Parents' and family guide to digital portfolios in the classroom

How to understand your student's digital portfolio assignment and provide meaningful feedback to help them learn
Daphnée Morin
February 21, 2020

Mother and daughter look at daughter's school work on a digital portfolio

Digital portfolios are becoming an increasingly popular way for teachers to encourage capturing and documentation of learning, prompting meaningful reflection, and providing ongoing, formative feedback.

But for many of us, this is a new concept from when we were in school.

Back in my day, I recall putting together a physical portfolio for an eighth-grade capstone project. I purchased a black three-ring binder, created chapters on each of my elementary school accomplishments in a word processor, and scrapbooked together artifacts of learning.

Today, thanks to many improvements in technology, digital portfolios can be a powerful classroom tool that students use and every day.

However, where students may no longer need to be crafty, they now need to be savvier with digital tools.

For parents, guardians, and family members of students who are inundated with digital tools and social media, it can be overwhelming to advise and guide on products you’ve never even heard of.  So, let's go through some tips for family members.

What is a digital portfolio in K-12 education?

A digital portfolio is a body of student work that can take on a variety of formats and showcase growth, reflection, and accomplishment. (Read: What is a digital portfolio for the classroom?)

The use cases can vary greatly depending on the class, the student’s age, and the teacher. A capstone or graduation projects that showcase highlights from elementary school will be different than a digital portfolio used to capture and reflect on daily learning throughout the year.

How will my student's portfolio be evaluated?

There are three main ways student portfolios can be evaluated.

Show the Process: Students collect and store evidence of learning and reflect on the process in a continuous cycle. In this case, the reflection on the learning may be evaluated as well as the work.

Show the Progress: Students document growth and changes in their work over time to show progress. In this case, the progress over different versions and assignments may be considered in the evaluation.

Show the Product: Students curate projects, learnings, and evidence into a final “polished” product. In this case, the final artifacts and the overall story of the different pieces of the portfolio will be evaluated. (Read: "The three ways teachers use portfolios in the classroom.")

Be sure to check in with assignment details or contact your student's teacher if you’re unsure of the learning outcomes and purpose of a student portfolio.

What should my student’s portfolio include?

A digital portfolio can include any number of artifacts of student work.

In most digital portfolio tools, like Spaces, students can upload images, text, audio files, video files, and other documents like PDF and Microsoft Word files.

Once you know how your student’s teacher is planning to use a student’s portfolio, you can better make recommendations on what to include.

How can I help my student with their portfolio?

One of the key benefits to using portfolios in the classroom is to engage parents to participate in their student's learning.

More importantly, digital portfolios foster open dialogues between student, teacher, and family.

Not only can parents comment on their student's portfolio artifacts to prompt further reflection, but they can also receive feedback directly from their student's teacher.

Digital portfolios can also be used as the centerpiece of parent-teacher interviews or to support student-led conferences.

While students self-reflect on the work and progress displayed in their portfolio, parents have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback and prompt conversation to engage their student in sharing their experiences and perspective.

Tips for providing feedback on your student's learning

  1. Encourage the process. Rather than commenting on the final product, focus on the process of learning that leads up to the actual artifact to honour your student’s work that came before it. Focus more on perseverance and your student’s improvement over time rather than on their ability.
  2. Have an open dialogue. The best conversations start when asking questions to spark thinking rather than by passing judgement. Consider what your student (or their teacher) was trying to convey by posting the artifact and use one of the dialogue prompts suggested below to allow them to share their perspective.
  3. Avoid “yes” and “no”. Use open-ended questions that encourage your student to reflect on their learning. Try to give concrete examples when providing feedback so your student understands what you are referencing, and be mindful not to make comparisons to the work of others.

Looking for some tips on how to best provide feedback on your student's learning?

We’ve got you covered. Click here to download our Family Feedback Prompts for Digital Portfolios (PDF).

Click to Download the PDF

What tools can I use to create a digital portfolio?

Check with your student's teacher to see if they’ve adopted a portfolio product for the classroom. Class-wide products, like our very own Spaces, give students their own space to capture, reflect, and demonstrate learning.

Using one product for the entire class also creates a consistent playing field across students. Teachers can focus on the work and the student’s reflection on that work, not the technology the student used.

However, if you’re here because your student's teacher has given free-reign to select their own product, don’t fret. We recommend tapping into Google’s suite of tools in lieu of a class-wide portfolio solution.

Google Tools

Depending on your student's age and the expectations of your student's teacher, Google tools like Google Sites, Google Docs, or Google Presentations are free, easy-to-use, and highly customizable. Google Sites will require more technical knowledge to create links and sub-pages, whereas Google Presentations, each artifact can be added to a slide similar to Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote.

Not a Google user?

WordPress.com, Wix, and Weebly are three of the most common blog sites for students to create online, digital portfolios.

 

Daphnée Morin

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