The Problemn With Student Portfolios
Here is the problem with student portfolios:
Most of the time, students and teachers hate them. Teacher pretend like they don’t, but they fake it very badly, the whole process gets rushed, then executed at the last minute, leading students to hate it equally, because it is obvious the process is ridiculous and inauthentic and a colossal waste of time.
Phew. I’m glad I got that off my chest.
But that’s not even the real problem with portfolios. The real problem with portfolios is that they could be amazing, outstanding, and brilliant learning experiences and often they don’t reach their potential in the classroom. Portfolios, I think, are one the most misunderstood members of our educational landscape (standing somewhere awkwardly in the corner next to graphic novels probably…but that’s another post) and I want to do something to change that.
Maybe you’ve read already that I’m embarking on a year long exploration of growth mindset in my classroom. It has been harder than I thought it would be to find ways to embed this philosophy in my teaching (leveraging 21st Century tools to make this happen) and I’m humbled by the posts of fellow teachers out there that Garth pointed out to me that are struggling with the same challenges. My hunch is that infusing the portfolio process with a growth mindset philosophy, students can better reflect on their setbacks, actually learning that challenges are essential to achieving their goals.
This is where we stand right now with portfolios in Grade 7:
- Students have chosen 2-3 artifacts that they feel show either a growth, a challenge, or a success. See one example here.
- We will likely use Blogger as a platform to house these artifacts and help students curate the story of their learning this year (see the chart that explains this decision making process).
- Students have shared some artifacts with their parents during the conferences (I also want students to have the power to choose what they show their parents and what they don’t show their parents to make their writing more honest and vulnerable).
And this is how I’m hoping to remix portfolios:
- The instruction of portfolios happens in tandem with instruction on growth mindset. Students have to be taught how they learn and grow. By doing so, I hope to help students “buy in” to the portfolio process and see the merits in this kind of learning.
- We set monthly “portfolio parties” in class: we watch some YouTube growth mindset videos, we chose current artifacts, we write about our learning / progress towards goals, we celebrate each other’s successes and learn from our shared challenges.
- We use the power of Google tools (YouTube, Docs, Blogger, Kaizena) to get students to write and reflect about their learning in multiple modalities.
- Students can curate their work: the final conferences are student led. Students can chose who they invite to view / celebrate their work (in addition to having their parents / guardians present).
- Students see their own teacher actively engaged in the process of “documenting” work: therefore this blog needs to be shared with them!
I want to know the good, the bad, and portfolio horror stories from your own practices. What has worked well for you / your students? What will you never do again? Let’s share and learn from our missteps and failures together!