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Digital Portfolios for Writing Instruction

By Kristine E. Pytash
 | Sep 11, 2015

shutterstock_120251737_x300I facilitate a weekly writing group at a local juvenile detention center where, because of the transient nature of the population, student participation can be inconsistent.
As a writing teacher, this provides a unique challenge because I want students to see how their writing has developed over time. Youth at the detention center are also interested in revisiting their writing and will often ask if I have their writing so they can see it.
Therefore, I am interested in apps that will allow me to store their writing and the youth to reflect on previous work, regardless of when they are a part of the writing group. Storage apps provide me a system for making sure all who are a part of the writing group have access to their writing through a digital writing portfolio.

Why writing portfolios?

Writing teachers note that providing students ample time to reflect on their writing is important. When we give students opportunities to collect and reflect on their writing, they develop their identities as writers. Writing portfolios allow this to happen because students can showcase their writing, document their growth as writers, receive feedback on a body of written work, and consider next steps and new directions for their writing.
Knowing that reflection is critical to young adults’ growth and development as writers, teachers have long used portfolios to help students collect their writing over extended period of time. Many teachers, including myself, use digital portfolios because of the ease of teacher and student access to a body of work completed over time.

Apps for digital portfolios

As many teachers and students have more access to mobile technology, apps provide an excellent system for creating and organizing digital portfolios. Even for schools without tablets, many apps have companion websites. In addition, Bring Your Own Device policies can help teachers implement digital portfolios even when technology is limited in the classroom.
If you are interested in exploring apps for creating writing portfolios, I recommend looking at Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, Seesaw, and Three Ring.While there are differences between these particular tools, many similarities exist, such as:

  • Teachers can set up individual folders or notebooks (the term depends on the app being used) for students to house their writing. Since it is important for students to see their growth as writers over time, using these apps to store their writing portfolios provides an easy way for students and teachers to collect their writing over a period of time. These apps also allow students to upload multimodal compositions that include images, video, and audio.
  • Certain apps, such as Dropbox, maintain a history of document edits; therefore, students can access old copies of documents. Students and teachers can use this feature to look closely at how one writing piece might have developed over a period of time. Again, this opportunity to be reflective about their writing helps students to become metacognitive about a particular piece or their writing in general.
  • In Google Docs, teachers can record their thoughts and feedback with audio and additional notes through the use of comment features. This provides teachers an easy way to give ongoing feedback and assessments about students’ writing. Furthermore, students can also use these features to respond to a teacher’s comments, thus creating a conversation about writing. Seesaw has built-in audio recording and drawing tools that students can use when revising or responding to a teacher’s feedback.
  • All of these digital tools can be accessed and synced with other devices, and apps such as Dropbox have a way to access materials offline, so students do not always need Internet connection to view their writing.. This access is critical for students, and also can serve as an invitation for parents and family members to read students’ writing.

Additional considerations

When creating and implementing digital portfolios, teachers should keep the following questions in mind:

  • What are your instructional goals for creating writing portfolios?
  • Do you want portfolios to be accessed both online and offline?
  • Do you have a school platform that you must integrate the portfolios into?
  • Are teacher and student accounts needed? Do your students need e-mail addresses?
  • Do you want the platform to allow for multiple formats such as writing, video, and audio files?

For teachers interested in more information about digital writing portfolios, an in-depth resource for creating digital portfolios is Michigan Portfolios.

Kristine E. Pytash is an assistant professor of literacy education at Kent State University.

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