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Develop a growth mindset with your students through digital portfolios

A growth mindset as defined by Carol S. Dweck “is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.” So, what is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset? In a fixed mindset, it is believed that you have what you have and are either born with the talent or aptitude, or you aren’t. For example, “I’m lousy at playing the guitar.”  With a growth mindset, skills are something you grow and develop. So, “I have a lot to learn about playing the guitar.”

We wondered how might digital portfolios encourage a growth mindset? Peter Briggs, a music educator in Tacoma WA, designed a differentiated portfolio system that spanned all four years his students were in his class. The system allowed his students to be self-directed through the curriculum so that as they progressed through the curriculum they were continually challenged.  

Peter shared what he discovered about how digital portfolios uniquely encourage a growth mindset:

  • ePortfolios foster regular communication with students.  Through comments in the eportfolio, Peter found that he was able to provide direct guidance to his students on how they could improve in a personalized way that he was never able to do before. He also found that conversations with his students about their work became so much more positive and focused on growth versus students coming to chat about a grade they did not understand.
  • ePortfolios provide a multi-year record of growth.  Since digital portfolios follow the student year over year, students can look back over several years of work to remember where they started and see the immense growth that they made. Peter shared a story of how one of his students looked back on his portfolio from his first year and was shocked that he had left an assignment as “Approaching proficient”. The student said, “Mr. Briggs, I can’t believe that I left a score at “Approaching” and didn’t go back and fix it.” That student clearly moved from the idea that his marks were a final record to the mindset that he could continue to grow, learn and improve.
  • ePortfolios promote student self-reflection. Since students choose which artifacts they want to upload to their portfolios to demonstrate their work, the act of self-reflection becomes embedded in the assessment process. Add to that the feedback loop between teacher and student through the comments section, and you have an authentic, natural process to develop students’ self-reflection skills.

With differentiated eportfolios, Peter found that the students at the top felt challenged and the students at the bottom didn’t become discouraged.  To sum up using Peter’s words, “I was astounded by the visible student growth I saw over the process of three to four years of using an e-portfolio. That evidence-based record of mastery was phenomenal.”

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