Based on my work and learning experiences in CEP 813, I plan to use digital portfolios with my 8th grade math students so that they can track their progress and reflect on their growth. The main goal for implementing digital portfolios into my math curriculum is that they allow learners to be involved in mathematical abstraction and help them see that math is an ongoing process and finding the answer is not the most important part. While it wouldn’t be feasible to utilize a digital portfolio for every assignment and topic in math class, it would be beneficial to use it during problem solving tasks that require reasoning and periods of reflection.
Carefully designed problem finding and problem solving tasks in mathematics stimulate critical thinking and foster problem-solving skills. In an educational system where standardized tests focus on memorization of trivial facts, it is essential that teachers find instructional tools –such as digital portfolios– that promote mastery (Black & Wiliam, 1998, p.141). An essential element of mastery learning is being able to transfer knowledge to new situations and articulate understanding through metacognition (Shepard, 2005, p.69). Digital portfolios are incredibly useful for self-reflection because they document students’ work so that it can be easily viewed and edited at a later time, allowing learners to make connections within their learning.
Digital portfolios also provide many opportunities for formative assessment to occur within instruction. Specifically, in math class, digital portfolios can be used as a strategy and tool to encourage learners to put on paper what they are thinking about as they approach a math problem. Many students work an idea out in their head, but it never makes it to their paper. The downfall is that those thoughts, limited to the confines of their skull, never get the chance to be re-worked or discussed, instead they are forgotten. The documentation of their process allows the learner to learn from their mistakes, chart their growth, and perhaps utilize findings later on in the process that they attempted to use prematurely. Creativity does not hide mistakes, it transforms them and the work organized in a digital portfolio serves as a constant reminder not to be afraid of failure but to embrace mistakes and new learning. By encouraging them not to erase their typed work, they can document their progress and growth in addition to receiving feedback from their peers. Thus, it makes sense for students to document their thoughts and reflect on the problem solving process in their digital portfolios for my class. However, embedding formative assessments within problem solving tasks utilizing the digital portfolio requires that the assessments align with and support the set learning objectives and that the learner receives meaningful feedback based on their performance (Shepard, 2000, p.11). Thus, educators must carefully align digital portfolio assessments and assignments with the curriculum and provide detailed feedback regularly on student work.
Including digital portfolios in the math curriculum would also allow me to easily generate and organize feedback for students regarding their work. By reviewing their reflective work, I will be able to observe what my learners know and where they are headed, providing feedback on a personalized level. By having learners reflect in their digital portfolios as they work through tasks, they will naturally organize their thoughts and make their thinking more permanent. As I have learned, this reflection process is also a reflection process for me as an educator. Their work and reflections allow me to better gauge where each learner may need more help as well as examine the progress they have made. As a result, I can inform and adapt my instruction to better meet the needs of my learners.
Digital portfolios are incredibly useful in supporting enduring understanding of material. This is largely due to the fact that learners have the ability to respond to challenges at their own level of development and on their own terms. However, as a facilitator it is my job to offer support, direct learning, and set the parameters. I can monitor learning by reviewing digital portfolios and by watching how my students communicate and respond to each other’s work. Clearly, students benefit from learning how their classmates are thinking, so by encouraging collaboration and peer-to-peer feedback, the learners will naturally begin to build off each other for support. Through this process, I will be able to adjust the learning tasks to reflect a more appropriate level of challenge as needed.
To conclude, it is most important that formative assessments afforded by digital portfolios are always designed to encourage a learning culture within the classroom (Shepard, 2005, p.70). That is, to promote a learning culture, the emphasis must be on mastery and conceptual understanding achieved through metacognitive reflection and collaborative learning experiences and less on handing out grades. Because digital portfolios easily allow for assessments to occur within learning, and stimulate both reflection and collaboration efficiently, I plan to integrate them as a learning tool in my 8th grade mathematics classroom.
Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. The phi delta kappan, 80(2), 139-144.
Shepard, L.A. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational researcher, 29(7), 4-14.
Shepard, L.A. (2005). Linking formative assessment to scaffolding. Educational leadership, 63(33), 66-70