I am supremely interested in how we present ourselves to the
world, how we categorize our experiences, how we value what we’ve learned, how
we see ourselves over time.
I grew up being a great test-taker and therefore always
being at the top of my class. I had friends, much smarter than me, who froze
during tests or did poorly one time and were plagued forever by those numbers
that dictated much of their future, not to mention self-worth.
As I developed into a teacher I noticed more and more the
value in documenting my students learning experiences. I began making an annual
class website that I updated weekly to show off the multitude of learning that
was happening in each of my students: photos of their art, writing, and
creations, photos of their interactions with each other and nature, videos of
creations in action, readings of stories they wrote, poems and songs we
collaborated on together as a class, and invitations to events where we could
celebrate the students’ learning in person.
Parents thanked me for giving them a glimpse of the variety
of learning activities happening throughout their child’s day. They
congratulated me for celebrating more of what their children had to offer than
purely academic-lensed accomplishments. The students shared with me their reflections
upon viewing their experiences - hearing how their reading had changed over
time, seeing how their drawing skills developed, celebrating that math problem
they solved as a team and remembering the poster they made that explained how
they solved the problem differently from everyone else.
I found these students to be more celebratory of each
other’s strengths and accomplishments, and less focused on who was better at x
. There is always something to celebrate about everyone. My class
website validated all kinds of learners and learning.
This got me thinking. It’s great to share these learning
experiences on a cozy little class website, but what if every student had their
own digital portfolio that captured their learning experiences as a way to
reflect - to see patterns and sparks, to document other kinds of learning, to
celebrate learning both in and out of school?
Imagine your family moves and your child begins attending a
new school: think about the implications for your child’s transition if the
teacher could see what kind of kid they are, the kinds of friends they seek out,
what kinds of things they are interested in learning.
Imagine you’re a teacher and it’s August and you’ve just
received your class list: think about the implications for you as a teacher to
see your class as a set, find commonalities among experiences and interests,
help you brainstorm activities and lessons that will be interesting and
meaningful to this new set of students.
Imagine you are applying for a job or internship: think
about looking over your portfolio, choosing a few experiences that highlight
who you are and why you’d be a great fit, and then sharing them as your
Imagine you are applying for colleges: think about what you
would share of yourself, to complement your transcript (that’s filled with
one-time-measurements), to give the college a better understanding of who you
are and what you bring of yourself.
Imagine you are a parent: think about all you know of what
makes your child great and how it would feel to have a record of this that your
child could use to validate his/her experiences instead of relying solely on
Imagine you are an after-school facilitator of music, arts,
sports: think about the value of being able to add this to an on-going record
of who these children are, another facet of their life that while you find
valuable, rarely makes it to “permanent records.”
Imagine you are a student: think about all you’ve added to
this record, this digital portfolio, over the last 10 years. Can you see how
interests have developed into others? Can you see how you’ve grown as a
learner? Can you see certain skills you keep coming back to? Can you spot a
single experience that led you to develop a particular skill? Can you see
passions that always find a way into your experiences? Does this reflection
help you think about your life, your choices, and what’s next?
What if all students had a digital portfolio that recorded
their learning experiences?