Student Agency and ePortfolios for Young Children

What would be a key word you would use to describe teaching and learning in 2020? Depending on your experiences, you might say frustrating, exhausting, roller-coaster ride, and stressful. Or you might be of the mindset that it has been challenging, a time for growth, and an opportunity to try new things. I would say both mindsets would be accurate and valid. One thing is certain, teaching and learning are different than before and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Traditionally, many have seen teaching in terms of controlling what students learn, how they learn, and how learning is measured. The focus is on the teaching rather than on the learners themselves and the learning process. Research shows learning affects students’ cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being. So what if we focused on how we as educators impact the learning environment and how we see learners? One of the toughest philosophical shifts for educators is accepting that the learner needs to be given more control over their learning process. When we have a learner-centered focus, learning is enjoyable and productive. However, when we focus more on process and outcomes, learning can entail frustration, shame, pressure, and anxiety.

Voice and choice are not new concepts, yet our educational systems still tend to focus heavily on conformity and standardization. Because of the pandemic, we are building the plane as we fly it, so to speak. What if we took this opportunity to look at new ways to measure learning? I think of a “science fair” concept when looking at assessment. Providing students a number of assessment choices is more learner-centered. My students loved being able to choose how to demonstrate what they learned. The use of ePortfolios comes to mind, yet it is more prevalent in upper grades and less so in elementary and early childhood. There are many ways ePortfolios can be implemented and various digital platforms are available. I have used both SeeSaw and Showbie in my kindergarten classes and love them both. Throughout this post, I have added some student work from their ePortfolios created on their iPad devices.

Why ePortfolios? Besides the obvious strengthening of relationships between teachers and parents in ways that benefit the children, they provide parents an in-depth look at what is going on in the classroom and a deeper involvement in student work. There are a few other reasons to consider using them in the early childhood classroom. First, they create a culture of intrinsic motivation. Student ownership is so valuable in advancing learning. The child becomes and active contributor to their own learning. They also give the teacher and student the opportunity to revisit previous learning, allowing for expansion of new learning. Videos of the child reading, explaining a math concept, or sharing a new understanding in science can be re-visited to show growth, scaffold new learning, review a skill, or highlight a misconception.

As you battle the waves of this school year and chart your classroom course, consider how you might increase student agency with a new mindset. How can you (or how do you already) provide voice and choice for your young learners? 2020 might be the best time to try!

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