Using Digital Tools to Create a Portfolio for Your Students


Amazing student portfolios with digital tools
It is a tradition in the early childhood classes here to send each child home at the end of the year with a portfolio that documents the fun and learning that they experienced over the course of the school year.  This tradition spans back at least a decade.  When it first began, teachers used 12×18 construction paper, 4×6 picture prints and a comb binder to create the treasury.  As crafting these keepsakes became my responsibility, I knew I wanted to modernize the process a little.  It’s not that there was anything inherently wrong with the way we had always made the scrapbooks. They always  looked beautiful, full of photographs and artwork that showed 9 months of growth and development.  The reason I needed change was simple:


I can not, for the life of me, effectively manage the comb binding process.

Each year as I tried to bind the books,  I ended up with more than a few pages that were punched crooked, upside down, backwards or worse. I also ended the process with a few extra grey hairs. This year, I felt ready to take on the task of revamping our portfolio system and using technology to make it work more smoothly for me.

First I’ll show you what our portfolios ended up looking like this year, and then I’ll show you how I used technology to pull it all together.

What the portfolios looked like this year:


I found a deal on 12×12 scrapbook albums at Micheal’s on Black Friday.  I also purchased an additional set of 10 plastic sleeves for each album, giving us a total of 20 pages for each album (40 if you count front and back.)Portfolio Title Page

There’s an opening page, and then three sections of student work: one for fall, one for winter, and one for spring.  The end of each section is marked with an photo 8 x 12 collage featuring the child that will receive the book and all of the fun activities we photographed over the course of that particular season. The last pocket is reserved for memorabilia that wouldn’t fit on a portfolio page,  or that we weren’t quite ready to send home when we sent home the portfolios, like the student’s nametag, job chart card, etc.DSCN7644


Recognize some of these guys?  I wrote about them here and here.

Managing the student work:

Our method for managing student work is tried and true. And beautifully low-tech. It’s a gigantic rubbermaid tub. DSCN7675

Talented teaching partner created this system and it works really well.  She created giant file dividers out of tag board and used a 3×5 card to create a “tab” for each divider. Each tab has the name of a child. DSCN7674

You can see that the dividers have been used and re-used for years and years.  We recycle. :)

 As we complete classwork that we know we want to feature in the portfolios,  we put the work in the rubbermaid tub.  When I’m really on top of things,  I’ll file the work under each student’s name as we finish the activity. This year,  most of the work piled up in there until our fantastic high school volunteer filed it for me.  Love her!  Once the student work is filed, it’s easy to pull out a collection of each student’s work  to assemble their portfolio.  We had to make an effort this year to make sure that all of our portfolio work was done on 12×12 paper so that it would fit nicely into the 12×12 albums.  We forgot a couple of times, but overall, it was a fairly smooth transition. Most of our projects worked as well on 12×12 paper as they had on 12×18.

Managing Pictures with Picasa:

All of our pictures this year were managed using Picasa.  I use Picasa because our class website is a Google site and Picasa is a Google product. This makes it much easier for me to share slideshows with our parents each week because the two products, Google Sites & Picasa work well together. I’m sure you could create a similar system in iphoto, or whatever other photo management system you like to use. I’m not sure however, that those other programs allow for the easy creation of photo collages.

Gathering pictures to put on the website each week was the starting point for my organizational system for creating the portfolios.  Each week as I prepare the picture slideshow for the website, I pull out the “best of the best” of the photos  I took that week and add them to an album titled with the date: “Week of January 22.” Having those “best of” pictures set aside makes it easier to find the portfolio worthy pictures when it’s time to start assembling the collages.  Until the end of the season, that’s really all I do to assemble portfolio pictures.

Once Fall is over, I begin assembling the collages. (Note, I don’t follow traditional dates in creating my “seasons.”  For portfolio purposes, Fall ends on November 30, Winter ends on February 28, and Spring ends in mid-May.) To create the collage, I begin by creating an album in Picasa for each student: Anna Fall Collage,  Caleb Fall Collage, George Fall Collage, etc.  I also create an album called “Fall Group Shots.”  I work my way through all of the pictures I’ve taken so far. I add pictures that I find of the whole class to the “Group Shots ” album.  I pick the best individual and smaller group shots I find of each child, and add them to their individual albums.  Once the individual albums are assembled, I copy one set of  group shots from the “Fall Group Shots” album into each child’s individual album.  For an 8×12 collage, I find that between 14-17 pictures makes for a nice collage.  Too many more pictures, and the pictures within the collage start to get teeny tiny. I repeat this process at the end of each season, so that by the time I’m ready to create the physical portfolios, I have 3 digital albums for each child, one for each season.

Creating the collages:

Once all of the pictures are all in one digital album, creating the collages is incredibly simple.  At the top of each Picasa ablum, there is a single button to click.  When you hover over it, it says “create photo collage.”  A second tab opens in Picasa that says “Collage.” Using the pictures from your selected ablum, Picasa automatically creates a collage.  You can change the type of collage you want by clicking on the drop down menu under settings. For our portfolio pages, I chose “mosaic.” The other important feature I selected was “Page Format.” We chose to do 8×12 collages because they were half the price of 12×12 prints at Costco. I had to enter “12×8″ as a “custom aspect ratio” in order to get the size that I wanted. I also adjusted the grid spacing and added a seasonal background color to my collages. It’s also possible to shuffle the pictures, or even click and drag them to put them where you want them.  I did this on a few of my collages. When I finally had the pictures arranged the way that I wanted, I clicked “Create Collage.” The finished collage is automatically saved in Picasa under “Projects.” I also copied each collage into a new album that I called “Finished Collages.”  Finally, I exported the “finished collages” album and uploaded the prints to Costco.

Small Aaron Fall

The pictures look pretty small here, but imagine them blown up to 8×12 , and they’re nice sized, particularly if you don’t have more than 15 or so per collage.

Assembling the books:

This was really the easiest step, especially when I consider how much effort it took to wrestle with the comb binder when it was time to assemble the books last year! I waited to put together the portfolios until I had most of the artwork and collages ready to go. Any artwork that wasn’t already on 12×12 paper was mounted on scrapbook paper.  I also mounted the collages on scrapbook paper. Michael’s or your local craft store sells huge tablets of seasonal scrapbook paper. It’s fairly inexpensive, often on sale for 50% off.


I also removed the 12×12 white papers that came with the scrapbook that we did not use.  These papers will be used next year as we create our portfolio artwork. Assembling the books was really as easy as sliding each piece of work into the appropriate plastic sleeve.  I do create a paper “mock-up” that reminds me which order I want the pages to appear in.  I assemble one complete book to act as a guide after that.

mock up book

Strategies for making sure you get the shots you want of each child:

I love having our Kindergarten colleagues right down the hall and our First Grade colleagues just upstairs.  It makes for convenient collaboration. It was the First Grade team that turned me on to the idea that I could use 12×12 scrapbooks to create our portfolios. The Kindergarten team taught me how to be more deliberate in my photographing so that  I could make sure I had the shots I wanted to put in the portfolios.  My first and second year working on the portfolios, I was very haphazard in my photography. I was looking for the “great candid shots” that photographers talk about. Unfortunately, my candid pictures never really turned out all that well.  I’ve moved towards taking specific, planned shots of each child.  For example,  on field day, I get a shot of each child with their special field day name tag. On St. Patrick’s day, there’s a shot of each child with their bag of fake gold. The first week of school, I get a shot of each child on the playground. Having these planned photo opportunities has ensured that I always have enough decent shots of each child to create a great collage. I still take candid shots all the time, but having a list of “priority shots” has helped me feel more organized.

Presenting the Portfolios

We host a “tea” each year for our classroom families where we share a slideshow and present each child with their completed portfolio.  It’s always a very special time and the children treasure these albums.  My own children love looking back at their own preschool portfolios. This year, I’m also going to share the individual online collage albums with with our students’ families so that they can order prints of their favorite pictures if they so desire.  Picasa makes this process amazingly simple.  You simply sync the album with your online Picasa account and share the album with the people you’d like to have see it.  (Perhaps I’ll offer more specific details on exactly how to do this in another post, as this one is already longer than anything else I’ve ever posted!)

Other ways you can use collages:

I know this whole process can seem like a lot, particularly for a single classroom teacher without an assistant.  You’ll remember that there are two of us in our classroom, a lead teacher, and an assistant (that’s me!) so we have a lot more available manpower to create these elaborate keepsakes.  There are still a lot of ways to use the Picasa collage feature without assembling a whole portfolio.

  • I’ve seen some teachers create monthly collages that include the whole class and then display them where parents can see them. They could also be shared online.
  •  It would  be fairly simple to create the collages, and skip the portfolio step.
  • Even one individual collage per student at the end of the year would be a nice touch.
  • We’ve taken pictures of all of our morning playtime choices and assembled them into a collage so that it’s easier for children to decide what they want to play.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope this article has given you some ideas on how you can use digital tools to create portfolios for your students. Whether they are a single page of photographs or a 40 page album, know that they will be treasured by the children that receive them, probably for many years to come!

Picasa Resources:

One of my hopes for this website is to offer some tips and tutorials on using Picasa to manage your classroom photos, but I haven’t written those pieces yet! In the mean time, here’s a site I discovered that might be able to offer some basic Picasa information that I was not able to provide today.

Teach Junkie Creative Ideas

blog button-0027FBF8CFDA6AD9BD0B34E6CD50E760EA9



  1. says

    What a fantastic post loaded with tips and ideas. I like your tip about planning the shots you want – ideal! Thanks for linking up.
    – Leslie