The Portfolio Process

Learn how to design and implement a portfolio assessment program for your students.
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Updated on: January 9, 2001
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Most agree that the third step, reflection, is perhaps the most important step in the portfolio process. It is what distinguishes portfolios from mere collections. Reflection is often done in writing but can be done orally as well, particularly with younger children. Students are asked to explain why they chose a particular artifact, how it compares with other artifacts, what particular skills and knowledge were used to produce it, and where he or she can improve as a learner. The importance of this step lies in having the student take an active role in the assessment process. Students can observe more directly the quality of their own achievement and internalize more clearly where improvements are needed.


The last step, connection, has two related facets. The first is a direct result of the reflection process. Upon reflecting on their own achievement and identifying the skills and knowledge they applied in producing the artifacts, students can answer the perennial question for themselves, "Why are we doing this?" They are able to make a more concrete connection between their school work and the value of what it is they're learning. Furthermore, students may come to understand the wider curriculum more deeply. To a teacher's delight or chagrin, depending on the teacher, students may take more active and informed roles in evaluating the effectiveness of the curriculum.

The second facet is about connecting with the world outside the classroom. Many successful portfolio programs have students formally present their portfolio to a panel of peers, teachers, parents, and other community members. In some cases, students are defending their work, much like a graduate student might defend a thesis. In others, students exhibit their portfolios in a more celebratory manner. In either case, the resulting connection between the students and the greater community creates an invaluable celebration of student achievement and a rare dialogue about the quality of learning at the local school.

By Andrew Epstein, Synapse Learning Design

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