Simon Adams, Regional Director for Teach In – specialists in matching school staffing needs with the best available teachers and teaching assistants using creative recruitment solutions – gives his thoughts on using student portfolios as a method of assessment…
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 include:
They are tied to a learning goal
Teachers must 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 distribute 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, as a useful guide on the type of work to include. 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 shows they have reached their learning goals, helping 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, regardless of the quality of work. This helps to support the ethos that the classroom is a safe environment in which children can 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 of their journey to the learning goal. Ask students to explain, for example, why a particular document is included as proof of their learning and progress. Suggest they reflect on specific pieces and explain how or 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 care givers
The availability of portfolios for viewing by parents or care givers makes them a particularly useful way to involve parents in their child’s learning. When parents can view work samples and the 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 from a test score or report card. Parents 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 enables working parents to access the portfolio from home.
They can be used flexibly
Often portfolios are used as part of a long term-project, typically completed over a term or year, to demonstrate progress and allow students to refine skills over an extended time period. However, they can also be used for smaller projects. Students can create portfolios for a particular unit or topic to demonstrate a more specific learning outcome. Using portfolios for a shorter time period also allows you to use a wider variety of assessment methods throughout the year.
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, continuing to assess using more common methods such as presentations or formal testing, leading to a more inclusive approach to assessment design. 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.
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