Why My Six-Year-Olds Have Digital Portfolios

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.

Digital Footprint

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.

Their Culture

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.

Student Conferences

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.

Student Choice

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.



34 thoughts on “Why My Six-Year-Olds Have Digital Portfolios

  1. What great reading, thanks for sharing. Digital portfolios is a conversation we are starting to have at our school so reading this is very encouraging. Many thanks.

  2. I can imagine the cynicism of some of your colleagues but you’re right that today’s six year olds will be growing up in a world where communications skills are only going to get more important.

  3. Wow, what a positive push for digital portfolios. It is so great to hear of teachers IN the schools using these sorts of assessment techniques and knowing that they WORK! As a pre-service teacher it is frustrating at times to hear the cynicism of teachers in the field. Thanks for sharing your amazing experiences and helping to show the positive side of technology in the classroom!

  4. I love this post!! Six year olds can do this important work and you are right they are writing for an authentic audience. Thanks for adding the part about joy, so critical to feeling success. My dream is to have those six year olds grow their portfolio each year, imagine what they could graduate with?

  5. sad, very sad…. “they” said that Tvs in the classroom were “necessary” in the classroom in the 70’s and we all soon realized that was a huge mistake…6-year olds blogging for millions of strangers, real good plan

    1. My six-year-olds ARE blogging for millions of strangers, many of whom take the time to help them learn. “Strangers” have taken the time to comment, to encourage and to help my students learn many things that I could never have taught them on my own.
      I don’t just randomly post my students work without thinking about how to keep them safe. I do post the students’ first names, but do not attach a picture of the students to their blog. Also, nothing gets online without my approval. I see every post and every comment before it is published. In eight years of posting articles and receiving comments, we have yet to receive anything offensive.

    2. Hi gmarion,
      When talented teachers like Kathy use a medium that fits with students at the right moment and for the right purpose, it’s transformational!!

      While blanket implementation of technology seldom works wonders, it doesn’t mean we discount the possibilities where it is thoughtfully implemented. When my Grade 1’s were blogging it transformed my students into real writers! You should try it!


  6. Dear Kathy,

    Wow 🙂 ! Congratulations on your impressive educational project, this blog and your classroom’s. Just a question; can students view each other’s blogs and comment on them? I ask, because I am researching grade 10 (and up) Visual Arts learners’ use of online portfolios at two schools. One educator has shied away from selecting any online portfolio solutions that offer social networking functions, because he perceived that learners’ feedback is likely to be immature. What has been your approach to this issue in class?
    Granted, it’s a different age group, but I’m very interested to hear what your perspective on this is?


    1. Yes, the students certainly can see and comment on each other’s work. We spend a lot of time talking about what a good comment is and how it should be structured. I blogged about that process here: http://kathycassidy.com/2012/04/11/commenting-for-pre-and-emerging-writers/ I think peer feedback is important, but it doesn’t happen well automatically. It is also possible for that teacher to retain the right to approve all comments so that nothing that does not meet the criteria that he sets out gets published.

  7. This is awesome and inspirational. At http://www.threering.com we are trying to make it super easy for teachers and students to start building digital portfolios. Your use of blogging and the details in the comments here have really given me something to think about as we develop new features!

  8. So well said, Kathy! I also strongly believe that we need to be the ones teaching student digital etiquette and how to build a positive digital footprint. If not us, then who?
    Joy…what a fabulous word! I see the joy everyday when my learning challenged students are able to express their learning in a manner that works for them and when my students read the comments from people they don’t know. The fact that these people found their work important enough to comment on builds their self esteem in ways we can not measure!
    We love inviting the world into our classroom.
    Thanks so much for all the fabulous work that you and your students are doing. You have inspired so many!

  9. Excellent initiative! The earlier we start with these skills the more natural it will be for them later, not to mention they’ll have grown up with the concept of online safety and security. Thanks for your hard work in the classroom – looking forward to following your blog!

  10. Kathy, thanks so much for sharing your experiences! We are just beginning blogging with grade 1’s and at this point it has been a fabulous experience! My students don’t want to give up their blogs for summer. We are trying to decide what to do? Im looking forward to a full year of digital portfolio’s next year!

    1. Yikes, Lora, somehow I missed this comment. Sorry!
      My students know that they can blog during the summer if they want to. One of them already has! In the fall, I will “orphan” the students that will not be in my class (that is, they will still be online, but will not be linked to my blog anymore). I have already talked to the parents about this, asking them to bookmark their child’s blog so that they will be able to access it in the fall.
      If the students in my class go into the classroom of a teacher who is blogging, that teacher will “pick up” my student’s blog so that their portfolio continues.
      Good luck with your portfolios next school year!

  11. Thank you for your post! i would love to further connect with you as i wish to start a digital portfolio for my students as well.
    I am interested to know how you manage this. Do you scan or take picture of student work? Do students do this on their own? Do you have to take some time to teach them how to do this?
    I work with first graders too, and I wonder how you manage to have them create their post in their digital portfolios, as they are just learning how to read and write!
    Please, let me know how you have managed this into your daily schedule, how you have taught students to upload things, how you have taught them to post and comment on each other…..?
    Also, how have you gotten parents involved?

    Please, I am super interested in knowing how all this has worked out for you and as I am planning on doing this next year, your help is vital!

    daniela kemeny

    1. Hi Daniela,
      You have asked some good questions.
      Usually, the students take a picture of their own work. I do show a few students, but they help each other a lot as well. I don’t consider putting the things into their digital portfolios to be an extra–it is just part of what we do so that the work is there when it comes to student-led conference time.
      You might want to check http://primaryportfolios.wikispaces.com/ It is a wiki I created to show some of what I have done/do now with regard to digital portfolios. It also has examples of other primary digital portfolios.
      When we did all of our work on computers, I did the uploading for them. They wrote, and I did all of the embedding work. Now that we have iPads, the children can almost all do it by themselves by this point in the school year.
      I have not had the parents help specifically, but I do encourage the children to post from home or comment if they wish. I hope this has answered your questions. Good luck with digital portfolios!

  12. I couldn’t agree more! I have had my own children blog, post articles online etc for years and they make a much bigger effort when they know they have a world wide audience. I even got my 12 year old to guest blog for me. My children have also posted photos online, graphic designs and videos. The feedback they have received has encouraged them to strive to create more and improve on their work.

  13. Kathy, I must say that I’m amazed that you’re giving your 6-year-olds these concurrent skills!
    At first I found your recent article about giving the choice to your kids while they’re working with their portfolios. These are really important questions you’re rising here!

    I’m a member of a team developing a work portfolio organizer EspressoWork, which probably is more suitable for older kids. We’re trying to create a life-long tool – a dedicated place where kids could start collecting their student portfolios, which would then grow and transform together with them into professional work portfolios and standalone career websites.

    I’d be very happy to hear your opinion on the idea of having one life-time portfolio tool starting from childhood. My believe is that it could enrich self-development through the constant process of self-assessment and curating a personal portfolio.

    1. A one time portfolio is an interesting idea, but unless it is mandated by both elementary and high school, and then taken over by the student as they enter their profession, I have trouble seeing how this would work. It would definitely change what was put into the portfolios. I see our portfolios as formative assessment, not necessarily something that is always their “best work”. There would have to be an understanding of that–a much different idea than I currently have.

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