For the last year, I have been wanting to try Seesaw, but the timing was not right until last week.  Seesaw is a digital portfolio where students can “capture their learning” in any form.  The Seesaw “Learn More” page says that Seesaw “empowers students to independently document what they are learning at school” and that students can  can “show what they know” using

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Drawings
  • Text
  • PDFs
  • Links/URLs.
  • Students can also import directly from most popular apps, like Google apps.

Seesaw provides a treasure trove of helpful videos on their YouTube channel; they also provide you helpful checklists for getting started once you sign up and set up your classes.  You can invite students to join the class via email and a code; younger students can use the QR code option.  Since I teach 11th and 12th grade, my students sign up with an email and then join my class with a course specific class code.   You also have the option of inviting parents to join as well.  Finally, I am using the free edition for now, but I’m consider purchasing the teacher “plus” upgrade so that I can better document mastery of standards.

In the last few years, I’ve become wary of “shiny” technologies that offer a lot of promises but very little return on the investment of time, energy, and sometimes money for a product.  However, this is the most excited I’ve felt about a technology in a long time because Seesaw offers so many possibilities and is so easy to use.  They also offer terrific support through the YouTube channel, and you can also join a Facebook group (here is mine for high school) for your students’ age group for additional “in the trenches” ideas and support.

This past week I piloted Seesaw with my 2A and 3B Honors 11th grade classes; I’ll introduce the app and platform to my 12th Honors ELA and 11th CP ELA in the upcoming week.  Last week, our Writer’s Notebook Invitation 7 in my 11th Honors courses invited students to choose one of two Puritan poems (“Huswifery” or “To My Dear and Loving Husband”) and create  Sketchnote of their thinking and interpretation of the poem.  I gave students some tools to help them get started:

  • A list of talking points/elements of Sketchnotes and how they might use those in their original creation
  • A shared Google Folder of examples of Sketchnotes to help them see the possibilities and variations in creating an effective Sketchnotes
  • A graphic organizer of “compass points” for thinking to help them explore and inquire into their selected poem
  • Colored pencils and markers for those who didn’t have their own

Over the course of two periods, students worked on inquiring into their poem and crafting a Sketchnote to visually represent their thinking.  Once finished, students signed up for SeeSaw and joined the class with the appropriate code for their section (2A or 3B).  Students then:

  1.  Snapped their Sketchnote using the app
  2.  Used the microphone feature to record an audio note; students described their thinking and the design behind their sketchnotes in these recordings.
  3. Students had the option to add a text note as well.

Since we don’t have a space for a “recording booth” in my room, we simply used the hall.  Students could rehearse what they wanted to say before recording.  Some wrote out their script while others recorded extemporaneously.   Most students recorded and snapped during class time so I could help them if they needed it, but some chose to finish their work at home.

I LOVE hearing their recordings!  There is something unique about hearing a student talk about his or her work and thinking.  I enjoy the text notes, too, but the audio recording feature is powerful and transformative for me.  I can then provide feedback with comments, audio notes, “likes”, or a combination of all three tools.  I LOVE recording audio feedback for the students because it feels more  personal and is faster than typing written feedback.   I think Seesaw has the potential to be a space where I can have back and forth (hence, Seesaw!) conversations with my students about ongoing work; I think this application and use will be especially transformative as we begin our first unit of writing study the week of September 18.

Here is a student example using the video recording feature instead of the audio feature to point and walk me through her Sketchnote in her Writer’s Notebook!

Students can also “like” the work of their peers and provide feedback, too.  In both classes we talked about how a community of learners supports EVERY student, not just those who are our friends, and does so in a constructive positive way.  We also talked about how we can learn from each other by looking at each other’s work.

There is also an option to easily click an icon in Seesaw and print the student entry right from your phone if you have a wireless printer (which I do at home) that will generate a cool poster with a QR code that other Seesaw students can scan to see/hear that piece of work; I think this feature would be great if you were doing some cross grade level work with another teacher or collaborating with a course team teacher and his/her classes who were also Seesaw users.

Here are some ways I see using Seesaw with my kids this year:

  • Virtual writing conferences
  • Ongoing conversations about writing projects in progress (these could be snaps of work with audio recordings by students and me, or they may link to work in progress in Google Docs and we can converse about a specific piece of work)
  • Writing circle/group work among students
  • Reading conferences
  • Book snaps/chats
  • Student self-assessment work (major and smaller/process work)
    Example:  Each month, students will pick their writing notebook entry for that time period.  They will compose an argument to justify the grade they feel they deserve and record that argument with the audio tool as they point to specific evidence in the entry to support their claim for a grade.
  • Inquiry circle work

You will notice that feedback and formative assessment are the two major threads that run through my working list of ways we will use Seesaw.  These two areas, along with improving my skills in facilitating more effective writing conferences, are part of my professional goals for improvement and growth this year.  I have been wondering how on earth I would do that with over 200 students in six sections of classes.  Though it won’t replace the written and face to face work we do, I now believe Seesaw is the missing piece of the puzzle I’ve been looking for to provide relevant and meaningful feedback in a virtual space that not only provides genuine interaction, but Seesaw gives me and my students to build a portfolio of work over the year on a regular and organic basis (not just 2-3 times a year), a feature that will support our efforts to embrace a growth mindset.

I am still learning many of the features available, but overall, I am elated with Seesaw and am excited to learn from fellow high school ELA teachers on Twitter and those across content areas in the Facebook group!  Are you a Language Arts teacher using Seesaw?  If so, I’ve love to hear you are using it for formative assessment, strategic feedback, and community building with your students!