Making Student Thinking Visible in Elementary

Most teachers who are new to integrating digital tools come into the game with a product-focused mindset.  That innate desire to use your shiny new devices to create and share beautiful student products is warranted; however, it is only half the battle. Just as it is delightful to share and celebrate a completed art project, there are definite snapshots into the wonder and curiosity of a student throughout the creation of the piece itself. Documentation of the learning process can help to empower students’ reflections of their own learning processes, as well as to share and experience the learning processes of their peers.

From blogging to social media, there are several ways to make student learning visible in the classroom using digital tools. But what is the best way to record this information before you share?

The answer is simple: audio and/or visual ANYTHING.

This could include writing, photos, screenshots, recorded voice, screencasts, or videos. Any combination of these is a great way to document a student’s learning process.

Documentation of the learning process can help to empower students’ reflections.

Choosing the learning that you share does not have to be difficult and is certainly not device dependent. Many teachers do not have regular access to devices to be able to share learning readily. You may have a one-device classroom, access to a small set for your class, be completely 1:1, or only have a cart or computer lab booked once per week.

Here’s some quick tips on how to get what you need for documenting student learning with consideration to your device access:


The One-Device Classroom/Variable Access to a Technology Cart

You may just have one or have access to technology for only a block per week, but it has power to connect and transform learning.

Have students do their thinking on paper with mind maps, graphic organizers, collages, or word clouds to name a few. Students might want to take turns researching on the single device. A photo snap of their work shows you exactly where they are in the process. If you don’t have a tablet for easy photo sharing, use the webcam built into  laptop devices. And don’t forget screenshots! They are a powerful way to capture student learning on any device.

Twitter and InstagramThese images are easily shareable on class blogs, class social media accounts such as Twitter or Instagram, or class websites.

If students have their own blogs that they update on special days where they have access to a cart of devices, then you can easily rename and share their photos through a DropBox or Google Drive public link. You could also put them up on your class website and have students download them to use with their personal blogs.


The Multi-Device Classroom

You’re in that limbo stage. You have more than one device, but definitely not enough for all of your students.

If you have more devices in your classroom and are able to create more content, have students work in groups. Purposefully set up group projects or collaborative problems that they must work together to complete. Use applications like Popplet, PicCollage, and Explain Everything to solve problems and document their processes. Student products may range from a mind map of question about First Nations culture to a photo collage of what multiplication looks like in the classroom.

When students have completed the assignment, have them share their image on your class social media accounts. Allow them to browse and comment the submissions of their peers, too. The conversation around what they discover and share can be rich!

First Nations Project


The 1:1 Classroom

So you have one for every kid… Time to build a personal digital portfolio!

If students have their own devices in class, I would highly recommend beginning a student digital portfolio for them. This may look very different depending on the device that you are using. For elementary students, I highly recommend Kidblog. It is a platform agnostic web app and mobile application that allows students to upload images and videos and write anecdotes about them. You can also tag content and archive progress from month to month.

Students independent work can be captured through the methods mentioned earlier (screenshots, photos, audio recordings, video, screencasts, etc.). The only difference is that, in the 1:1 environment, students can share independent work more often.

Play with different applications and see what works for you. You may also want to begin having students choose what gets added to their own digital portfolios! They begin to document various projects from their classroom environment as well as on the devices they learn on.

A blog post and archive for a Grade 3 student's digital portfolio
A blog post and archive for a Grade 3 student’s digital portfolio

Remember, student learning is not packaged with a neat little bow. It is messy and different for every child. You can celebrate each individual’s learning processes in your classroom by digitally capturing and sharing those moments that lead them to the “aha!” one.

Please leave a comment below to discuss how you document and share your students’ learning.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, opensourceway.

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