Michigan Portfolios

Gathering Portfolios

If you wish to take the first step toward becoming a portfolio assessment teacher or school that step would be gathering and dating student writings.  Student writing must be available at different calendar points for rating and reflection.

For some people this step alone seems like “too much work.”  For people who have done effective portfolio work, however, this steps usually seems like just “smart work.”  Once you are organized, it is very little additional work to have student writing in folders, and, further, it seems essential if you are planning to document growth and also to teach as powerfully as possible—making your diagnostic decisions with utmost information about student work.

When we established our three-year portfolio research project awhile back we studied one group as they went through grades 1-3, another group as they went through grades 6-8, and a third group as they went through grades 10-12.  We found that even first graders could manage their writing folders with ease.  At the beginning of writing workshop one first grader went to the board and put that day’s date on the board.  Several students distributed writing folders to their classmates.  Every writer puts the date at the top of their work for that day—and the session began.

Similarly, in the beginning it seemed to some of us that getting “parent permissions” to make use of student writing in our research might be complicated and difficult.  This turned out to be easy.  By far most parents were actually eager to help the school study their child more closely.  An example of a simple parent permission request letter is included in this “Getting Started” section of the website.

It is helpful if you differentiate between the writing folder and the portfolio.  The writing folder may have all of the student’s work in it.  The portfolio should only have the work in it you need in order to accomplish your assessment purposes.  In our case, three times in the year, Fall, Winter, and Spring, the student and teacher each selected a representative piece from the folder to be placed into the portfolio.  All drafts of the piece were gathered.  If teacher and student selected the same piece, that was fine.  Then, each wrote a reflective statement about why they had selected that piece as a representative piece.  To the teacher the piece would represent where the student was in relation to quality writing at that time.  For the student their piece might represent the piece that was most important to them.

If you wish for parents to see what their child is doing as a writer (a worthy goal), you can copy writings to send home.  Or, better still, you can teach your students how to present their folders and portfolios and have them guide their parents through this work in student-led conferences on parent’s night.

The portfolios may need to exist over time, beyond one year, if you are going to fully utilize them for study.  Whether the portfolios travel on to the next teacher should be something that is decided by the teaching team or building team.  For some teachers it feels cumbersome to receive material like this on every student.  For other teachers this passing forward of the portfolio seems nearly essential to fully understanding the student.  If the portfolio travels forward, there should be a clear and specific purpose for this.  Any work that is not done for a clear and important purpose quickly becomes too much work.