How To Use Portfolios

Different types of portfolios serve different purposes. Common types of portfolios include:

Did You Know?

Working folders are not the same thing as portfolios. They are a simply a place to store a student’s work.

  • Achievement—a collection of representative work samples that demonstrates how a student is performing at a given point in time
  • Growth—a collection of items from before, during, and after learning to show progress across time
  • Project (or process)—a collection of artifacts that documents the process used or the steps taken to complete a project
  • Competence—a collection of items that documents the highest level of achievement in a given area
  • Celebration (or showcase)—a collection of items that the student is proud of

First, the teacher needs to identify the type of portfolio that would best evaluate the student’s performance. Next, to use the portfolio effectively, the teacher needs to address the factors in the table below.

Learning objectives
  • Define the learning goal(s) or objective(s) that the portfolio will address, or, in the case of project portfolios, the stages of the process.
  • Clearly state the learning goals(s) or objectives(s) using language that students and parents can easily understand.
Inclusion criteria
  • Specify the types of artifacts that should be included (this may vary by the type of portfolio).
  • Decide who will select the artifacts for inclusion (i.e., student, teacher, both).
  • Indicate the number of artifacts to include.
Self-reflection
  • Include an annotation (or comment) for each item selected for the portfolio. The portfolio creator can write down things such as the learning goal or objective that is being addressed, why he or she chose the item, something that was learned, or what he or she needs to improve.
  • Require students to review the items in their portfolio as a whole and write down things such as what they have and have not learned, how much they have improved, what did and did not work, and what they need to work on in the future.
Communicating
  • Determine who the audience will be (e.g., teacher, parents, other students).
  • Discuss the contents of the portfolio when conferencing with a student.
  • Consider sending the portfolios (perhaps with the exception of project folders) home each grading period to share with the parents.
Organization
  • Identify artifacts the students can include. Work samples may include hard copies, electronic copies, audio recordings, videos, and photographs of projects that cannot be stored in a portfolio.
  • Determine how to organize the artifacts. These items may be housed in folders, binders, notebooks, etc.
  • Determine how and where to store the students’ portfolios so that they are easily accessible by the students. These may be stored in file drawers, crates, boxes, etc.
  • Provide time for students to select artifacts and write annotations and self-reflections.

Teachers can examine the portfolios to evaluate student performance, but how they conduct that evaluation depends on the type of portfolio. The graphic below suggests some evaluation guidelines for each type.

Growth
Achievement
Competence
  • Evaluate artifacts prior to or during the selection process.
  • Examine the annotations students write for each item and their self-reflections for the overall portfolio.
Project
  • Evaluate the final project.
  • Use the annotations and self-reflections as an assessment.
Celebration
  • Evaluate annotations and self-reflections only.

In the example below, a twelfth-grade English teacher has assigned a project portfolio so that she can evaluate whether the students have mastered the process of writing a research paper. The teacher asks that the students include a number of items to demonstrate that they understand the steps required to write a term paper (e.g., list of sources, outline, first draft, edited version). For each artifact, the students must include an annotation. Additionally, when students turn in their final term paper, they will include a self-reflection describing what skills they have developed during the process.

teacher at desk

A graphic represents the English portfolio belonging to a twelfth-grade student named Jalen D. Inside the portfolio are a number of pages. One is labeled “Edited,” another “First Draft,” and a third “Outline.”

Jalen D. has also written an annotation for his term paper outline. His annotation reads as follows:

Annotation: Outline for Term Paper

Name: Jalen Date: February 17, XXXX

Having to create this outline helped me to organize my thoughts. It also made me realize that I needed to add a section.

Jalen D.

Finally, Jalen D. has written a self-reflection to sum up the experience of writing his term paper. His self-reflection reads as follows:

Self-Reflection: Term Paper

Name: Jalen Date: February 17, XXXX

While writing this term paper, I learned how to research a topic and verify my information. I also learned how to evaluate whether a source is credible. Additionally, I learned how valuable it is to first create an outline to organize my thoughts.

Jalen D.

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