Monday, December 13, 2010

The Weekly Portfolio

I'll admit something. I've never liked the portfolio system of grading. As it was explained to me, and as I've seen it implemented, students gathered their work throughout a grading period. At the end of it, they submitted a portfolio. In better systems, students would sit with teachers and explain each piece that was submitted. The teacher and student would talk about it, like an artist talking about his/her work. It sounds wonderful. In practice though, I never got it.

Two big issues. The first is that it seemed to represent what a student knew, not what they currently know. I'd have issues with someone's best work being done in October. Second, it didn't seem to guarantee any sustained performance. Throw enough crap at the wall, eventually something will stick (this blog is a good example of that).

Toss in the fact that almost nobody has time for the critical interview portion—unless it's a schoolwide thing like a student-led conference—and you have a system that's assessing Young MC on Bust a Move and not the rest of Stone Cold Rhymin'. Or only using Sixth Sense when considering M. Night Shyamalan for a lifetime achievement award for film making.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago I realized that I had been using a portfolio system. It was just weekly.1

I've already mentioned my students keep track of their quiz scores in a folder. In the prongs they keep the tracking sheets and any other thing I need them to keep handy, like their benchmark scores and their periodic table. On the left side pocket they just keep stuff. Usually current quizzes. I don't really look at that side. On the right side they put anything they definitely want me to look at. Usually these are the quizzes, worksheets, or whatever that they think represent their current best efforts.

Additionally, in their science notebooks, they're supposed to put a sticky note if they want to draw my attention to anything they think I should look at. In practice, I've been bad about keeping up with the sticky notes because I suck about going to office depot and they're champs at turning all my post-it notes into flip books. My students are pretty good at drawing my attention though, either by folding a corner or drawing pink glitter hearts that say LOOK HERE.

A more organized version of me would also have them occasionally write justifications for why they want me to look at each piece of work. Maybe that me will arrive next year. As I'm typing this, I'm realizing that simply writing the standard number on anything submitted would be a good start and is so obvious I feel dumb for not thinking about it sooner. Hooray for blogging!

I still look at other things. I think it's important to take a look at the whole game. But the thing that's always appealed to me about the portfolio system is having students self-select what he or she perceives as quality. Developing the skills of self-evaluation is probably the most important thing I want a student to get out of standards-based grading.

1: And by weekly I mean, 3 out of every 5 weeks when none of my children are sick.


  1. I love your perspective and agree with everything you write here, except for one thing... Stone Cold Rhymin' was a phenomenal album! It went WAY deeper than "Bust a Move." How about "Principal's Office," "I Come Off," and "Fastest Rhyme"!??! :)

  2. Regarding your "hooray for blogging comment: yeah, huh? I'm trying to catch up a bit now, and every time I try to write a post I come up with a sensible solution to something I've been struggling with. Why can't I think of it until I try to write about it? Dunno. But yes: hooray for blogging!