5 Reasons Why You Should Try Portfolios This Year

If you're looking to switch things up this year, consider using student portfolios as a final assessment for your English class. This reflection is by far, one of the most effective assessment tools for both students and teachers. The best part about using portfolios is that you don't have to do any 'real work' until the end of the year. All you need is an area in your classroom to store student work and a file folder for each student in your class to start the process. So, while this is an end-of-the-year assessment, you need to start NOW!

How does it work? 
The collection of student work begins as soon as possible. While I have students put the majority of the work completed in class in their portfolio, not all of it will actually be used during the final assessment. Why? Because (a) I usually select major pieces of work to be included (b) Not all students will actually hand in every piece that's due so this will give everyone a chance to reflect on their growth, even if some of their work is missing.

At the end of the semester/year, students will be given back their portfolios with their work. In addition, they will be given a checklist-style handout of the assessments that will be used, a list reflection prompts for each piece of work and a writing frame, where they will write down their responses. While samples of my handouts have been provided in the post, this assessment can be adapted for any grade and can also be completed digitally, should you choose that method. I'm an old-fashioned pen and paper type of girl, so I am currently using that method! :)

What is a student portfolio?
A portfolio is a collection of a students' work completed over the entire course. While this can definitely be used as a mid-term assessment, I usually complete portfolios at the end of a course. Students reflect on their work and see how their writing has changed making specific reference to the work completed in class.

Portfolios are a great way to measure student growth over a semester or year, as all of a students' work is compiled into their folder and reviewed at the end of the term. Believe it or not, students do enjoy looking back at their work! It's fun for them to see and reflect on what they completed earlier in the year, as well as to show how their writing has progressed, even after a few short months. It usually takes them about 15-20 minutes (at the end of the term) to sort and organize their work before the process can begin. Below, is a snapshot of what my final portfolio assessment looks like. Your outline will, of course, look different, depending on what you studied, but this gives you an idea of what your outline could potentially look like.  For example, the circled areas are the only items that could be used in the final assessment for each outline below. The outline on the left was used for a course that was completed over half of a year, the other in a full-year course (note the increased number of activities completed). As you can see, the majority of the pieces included are from major activities completed, but I have included a few that were from more creative-type activities, as well.

Providing students with an opportunity to self-reflect is a great way to end a semester or year. Portfolios are a great self-reflection tool because this assessment forces them to look back on their work and review what they have/have not improved on, no matter how small. Students will have to thoroughly explain their progress using different criteria, which is the basis for their final grade in a course. I usually aim to include 6-8 writing categories.

Here are some examples of categories I have used as the basis for their reflection:
  • Comprehension: select one piece of work that shows a response to a piece of literature studied in class. (Examples of work that students might include are: a literature circle assessment, a quiz or test on a novel, a literary analysis essay, etc.)
  • Creativity: select one piece of work that you feel best demonstrates your creativity and skill in representing ideas. (Examples of work that students might include are: about-me type activities, visual character analysis posters, student-created videos, etc.)
  • Collaboration: select one piece of work that shows you worked as a pair or within a group, demonstrating your collaboration skills. (Examples of work that students might include are: peer review activities, group projects, etc.)
Using different categories, such as the above examples, will also help to ensure that students have different opportunities over the term to practice and experience various ELA skills, not always focused on reading or writing. Note: Students should use a different piece of assessment for every category so they will have to make their selections wisely.

Another positive aspect of final portfolios is that the portfolio process is also a great opportunity for teachers to reflect on what has been taught over a term. You can evaluate what worked well over a term and what could be improved. I don't know about you, but I always change things up. I do not suggest you re-do an entire unit, but after reading the reflections, you'll have a good idea of what students felt were the most valuable activities; which ones they learned the most from, which ones they enjoyed or did not enjoy, as well as the kinds of activities they wished they could have completed more of. The best part? You will actually have TIME to do this! While students are writing and reflecting, you have the opportunity to sit with students individually for a few minutes each day and get some instant feedback, in addition to reading their written reflections once they have been handed in. Grab this FREE checklist to take your notes!

Note: If you're strapped for time (or overwhelmed with piles of marking), you can definitely have students present their reflections to you in an interview-style method or as a whole-class activity. Students will still go through the written process of reflecting, but instead of you reading through every reflection, you can jot notes while the presentations are being completed.

It is the students' responsibility to put their graded work into their individual portfolios. Without this work, students will not be able to reflect on their growth. Therefore, portfolios help to hold students accountable and teach them the skill (and importance) of being organized. I bought some dish tubs at a local dollar store and that's all I use to store the portfolios. I keep store them on top of a tall shelf so that they are not easily accessed. Saying that, students definitely ask to refer to past work examples (especially essays), and they are welcome and encouraged to do so, they just have to make sure the portfolio is put back after they are done! So, while you're prepping for your back to school classes, stock up on filing folders and some sort of container (if you don't have space in your filing cabinet). That's all you'll need to get started!
Tip: After grading the portfolios and with permission, make copies of student work as exemplars for future classes! This is one of the most effective ways to show students what exactly is expected. You can use work that has been done very well, as well as work that needed improvement. This way, expectations are clear and there will no excuses.

Portfolios are a great way to keep your courses on track so that you can meet the targets and expectations that were set out during the first few days of a new course. I provide my students with a course anticipation guide, in addition to the course outline, within the first few days of a new class. Grab a FREE version, (generic for English class) HERE! Once we have reviewed the course outline, this anticipation guide not only provides instant feedback about a students' abilities, interests, and educational background, this form will also be used again at the end of the semester so that students can evaluate if their knowledge has changed and to what capacity.

Check out these other resources that coincide with portfolios:
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