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The Student Portfolio: How to Use This Powerful Tool in Your Classroom

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Photo of Jeanne Sager
Updated | 5 min read

Student portfolios are a bona fide assessment tool with countless other uses in the classroom. From tracking development for students in special education  to providing parents a more transparent look at their child’s accomplishments to helping students become more self-directed learners, student portfolios could be your new secret weapon.

Studies have even shown employing the student portfolio in the classroom can help you spot learning gaps so you can address them and course-correct your teaching methods along the way to meet your students where they are at. Sounds like a pretty big win, huh?

Equally important, when kids create their own portfolios or play a role in creating them, they get to play a more active role in how their learning journey is reflected. Think of it this way — you put together everything that goes into a report card from recording grades to the comments. But students who get to put together a portfolio of their work are able to tell their own story about how they learn!

Let’s dive into the who, the what, and most importantly the “how” of using this piece of your teacher toolkit in the classroom.

What Is a Student Portfolio?

OK, let’s start at the beginning. The student portfolio has been around since the 1980s as a tool for teachers, and because its usage is so varied, you’ll find that there are a lot of different options for how to put one together, and even who does the creation. What is included in a student portfolio will differ from school to school and teacher to teacher, and most importantly is dependent on the goal of the creator.

In general, portfolios can be used for any of the following:

  • Student assessment
  • Displaying learning processes
  • Showcasing a student’s best work

That means a portfolio could include anything from samples of writing the child has done, tests the student has completed, pictures of the child in the classroom, notes from a teacher about things the child has said or accomplished, self-assessments by a student, and more.

While some teachers prefer a student portfolio that is all kept together in a physical binder, more and more are moving to a digital portfolio set-up which is easier to share with parents or even handed over to the next year’s teacher.

Student Portfolio Examples

A Learning Display

When the goal of a student portfolio is to display the learning process for a specific unit of study or across a specific period of time, putting the student in charge of creating the portfolio is a great means to ensure they have buy-in on the process.

Before assigning a student portfolio:

  • Explain the goals of the portfolio
  • Explain how it will be graded
  • Supply a checklist of items that you will be looking for when the portfolio is handed in

By putting the portfolio in your students’ hands to create, you give them a chance to reflect on the learning process and make important choices about what they feel best represents the journey they’ve been on. A science class student portfolio, for example, might include a student’s research notes done prior to an experiment, their experiment report, follow-up charts that show data from the experiment, and finally conclusions they drew — truly showcasing the learning process.

One of the benefits of using student portfolios is the opportunity for self-reflection. With this in mind, be sure not to end the project with the portfolio itself but assign a self-assessment, challenging students to explain why they chose the items they did or to reflect on a particular challenge they overcame during the unit of study.

These portfolios become great assessment tools for you as a teacher as you’re able to evaluate not just each individual piece of work but assess a student’s holistic learning journey. As a bonus, students can bring their portfolios home to show off to their parents just how much they’ve learned and all their successes during the school year or unit.

Teach Starter Teacher Tip: Make creating a student portfolio more fun by allowing students to use digital tools like Google Slides, KudosWall, or FlipGrid (they’re all free!).  

Best Work Showcase

Students may also create portfolios to compile their best work from a unit or period of time, again allowing them to reflect on the time they’ve spent learning a particular topic and choosing the items they think best showcase how they’ve put that knowledge to good use.

For example, an English language arts student portfolio may include a selection of a student’s favorite writing samples throughout the year, showing off how they developed as a non-fiction writer and a poet both.

This kind of portfolio is typically more about the portfolio as a product rather than a method for assessing learning, but it has its own place in the classroom. Students track their own growth and share their accomplishments with family and peers.

Special Education

One of the many uses for a student portfolio comes in special education, where they can be used to design accommodations and modifications to go alongside a child’s IEP. By tracking student growth and development and identifying specific strengths and weaknesses, a well-maintained portfolio can serve as a comprehensive representation of a students’ abilities at any given time.

Once again, it’s important to put students in the driver’s seat whenever possible, allowing them to gather the work they think best encompasses their learning journey and to reflect on their progress. Students can write journal entries, fill out self-assessments, or fill in learning logs to be included in their student portfolio. You may also want to include your own notes taken while working with or observing the student, checklists of skills they’ve become adept at, and even videos that record student progress.

One final word: A student portfolio is a powerful tool for teachers, but it’s a tool for you to use the way you see fit. Follow these suggestions, or make up some of your own. Don’t be afraid to unleash those teaching superpowers!

Get more assessment tools curated by our expert teacher team!

 

Banner image via shutterstock/unguryanu

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