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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Dive Into Digital Portfolios

"I was country when country wasn't cool..." (Barbara Mandrell) Why is that song running through my head as I sit here beginning this blog post? Maybe because I was and it wasn't, but now it sure is!  As a veteran teacher (sounds like I've been through a war!), I have seen so many trends and teaching ideas cycle through and reappear years later with a new name.  Individually Prescribed Instruction has become Intervention and Differentiation, Integrated Learning has become PBL, Hands On Lessons have morphed into the Maker Movement. I could go on, but I know you get it!

And so first, a little story: Long ago, before  the dawn of technology in our schools, in a little classroom named Rainbow City, in an idyllic woodsy setting, a teacher had an idea. What if each of my students could leave with a memory of this year that could be a keepsake for years to come? A piece of their childhood to carry into the future. This teacher was already in love with technology, and  jumped in with both feet whenever a new advancement appeared on the horizon. Thanks to supportive parents, giant shoulder-carried VHS video cameras, and TV/VCR combos on a table in the back of my classroom, the video portfolio came to be a part of every child's year in Rainbow City.

Parents would visit our classroom when they could, no matter what we were doing, and gather video footage of the kids in action. The giant VHS tapes would be kept in a plastic storage box (no Pinterest yet for guidance, alas) and another parent would come in once a week and copy film clips from the master tape to the individual tape of every child who appeared in that clip. One TV setup to the other with cables. Endless, tedious work, and  to the parent who continued the process even after her kids had left my classroom, Vicky - I love you to the moon and back!

No teacher drudgery, but also no real student input to the collection. It was the best we could do with what we had at the time, and to many seemed very futuristic!

Fast forward to now, thanks to the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak), who dropped out of college to give us the future we all now enjoy and often take for granted! 1:1 computing in millions of classrooms throughout our continent (Also a "What-If" asked by this Rainbow City teacher long long ago, when the first Commodore PET computers arrived in our classrooms. Ask my teaching buddy Beth! She remembers!) Student digital portfolios can now contain amazing things: work artifacts, assessments, videos, photos, links to personal wikis and web pages, blogs, journals, poetry, athletic performances, and the list goes on and on. Best of all? Student choice and student creation can now be the driving forces behind these new collections. Teachers, the future is here!

The new school year is a great time to dive into digital portfolio creation. Do a little browsing this month, and when the new school year arrives, your feet can hit the ground running like a marathoner! Your students will think you've always been a Portfolio Boss! Set the tone and get started on a portfolio of your own to use as an example, and a great way to "Meet the Teacher" for students and for parents. Make it a preview of the magic still to come in your fresh and shiny new school year!

Explore the many apps out there for your students to use as they imagine and create their own keepsakes of their year with you.  Just a very few suggestions: Glogster (my own recent students' fave!), Creatubbles, Lego Movie Maker, PicMonkey, Flipsnack, Tux Paint, Animoto, and Chromville.

Some tips for getting started:

  • Set up some folders on your school network or on Google Classroom for your students to have individual folders and also folders to share photos and videos from projects and field trips, group work, etc. for your whole class.
  • Set up a Google Slides , Power Point, or Keynote bare bones portfolio with slides representing things you want your students to include. You could have a slide for each month, each subject area, a journaling section, work sample artifacts, etc. Keep it simple so students can use their creativity to make each portfolio unique.
  • Use your own sample as a model, and continue to model by sharing the progress of the earliest students to get moving on their collections. Seeing where another student has taken the idea provides a big aha and a surge forward for so many students.
  • Zero in on the students who need extra support by assigning partners and providing individual teacher help whenever you can. Parapros and parent helpers can be a huge support here. Also consider asking your local high school if there are students who would like to earn some community service credits by helping out. (I'm writing from a 3rd through 5th vantage point, so the high school helper option was always a good choice in my classroom.)

Of course, the Teachers Pay Teachers website is beginning to explode with digital materials for your students to create and collect on Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive. Here are a few of mine, aimed at providing pieces for your students to include in the unique portfolios each of them will be creating. To read the product descriptions just click on the graphic.

Have an amazing, digitally oriented new school year!


  1. It would be cool to have students create something at the end of a major unit that showed/explained what they learned. Imagine how surprised they would be to look back at the end of the year!

  2. My students have kept portfolios for years, but I've been wanting to move to digital portfolios. This post will be super helpful thanks, Retta!