Learning Through Portfolios
by Gayle Britt
“Studying one’s own learning …
can be a powerful method of enhancing learning.”
— Seymour Papert
Using portfolios for authentic assessment has
been around for many years. For me, recognition of the true potential
for learning came four years ago when I had to submit a portfolio
of my teaching to achieve National Board certification. Requiring
me to examine my own teaching and submit evidence of having met
national teaching standards was one of the most effective professional
development experiences I had ever engaged in.
I determined that my seventh-graders would gain
as much as I had by going through the same type of experience. In
the end, the eportfolio as a digital collection of work that demonstrates
achievement toward the standards would be an evaluation instrument,
but the process would require students to organize information,
practice metacognition, make complex inquiries and look at content
in depth. Students would also demonstrate their ability to compare
and analyze their work against standards and goals. They would need
to demonstrate a sense of audience and communicate both orally and
in writing. Finally, they would demonstrate technology skills and
a sense of graphic design.
I patterned the portfolios after what I was required
to do for the National Board. For each piece of evidence, students
must describe the assignment, analyze what they have learned, and
reflect on what they will do to improve. Because the portfolios
are digital, the students are able to include videos of oral presentations
and multimedia projects. In addition, students present their eportfolios
to their parents at Open House in May.
Reflection requires introspection, but by having
an audience, the eportfolios also provide a forum for dialogue and
more learning. In addition to the gains students make by doing the
eportfolios, there is also an important benefit for the teacher.
The students reveal their learning or lack thereof, and the teacher
can make adjustments in instruction.
Though I do not have my students compile their
eportfolios until April, I have a plan in place in September. I
teach a seventh-grade social studies/language arts integrated core.
After looking at my goals for the year, I determine eportfolio content
allowing student choices: the students choose three pieces of writing
from the beginning, middle and end of the year; three pages from
the student side of the interactive notebook from different units,
one piece of artwork related to a social studies topic, two multimedia
projects, two oral presentations (mock trials, Socratic seminars,
etc.). I also added a “habits of work” and “habits
of mind” requirement this year.
Students at my school all have storage accounts
on the school server, so I make sure they create folders to store
their work. For each major assignment, the students use rubrics
and reflection guides to evaluate their work. These I store in a
file cabinet. I keep a ready-to-roll digital video camera in my
classroom. The use of iMovie has made it quick and easy to give
each student a short excerpt of his or her Socratic seminar discussion
or part in a mock trial. When we do Socratic seminars, I use video
for students to evaluate their discussions. Again they turn in their
reflections and I keep those in the file while they store a 15-second
segment of their performance in their server folders. By requiring
students to include two oral presentations, I hope that the one
later in the year shows the improvements they mentioned when they
self-evaluated the earlier assignment.
In addition to social studies and language arts
goals, I also want my students to become lifelong learners and understand
and take responsibility for their own learning. Seventh-graders
often don’t realize how important habits of work (punctuality,
organization, focus, cooperation, metacognition and revision) are
to success in school.
I decided that including a reflection on habits
of work would raise self-esteem because the students who were struggling
in my classroom were not incapable, but often were simply disorganized
or didn’t turn work in on time. This also gave them a chance
to set some goals for eighth grade. For habits of mind (viewpoint,
evidence, supposition, connections and relevance), the students
wrote a response demonstrating understanding and then linked each
habit to one of their portfolio entries as evidence of having practiced
When students begin compiling their eportfolios,
they have to choose which pieces of work to include. I am very protective
of instructional time and do not want students to spend long periods
of class time scanning. Sometimes I do the scanning after school
or have my student aide do all the scanning for us.
I have also found that planning and storyboarding
before going to the computer lab is good time management. I have
made up checklists and forms asking students to state their choice
of work, describe the assignment, analyze what they learned and
reflect on what they would do to improve it. These rough drafts
give me the chance to review student entries and ask them questions
to guide them. I require an annotated table of contents, which helps
students get organized. After the students have created a few slides
on the computer, I have them get their favorite up on the screen.
Then everyone stands up and we rotate around the room looking at
the different layouts. Periodically I also ask someone to show his
or hers to the whole group. Students will ask each other how to
achieve certain effects on the computer.
The final student entry is a reflection on the
eportfolio assignment. At Open House, the students show their parents,
who write a response on a slide. Each student then goes home with
a CD of his or her seventh-grade year.
Gayle Britt, a seventh-grade social studies/humanities
teacher, won the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship at the Fall 2002 CUE Conference.
For the assignment the first year I did eportfolios, see: http://challenge.central.sancarlos.k12.ca.us/gbritt/eportfolio.html.
For the following year see: www.gbritt.net/portfoliodata.html.
We use HyperStudio as presentation software. Other software, such
as PowerPoint, eZedia MX, MovieWorks, etc., would work as well.
A scanner is needed for notebook pages, and sometimes a digital
camera is needed to take pictures of art projects or large project
Excerpts From Final E-portfolio Reflections
“I learned so much more about the projects and assignments
we did this year than I already knew. Looking over them, I figured
out different aspects of them that I had never thought of before.
I also learned a great deal about this program. Finally, I learned
…habits of mind and the habits of work.”
“This project was so much fun. I learned the stuff all over
again because we had to go through everything that we did from the
beginning of the year.”
“This portfolio gave me a chance to see how I have improved
over the year, and let me tell you, boy did I improve this year.”
“The eportfolio was a fun project that helped me realize
what I need to do to improve in my work. … This project was
very fun and helped me a lot. If I did my eportfolio again, I would
take more time, think more about, and elaborate more on my assignments.”
“I would repeat this grade again just to do this assignment
again. This was probably my favorite assignment!”
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