Embrace lifelong, AI-proof learning with digital portfolios

Lainey FranksAppSmashing, Blog, Digital Citizenship, Digital Portfolios, Publishing

Digital portfolios. Not only a showcase of a student's school work for teachers and parents - but moreover a way for learners to develop a range of future-ready skills.

I'd like to make a proposal. Let’s step away from the rigid confines of test marks and dive into the realm of growth mindset and skill development. With AI tools like ChatGPT able to easily write essays and stories on our behalf, as educators we must shift our focus - and indeed our students’ focus - towards the learning journey and away from purely assessing the output.

Intrigued? Well, grab your digital quills, because we're about to explore the remarkable world of digital portfolios.

Nurturing skills through digital portfolios

What is a digital portfolio? Think of digital portfolios as more than just a collection of assignments. They're like the special exhibition at a virtual museum, where students present their unique skills and growth over time.

Within their portfolios, each student has the opportunity to hone their craft, display their work, and tell the story of their learning and development through their digital collection. Curating and reflecting on their work, students will foster an array of real-world skills that will serve them for a lifetime.

🤔 Thinking skills

We're encouraging students to become thinkers about their own thinking! With digital portfolios, learners reflect on their learning journey, discovering their strengths, identifying areas for improvement, and unlocking potential.

💬 Communication skills

Through digital portfolios, students dive into the art of communication. They exchange feedback with one another and their teachers, unravel their thought processes, and even engage in spirited debates. It's not just about assignments; it's about connecting.

🎢 Life skills

Life is a rollercoaster, and digital portfolios teach resilience. They show how challenges aren't roadblocks but stepping stones. Failures become opportunities, and mistakes are lessons in disguise.

🧑‍🎨 Presentation skills

Graphics, multimedia, carefully curating the right pieces of work and artfully painting an evolving picture of themselves – welcome to the digital age! Our students learn how to showcase their work like pros. It's not just about the content; it's about captivating an audience, and telling a story with pizzazz.

👾 Digital skills

As the world goes digital, so should our students. Digital portfolios are like their training grounds, teaching appsmashing, digital literacy, digital citizenship and the importance of their online footprint. Privacy? Yep, that's on the syllabus too.

Digital Portfolios: The Empowerment Triad

Kid pointing at the Digital Portfolio venn diagram

Students: The heroes of their tales

Digital portfolios hand the reins to our students. They become creators, curators, and narrators of their own stories. Choice, voice, and empowerment – it's like we've unleashed a learning revolution, with students leading the rebellion.

These sixth grade students at Middletown City School District in NY were introduced to digital portfolios in 2022:

  • "My imagination comes to life, and it's so organized! It's like having an entertainment center for my work!" - Hayla Wright
  • "All my writing in one place – Book Creator is a breeze. Those animated emojis? Love 'em!" - Aiyanna Perez

Choice, voice, and empowerment – it's like we've unleashed a learning revolution, with students leading the rebellion.

Another point to mention here is the extra empowerment and motivation that comes from a student knowing that their portfolio will be viewed by someone other than just their teacher. Knowing that others will see and evaluate their portfolios creates meaning for the students, and that meaning creates intrinsic motivation, and that's crucial.

If the portfolios are simply something they just "have to do" or a box they have to "check off," that's extrinsic motivation, and they might very quickly lose motivation (as will teachers).

If students and teachers understand the "why"—that digital portfolios are connected to and essential elements of a culture of visible thinking (see Ritchart), they will understand and see value in creating the portfolio.

Teachers: Insights that illuminate

Digital portfolios aren't just for students; they're a treasure trove for educators. We get an insider's view of each student's learning journey. It's like peeking behind the curtain and crafting tailor-made lessons.

  • "Options, options, options! Book Creator lets scholars personalize their portfolios, turning them into true originals." - Christine Ryan, 6th-grade teacher extraordinaire at Monhagen Middle School.
  • "Book Creator fits anywhere – it's like the swiss army knife of education. Students unleash creativity and share it with the world!" - Brittany Tresch, 10th-grade Global Teacher and Legacy Fellow at Middletown High School.

Parents: Your virtual refrigerator door

Hey parents, ever wished you had a window into your child's classroom? Digital portfolios do that and more. They bring learning home, creating a bridge between school and family. It's a virtual "refrigerator door" of achievements!

Taking it a step further, several teachers we spoke to recently are using digital portfolios as a basis for student-led conferences.

How to craft the perfect digital portfolio?

There are different "flavors" of portfolio to consider, dependent on what will work best for your situation.

Demonstrating standards or competencies?

Choose your flavor – standards-based or competency-based. Many school districts will take the opportunity to showcase mastery of state standards in each content area, but I recently spoke with a Book Creator Ambassador whose school district takes a competency-based approach.

DHS Portrait sample student portfolioDr. Joan McGettigan, currently Director of Educational Technology for the Windward School in New York, first gained experience of using Book Creator for Digital Portfolios at North Broward Preparatory School in Florida where students shared excerpts of their portfolio in a student-led conference with parents.

As Joan transitioned to Director of Instructional Technology for the Darien School District in Connecticut, she was tasked with creating a template to align with Darien’s Vision of a Graduate, which is framework of the skills and dispositions required to raise compassionate, resilient problem-solvers and leaders: Communication, Creativity, Curiosity, Empathy, Independence, and Integrity.

Joan kindly shared this sample graduate portfolio with us.

Process vs. Performance

Capture the learning process or the grand finale – it's your call. Many students will create a performance or presentation-style portfolio to meet the Portrait of a Graduate, or Capstone project requirements.

This approach sees students crafting a story to demonstrate how they have achieved certain learning objectives or demonstrated certain competencies. Students are mindful of an audience, and they make efforts to put their best foot forward, really honing their communication skills.

Heather Esposito, Instructional Technology Coach at Cherry Hill School District in NJ, shared these excellent examples of portfolios (below) that 4th grade students created at the end of the 2022-23 school year to showcase what they learned. (Click to read).

My 4th Grade Yearbook by Eva
My 4th grade portfolio by Isaac
My 4th grade portfolio by Laila

Alternatively, teachers may wish to have students document their learning process throughout the school year. The portfolio then becomes a key part of the learning process, with a heavy emphasis on reflection, resulting in an artifact that clearly demonstrates progress over time.

Check out this 1st grader reflecting on and explaining her learning in this video shared by Joan McGettigan.

Teachers can also benefit from creating their own portfolios.

Dr. Jennifer Berne, Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University, requires her preservice teachers to create a digital portfolio, which she describes as “a thoughtful collection of professional work and helpful materials using a digital repository and digital tools to make meaning out of one’s personal and professional growth. It is a metacognitive process where reflection is the key and which takes place over the duration of a career.”

Interestingly, our very own Community Manager, David Hotler, created a portfolio in Book Creator when applying for his role with us. He used the S.T.A.R. method (situation, task, action, result) to bring his story to life, and is careful to describe why he did what he did, how he did it, and which tools and resources were important to his success.

Deep dive or go broad

From math to art, tailor portfolios to different subjects for a 360-degree view of skills.

Middletown City School District in NY requires teachers to document quarterly benchmarks or skills checks. Previously kept in physical folders, Technology Integrator Michelle Hearn is supporting teachers to transition to Book Creator, starting in the middle school in 2022, where students created a book for their ELA portfolio and a separate one for Social Studies.

She created this template and one of her 6th grade students, Yun, kindly shared her ELA portfolio from 2022-23. The lovely testimonials by students and teachers earlier in the blog post are from Michelle’s district.

Maria Garcia's portfolio
My Portfolio - Yun 6th grade

Probably some of the most visually impressive portfolios that have been shared with us over the years are by pupils who are entered into the Bronze Arts Award.

Making portfolios - pro tips from the Book Creator community

We asked the contributors to this post for their top tips on how to make a digital portfolio.

  • Reflect, Reflect, Reflect: Reflection is probably the most important feature of the portfolio, and it’s important to recognize that students need to be taught how to reflect. We’ve included reflection options in our new graphic organizers app, and students can use audio, video, text, images or more to exercise their meta-cognition muscle!
  • Feedback Fun: Portfolios are a great way to teach students to assess each other’s work and provide constructive feedback to one another. You can enable peer feedback in Book Creator and of course provide teacher feedback as well. Provide younger students with sentence starters to help them construct feedback for their friends.
  • Guiding Young Minds: Designing a template for portfolios can be helpful for teachers and students alike (for a headstart - use our digital portfolio template). Year groups or school leaders may wish to provide guidance to teachers on what content should be included, and this can also support teachers who are new to digital tools and portfolios. As students develop more independence, they can be encouraged to design their own portfolios.
  • Consider a Rubric: A guiding rubric can help students assess and reflect on their own (and each others' work). A thoughtful, standards-based rubric should help students both check their progress during the project and review at the end. Sam Kary shares an interesting Book Creator rubric which might be helpful for this.
  • Create, Read, Publish: As we said before - share the portfolios beyond the classroom to ensure that students are intrinsically invested. Knowing there will be a wider audience - parents, peers (and beyond!) will encourage students to work harder and go the extra mile to ensure the quality of their portfolio is as good as it can be. Sharing your books in Book Creator is simple (and safe).

So, educators and knowledge adventurers, the sky's the limit - let's reach for the stars! With digital portfolios, we're not just changing education; we're igniting a spark of empowerment and learning that'll light up the future.

Let's embrace the Book Creator way and journey into a realm where growth knows no bounds! 🚀📚

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