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Implementing Digital Portfolios in Preschool and Elementary School

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By Caroline Labbé 
Resource Teacher at École Cœur-Soleil, CSS de Laval 
and Alexandra Coutlée

Director of Pedagogical Innovation at EngagED Learning 
@coutleea

In 2021-2022, Cœur-Soleil school piloted a digital portfolio project with two grade levels, preschool and Grade 3. Resource teacher Caroline Labbé was granted release time as part of a project submitted to the Quebec’s Ministry of Education, which allowed her to prepare the basic model, facilitate the first three periods of the project in class, and be present and available for the teachers involved.

Two types of portfolios were implemented: a group portfolio for preschool and an individual portfolio for students in Grade 3. In preschool, the two teachers at the school were already familiar with keeping a portfolio and communicating with parents in this way. Since their usual solution was no longer available, Google Sites proved to be a good option. This tool was already available in the Centre de services scolaire (CSS) de Laval and the resource teacher, who was going to accompany them, was already familiar with it.

In Grade 3, two teachers also embarked on this adventure. They wanted an individual portfolio that would follow each student from year to year so that teachers in subsequent grades would have access to the student’s learning progress. As in many places, the portfolio was already in place—but on paper. This required a lot of work and organization. It was the students who had to add their work in a binder, which was presented to parents at the report card meetings. A digital solution became a great way to make the portfolios accessible at all times, in addition to making them last over time.

Preschool Implementation

Since the preschool students are not yet autonomous enough, a “Souvenir” type portfolio for the whole group has been set up. The site, managed by the teacher only, is mainly intended for parents, but can, of course, be browsed with the child. A model was first prepared by the resource teacher. Training was then given to the teachers. They were able to learn about Google Sites, both on the computer and on the iPad, so that they could manage it independently afterwards.

Before launching, a letter was sent to the parents to explain the process and ask for their permission to distribute the photos and videos. The site was shared privately with parents. The homepage featured photos of the students. Throughout the year, the teachers added traces of learning, such as videos, to see the students in action. This was ideal for anything that didn’t make it home or that was not easy to bring home, such as play dough projects or robotics activities. Each month, a letter was sent 

to parents reminding them to check the site. Although Google Sites does not allow for comments from visitors, a Google form was integrated to allow notes to be sent to highlight visits. Each group’s site remains active for parents beyond the school year, allowing them to return to it at any time.

Elementary Implementation

In Grade 3, an individual learning portfolio was chosen instead. A model was provided to the students, who were then given the task of improving it. The first section allowed everyone to introduce themselves, their school and their class. This section could be modified year after year. The students also personalized their sites by adding banners, themes, and colours to their taste.

The students quickly learned how to use Google Sites. By the fourth period of use, they were autonomous. They were also helping each other! Then, throughout the year, they added different learning traces. For example, an outing to the circus allowed them to write a review and add photos taken by the teacher. Photos of math work were enhanced with explanations of the process. Animated works of art, thanks to the Animated Drawings site (sketch. metademolab.com), were uploaded following a free writing activity, etc.

The goal now is to continue this practice in future elementary grades with other teachers.

Feedback and Advice Teachers, students, and parents have all enjoyed the digital portfolio experience. The tool is very user-friendly. It does have its limitations, however, such as the difficulty of knowing whether the portfolio has been accessed. Teachers also found that editing Google Sites was easier on a Chromebook than on the iPad—but taking photos and videos was much better on the iPad. Therefore, using both devices for different tasks was well worth it. Taking good digital photos by students was also a challenge at first. Fortunately, the students developed their photo-taking skills throughout the year.

 What stands out most about the project is the satisfaction of the students, both in preschool and Grade 3. Students in Grade 3 felt a great sense of pride in making a website. The integration of digital portfolios is continuing this year with the Grade 4 teachers. Preschool teachers are also continuing with their new groups. A presentation to colleagues from across the school at the end of the year inspired many others to get started.

Visit this site to learn more about École Cœur-Soleil’s digital portfolios. You will find testimonials as well as sample letters and portfolios.

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