Digital Portfolios Go To Parent-Teacher Conferences

Digital Portfolios Go to Parent-Teacher Conferences

A student’s entry into he digital portfolio showing how she’s using a specific strategy to help improve her writing.

One of my goals when I started using digital portfolios in my 6th grade class was to improve communication with parents, and though I have my students email their parents every time they add an update, I’m not sure how often they look at them. Parent-teacher conferences seemed like a great time to show off the work and reflection that my students have been doing this year, and I’ve had some of the best conferences ever because of it.

Concrete Examples of Learning

Each students’ digital portfolio contains artifacts: videos, embedded Google docs, snapshots of the learning process, student-created image slideshows that show the steps in the process up to creating a final product. We try to use all the digital tools at our disposal to document the learning process. With these, we’re able to demonstrate a student’s growth and learning in ways that just weren’t possible with traditional portfolios. The portfolios contained mostly qualitative data (although some quantitative was included, like spelling assessments), so artifacts of the learning process that aren’t final, completed projects are included. For example, students have chosen to add snapshots of anchor charts in the classroom and used these as one piece of evidence that they are starting to implement a strategy, along with a snapshot of an annotated reading passage. My favorite example is a student included a video of himself attempting (and failing) to explain his process for solving a problem (complete with the student recording it in the background saying “Dude–I don’t think guess and check is a valid strategy here”), and then explaining how he can improve in his reflection.  Not only did this provide parents with concrete examples of the learning process, they also provided a glimpse into their child’s self-reflection and growth. During the conferences, I was able to use these artifacts to discuss progress with parents and demonstrate student learning and growth.

Promoting a Growth Mindset for Students and Parents

When I talk to colleagues about trying to promote a growth mindset amongst their students, parental expectations are often a hurdle. By setting up our digital portfolios so they were a documentation of students’ growth and progress over time toward specific goals, I was able to communicate to parents the importance of perseverance, self-reflection, and positive self-talk in the learning process. Rather than the conversation focusing on what the student wasn’t doing, the conversation was focused on what they were doing and the progress that they had made, however incremental it might have been, toward their goals. That shift in conversation, I think, relates to the transparency that comes from the digital portfolio. Parents have access to artifacts of student learning, as well as what the students learned from the experience (in their own words). That’s a pretty powerful combination.

Overall, I think that the digital portfolios made for a better set of parent-teacher conferences this year, both because of what my students created and what parents were able to take from them.

How have you used your digital portfolios to facilitate communication with parents?

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8 Responses to Digital Portfolios Go To Parent-Teacher Conferences

  1. Marsha Ratzel March 16, 2015 at 1:53 pm #

    Your post was especially interesting when you are considering how to make the work the focus of progress students are making towards the larger learning goal. It seems as if you think parents are better able to make the jump looking at student work. Is it because it’s in a portfolio or could this kind of growth mindset be done with any kind of looking at work over time?

    Thanks for sharing because this is so good to think about.

    • Samantha Mosher March 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

      I think the portfolio makes it easier to look at work over time, and that the digital format makes it easier to put in artifacts that are from multiple points in the learning process. Being able to see those many parts of the learning process, as well as their child’s reflection has been helpful in getting more parents on board with the idea of a growth mindset and demystifying what happens in learning support. I think, though, seeing the reflections that the children have written and their comments on their own growth has been what has been the most helpful.

  2. Matt Renwick March 16, 2015 at 11:22 pm #

    Samantha, when you said:

    “Rather than the conversation focusing on what the student wasn’t doing, the conversation was focused on what they were doing and the progress that they had made, however incremental it might have been, toward their goals.”

    I applauded you for how you have used digital portfolios for each student to slow down your teaching and become more mindful of their learning. Your experience is an example of how tech can actually help learners, both teacher and students, to be more present and less distracted. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Samantha Mosher March 17, 2015 at 7:49 am #

      Thanks so much, Matt. It’s been really exciting seeing the ways in which the portfolios have helped students to slow down and think about their learning in ways that I haven’t seen with traditional portfolios. Maybe the immediacy of both the creation and publishing of the portfolio as well as the immediacy of the feedback? And thank you for getting me interested in the idea of digital portfolios in the first place. Your book has been an invaluable resource this year.

  3. Joe Beckmann March 18, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    One of the critical benefits of digitizing formative assessment is easy engagement of others – not just parents, but peers and, perhaps least used and most available, grandparents. Particularly for immigrant populations, where google can translate well enough to make a statement worth considering, kids can share with grandma – anywhere in the world – what they do in school. That serves several distinct and very unanticipated goals:
    1) it gives “audience” a credibility and accessibility unexpected.
    2) it encourages parent involvement even more, since their parents are watching them at the same time
    3) it teaches elders to use the tech that’s “native” to their kids, in a non-invasive, non-judgmental way
    By building “connectedness” across age and language and skill level, it gives the kid immense credibility in helping others to know what that kid is doing – and makes what that kid does far more accountable than a bubble test ever could.

    • Samantha Mosher March 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Joe. While I only focused on engagement with parents in this post, students do engage with many others, including teachers from other classes, each other, and family living abroad. As I mentioned in my initial post on this topic, one the huge benefits of digital portfolios has been the ability to share with a parent who had to move back to her home country to work, several months ahead of the rest of the family. The ability to share easily around the world, especially with family members who live abroad, is a particularly appealing when working at an international school.

  4. Tricia Whenham April 9, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    What a great example of using video to capture not just end product but also the reflective process. I’ve always found reflection to be a skill that’s so hard to measure but incredibly important for students to learn. Thanks for sharing!


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