Digital Portfolios | Viewpoint

Why My Six-Year-Olds Blog (And Why Your Students Should, Too)

In a digital world, learners of every age should be taking their first steps toward establishing an online presence. Here's why.

Editor's note: The following is an edited excerpt from the author’s interactive digital book, Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades, from PLPress, the publishing arm of FETC speaker Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s Powerful Learning Practice network.

young student blogging for digital portfolio
Students in Kathy Cassidy's class begin blogging as young as five- or six-years-old.

The first blog entries posted by my grade one students are rarely readable. Like pre-writers everywhere, my students type random letters, their name, or text they can see on the walls of the room around them. Despite the fact that they cannot yet write anything that is readable to the general public, I have them post because I want them to begin to define themselves as writers.

Early one year, when my students did their first blog entry, we were in the computer lab--a room with very bare walls compared to our print-rich classroom environment. One of my students, Brad, could not find print on the walls to copy, so instead he typed the words he saw on the keyboard, writing “ibradcapslockshift.” When he was finished, he “read” it to me and told me that it said, “I like my blog.”

I did what I always do with beginning writing that is not yet readable to the general public. I put an editor’s note in brackets after his writing to show what he wanted it to say. My editor’s notes are frequent in the early going. They help assure that parents or others know what the student intended--the meaning is not lost because the child does not yet understand all of the conventions of writing.

Why Share Portfolios Online?
When I first began blogging with my students some years ago, it did not occur to me that digital portfolios were possible with young children. I saw their blogs as a place for them to write. Period. But as they continued to write regularly and I watched their collection of blog posts expand, I saw the potential to showcase the tremendous growth in writing that students experience from the beginning to the end of grade one.

In the early going, each student's blog became something of an online writing portfolio. Parents and others could follow along as their first-stage writing--unedited, random letters--gradually shifted to writing that was “readable.” Regular visitors could witness the emergence of a confident writer who began to self-edit and to follow the conventions of writing. Moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas did not have to wait for the semi-annual parent/teacher conference to see how their child’s writing was progressing. They could watch the weekly growth on their child’s blog.

Over the years, my students' blogs have expanded and evolved. Now our blogs also include artifacts from math, science, social studies, and reading. What began as a way to write online for a small family audience has now become an opportunity to share learning with an international audience, across all our subjects, using many digital tools.

If I did not let my pre-writer students post on their blogs, but instead waited until they could write prose correctly using writing conventions such as capital letters, periods, spaces between words and acceptable spelling, they would not be able to post for many months. Their parents would miss out on the opportunity to watch and be part of the incredible growth that takes place as children are learning to write. The students would be denied a global audience for their work and they would miss some encouraging early feedback in the form of comments.

Instead, students learn to write in public, with the world cheering them on as they take those beginning steps. And through the whole process, they see themselves as writers.

Preparing Students for a Digital World
The days of walking into a job interview with a snappy portfolio under your arm full of your best work are fast disappearing. Instead, many human resources directors are searching the Internet for the digital footprint of possible employees to get a picture of the way that particular individual presents themselves online. Shrewd job seekers are preparing online spaces using blogs and other tools to show themselves in the best possible light to prospective employers. The portfolio many of us once carried under our arm now needs to be googleable.

This is the world our primary-aged children are growing up in and will one day be living and working in as adults. As I help my students to post their beginning writing, their videos that demonstrate learning, their pictures and other artifacts, they are developing the first elements of a digital-footprint skill set. They are learning how to show the best of what they do in an online space.

They are also learning that:

• People will see what they post.
• People can comment on their posts and be part of the learning.
• Some things are better to post online than others.
• When you put something online, it stays online forever.
• You can learn from others online.
• You can help others to learn online.

In my book Connected From the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades, I offer my rationale for students blogging in public spaces in some detail. The argument is much the same for digital portfolios. My goal is to guide my students as they post online throughout the year, producing a representative portfolio of student accomplishment that each child can share with the world.

Part of my language arts curriculum sets out the goals for grade one children in the area of speaking and social communication. One year, my students decided to make a video to show what they had been learning about this. When we posted this video to our blog, we were startled to get replies from so many students in Australia, who were clearly learning the same things. The idea that other students who live so far away are learning and thinking about the same things as we were was at first surprising and then affirming for my students.

The good news is that if you have already set up a blog for each of your students, they have everything they need to start a digital portfolio. You don't have to use a blog, of course. There are other hosts that you can use for a digital portfolio--a wiki is one good example. It is the content, not the web tool itself, that defines a "digital portfolio."

Teaching Value
Often, after my students have posted their learning, we've received a comment or an email from a teacher saying that our posts will be used to help their students learn something. I have used what other teachers and their students have posted in the same way. Sharing learning online can have a powerful impact on others, and you never know just what that impact will be. This will never happen, of course, if we tuck ourselves away in private spaces.

Whether you are working with five-year-olds or fifteen-year-olds, the students want to know that what they are learning has value. Sharing learning online often produces affirmation of that value--not just day by day but over time as a student's digital portfolio grows and becomes public evidence of his or her advancing knowledge and skills.