A portfolio tells a story. It is a story of knowing. Knowing about things… Knowing oneself…Knowing an audience… Portfolios are students’ own stories of what they know, why they believe they know it, and why others should be of the same opinion. A portfolio is backed by fact… Students prove what they know with samples of their work. (Paulson, Paulson, & Meyer, p.2 as cited in Buzzetto-More, 2010)

I started my ePortfolio journey two years ago after reading my son’s Early Childhood 4 end of year report. A few weeks ago I received his mid-year grade 1 report and the same questions linger. Does this report fully describe my son in his classroom? What does he know? What can he do? How does he interact? I decided that there had to be a more holistic way of assessing, documenting, and sharing this information. Enter ePortfolios and 4 very good reasons you should include them in your classroom.

ePortfolios are multimodal

With the technology available today you can include anything you want, whether it be pictures, audio, or video. Did your students make an awesome poster that you want to show off? Snap a pic of it and insert it into their ePortfolio. Want to document how your language learners are developing their English skills? Audio tape a conversation of them with another child and upload that! Remember that sweet holiday concert? Video it and upload it! Basically, there are now no limitations on what type of data can be included and in what format.  Fast forward a few years down the line and you have timeless memories of “when I was 4 this is what I sounded like!”

ePortfolios highlight growth

A portfolio, whether electronic or otherwise, should not be a static piece of work. If implemented properly it should be constantly evolving and, in my Early Childhood setting, focused around showcasing student growth. Last year I made the mistake of basing ePortfolios on a replica of the traditional big folder style paper portfolios. It was a start that got me thinking in the right direction, but this year I have improved my ePortfolios to really highlight a student’s growth. Now my focus is on lots of pre and post assessments. Try comparing a self-portrait drawn in September versus one drawn in May. The change is (usually and hopefully) phenomenal. Teachers, parents, and even the students themselves are always astounded by this simple comparison and the growth it highlights. While the choice of content is important, the focus should be on including pieces of student work that lend themselves well to observing growth such as students writing their names, counting, and reflecting verbally.

ePortfolios are easy to share

Who do we report for? Primarily, at least in an Early Childhood setting, the answer is to parents and other caregivers. In an international setting however there are many parents that often travel and are gone for a long period of time. There are also other family members such as the extended family, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers or sisters, that live abroad and want to feel close to their special someone by following their progress in school. Eportfolios are just a link and a click away to sharing all the information you want around the globe. Just this year I have had two students leaving my class to attend school in another country. I was able to share the ePortfolios I had created for these students with their new school and I am confident their new teachers received a much better perspective on their incoming students than the stock forms you fill out saying “all ok, kid is fine.”

ePortfolios are practical

I am not a fan of spending my afternoons cutting and pasting with actual scissors and glue. In fact, I can think of many other more productive (or not) activities I could be consuming my time with. The reality of it (and I actually collected data) is that ePortfolios are less time consuming than their paper based equivalents. Once you get past the learning stage and are comfortable navigating the system it takes roughly six hours of work per student per year. Eportfolios don’t fade, tear, or fall out of a binder, and most importantly you can’t lose them (assuming you were clever to store in the cloud and/or keep a backup copy!) You can however, “transport” them easily! Great if you are a teacher and want to work on them at home, but even better if you are a parent that is moving around the world every few years with multiple kids knowing that the ePortfolios are safe and sound resting in a hard drive instead of taking up space and money as an over-sized suitcase!

A quick how-to guide:

To create ePortfolios for every child (sixteen of them) in my class I use an iPhone in tandem with the Mahara ePortfolio system and a handful of apps to tie it altogether. I find that the planning phase is the most important. What do I want the ePortfolio to look like and why? What is the ultimate goal, the purpose? A showcase, to highlight growth, a scrapbook? This focus then determines the types of assessment data that are included in each child’s ePortfolio. From there I make a checklist of when I will be collecting the various types of assessment data, in my specific case between September/October for the “pre” phase and then April/May for the “post” phase. Once you have the data in digital form, it is just a matter of uploading and embedding to Mahara, along with inserting any accompanying anecdotal notes. Personally, I feel that e-portfolios are a great way of documenting, storing, and reflecting on learning in an early childhood classroom setting. I will be sharing my ePortfolio experiences April 1-3 at EETC, and again in September at learning2.014Africa.