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How Digital Portfolios Increase Student Choice

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When I originally started teaching five years ago, I had one ipad for 20 students to share. Five years later and we are not only 1:1 with tablets, but we also have a station of chromebooks for students to use. Students are even starting to take their very own chromebooks home to continue to have access even when they are not in our classrooms. Having this access to technology has been transformative. However, it wasn’t the access alone that was transformative–like anything else, technology is simply a tool. How we use this tool makes it transformative, increasing student engagement and allowing me to connect with parents.

As technology became more present in my classroom, I was encouraged by a friend on Twitter to start using an app called Seesaw. Seesaw is a student digital portfolio platform that allows students to creatively demonstrate their learning and helps parents connect to their child’s portfolio and communicate with the teacher. Using Seesaw, you can even create a classroom blog to connect with other classrooms in a way that is safe for elementary students. I decided to try it out, since students need to not only have access to technology, but also understand how to use it to innovate, create and solve problems to really prepare them for careers and help them become active classroom participants. Once I started using Seesaw, I saw students more engaged with the material and willing to try new things. I also saw parents connecting to their child’s learning in new ways. Furthermore, I heard students who were timid and afraid to share in class actively sharing their thoughts and ideas in a way they never could before. I was so excited I listened to my friend and tried out a tool that could help me transform my classroom from one that simply had access to technology to one that used technology to increase student choice and to further family connection to student learning.

Increases Student Choice

A digital portfolio like Seesaw can help students showcase their learning. Seesaw has multiple tools built into the platform that students can use to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Students can take pictures, record live videos or upload videos from other sources, draw and record at the same time, add files from their devices or Google Drive, type onto a digital notebook, or add a link from any website or platform.

So how does this relate to student choice? Say, for example, that you are teaching students to retell key details in a text. They need to introduce the text and use transitional words to write a beginning, middle and end. With Seesaw, they have multiple choices for how to do this.

Choice 1: Students can write in their writing journal. Then they can take a picture and record themselves reading it.


Choice 2: Students can use the drawing tool to draw their writing retell, label the parts of their picture and then use the caption tool to write a paragraph.

Choice 3: Students can complete their writing in a Google Doc and upload it to Seesaw.

Or what about math? Students also have multiple choices in how they can demonstrate their learning and understanding in math.  

Choice 1: Students can make it interactive with manipulatives. Here the students use place value blocks to build a robot.Then they took a picture of it on Seesaw and used the label tool to annotate their block robot and write out the number.

Choice 2: Students use the drawing tool to  draw out their mathematical thinking and then record an explanation.

Choice 3: Students draw and record at the same time while solving simple subtraction problems. The final product is a video.

You can even give them more choices by using outside sources. Within Seesaw you can “App-Smash”–students can literally demonstrate their knowledge anywhere and upload it to Seesaw.

DoInk Green Screen: Students chose to retell important information about Martin Luther King Jr. using DoInk and then uploaded it to Seesaw.

Adobe Spark: Students made a video on Adobe Spark instead of a traditional book report and then uploaded it to Seesaw.

Chatterpix: Students described a president and used Chatterpix to animate it and then added it to Seesaw.

The possibilities for student creativity are really endless. If your students can think it, they can do it.

There is also another major benefit of Seesaw that I’ve seen in my classroom: connecting parents to their student’s learning.

Connecting With Parents

The relationship between teacher, student and parent(s) is absolutely essential to the success of every single student. Using a digital portfolio tool like Seesaw is a great way to not only build those relationships, but also have an open door for parents to see exactly what their child is doing in the classroom. Anytime a student uploads an artifact to their portfolio, and the teacher approves it, the parents can get notifications and see what artifact their child uploaded. Additionally, each child can have up to ten family members connected to his/her portfolio. This is probably the biggest area of transformation in my classroom. When we have parent-teacher conferences, the parents now know exactly what to expect because they are seeing their child’s reading, writing and math progression in real time. When we have children from multiple family homes, I am able to communicate effectively with each parent because they are both connected and seeing the same things.

Not only can parents see what their child is working on, but they also are actually able to “like” and comment on their child’s work. As a teacher, I can also see exactly which family members have seen which artifacts. I can comment back to them or have the kids comment back. The ability to interact directly with the work builds those relationships and makes a HUGE difference everyday.

Here is an example of comments from both parents on their child’s work below.

“I love love love it! Dad and I are super grateful for you too! Love you to the moon and back.”

“Nice work. I love it!!”

And here’s another example where a parent even gives some advice on how to continue to improve.

“Great job. Don’t forget to use capitals when you start a new sentence! Love you!!”

Obviously I love this part of using Seesaw in the classroom, and so do the kids. They love seeing when their parents have interacted with something they worked hard on. Of course, parents love it too and tell me all the time how much they appreciate the ability to connect with their students’ learning. Some comments I have gotten include:

  • “As a working parent, I often do not get in the classroom as much as I would like to. This app really allows me to see what my child is doing and I feel like I am part of the classroom”.
  • “I wish all teachers would use this app. I love hearing my child reading or seeing what he is learning about throughout the day.”.
  • “It really helps me at home because I know what she is learning about and I can talk to her more about it.”

Technology can be incredibly transformative in the classroom when you have the right tools and know how to use them to further your students growth! Seesaw has allowed my students to have more choice, voice and chances to create. It is a tool that helps me see my students’ thinking processes, their level of understanding and how they learn best. And it is a tool that helps connect family members to my students’ learning on a daily basis.

Editor’s Note:


If you want to learn more about how to use digital portfolios in your classroom, take our free, online course Digital Portfolios with Maker Ed on KQED Teach.

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