Recently, I offered a workshop in my district to teachers interested in creating digital portfolios of student work. My initial focus for the presentation was the digital concept of portfolios, but as I made my way further into my presentation it became clear to me that the conversation had to center around the purpose of having students keep a portfolio of their work in the first place.
A portfolio, or a collection of student work, can take many forms. When I began my career as a writing teacher of seventh and eighth grade students, this portfolio was a folder that was kept in a file bin in the corner of my classroom. As students completed final drafts of their work, these went into their portfolio. A few times a year, I would set aside time for students to reflect on one piece they had written. At the end of the year, they chose three and added these to their district portfolio, which would follow them into the upper grades.
Fast forward 15 years, and I no longer keep the hard copies of folders in my classroom. Instead, my students each have a digital portfolio, which for us means a Google Site that they have created with my assistance. My students add all major writing assignments and projects to this portfolio and keep track of all the books they have read since September. This portfolio is a living document that will follow them into the upper grades.
Our purpose is clear: the portfolio is a collection of the work they have completed in a given year, a record of what they have accomplished. However, as I delve deeper into the world of digital portfolios and find amazing resources shared by other educators, my idea of a digital portfolio is starting to change.
I found teachers who guided their students through the creation of digital portfolios, including not just written work but multimedia content as well. I found portfolios for science classes demonstrating lab experiments and music classes with recorded work. In addition, I discovered districts that had created digital portfolio templates for all subjects, where students placed examples of all different kinds of work they had completed in their classes. The most interesting portfolios to be found? Portfolios created by middle school students. The enthusiasm for these students to post and publish the work they were doing in class was infectious.
When we examine middle grades learners, we see students who need a high level of engagement, access to technology, and flexibility and control over their own learning. Digital portfolios are the perfect combination of all of these. Students can utilize their creativity and technology skills in the initial creation of a portfolio, which can be accomplished in many different formats. As the year progresses, they can share the work they have done with classmates, other teachers, family, and friends.
As we move through a world of ever-increasing technology, the concept of a digital portfolio is one that will continue to evolve over time for our students. What better way to prepare them for their future by providing them with the tools they will need to present their accomplishments to the world?
Kerry MacDonald is a sixth grade humanities teacher at Lawrence Intermediate School, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
Published August 2019.