VoiceThread as a Digital Portfolio

I’ve been twittering the past several weeks about using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio for our Student-Led Conferences this semester.

In the past, my students have used Photostory3 to show and talk about their learning as a starting point for their Student Led Conference with their parents.  I’m now teaching in a mac school so Photostory3 was not an option.  After considering iMovie (and all of it’s amazing features) I felt that it had too many features that might be distracting for what I wanted.  The ease at which a mac allows you to record your voice, and video using the inbuilt webcam and mic was still going to be the foundation of recording our learning but I still needed to find a suitable platform.  A wiki was a consideration and then the brainwave of VoiceThread appeared in my head late one night!

The more I considered VoiceThread, the more it’s interactive features appealed to me.  Using Photostory3 meant a final product. Nothing more added, no room for comment by parents and unless you sent the exported movie file, or embedded it on a wiki, no way for other family members in different parts of the country or in other parts of world, to see it.

Using VoiceThread was easy!  We’ve already used it several times this year, so the “tool” and how to use it was already established.  Here’s the step by step organisation we used to complete a digital protfolio for each student in Room202.

Step 1:

Sign up students for an individual account each in VoiceThread.

(We used an email that did not technically exist – but not gmail with + because that won’t work – The email address isn’t required to gain the password – which means the email does not have to exist – BUT you must remember it to be able to sign in)

Step 2:

Brainstorm with students what they think needs to go into their portfolios.

Guiding questions:  What will my parents want to see?  What will my parents want to know about?

With very little guidance from me, students listed subject areas (Reading, Math, etc) along with how I’m doing socially, what my work habits are like, what I need to improve, what I can do well, PLUS some things that I’d really like to share with my parents because I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

Step 3:

Take the required photos. Upload to VoiceThread.  Take picture of self (using photobooth) and change avatar. Add teacher’s email address to contacts and share VoiceThread with teacher.  (This is how I could keep track of who was getting behind in their time management)

The only rule about photos was that ALL images had to be taken by Room202.  No google images allowed, no images from creative commons – but students could use any of the photos from our flickr account that had been taken during class activities during the year.  We talked about parents wanting to see their child (not someone else in the class) and own work captured (not someone elses) and how the image should relate to what you were talking about.  A checklist was introduced so that tracking what images were still required was easier.

Step 4:

Write the scripts.  A prompt booklet with sentence starters in it was handed to each student – to encourage students to talk about their learning rather than what they were doing.  This was by far the area that required the most amount of modeling and took the most amount of time for students and the teacher!  I did set one script on a topic per night as homework to get things moving along.

Most students, in their first draft just talked about things like what they had read, or how a reading workshop session might go, or the celery experiment we did in class, rather than what they were actually learning to do and how well they thought they had done it, or what they might do better next time.

A second column was added to the checklist so that students knew which scripts had been written and checked off by me, ready for recording.

Step 5:

After gaining a check off from me, students were then able to record their script on the appropriate page.  I’m amazed at how considerate the class was – we did most of the recording in class, with a handful going to the teamroom next door if they had many scripts to record at once.  A simple “Quiet please, recording” and a “thank you” when finished – ensured that no-one had background chatter in their voicethread.  Everyone was respectful and quiet during a recording time (the only odd interuption was, of course, the bell!!)  Of course, using the inbuilt features of our macs meant that we needed no extra equipment other than our laptops!

Step 6:

Listen to full VoiceThread, redo any pages where voice level was too quiet or too loud.  Hand in completed Checklist to teacher.  Using publishing options and playback options make changes as follows:

VoiceThread - Group conversations around images, documents, and videos

VoiceThread - Group conversations around images, documents, and videos

Now that Student-Led Conferences are finished, I can share with you all the resounding success of using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio.  Parental feedback so far has been how impressed they were with the effort from their children and how enjoyable it was to hear their own child speak about their learning in a clear and confident manner.  Being an International School, the majority of parents were thrilled to hear how easy it was going to be to share the VoiceThread with family and friends in different parts of the world.  Most agreed that being able to share with grandparents was a highlight.  Some dads weren’t able to make the actual conference due to work commitments so it was great that those students were able to go home and share this portfolio online with them.  One dad was actually in another country and was going to be watching the portfolio in his hotel room that night.

ESL students were most successful with their portfolios too and were encouraged to communicate with their parents in English and their native tongue.  This was much appreciated by parents and meant that family members around the world could understand what was being said.

I am incredibly proud of ALL my students and the effort that they put into their portfolios.

My Reflection: What would I do differently next time?

  1. Swap Step 3 & 4 around.  To help students avoid talking about the image (therefore only talking about the “doing” rather than the “learning”, write the script first then take an image that fits what you’re talking about.  This process of preparing portfolios made me realise that we need to have more conversations as we are learning, about what it is that we are learning, why we are learning it and how we know if we have learned it.  We have our learning intentions and success criteria plastered around the room, plus we write them in our books but I realised after doing these VoiceThreads – it’s not enough.  Some students still aren’t making the connections between the things we do in class and the learning that we want to occur.  I’m really bothered by that and this is something that I really want address over the rest of the semester and the years to come.
  2. Keep one or two of these VoiceThreads as a model for next years class.  The need to provide modelling and good models has really made itself powerfully known to me over this past year.  Modelling is the key to great learning and success.
  3. Have students create their Digital Portfolio VoiceThread at the beginning of the year.  Add to it from the beginning of 5th Grade.  Perhaps set a target of 5 pages per semester.  This would avoid students talking only about the latest things they have learnt or struggled with.

After gaining the permission of parents I am able to share with you, two of our VoiceThread Digital Portfolios.  I am hoping that parents will record or type some feedback back to their children over the next week or so.


  1. teachingsagittarian

    Thanks Gail! Yes, the students generated their own passwords (we already had a password sorted before starting).
    You can see we did a few things to minimise exposure of the voicethreads to the “general” public. We don’t usually use photos online that clearly show ourselves but for the portfolio we relented to add that personal touch for family and friends. I explained to parents that only first names are mentioned and there’s no mention of where we live.
    I asked special permission from two parents to blog about using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio to show educators. I’m glad that you can share this idea in your teacher trainings wiki.

  2. Pam Thompson

    Thank you for sharing your hard work. It must have taken a lot of time and effort but the rewards are evident. I woould love to have a go at this for next year – I’ve left it too late for this year as interviews are in 2 weeks!
    Just a mention though that one of your students featured here is identifiable by her full name in one of her pieces of work – the graph.

    Congratulations on a great result!

  3. teachingsagittarian

    Thanks Pam and I appreciate the heads up on the full name (we missed that one!). I have discovered another feature of VoiceThread that makes it even more appealing for this kind of work. VoiceThread allows you to replace pictures without having to re-record the comments around the picture – that’s fantastic!

  4. Christy Tucker

    These are so good! I love how concrete their ideas are for how to improve. You’ve obviously done a lot of coaching for students to reflect on their learning.

    This is such a great use of VoiceThread, too. I’d never thought of this for a portfolio before. Thank you for sharing it!

  5. Jamin Lietze

    Congratulations on taking something that worked well with Photostory and making it happen again but with Voicethread.

    I enjoyed listening to the student’s voicethreads and also reading your reflections. Thank you Chrissy for taking the time to put this together so to help us on our journeys.

    Chrissy you inspire me :+)

  6. Tod Baker

    A VoiceThread can be a formative assessment tool that shows us what we know and what we need to know. Also it can help us realize that we actually know a thing or two but find it difficult to discuss or articulate what we know. VoiceThread can do this because it puts the creator of the VoiceThread in charge. The student, for example, can initiate the discussion and drive it forward. So often students are stuck just replying to teacher prompts and questions.

    In other words, I think Chrissy is right on by trying to get students to make clear connections between their learning activities and the actual learning. VoiceThread is a powerful tool to help make those connections because it makes the learning process visual and audible.

    Well done, Chrissy. I’m eager to see more.


  7. Rob


    Thanks for the detailed description of how you laid out this project and especially the improvements you would make for next time. I think voicethread is a great way to share student work, and give them a chance to share their voice. I use it a bit with my third graders, and I feel it helps give them a chance to express themselves, without the limitations of their written language abilities.

    It’s a shame that so many peoples main concern or focus is about children’s exposure on the web. While I can understand this concern, I also feel that being part of the sharing that goes on on the web is what children want. This is a dilemma to which there is no simple solution. I take necessary precautions, i.e. use first names only, etc. but feel that the real solution is making children aware of the potential problems and have them be mindful, and let us (adults) know if they suspect any wrongdoings.

    I’d be interested to hear others opinions on this issue.

    Thanks again, and thanks to your students for being willing to share their learning. I have left a comment on one of their voicethreads.


    If readers would like they can check out my students use of voicethread for story reviews they posted.

  8. Rob


    One last comment/question. What type of voicethread account do you use? Is it part of the Ed.Voicethread, or just a regular free educator account? I received my account a while back and it had the ability to create different “identities” under one account. This is how I set up student accounts, but I recall voicethread saying they were discontinuing support of this – It still works for my account. For younger users, this eliminates all the sign-in, password work.

    Thanks again.

  9. Nancy

    Hi Chrissy,
    Thank you so much for sharing your process in using VT for this purpose- a brilliant idea! I also appreciate your reflection and samples- it’s clear your students have awareness of and confidence in their learning process. You remind me how important it is for us to share our work and inspire others.

  10. teachingsagittarian

    Thank you everyone for your words of encouragement. I love sharing ideas in the hope that people can add more to the idea, change it around and of course make it better!
    I had each student create their own basic free account and therefore they have a limit of 3 VoiceThreads – each VoiceThread can have up to 200 pages. When each student created their VoiceThread they had to share it with me so that I could track their recordings. We kept the VoiceThreads private until just before the Student-Led Conferences. I use a free educator account which allows me to have unlimited VoiceThreads. Any VoiceThreads that are a collaborative effort, are made through this account. As these were Student’s own work, recording of progress and reflection, I felt that it was necessary for each one to have their own account. It was fairly easy to manage, and I could have set up an RSS feed to my GoogleReader to help me keep track of the changes that students were making to their ePortfolios. When I do this again next school year, I will definitely do this as I hope to begin the ePortfolio VoiceThread right from the first semester.

  11. Rebecca

    This is so exciting! I have just had my very first experience with voice thread, and I can see so many possibilities for this tool. However, you have really taken it to another level.

    I had the same “a-ha” experience regarding actual student learning. We have the “anchor charts” hanging all over the room. The students are writing in their notebooks, but are they really learning what we want them to learn? The process of preparing for a simple voice thread was a great on the spot assessment. As students are required to generate SPECIFIC comments or reflections directly related to their learning, it is quickly evident who is learning and to what degree, and who has not yet made the “connection.”

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  13. Cathy Ikeda

    I enjoyed the VT portfolios. Thank you for the DM so I could see your student work in action. I also enjoyed the reflection on your own learning. As a coach, I think that is the most important step – to self-reflect in order to improve.

    Our students, 6-8th grade, have to have strict time parameters for creating their avatar on photobooth as well as choosing their pictures, so I like the idea of scripting first.

    When I had my own classes, we used to do everyone on the teacher account, but in January, we talked VoiceThread into charging us 50cents/child instead of the $1 and we went ahead with the ed account for 6th and 8th grade. As a coach I made sure I found ways in the teachers’ curriculum to give them a VT option for assessment and so they created at least one VT for each core class, but the portfolio idea fits in so well with our student led conferences that I’d like to share this with my principal.

    One thing I had the parents do when they recorded or typed a comment was to change the identity by clicking the avatar on the bottom right corner and identifying themselves as ______’s mom, etc. For those students with no computer access, or parents that were too busy, they were allowed to ask any adult on campus. The kids had grandparents, aunts, older siblings, homeroom advisors and even our principal seeing their work and commenting. When the avatar is changed, then it was easier for the teacher to see who had comments. If no one commented on a child’s work, one of us would do it. It was also an easy way to keep track if the teacher wanted to give some kind of credit to the child for presenting their VT to someone outside of class and getting real feedback.

    Mahalo (thanks) again for sharing.

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  15. guestclg

    Have you thought about using GarageBand – SOOOOOOO easy! Like the voice thread info though as (sadly) I have gone from Mac to PC and cant use GB in class work now.
    Louisa Guest
    South Australia

  16. Paula Naugle

    Thank you so much so sharing all the steps needed to compile VoiceThread portfolios with your students. They are amazing compilations. I know that if I were the parent of either of these children I would be very proud to have their work showcased and shared in such a way that they can get feedback from others.

    I left comments on both VT and hope they get reinforcement from others as well. In fact when I do this next year I am going to make getting feedback from someone other then a parent a part of the project. I can envision the principal, past and future teachers, neighbors, other relatives and even peers being invited to add comments.

    Thanks for an inspiring way to use VoiceThread.

  17. Keli

    Thank you so much for the REAL examples. I am so encouraged to see Student Lead Conferences and portfolios alive. When I was a classroom teacher a few years back, I lived for the student lead conferences. I know many teachers did not embrace the concept because it was seen as unconventional and frankly a lot of work. I now work as an instructional coach and plan to use your examples with the teachers I work with.

    Kudos to you!

    ~ Keli Kinsella
    Instructional Coach
    Office of Professional Development
    Cherry Creek Schools

  18. Mary Priske

    Your student led conference steps and examples were awesome. I can see so many benefits to what you are doing. I do have two questions for you. How much time does it take to complete the videos for your class in preparation for the electronic conferences? Does your entire school do conferences this way or just your own classroom? Thanks for your input.
    Mary Priske

  19. teachingsagittarian

    Thank you all again for your encouraging comments! Student-Led conferences are so rewarding for everyone and yes, they do take a little bit more planning and time but the results are worth it.

    Keli, I’m honoured that you will be using these examples with the teachers you work with, I hope they go on to do even better things with VoiceThread.

    Mary, these portfolios were just done by my classroom, but I recently shared the idea and examples with the rest of the elementary school. I hope many more teachers take it on as a way for students to reflect on their learning and share their “stuff” with their family. We took about two solid weeks of all our literacy time (1 hour a day), a couple of afternoons (1 hour at a time) during the two weeks, plus some scripting set for homework, to complete the portfolios. This year we plan to be adding pages as the year progresses so this is completely embedded into our classroom practice.

    Cathy, thanks for your suggestion about identities – I’d taught the students about identities when we previously used VoiceThread but we completely forgot about it when we did these portfolios!

    Paula, thanks for leaving comments – that was exciting for everyone!

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  31. Suzie Vesper

    I am such a Voicethread fan and whenever I run a workshop for others on Voicethread, I always say that I can see it being a great tool for digital portfoios; especially if you have a class account and therefore get 30 free downloads at the end of the year for students to be able to take home on a CD. However, I have not as yet seen a practical example so am thrilled that you have shared these here and the process that you went through. Exceptionally useful and I hope you don’t mind if I use these to talk about in future workshops.

  32. Wes

    I love voicethread but started last year as a rookie and I am planning on going back to it this year. However, my minor problem was with usernames and passwords. I had a class g-mail account with ONE password that we all shared. This was messy as we were all essentially sharing the same account. Am I correct in saying that you used one e-mail with different passwords for each student?
    Thanks for the info as I really want to get using voicethread again.

    1. teachingsagittarian

      Hi Wes
      Yes, each student had a “made-up” email account and had their own password. For example –; – those emails don’t actually exist, but they look real.
      Everyone used their firstname lastname initial with the isb email ending. The only thing is, the password is NOT recoverable, because the email doesn’t actually exist, so I wrote down everyone’s password for safe keeping.
      I do hope you start using voicethread again – it’s a fantastic tool to use in the classroom and it’s a lot of fun seeing how creative students can be!

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  34. Pam Nichols

    I just love the idea of student lead conferences with vt. Do all accounts show up in the teachers account when they are shared with the teacher? I was just wondering how you get them all together to share with the parents. Do you gather them all vys into some other format? Thanks for sharing . Great stuff. Pam

    1. teachingsagittarian

      @Pam, I always get my students to share their voicethread with me (they use my VT username email) at the start. When we share with the parents, each student logs into their own VT account. If we make the VTs public, then we email the link to our parents so that they can watch it without being logged in, and can share with other relatives. The thing is, if you want parent’s comments to show up separate from their child’s comments, the parents must create an identity – either in their child’s VT account OR they sign up for their own VT account because if you’re not signed in, you’re prompted to sign in to leave a comment.

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  38. Stacie

    Hello, I enjoyed your blog. I believe in the power of the portfolio so I too had students create a VT Portfolio this year. They had a detailed rubric (a check list) to follow and I used it as their final exam. One thing I would change would be to add it in at PT Conferences or send the link home so parents could enjoy too.

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