​‘Picture This’: A Step-by-Step Guide on Digital Learning Portfolios in the Classroom

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It’s hard to talk about “Digital Learning Portfolios” without really knowing what they are. At the Dreamyard Project, a collaboration between the Bronx’s Dreamyard Preparatory School and the Parsons New School of Design, this illustration below is what we think it is, and what we all agree that a digital portfolio should be.

I had the lucky fortune to be involved in this collaborative project, and played a role in making this happen at my particular school. My name is Rudy Blanco, I am the Digital Learning Coordinator at the Dreamyard Preparatory School and I’m here to share my big takeaways with you.

Developing a “Digital Learning Portfolio” culture at your school is a huge undertaking, and in order to prepare, one should understand a few key things that will help make these portfolios a success.

  • Teach students about organization: Your students need to be master file organizers. For the sake of my school, I strive to teach Google Drive to every single student in our school. Having your students familiarize themselves with Drive opens the doors for teachers to now use Drive in their lessons without having to go over it again and again.
  • Start out with a uniform filing procedure: Time and thought needs to be put into a uniform file system for the class so that all students are organizing in similar ways. Once students get comfortable with their file management skills, they can be taught to develop their own file systems.
  • Have accountability: Students must be held accountable for their Drives or their online space. Every student is to be held accountable for logging and typing every notable piece of content as dictated by the teacher of that class.

Following these guidelines will provide a space for you all to follow the Dreamyard journey and try out some of the things we are doing. My hope is that by sharing what we are doing, others can benefit from it--and hopefully create something that is even better! Being that our implementation of Digital Learning Portfolios (DLPs) is a work in progress, 1 would like to provide you all with an initial step-by-step guide to begin rolling this out in your classrooms or in your schools.

Step 1: Content, Content, Content

Have your students create as much content as possible before publishing. Teachers should emphasize the importance of developing “DLP-worthy” writing (which is discussed more in the next point below). Teachers should keep giving the prompts that they have always given in their classes so as to not change the daily instructional routines--except that this time, the only difference is that each piece of writing is to be put in a folder that will hold virtually all of students’ DLP worthy materials.

I have found over the last year of trying to do this at Dreamyard that when students have pre-typed content available to publish, it is much easier to teach the digital skills necessary for publishing and sharing. Examples of this include teaching kids how to use the platform of choice, or showing students how to embed videos and link to other resources. These are skills that cannot be taught during class time, as it takes away from the content time.

Step 2: Identify Mastery

Let’s focus on that “DLP-worthy” piece for a second.

Assuming your students have been creating all relevant “DLP-worthy” content, teachers and students should work towards identifying two or three pieces of work that show student mastery in a given topic or unit.

Depending on the population of students you are working with, such as with special education students, your kids can be informed of which writing pieces to include into their portfolio. As students do this more and more over time, they will become familiar with what a DLP-worthy writing piece is. The goal is to get students to understand what mastery looks like and to differentiate between something that is DLP-worthy and something that is not.

Step 3: Content Enhancement and Multiple Entry Points

Once students have identified their best samples, they should focus on enhancing them. By “enhancing,” I mean students revisit their best work and now begin to include links, tag keywords, and find videos and images that further explain what they are trying to say.

One of the best way I have found in helping students find great videos is by teaching them how to add “-youtube” after their search queries which eliminates all youtube videos from search results, being that YouTube is blocked in most schools. We’ve also used websites like Pixlr, Giphy and the many different search features provided by Google Image search. By doing this, students are in essence creating a learning database that teachers can then use for many years to come.

It has been my experience that oftentimes, students can explain things to other students in ways that adults cannot. So, when you have a student who curates a writing piece with multiple videos and tools to help explain the topic, other students can benefit from that individual’s learning experience. Oftentimes, students find resources in places that teachers would have never looked; this is beneficial because now, we are exploring the minds of our learners and allowing them a space to put their individual learning experience up for others to interact with.

Think about this: if a teacher does this with 50 students (assuming all 50 students do this assignment), the teacher now has 50 different approaches to teaching and explaining a given topic.

Step 4: Publish and Feedback

Once content has been reviewed, and once DLP-worthy samples have been identified and enhanced with visuals and other resources, it is time for students to publish and give feedback to their peers, as well as receive feedback. The goal of this step is to create a culture of academic discourse--a virtual space where students can now speak about their work in a way that captures their growth over time. Looking for a recommendation? At our school we use Blogger as our feedback platform of choice.

Creating the perfect DLP does not happen overnight. It is a constant work in progress. Whether you are rolling out DLPs in a classroom or with an entire school, these four steps are what I believe to be the most essential components to at least getting started. 

By following the steps above, not only will you be able to begin building a library of student content that will grow over time, but you will also have something that your kids can edit and work with when it is time to show them how to publish the work. When the time comes for students to create an actual portfolio, ideally towards their last year in school, they have a historical database of content and work to choose from.

I hope to hear from all of you and if you try any of this - I would love to hear how it goes! And for more, check out this video--The Learning Portfolio Project--on the Dreamyard School’s experiences with DLPs. Happy portfolio-making!

NOTE: This article is part of EdSurge's Fifty States Initiative (representing the state of New York).

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