A growing number of schools are using digital video as a powerful tool to convey to parents how their children are performing in the classroom. The use of dynamic video can communicate a student’s abilities far more effectively than paper-based progress reports, proponents of the trend say.

Elementary school teachers in Barrington, R.I., for instance, have been showing parents videos of their children reading, to help parents truly understand what they mean during parent-teacher conferences.

Concepts such as reading ability and social interaction are difficult to illustrate verbally. So teachers at Primrose Hill School have begun recording students reading, which enables the teacher to show parents exactly what they mean by abstract terms such as “comprehension” and “word-attack.”

“Sometimes at a parent conference, a parent can get lost in the jargon,” said Principal Elizabeth Durfee. If a teacher can describe a child’s abilities while the child’s parent is watching on video, the parent can understand what the teacher is saying more clearly, she said.

Traditionally, the school’s teachers have assembled paper portfolios of student work to present to parents during conferences to explain their children’s progress.

Now, four teachers—in grades one through three—create web-based digital portfolios for each student that highlight each student’s abilities. Each portfolio features math and writing samples, as well as video clips of the child reading and interacting socially.

“It’s been so well received by our parents. They are just so fascinated by seeing their child in action,” Durfee said. “It’s clarified information, and it’s brought them much closer to being in the classroom.”

Parent volunteers are essential in helping teachers put their portfolios together, said Elizabeth Kruse, a third-grade teacher at the school.

A parent volunteer makes a video record of the students while the teacher gives the lesson. Later, the teacher looks at the video and chooses clips that demonstrate skills or problems the teacher wants to address with the parent.

Sorting through video taken of an entire classroom to pick out clips that are most relevant for each student sounds like a lot of work, but teachers say preparing in advance is far more helpful.

“I feel much more organized about the process. It’s less stressful,” Kruse said. “I’ve never been able to do 17 conferences in a day, but now I can.”

Parent volunteers also scan all the math and writing samples for each portfolio. Having everything digital, on one medium, saves teachers from having to switch back and forth between digital and paper examples during the conference.

“It makes my life easier in a lot of ways,” Kruse said. When it’s time for the interview, teachers simply take parents through their child’s portfolio.

Durfee said the video segments help parents see their child differently. The teacher can point out a child’s strengths, such as leadership, collaboration, and responsibility in a group setting.

“These are all intangibles. You can’t test for them, but they are very important for the way a classroom operates,” Durfee said.

The technology also confirms a teacher’s assessment of a student who is behaving poorly, because the video record speaks for itself..

The idea of adding video to student portfolios at the Primrose Hill School came from David Niguidula, a local parent who has been working on the concept of digital portfolios for schools for the past 10 years.

“It’s no longer a conversation in the abstract,” he said. “The parent and teacher can actually have a conversation around what the child is doing. A parent and teacher can look at and discuss what they see on a video.”

The portfolios are just a series of web pages, said Niguidula, whose company—Ideas Consulting—has introduced electronic portfolio programs in schools throughout the country, including in Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Volunteers use the school’s digital video camera to record the students. Then, using the camera’s own software, the video is downloaded to a computer, from which it is uploaded to a web page.

“It’s very off-the-shelf technology,” Niguidula said.

Web-based digital portfolios make it possible for teachers to hold parent conferences virtually, although Primrose Hill School isn’t doing this yet. “We have some parents [who] can’t always come in,” Durfee said.

Parents noticed a distinct difference in their children’s abilities when they saw video taken in April compared to video from last October, Durfee said, adding, “It’s very exciting for parents to see that difference.”

Links:

Primrose Hill School
http://barrington.k12.ri.us/primrose

Ideas Consulting: Digital Portfolios
http://www.ideasconsulting.com/dp_main.htm