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Using Student Portfolios in your Classroom

Use of portfolios of student work is becoming an increasingly popular assessment for learning tool.

In its simplest form, a portfolio is a collection of student work featuring key pieces that encapsulate the learning journey. There are many different types of student portfolios, but effective portfolios all have commonalities.

Features of effective student portfolios:

  • They are tied to a learning goal

Identify the learning goal from the outset and ensure this is clear to students. Is the purpose of the portfolio simply to document the learning journey? Or is the purpose to show student improvement or even mastery of a set of skills? Will the work be summatively assessed (i.e. graded), or is it purely for formative assessment purposes? If the work is to be marked you will need to develop a marking rubric and provide it to students.

  • They include work selected by the student

Give students a checklist of what to include for success in this task. You might list some pieces of work that are mandatory for inclusion, and that’s useful. However, an important step in the process is to also allow students to select key pieces that they feel either illustrate their development or showcase their best work (or both). The purpose of the portfolio must be clear to students to enable them to include the most valuable evidence that they can in relation to their learning goals. This helps students develop accountability.

  • They include less than perfect work

Is the purpose of the portfolio to illustrate a student’s development, rather than mastery? If so, it is worthwhile encouraging students to include artefacts that they feel show progression in their learning journey. And that includes less than perfect work. This helps to support your ethos that your classroom is a safe environment in which to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them.

  • They include student reflections

Student reflections can be included in a portfolio to make it a valuable source of evidence. Ask students to explain, for example, why a particular document is included as evidence of their learning and progress. Suggest they reflect on specific pieces and how/why they were completed in the way they were. This helps students to actively think about their work and study habits, and can be a valuable and meaningful element of portfolio compilation.

  • They are reviewed regularly by student, teachers and caregivers

The availability of portfolios for viewing by parents/caregivers makes them a particularly useful way to involve parents in their children’s learning. When parents can view work samples and their associated feedback, read the student’s reflections, have the students talk them though their portfolio (and subsequently through their learning journey), they develop a much clearer understanding of, and appreciation for, their child’s learning development and needs than they would from, say, a test score or report card. They are therefore better able to support this learning.

Many schools now use online student portfolios where appropriate. This enables teachers to incorporate ICT into the process. It also enable working parents to access the portfolio from home.

It is important for educators new to the use of portfolios to keep it simple. You should only use portfolios as part of the overall assessment mix. Set out clear goals and checklists, empower students to actively manage their portfolios, include reflection activities, and you will you have a useful and holistic tool for viewing and sharing student development.

online student portfolios

Using electronic or online student portfolios can incorporate the teaching of ICT skills, and allows parents and children to view portfolios at home.

Article by Kirsten Lopez
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