Keeping virtual tabs on progress

16th September 2011 at 01:00
Fife is piloting e-portfolios via Glow in all its schools, reports Douglas Blane

It's an uninspiring name but a great idea. E-portfolios can record children's achievements during their educational journey in a form that can't be lost, mislaid or eaten by the dog. At Wellwood Primary in Fife, Olivia Wexelstein's pupils are starting young.

"You go to this page first," Alex (P6) explains, as she navigates confidently around her own e-portfolio, set up within Glow. "It's called About Me. It asks about your interests and how you learn best. It helps you think about what to write.

"So it wanted to know if I learn best by seeing, hearing, doing, working on my own or working with others. I said `working with others'. We often work in groups in this class and I like it."

The next step in setting up an e-portfolio illustrates some of the scope for personalisation. "We made a WeeMee - a little cartoon version of ourselves - and included that," Alex says. "Mrs Wexelstein has a phone app that does them."

Technology is a boon in a P4-7 composite class such as this, says Mrs Wexelstein, indicating the mixed-age and ability groups around the room, who are using laptops for blogging and linked Nintendos for maths games. They are even dancing enthusiastically, in one corner, to music and images generated by the Wii.

"That's Just Dance," Mrs Wexelstein explains. "It's being piloted in lots of high schools to get teenage girls into healthy exercise. Our boys love it, too, so we often do it with the whole class."

Conventional assessment and recording would struggle with such a variety of pupil activities and achievements, says Mrs Wexelstein. "Until recently, we'd been using learning logs to record achievement, and photocopying evidence of children's work from all areas of the curriculum."

This was costly and time-consuming to create, she says, and cumbersome to retrieve information from. In contrast, e-portfolios can readily include text, images, audio and video, and each new entry can be labelled with categories, such as the four capacities and the relevant curricular areas.

"That makes it easy to find all the entries in one category," says Mrs Wexelstein.

The easiest label to decide on for a new e-portfolio entry is "confident individual", Alex says. "The hardest is effective contributor - I think I know what that means, but it's hard to explain."

Adding features to the basic Glow templates for e-portfolios is straightforward, says Mrs Wexelstein. "I've added a page on review of learning, to be used at the end of each week, as well as targets the pupils set for themselves at the start of term. That's good because it gives them goals to aim for by the end of term."

A rich task tackled in class recently gave her pupils and their e- portfolios a chance to shine, says Mrs Wexelstein. "It was about myths and legends, a topic the kids chose. The challenge was to create a digital animation to be shown at a movie premiere for parents."

Groups of pupils chose their myth, then researched it, created a storyboard, wrote a script, made clay models and acted out scenes to make the animations. "It was amazing what they came up with," says Mrs Wexelstein. "One group had a character crying and you could see the tears rolling down her face."

At the end of the project, pupils recorded their efforts and achievements in individual e-portfolios. "That made it easy for me to see what they had done, assess their understanding and judge their development needs. I added my feedback in a comment on each post. It worked really well.

"E-portfolios develop pupils' literacy skills and an awareness of audience. They encourage reluctant writers. They are engaging. They help pupils reflect on their own learning."

Fife education authority is now piloting the use of e-portfolios in all its schools, says Mrs Wexelstein. "Teachers are being trained and all the P7s and S1s are getting their own e-portfolios. The aim is to roll it out to all pupils soon." daily-learning-and-teaching


The process of creating e-portfolios is at least as valuable for pupils as the product is for teachers, says Emma Taylor, who has been trialling e- portfolios in first-year classes at Ardnamurchan High, where she is depute headteacher.

"Before that I was a chartered teacher in Orkney, where I'd been using blogging to help children to reflect on their learning. E-portfolios build on that.

"An e-portfolio is the digital storytelling of learning experiences in a dynamic form that's shared with others. As well as a learning log, you have sections for personal learning planning and for recognising, celebrating and supporting achievement."

Glow blogs are a great foundation for e-portfolios, she says. "They are user-friendly and pupils quickly grasp the basics. There is scope for personalisation and choice in the design and appearance of your e- portfolio."

Fortnightly sessions at Ardnamurchan have seen the first-years develop their e-portfolio skills, she says. "Some took to it right away. Others needed support, especially with the reflective aspect, and found it hard at first to go beyond short sentences on what they had done. They needed support, but they grew more skilled over time."

Research shows that identifying achievement is a challenge for young people, she says. "E-portfolios help them recognise their achievements, make connections across their learning and engage more with the whole learning experience.

"We need to plan the use of e-portfolios in such a way that achievements in all aspects of learning - experiences and outcomes, four capacities, and skills and attributes - can be showcased and celebrated."

Scottish Learning Festival

Learners' journey through Curriculum for Excellence using e-portfolios for recording assessment and achievement, by Olivia Wexelstein, Wellwood Primary, Fife, 21 September, 12.15pm

E-portfolios at Ardnamurchan High School - the digital storytelling of pupils' learning experiences, by Emma Taylor,

21 September, 2.30pm

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