Seesaw App: A Window Into Young Students’ Work

Story by Michelle Rosen, Lower School Librarian

Durham Academy parent Landy Elliott is one busy lady. As a mom of two small children and associate director of the North Carolina Leadership Forum at Duke University, her days are full of the juggling act that is modern-day parenting. So, when she found out about Seesaw, the new digital portfolio app being used by the Lower School, she was thrilled!

“I swing back and forth between ‘mom’ and ‘employee’ all day long, and it can be pretty hectic. But when I have a particularly busy work day and am stressed about getting it all done, it’s such a great distraction and reminder of my other role when a Seesaw notification pings across my phone,” Elliott said. “I may be seeing cross-eyed after editing a report for a few hours, and then my phone buzzes with a Seesaw update, and I’m instantly excited about getting to see what’s going on in my daughter’s day. Finding out information about what’s going on in the classroom has become an automatic process integrated into what I’m already doing — that’s one less item on a busy parent’s to-do list.”

Seesaw App

The Seesaw digital portfolio platform allows students to document their learning in creative and engaging ways, such as videos, photos, audio recordings and drawings. Work from other apps, including green screen and slide presentation apps, can also be imported into the portfolio. After the work has been approved by teachers, it can then be shared with families.

“We love Seesaw,” said DA parent Megan Klenk. “For us it serves as a valuable, strengthening bridge between the worlds of home and school. We've noticed that Seesaw facilitates deeper and easier discussions about my son's experiences at school. It also opens up opportunities to capitalize on areas of excitement and to reinforce valuable messages.”

The push to bring Seesaw to the Lower School began soon after iPads arrived on campus several years ago. Lots of digital learning was happening, teachers said, but obstacles began to surface. As the number of iPads increased each year, so did the obstacles.

“We all started to become aware that the students were using various apps to document their learning, but there was no central place to store and no easy way to share their products,” said Michele Gutierrez, Lower School technology coordinator. “We wanted students to be able to look back on their digital work and see their progress. And we wanted parents to be able to see the creative work their kids were doing. Seesaw was the perfect solution.”

Since that time, all Lower School teachers have brought Seesaw into their classrooms. They say the easy-to-use app has many benefits.

“It gives my students the autonomy to choose the tools they feel more comfortable with to present what they learned in class,” said Spanish teacher Mercedes Almodóvar. “My students can explain in videos what they’ve learned or take photos and use audio to read what they have written. This gives me the opportunity to assess their oral and written skills in a way I can’t do in class.”

Third grade teacher Jennifer Klaver agreed. “With Seesaw, I feel like I can have a personal ‘conversation’ with the kids if I don't get to speak to them about their work that day in class. I can look at their work when my kids have gone to bed and really focus on what they've done and give them constructive feedback.”

Across the hall, third-grade teacher Amanda Dolan said she uses Seesaw for many of her assignments. “I have four spelling groups, so it makes it easy to use for spelling tests,” she said. “I also use it for fluency tests, where the students will take a photo of the passage and then record their reading.” She adds that her students have reflected on field trips, posted videos of projects and group activities, and have created flow charts using Seesaw.

Fourth-grade teacher Anna Larson ’96 said she likes that Seesaw allows students to hone another important skill — commenting on each other’s work. “Seesaw allows the students a place to showcase their work, but also to observe and comment on the work of their peers,” she said. “It provides a social media-like, safe forum almost, for the kids to practice being thoughtful and contributing feedback to each other’s posts.”

Of course, classmates aren’t the only ones who can comment on portfolio items. Parents can also get in on the action. And that fact makes second-grader Gabriel Borai very happy.

“I feel great when my dad says ‘great job.’ Sometimes he says, ‘Keep up the good work and you’ll get a cake pop from Starbucks!’” Borai said. “And my mom is like a newborn [newbie] on Seesaw, but she’s commenting a lot.”

Seesaw allows up to 10 family members to connect with a student’s account. Second-grade teacher Ashley Hinton says she’s even had requests from former students to connect with the accounts of their siblings in her class.

“When I opened the email from [my student’s] big sister, who also was a Hinton Hero, requesting access to her sister’s Seesaw journal, my teacher heart exploded!” Hinton said. “It has been very rewarding to see the encouraging comments from the big sister, as well as the motivation and eagerness to share from the little sister.”

One of the most useful ways Seesaw can be used by students is as a tool for self-reflection. Stella Jernigan, a third-grader, likes to use it in this way. She said she often listens to her fluency recordings and is proud of how much she’s improved. “I like to listen to my reading,” she said. “I’m so much better than I used to be, and that makes me feel really good.”

A comment like that is the key to Seesaw, according to first-grade teacher Debbie Suggs. “I can only imagine how rewarding it will be to listen and look at a year’s worth of postings and actually hear and see the growth that has taken place,” she said. “Seesaw has become part of our daily lives.”