This article was originally posted on the Getting Smart blog.
From the first week of school, the six year olds in my classroom begin to create an online presence in the form of a digital portfolio. We use a blogging platform to do this, and include artifacts that show their progress in writing, reading, math, social studies and science.
I am frequently asked why I do this. Even more frequently, I can see in a colleague’s eyes that they are thinking “why”, even if they don’t verbalize their question. The way that those educators have always done portfolios has worked well for them. Their students are learning the things they need to learn and are building a paper portfolio as they do so. Why do I take the extra time to upload those artifacts?
For any writer or creator, it is all about the audience. Why would a student even want to write on a piece of paper for their teacher to see when they could write on their blog for the world to see?
Because a blog allows comments, the students’ thoughts and learning can be not only read, but responded to as well. Students relish the feedback a comment gives, whether it is from a classmate, a parent, or someone they have never met. The audience becomes part of the student’s learning.
Creating a Community of Ripples
Having a blog creates a community around our classroom. The articles, podcasts, images and video we post are like stones dropped into a pond.
The first ripple in our circle of community is the circle of parents. Parents can watch their child’s blog and observe their child’s progress first hand. They don’t have to wait until our student-led conferences to see what and how their child has been learning. The growth is obvious for them to see.
The next ripple is the circle of the child’s extended family, friends and our local community. They, too can watch, encourage and interact. Often, this circle includes students who have been in my classroom in the past and who come back to our blog to comment and encourage the younger students.
The largest circle is—well—the entire world. We have received comments from many places including many states in the USA, classrooms across Canada, India, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and New Zealand. And those are just this school year.
That is a very large community.
Even at a young age, it is important to begin to have an idea of the significance of a digital footprint, including what things are appropriate to post online, how to protect your identity and ways to interact with others in an online space. As my six-year-olds grow up, the world will become increasingly digital. Tools will change, but connectedness will continue to grow. Children need to learn early that it is important to present yourself well online and some of the ways that can be done.
We teach kids that have no concept of a world without the Internet. Technology is a ubiquitous part of their world. They want and expect to use it at home. For me to deny that technology and what it allows them to do would be like asking someone from an earlier generation to learn without a pen or pencil. It just wouldn’t make sense.
When we have student-led conferences in my classroom, my students use what is posted on their blog as the starting point of our conversation with their parents. Their moms and dads are already familiar with what is posted, and the students are able to focus on sharing what their goals were, what they feel they are doing well and what they want to get better at.
Allowing students to have some choice in what they create/post is important on so many levels. It empowers the students and involves them in their own learning. We teach students who have a plethora of choices as to how they spend their time. In addition to the choices children previously had, they can choose from many types of gaming, hundreds of television channels or video on demand. It only makes sense to give them a sense of choice as to how they show their learning as well.
An online portfolio gives those choices. Students can choose which of the many tools available will best help them to show their learning. Paper is not always the best way to communicate your ideas.
I will never forget the delight in one of my student’s eyes who had just had a working computer in his home the night before for the first time that school year. “Mrs. Cassidy, I showed my blog to my parents last night. I showed them all my stuff! They liked it!”
That moment of joy was worth the few extra minutes it takes to post my student’s articles online. I know that, although I don’t always hear about it, that moment is repeated over and over in the homes of all of my students, as they are able to share their learning with their parents at home.
Joy is the best reason I use digital portfolios with my young students. We can all use a little more joy.