Tips and Tools for Student Portfolios

By Lindsey Petlak on March 18, 2015

Spring conferences are just around the corner, and both conference and end-of-year portfolios are a current hot topic. For years I have loved using portfolios as an authentic assessment, but struggled with many facets of the process, including organization, grading, and sharing with parents. This led me on a journey to find digital tools that can create, curate, assess, and share portfolios of student work. Keep reading for free downloads, anecdotal notes, Google forms, and recommendations for possible tech tools to aid you in your pursuit of the perfect portfolio prescription!


PORTFOLIO PROBLEMS:

For over a decade of teaching every grade from kindergarten through fourth, I have always believed in the power of authentic assessment through portfolio collections of a wide variety of work. For just as long, I’ve struggled, stumbled, and fallen short in the process and execution of this endeavor. If you’re like me (please say you are!), then you’ve probably had any number of the following portfolio problems in your attempts to collect and assess authentically:

  • Work collection: Where? How? It’s messy!

  • Variety of student work formats: There are so many to choose from, including paper, digital, projects, observations, live presentations, and more.

  • Management: What are the best ways to track current and overdue work and projects?

  • Grading: How do you display the different methods? Points, percentages, rubrics, Common Core State Standards . . . oh, my!

  • Sharing with parents: Should you send work home or keep at school? In either case it is important to keep a flow of communication.

  • Feedback: You need to determine the need for, as well as the management of, commentary; questions; and suggestions from teachers, students, and parents.

  • Long term documentation: How do we track long-term portfolio submissions, grades, work quality, and improvement?


LOVE — HATE — WISH:

Click below to access the brainstorming document and add your thoughts. Brainstorm individually or with fellow teachers, and then check out the digital solutions below that I’ve explored and found to be helpful!


TRIAL AND ERROR:

I am a problem-solver, especially when I believe in something, and know I have to find my way around obstacles to make my vision become a reality. This is certainly the case in my pursuit of the perfect portfolio tool. Over time, I’ve tried many different methods, apps, and sites. Some didn’t fit my needs so well or work with technology available at my school. Others may not have had everything I needed, but worked nicely in conjunction with other tech tools, such as a simple grade book app, etc. The trick is to keep trying until you find something that works for you.

DIGITAL PORTFOLIO PRESCRIPTIONS:

Use any one resource or combination of tools to curate, assess, communicate, and share student work. Click on the image below to explore the grid of tech tools and find your PORTFOLIO PRESCRIPTION!


NUTS AND BOLTS FROM TRIAL AND ERROR:

As I continue to learn throughout the portfolio process, I’ve gleaned what will hopefully be useful for you. No matter what tech tool you find to be your portfolio prescription, some universal tips, tricks, and techniques should be applicable.

You may already use a paper gradebook, and many of the tech tools listed above include checklists or gradebook-style components. However, if you are still looking for an easy, “live” tool for students to note when they have completed an assignment and/or portfolio submission, feel free to use the spreadsheet below.

Please make a copy of this original document and then populate with your own class and assignment information. Then, as students finish work, they may mark their spot with an “X” or other notation to indicate they have completed the task.


PERFECT PORTFOLIO PIECES:

We’ve added everything under the sun to our ePortfolios, from traditional paper work, to digital 21st century learning products. See students in action collecting, capturing, and sharing work below, and read more about my original portfolio explorations in my previous blog post.

These are a few of my favorite student pieces:

  • Fakebook (digital)

  • Google presentations (digital)

  • Educreations fraction recordings (Read my post on how we produced these amazing student products!) (digital)

  • Close reading articles and reading responses (paper)

  • Figurative language activities (paper)

  • Math student work samples (paper)

  • Group project artifacts

  • Individual and group Google documents otherwise difficult to share in a traditional portfolio

See below for a glimpse of my students in action creating their digital portfolios. Curating these favorite pieces of work is something they enjoy, makes them proud, and gives them ownership over their hard work!


BEYOND CONFERENCES:

With digital portfolios, the possibilities are endless. I’ll be using portfolios during our spring student-led conferences but have goals beyond that for myself:

  • Parent homework: Following conferences, parents will be asked to review their child’s portfolio and add comments to each student entry.
  • Keep adding: Continued addition of teacher-assigned, student-created uploaded portfolio pieces for the remainder of the school year. Parents will review student portfolios and digital feedback at end of year because we do not have May conferences.
  • Constant communication: Since we don’t have end-of-year conferences, I’ll be sending parents notifications throughout the remaining trimester as students upload pieces, as I complete rubrics, and to monitor their child’s progress.
  • Student-generated projects: Now that students are used to the format and process of using OpenSchool, my goal is for them to use the student-generated projects function of this tech tool for self-directed exploration, work production, and evaluation.
  • Ongoing authentic assessment: My goal is to use student portfolio submissions as part of our end-of-year assessment and report card grades using the CCSS-aligned rubrics.

TAKE THE PORTFOLIO PLUNGE:

You’ve seen my students in action, heard my top recommended tech tools, and read my personal goals for portfolios — I hope they have been helpful! Choose at least one of the tech tools to explore and try making a few assignments and submissions by creating a fake portfolio as practice. Hopefully, you will find one that fits your needs and students, so that you may further explore.

Some applications to consider: 

  • Spring conferences
  • Remainder of the school year after conferences
  • Next year

Even if you simply start by using the free, pre-made Google forms I’ve provided, that is a huge step towards a more authentic assessment. Find the portfolio prescription that works for you, then customize to your teaching style, classroom of students, and their needs. The results will make everyone proud!

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