom. This is the culture of sharing THEY have created in our class community.
This is one of my favourite parts of my class. I absolutely love using Google Sites for our e-portfolios. It allows my students to share and reflect on their work. We share them within our class and occasionally with other classes as well but the biggest success has been using them to create powerful school-home relationships. At the end of every 6 week unit of inquiry, my students share their eportfolio with their parents at home and have a discussion about their accomplishments over the course of the unit. The students know that they have wiggle room within those 6 weeks to get their e-portfolios where they want them to be but know that by the end, they will be sharing them. Knowing the audience will be there has significantly increased the quality of e-portfolios since I first started doing them. The parents are not in the dark about their child’s learning and the dialogue continues to develop with the learning at home and not just in the classroom. Parents comment on their work within the e-portfolio as well. Because of this, the student has their teacher, peers, parents, and self all reflecting and commenting on their e-portfolios - quite a powerful audience.
Gmail Home Writing Program
Each week every student in my class writes me an email. They can choose from a list or just write about whatever they want. Every Monday I send them back a personal email. The students clearly know someone is reading their writing and responding to them in a timely fashion.
The more meaningful we can create the learning we have in the classroom, the more students will learn and want to share. The more students share their work with an audience that matters to them, the more pride they take in doing their work. Students want to know what they say matters - foster a community where it can and does.
So I can't help myself but be the proudest teacher in the world right now!
The same student who has struggled to process information, sequence events and get thoughts from pen to paper the past few years wrote a story today that pretty much blew me away. We were doing our pre-assessment for our new Writer's Workshop fantasy unit. The task was simple - show me as much as you know about fantasy writing in a small moment story in one period, try your best and let's see what you can come up with.
Well, I wandered the room ensuring my ESL students understood and redirecting another student or two back on task and didn't notice the student writing away. About 15 minutes in, I wandered over to him and he had four lines written on. I gave him a high five and off he kept going. After about 45 minutes it was time to break and I asked if he was done. He said he wasn't but almost and asked if he could finish. I figured he wanted to write and he is allowed the extra time as an accommodation so I was happy to let him finish.
When he handed his work to me that was almost a page long, I was beaming with excitement. He had done it completely independently as well. We exchanged our class secret handshake (which I did wrong, so we had a redo) and I gave him a ton of praise for his hard work and perseverance. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for our personal narrative pre-assessment, I got a blank page in 45 minutes so this is a major step forward.
Then he reached for the iPod, took a picture of his work and continued to write another sentence about his work before posting his blog. His fiction story was sequenced and had a beginning, middle and end. It had some descriptive language and he even wrote some of his words creatively to help create a feeling for his haunted story.
Is it having the blog that is similar to Instagram that he loves that made things click? Was it sharing the positive feedback about his blog I got from his family with him? Was it the positive encouragement that has finally sunk in? Was it just everything aligning in one go? I'm not sure but I will do whatever I can to keep him on this path.
It's simply a great reminder we really need to be these kids biggest cheerleaders and never give up on them. There is always something that might motivate a child. The student may not have the best progress every day, and likely many setbacks along the way but there is always something else that could work - so don't stop trying.
I have one student in my class who has difficulty processing information. He works incredibly hard but his brain just doesn't allow him to make connections from taking in information to processing the information and doing a task with ease. I have been struggling to get him to write and often produce any form of work. Even with one on one instruction, he could spend an entire period and still only have a few sentences on a page. We have tried a variety of different strategies to help him communicate his ideas in whatever way he can but often, we still come up short... until this past week.
Our E-portfolios our a big part of my class as it promotes self-reflection, showcases their work and can be shared with parents, friends and our community. As you might have imagined, this would be a task that would become difficult for the child mentioned above. In the first unit, all of the pieces he inserted required me sitting next to him talking him through it step by step until he finished. While he is still very tech savvy, the processing all of the steps becomes too much at some point and the task wouldn't get finished.
I had a meeting with the parent and we were just discussing the child's overall ability when he mentioned he had an Instagram account he was always on outside of school. As I walked out of the meeting, I thought to myself "Why not let him do what he enjoys doing? Why not give him the platform that works best for him?"
So off I went barging into the tech office with this idea of using Instagram for his E-portfolio now. Unfortunately, Instagram is blocked on our server I found out but using an alternate program that essentially mimics this idea was our next option - Blogger.
When I talked to the student he was interested in 'trialling' this special idea I had that only he could help me with. So together, we set up a blog and linked it to an iPod. The idea was simple - take pictures as you work throughout the day and write a comment about it. This was to be his modified portfolio. If the idea was to reflect on his work, perhaps this was a way he would be able to connect what he was already doing outside of school with Instagram to what he did inside the classroom.
Instantly we saw results! This past week we had only 3 days of teaching, and he already has 7 posts. Not bad for someone who only had 3 posts total of reflection for the current section of his portfolio. Not only did he capture moments of his work, he made others capture him in action too so he could include that. The boy who had struggle putting together a single sentence on paper now was able to put at least a sentence or two together for each picture he posted.
What else improved? He self image. When he knew he could succeed, he wanted to do more. A single sentence and picture was enough.
So I guess now I ask myself - how are we differentiating our e-portfolios to meet our student's needs? How do we ensure they can reflect on a work that is meaningful to them? I am wondering how other students will feel after a while and if they will want to take on this model as well? I wonder how my student's writing will progress moving forward.
It seems so simple. Taking a picture, posting it to the internet and making a comment but yet to me, this has been one of the biggest successes for me all year. We are trialling this idea for the next month with him and I am so excited to see where he takes it. In three days, he has transformed in the classroom and as a writer both digitally and on paper. I am incredibly proud of his progress and the best part is - he is too!
It's hard to believe only a year ago I truly took my first steps in the world of EdTech. I'm blessed that my learning curve has been steep and fast and I've had the opportunity to interact with some amazing educators here in Singapore and throughout Asia. I have a lot of things I want to achieve in my educational journey. I'm only in the beginning steps of that path but I just managed to check another wish off my list but it came at the cost of the case of some serious nerves.
This past weekend I attended the EdTechTeam Singapore Summit featuring Google Apps. I had attended the conference last year as a complete rookie to the EdTech world where I soaked up every once I could and quite frankly my brain was fried by Sunday at 5pm.
But this year was different, this year I was co-presenting one of the workshops with a colleague of mine. As a new educator, I have so much to learn from those who came into this profession beforehand. So taking the stage to share my own experiences completely terrified me. I am no better than anyone else and in my mind not doing anything remarkably noteworthy compared to the other educators who simply care about their students and want to make a difference for their kiddos. From that standpoint, I never thought I would be at the point where I had something anyone would ever want to hear.
Yet, when one day as I was in the tech office trying to solve a completely unrelated problem, I struck up a conversation with our Primary EdTech Coach about the conference. He told me he was presenting and for whatever reason, I asked if they were still looking for presenters. Somehow we got to the point where he suggested I present with him our e-portfolios. Bam - hooked in and too late to back out. (In hindsight, awesome choice!)
Preparing the presentation itself came pretty easy to me when I knew what I was talking about was just everyday practice to me and my students. Perhaps my time management on the actual prep work could be adjusted in the future to eliminate some nerves but the fact is it was ready for action when it needed to be. We had many successes and challenges with the portfolios last year and all I really had to do when it came down to it was to be honest and speak from the heart.
On the day of my presentation, my colleagues asked if I was going to be okay. I clearly looked like I was going to be doing the scariest thing in my life as I entered the school cafeteria for morning coffee. But somehow I managed to get it together. I am so appreciative of all of my colleagues who were the most supportive group of individuals I could have asked for during this event for me. Many asked if I wanted them in the audience cheering me on. While thoughtful, sweet and super caring, no I did not want them there. Having anyone from our school sitting there smiling back at me was not what I wanted or needed. I would only get more nervous in front of the people I work with every day, presenting the work we all do in our classrooms. In my mind, presenting in front of complete strangers was the best method - even though my colleagues promised loud cheers, banners and signs if I let them come. They did make sure to congratulate me and make me feel so special afterwards too. It's a wonderful feeling to know that if you stumble in your school you've got people to help you back up. I even had one friend make sure I got something special to have in my class to remember the occasion by. This also excited my students this morning and they told me I was a real risk-taker and asked if they could give teachers merits too.
I stood up at the front of the room about 15 minutes before it started with my co-presenter and looked out. 3 people there so far - well, at least I wouldn't mess up and embarrass myself in front of too many people. Unfortunately, we had a bigger crowd than that with each passing minute until it was time to start and there was a good size audience in the room. My co-presenter started off the presentation with the philosophy of the e-portfolios and I just stood there waiting my turn, jittery, and trying to remember to smile.
"And now I'll turn it over to my colleague, Emily." Darn! That's my cue. Okay, breathe, smile, breathe again, say something. And so it began. Honestly, for not really practising what I wanted to say, the words for the most part just rolled off the tongue. It's easy for me to talk about my students and what we do together in our classroom. I ooze pride when I talk about my kiddos - they change the way I think and make me a better teacher and person every day.
One of my favourite parts was just being able to have questions and answers with individuals in the audience. Like I said, I'm no expert, so sharing ideas and experiences allows us to grow together.
An interesting thing I took away from the weekend that was unintended learning was my attention to detail about how others constructed their workshops and keynotes. I found myself analysing the presenters thinking why did this work and why do I feel that part could be done differently (nothing against any presenters). I found myself viewing the presentations less about content and more about structure, flow and connection. Perhaps I did not take away as much EdTech learning as I did last year (though still many new ideas) because of this unintended focus, I still feel like the knowledge I gained will help me propel myself forward.
Secretly (or not so secretly), this was a huge day for me. My first real conference and one featuring Google Apps for Education in a country where EdTech is top notch? I mean, come on, excitement over this accomplishment doesn't even begin to describe how I felt. I kind of felt like I kid again when I Skyped my dad the next day sharing the experience and hearing how proud he was of me.
Would I do it again? Yes. Will it always bring out my nerves? Absolutely. I've already had a friend at another school make a pact to both do a presentation in October (thankfully this one can be much much shorter!) But I guess I realised was that I actually do have a voice in the education world. We all do. Teachers want to hear what other teachers are doing. It's okay that your voice is quiet and maybe not being heard by many but just like with my students, if I can make a difference to one, then that's a great thing I've done.