Student Electronic Portfolios: A Model

Example of Student Electronic Portfolio Home Page (with the student name covered)

I do my best to teach paperless. One of the disadvantages of less paper is that parents don’t see much of the work students do in class. Electronic portfolios virtually eliminate the parent question: What is my child doing in school?

But electronic portfolios have value beyond parent communication, as Jessie Chuang explains in her Educemic post.

This post has two purposes:

  1. Present a model you can use for your own students’ portfolios. It is critical to know what you want students to present before you begin.
  2. Provide videos that show you, step-by-step, how to set up portfolios using Google sites.

For a number of years, I struggled with this opening page. I didn’t want students to make it a full “About Me” page because I don’t want them to share too many personal details online. Some students wanted to post personal photos – which led to the discussion of personal safety on the internet.

Other students attached widgets such as fish bowls or basketball games. I asked students to remove those for three reasons:

  • The purpose of the portfolio is to present “professional” work. Personal blogs are more appropriate places to demonstrate widgets and other fun items to amuse and amaze their friends.
  • Widgets are a distraction to many students. I spend a good amount of time with individual students on how to maximize work time. Basketball widgets don’t help.
  • Widgets use a good deal of classroom bandwidth. We don’t want to slow down the internet for others.

Wordle provides a great way for students to share their personalities without sharing personal information. Students create a personal word cloud the first week of school. They then take a screenshot of the picture and attach it as an image to their homepage.

Student Writing
In the past, students copied and pasted their final drafts to individual pages. Then I decided I wanted parents to see (and I wanted to easily see) student work in progress.

First, students attach images of their outlines and their rough drafts. Here is an example:

Images of a student’s outline and rough draft

Students draft writing on Google docs and insert the Google docs into their writing page. When I look at a student page, I can quickly see their stage of the writing process. I can also see comments students are making to one another. I’m as interested in student feedback and suggestions to others as I am to students’ personal pieces of writing.

Google doc inserted into a Google site portfolio

Reading Records
A couple models work well for this page. Most years I use a class Google Spreadsheet. Each bottom tab is the name of a student. Each tabbed page is editable by only the student and me. Students can insert this spreadsheet into their portfolios.

Google spreadsheet of reading records

Other years, I have students keep individual records. At the end of the week, students demonstrate a particular reading skill. The page below illustrates summary but other weeks had character analysis, visualization – whatever the reading skill focus.

Individual reading log with a review of the reading skill

Student Goals
I want to see updates. What have students been doing to reach their goals? Can they demonstrate the extra effort is making a difference? If not, how can students change their plans for better success?

Other Classes
Students add pages when they complete projects for other units or classes. In addition to attaching the project, students reflect on the process.

Additional Notes
I recently finished report cards. When I struggled with descriptions of student work, I looked at student Google sites and paged through the work so far this year. It was easy to make positive comments about student improvement. It saved me having to shuffle through papers and files.

I haven’t found a quick and easy way to post math progress. But, since most math work is still done on paper, parents see work going home on a regular basis. That said, if you have examples of math portfolio pages, I’d love to see them.

Using Google Sites
For the most part, Google sites are easy to use. I have only two criticisms of Google sites. First, students often have difficulty adding and organizing pages/subpages on the navigation bar. While I can call on student experts to assist other students, the confusion interrupts the efficiency of the publication process. Second, I wish Google sites had a feedburner feature so that changes to student sites were emailed to my inbox. On the rare occasion students choose content outside of the Responsible Use Agreement, I am usually ignorant for a good number of weeks.

Below are some videos to help you get started. Special thanks to my teaching partner for allowing me to share his videos.

Video 1: How to Make Your Google Site
Video 2: How to Add Pages to Your Google Site
Video 3: How to Personalize Your Google Site (if you’re into this kind of thing)
Video 4: Tag and Delete Pages

What do you include in your student ePortfolios? What publication platforms have you found most helpful?

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34 thoughts on “Student Electronic Portfolios: A Model

  1. We have been kicking around this idea for sometime. It never goes anywhere (nobody has ever presented a model either. So, I guess this could be a great place to start.

    Something is lost without the paper, I feel, and perhaps its nothing important. I do think that time is an issue here. Seems that the argument is always being made about quality over quantity. So, I wonder about adding in another digital project that would take more time than simply compiling and sorting this work by hand. The majority of the work done is still on paper, even if a few teachers are fully digital. Meaning, that time is going to need to be taken in may classes to get the digital portfolio completed.

    I should say that I’m in a school where we all do a collective portfolio for every class that a student takes, grades 6-8. So, thinking in this model I wonder how much extra time would be taken to create accounts, log in, scan, click and so many other needs.

    If this were a tech class or a class that was all digital, I could see how this would fit perfectly. I just don’t know if the model that I’m dealing with could handle it.

    • Yeah, I understand the challenge of time. First, understand that we have a 1:1 computer set-up. So, students have continual access to computers (no scheduling around other teachers). That helps. Our school email accounts are run through Gmail – so those accounts already exist for students. Students only need to create the sites.

      In class, we have students write on paper for the first few units/months of the year. By December, we find students have greater writing fluency if they brainstorm and outline on paper, but then type drafts. And, we get better revising/editing from students when they type.

      Here are some things that have helped regarding the time commitment:
      – Create the Google site template in the first couple weeks of school. It encourages collaboration, computer expectations, etc. And, the students enjoying being “live” online. This takes around 60 minutes.
      – Attach Google docs to Google site pages. When you attach a Google doc to a site, the site automatically updates with changes to the Google doc. So, students spend only 5 minutes attaching the doc to the site. The rest of the work is done in class as part of the regular class period – and typed onto the Google docs.
      – Add any additional updates at the end of each unit.
      – For scanning, students mark pages and teacher assistants scan. The scans are saved in a public class file.

      It’s taken a few years for me to develop a system and a model. Perhaps one or two teachers would be willing to pilot sites to see how they work in your setting. They can be really simple, especially at first.

      Just something to think about. Sure appreciate your feedback. I have to consider that my next school (and the schools of my readers) may not be wired so well.

      • Janet,

        I’ve been discussing portfolios with my colleagues for a few years now, and I love the idea of going digital. We’re not a 1:1 district, though we do typically have enough access to computers to facilitate a two to three day per week integration (desktops, laptops/net books, and next year the makings of an iPad cart).

        I am an avid Google Apps user and was thrilled when our district made the switch about three years ago. Unfortunately, there is no Google Apps/Docs access for students through the school system. With that, I’m curious if you have any ideas aside from setting up a process of requesting various permissions from the district and subsequently from parents for having students set up their own accounts (which I have already devised “prefab” user names for).

        I am looking to implement the portfolios in our middle school music program as soon as the 2012-13 school year, with an adaptive technology component to account for emerging equipment over the next few years. Any feedback you may have would certainly be appreciated!



        • Hi Vinnie! Thanks for your comment.

          Yes, it’s nice to have the Google system set up school-wide. The trouble is that there are so many security firewalls, students and parents have to login multiple places to gain access. So, your account will have the added advantage that students’ grandparents and future music teachers can access the work.

          I will send you (by email) a couple things: A sample copy of a “Responsible Use Agreement” (RUA) that both parents and students sign. I’ll also enclose an email protocol and “Student Use Expectations” for grades 5-8.

          Assuming you are in the US, it might be worth having the superintendent and [possibly] an attorney take a glance at the RUA and make additional suggestions.

          I’d also suggest being explicit about the goals of the portfolios to both the administration and the students. These are not “social” accounts, they are “business” accounts documenting progress and facilitating self-reflection (or whatever the specific goals may be).

          Good luck – let me know how it goes!

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  10. Hi Janet,
    I just started creating ePortfolios with my students this year. However, it’s 2 classes of 7th graders at a middle school. We finally have Google for Education so it’s made it much easier to keep their portfolios private because of COPA.
    How do you keep students working on their ePortfolios throughout the year? Is it school wide? How did you get others to buy into the idea of Digital Portfolios? I think they are important but I am receiving skepticism from some people.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Anna,
      Student ePortfolios have become an intentional part of my unit planning. The first year I did the portfolios, the sites started off well but were later abandoned. They are now an expectations with most units.

      The ePortfolios became more of a priority for me (in planning as well as assigning) when I realized that most of the work my students did in class was never sent home. If I were a parent, I’d want to see what my students were writing in their portfolios. I’d want to see science and social studies topics students were discussing. Hence the portfolios are mainly for a parent audience now. That said, they are a quick reference when writing report card comments (which I’m doing this weekend).

      Teacher buy-in… Teachers are required to have a classroom Google site in a school standard format. This sets a minimum standard for teachers – that all know how to update and edit a Google site. Many teachers wanted to have student Google portfolios, but put them off for awhile because they were worried that students would have questions that he or she (the teacher) wouldn’t be able to answer. Our ICT coordinator created a site template and a faculty meeting was used to help teachers set up and modify the template.

      Teacher skepticism (at least in my experience) has two roots:
      1. Teachers are nervous about their own skills and want to “save face”.
      2. Teachers don’t see the purpose or value. Without a clear purpose, the Google site is another “add on” to the curriculum rather than a tool for learning or a medium for parent communication.

      My teaching partner and I have helped teachers overcome issue #1. We teach our classes of 23 students to set up a site. Then, we send our students into another classroom and pair them up for 1:1 instruction on How to Build a Google Site. When our students teach the students from other classes, they are not allowed to touch the other person’s computer. They can use language and point. Alternately, they can set their own computer beside the learner’s computer and model the process.

      Issue #2 is a bit harder. Google sites as parent communication is great for many parents – and teachers are encouraged when they hear good feedback from parents. Most recently, I’ve seen Google sites as a reflection tool. I’ve taught students to reflect on their work using podcasts or movies – which can be embedded into their sites. If students have done physical rather than technical end-of-unit projects, they know how to take photos of their work and post it on the site for sharing and reflection.

      What have you put on your sites so far?

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