Freedom from Piles of Paper

Using a digital portfolio in the classroom

By Sara Jonckheere

Do you sometimes feel like you are buried under the piles of student work that you’ve collected? Are you ready to make the jump to a digital option? Digital portfolios might be exactly what you need!

Creating a digital portfolio is an excellent way to collect student work without the piles of paper, allow students to showcase their best work, and keep families updated with their child’s learning progress.

Why use a digital portfolio?

There are many reasons a teacher might choose to use a digital portfolio in the classroom. For starters, it saves space. No more keeping papers, binders, and physical portfolios. Everything is saved digitally.

Some activities that happen in the classroom can’t be sent home on a piece of paper. A science experiment may not make it home in one piece to recreate for Mom and Dad, but a picture or video of the experiment might tell the story even better and can be shared easily in the digital portfolio. That STEM challenge your students worked so hard on building is amazing, but not practical to send home, so snap a picture and parents can see it in the portfolio. How about a presentation? Not easy to replicate or talk about on a piece of paper, but a video would be a great way to showcase it.

Using technology is an important life skill for this generation, and teaching students to use technology responsibly is vital. A digital portfolio is a safe way to bring technology into class, allowing students to have privacy while you control who can see the students’ work.

There are several apps, websites, and programs available that allow teachers to store student work in a digital portfolio. Finding what works for you involves trial and error, but there are reviews out there if you want to compare different options. Two factors that might influence your decision are cost and compatibility with the devices you have available to you.

The benefits of using Seesaw

One of the most popular apps for digital portfolios is Seesaw. Seesaw works to empower and inspire students by giving them an audience for their work and allowing them to reflect on their progress over time. With the Seesaw app, students post an activity to their journals or portfolios. Then the teacher is notified and can choose to approve the work before it shows up in the student’s portfolio. The teacher can leave feedback at the same time the parents get notified that there is a new post for their child, allowing them to view and comment on the work, as well.

Seesaw is compatible with iOS and Android devices, plus Kindle Fire, Chromebooks, and computers with Chrome or Firefox. Because Seesaw can work on all platforms, parents can use the parent version to see their child’s work, even if the operating system they use at home is different from the one used at school.

If you want to have more options for assessment or carry over student portfolios from year to year, Seesaw offers a paid version that includes these features and more. If you just want to use it for the year to showcase student work, the free version will work just fine.

Getting Started with Seesaw

Seesaw has made their product as user-friendly as possible. Their site has FAQs, videos, webinars, and more to help get you started and answer all of your questions. They’ve also taken a lot of the work out of it for teachers. Afraid to start? Don’t be. They’ve got you covered with lessons and challenges by grade level to get students familiar with how to use the app. They’ve even included posters for your classroom and printable letters for the families that explain how to get started with Seesaw.

Decide how you want to use digital portfolios. Will it be for every subject? Will students add something daily? Weekly? Will you use it to showcase work at conferences? Will you assess the work that is turned in? Again, Seesaw has made this easier for you by giving you examples of how other teachers use the app in their classrooms. Use these ideas for inspiration and to help you come up with a plan for the year.

Seesaw allows students to add a photo, video, drawing, picture from a camera roll, note, link, or file. Think about these different options and what that would look like for the subject areas you teach. What could students share in their portfolios that a paper-and-pencil activity wouldn’t be able to do? Also, keep in mind that you can easily add pencil-and-paper activities to the digital portfolio by taking a picture of it after students complete it in class.

Ideas for limited devices

This is all great, but what if you don’t have the technology? There are ways to use Seesaw whether you have one device (a teacher’s device), several devices, or one device for each student (1:1).

If you have one device: Once a week, focus on a different subject area and have students select a piece of work they want showcased in their portfolio. Collect all the work, take pictures using your device, and add it to each student’s portfolio.

If you have multiple devices: Make this a small-group activity center that they rotate to throughout the week. As students complete the assigned work, they can use the devices to take pictures and record their response and post it to their portfolio.

If you are a 1:1 classroom: Allow students to use their devices all day long to complete assignments, turn them in to you, and add them to their portfolio.

Parent involvement

One of the great features of Seesaw is the parent component. There is a separate parent app that allows parents to see their child’s portfolio only. Through the app, parents receive notifications that something new has been posted; at their convenience, they can log in and check out what their child is working on in class. Parents can view, like, and comment on what their child is posting in their portfolio.

Parents are invited to download the app and are given a personalized QR code to scan, along with directions (all created by Seesaw). Once they follow these steps and create an account, they will have access to only their child’s work. All other student work will remain private and confidential.

This is a great way to connect home and school. Parents no longer need to pepper their child with questions to try to find out about their day, because they will be able to ask very specific questions based on the activities and assignments that were posted on Seesaw throughout the day. Teachers will also be able to very easily communicate with parents through the app and keep them updated on what is happening in the classroom. Notes or newsletters can easily be sent through the app to all families. There is also an option to privately message parents and vice versa.

Unique ways to use Seesaw in a Catholic school

The Seesaw website is full of ideas for how to use the Seesaw app from pre-K through high school and beyond. There are ideas, challenges, and freebies for all different subjects — math, social studies, STEM, English Language Arts, and the like. It is a little more challenging to find ideas for using it in a Catholic classroom, but check out these ways students can use the Seesaw app to record their religious learning:

When students memorize a new prayer, have them record a video of themselves reciting the prayer.
Have students take a picture and type a description of a prayer intention they have.
Take a video (or a picture and add a voice recording) of the student leading a decade of the rosary.

During a saint study, or if you do a saint of the day or week, have students add a picture of the saint and then type in facts they’ve learned.
Have students record themselves sharing facts about a saint.
Take a picture of a painting, picture, or statue of a saint and record or type facts about the saint before posting.

Have students use videos, pictures, or typed words to share how they are living their life as a joyful disciple of Jesus; this should include things they do both in school and at home. Some ideas include prayer life, going to Mass, serving others, sharing the Good News, and reading the Bible.

Have a student prepare for a school Mass by recording themselves doing a reading, singing a hymn, or reading a prayer intention.
Have students record themselves or take a picture of a drawing that tells all about good behavior during Mass.
Take pictures of items found in the Mass and have students label them.
Take pictures or videos of items that are unique to your church (artwork, gardens, chapels, and so on) and teach someone else what it is, what it is used for, and what they know about it.

Making the move to a digital portfolio can seem overwhelming if you haven’t used the technology before, but apps like Seesaw make it as easy as possible to make the transition from piles of paper on your desk to everything being stored digitally. When student work is housed in a digital format, it makes it easier for you, your students, and their parents to easily reference it. You are also giving your students the chance to truly show what they know in a learning style that best matches their needs when you aren’t limiting them to just written work. Some students will thrive with the option to showcase what they’ve learned through a video or picture. Making the switch to digital portfolios just might be the boost you and your students need.

Image credit: Shutterstock 228714544

Image credit: Shutterstock 228714544

Sara Jonckheere is an elementary-school teacher turned stay-at-home mom. She now creates digital curriculum and resources and shares teaching ideas on her blog, Sara J Creations.

Image credit: Shutterstock 228714544

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6 thoughts on “Freedom from Piles of Paper

  1. We learned about this at our Leadership Conference. It is on my to do list for the upcoming year.

  2. Hi, Mary. I would love to add a digital portfolio to my art classes. Nothing replaces the students’ original crinkly, paint-soaked paper masterpieces, but a digital representation would be nice to add. I would also be able to add the 3D projects that don’t fit in the traditional portfolio. It would be wonderful to show the “creation” of the projects also. If See Saw works on the iPads, then art could borrow these for a particularly complex project and the students could chronicle their work from start to finish.

    I will research some of the software projects and ask my tech savvy children what might work best.

    I can see all kinds of applications for art.

    Thanks for sharing, Mary.

  3. 2nd grade loves Seesaw! It’s also great for the students to use in Computer, Science,etc.

  4. Sounds interesting. I would like to see and hear how 2nd grade uses Seesaw in their classes.

  5. I am curious to see how this app could be utilized within the enrichment programs at our school.

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