Michigan Portfolios

About the Project

Purpose

This site is intended as a guide to those involved in, or who would like to get started with, portfolio assessment of student writing K-12.  It is also intended as a resource site, with examples of rubrics and portfolio systems that are already in use at the national, state, district, and classroom levels.  Over time, the student and teacher work that can be viewed on this site will be revised and added to significantly.  We want you to have access to many of the good rubrics and systems that are out there.  We have everything from materials being used by the state to materials being used by a specific district.

One of the highlights of this early version of the site is a pretty full display of the work being done by Adrian Public Schools K-4.  We also have examples of work at the middle and high school level, just not as much of a district system as Adrian has in place for the early grades.  We also offer a “How to . . .” section that is all about how to begin to gather student work and reflect on it, how to take the first steps toward utilizing rubrics available here, and also how to build rubrics of your own that represent your values and goals for student writing.

In short, this site hopes to offer:

  1. Guidance for effective teaching practice as well as for powerful portfolio assessment,
  2. Resources for getting started and for developing your own assessments—and a bridge to rich resources in Michigan and around the world,  and
  3. A Reflective Communication forum where students, teachers, and administrators comment on their portfolio work, and where you can comment too.

As you may know, there are many sights more or less about this subject.  We hope ours is distinctive in that it offers ready access to several systems you might wish to borrow from, perhaps immediately, and it intends to be a very practical guide.  We will keep this complicated work as simple as possible, so that it is and remains quite accessible both to experts and to beginners in portfolio writing assessment.

Why “Portfolio” Assessment?

“Portfolio,” of course, is just a fancy name for writing gathered in folders and dated so as to provide ongoing access to that writing.  Some people have a favorable immediate response to the idea of portfolio work, and others do not.  Ten or fifteen years ago portfolio writing assessment was “big” nationally—popular, that is.  Then it went somewhat out of favor, and now it seems to be making a comeback—the National Writing Project is interested in it, and so are many other organizations and people.

It was always a very good idea, but then quite a few reductive and even maybe abusive practices occurred under the name of portfolios, and many soured on their use.  Sometimes, for example, teachers were required to keep portfolios for no clear purpose, and then the portfolios were not made use of.  For a while, when I visited schools, I talked about “meaningful collections of student work,” and didn’t mention the name “portfolios.”  Of course, that’s what a portfolio is—a meaningful collection of student work.  And, that was what was wrong with a fair amount of portfolio practice—it was not purpose-based, and so it wasn’t meaningful—or worth the time and trouble.

There are three important reasons to gather student writing portfolios:

  1. To SHOWCASE the student’s best work, perhaps varied genres and types of best work, so that you and the student can clearly see what has been achieved
  2. To  DOCUMENT GROWTH OVER TIME—the early work shows where the student was as a writer, the later work shows where the student is now—much more clearly and specifically than any other assessment method, and 3. to encourage and GUIDE STUDENT AND TEACHER REFLECTION on the writing—it is very difficult to reflect analytically on something that has been sent home or has disappeared, and it is easy and potentially very productive to reflect on and plan from work that is before you.

These purposes are so important and so powerful that those who come to utilize portfolios for these purposes usually see them not as an “extra” but as essential to effective teaching practice.

Basic Beliefs

We have two basic beliefs about this portfolio work.  First, as educators we want portfolios to show how well we are doing (ideally), so it is important to companion portfolio collections with as high-powered writing workshop practice as we can muster—so, this site is partly about that, too, how to work toward the best possible teaching practice.

And, second, we need for this portfolio work to be something that as teachers/educators we can to some extent come and go from because we are already busy full-time on a daily basis.  One great thing about portfolio work is that, if student writing is dated and stored in the room in folders, these folders can be mostly ignored on a daily basis and turned to for reflective and rating purposes at special points.

How This Site Works

Simply, we have two broad arcs of connections presented on this web site.  There is the “people and communications” side—where you can see who is connected to this site, join us if you wish, and trace out “bridge” connections to other Nings and so forth.  Then there is the “work” side, as we call it, where you can explore, sample, borrow, and build upon rubrics, see student work, and get guidance for how to do this type of portfolio assessment at your school and in your classroom.  As we’ve said, we think portfolio work needs to be highly purposeful work—so, you’ll see quite a bit about guidelines for effective teaching practice and effective assessment practice both.