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Best Practices for Student Portfolios

EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.

The following excerpt comes from What Do I Do About the Kid Who…? 50 Ways to Turn Teaching Into Learning, by Kathleen Gould Lundy (Stenhouse Publishers, 2004). The book retails for $22 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

Be sure to read two other excerpts from this book: Sure-Fire Student Engagement Techniques and Establishing a Positive Classroom Climate.

Portfolios are a great assessment tool because they help students self-reflect and observe their own progress. This excerpt explains what portfolios are, discusses how to use them in assessment and evaluation, and offers a checklist for building student portfolios.

What is a Portfolio?

Portfolios are collections of work that students have done and are doing. They showcase a range of work that is in progress, finished, or has the feel of being finished. They can encompass work that students feel demonstrate tangible evidence of accomplishment as well as work that the students want to return to at a later date when they have more time, skill, and knowledge. Serving as both an assessment and evaluation tool, they can be used by teachers and students to illuminate students’ strengths and give information and guidance to both students and teacher in terms of their needs, progress, and accomplishments. As they create portfolios, students learn about their own learning and become more reflective and self-aware of what they are doing when they are doing schoolwork. They see where they began and where they are at the present. They become aware of the improvements they have made.

Portfolios allow students to feel ownership. Students can see their work not as a series of assignments that need to be handed in and marked, but as a process that is engaging, informative, thoughtful, negotiable, and self-affirming for all.

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

Portfolios as an Assessment Tool

Portfolios give students and teacher a series of “snapshots” about learning. Students choose the items to be included in their portfolios and then offer information about their choices, perhaps in the context of student-teacher conferencing. When students confer with teachers and others about the range and quality of work in their portfolios, they can look critically at what they have included, analyze the offerings, and then set new goals for their learning. On the other hand, you can use portfolios to examine the effort that the students are expending, to make plans for improvement or change of direction, to look at the process in use and find other strategies that might be more useful and effective, and to make judgments about student achievement.

Be sure to provide guidance and time for students to compare and select pieces for their portfolios. Spend time with the whole class, teaching them about what to include and how to showcase it, and write all of the ideas generated on chart paper so students can refer to them when they set out to pull their portfolios together.

Contents of the Portfolio

What should be included in a portfolio? The items can be as varied as the curriculum and as the students who are creating the portfolios. It is important that the list of items not become prescriptive. Everyone should be open to new, fresh ideas. Following are lists that I give my students to guide them in this task.

You will want to custom-design your portfolio to reflect the ways that you are learning. Your portfolio will develop out of the work that you do on projects, in class, on field trips, and in other activities throughout the year.

Any of the following kinds of items may be included in your portfolio:

  • Sketches
  • Journal entries
  • Personal narratives
  • Diagrams
  • Poetry
  • Questions
  • Lists of topics
  • Self-assessments
  • Factual information about what you are studying
  • First drafts and revisions
  • Notes about your reading, thinking, and imaginings
  • Ideas
  • Reading responses
  • Audiotaped readings
  • Roles on the wall
  • Agendas
  • Timelines
  • Memories
  • Dreams
  • Maps
  • Reading logs
  • Writing in role exercises
  • Personal anecdotes
  • Stories
  • Photographs
  • Reports
  • Letters
  • Documents
  • Quotes from your reading
  • Video clips
  • Tests
  • Comments from friends and teachers
  • Goals

Depending on the nature of your portfolio’s contents, you might showcase the material in a folder, on computer along with with a user guide, on a video, or in other ways that you can devise.

Checklist for Building a Portfolio

When it comes time to develop your portfolio, be sure to do the following:

  • Collect all of your work.
  • Look at the variety.
  • Note strengths and areas that need improvement.
  • See the effort that you have expended.
  • Assess each piece and think about why you might want to include it in your portfolio.
  • Use stickies to make comments about the work.
  • Talk to others—teacher, parent, friend, classmate, older student—about your portfolio and listen to their suggestions.
  • Revise your portfolio with these questions in mind:
  • Does my portfolio show a variety of work?
  • Does it give a snapshot of how I have improved?
  • Does it indicate what I have been thinking about? responding to?
  • Does it give me and others an idea of where I have come from and where I would like to go?
  • Does it represent who I am as a learner?
  • Remember to date all your work.
  • Revise your goals.
  • “Own” your work and be proud of how special you are.
  • Be aware of how much you have learned!


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