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It’s nearing the end of term 3 here and I have a little time for reflection.  As a part of their final exam, students are working on their digital portfolio for my class. As I reevaluate everything that I am doing,  I am struggling with the “why” and “so what of ” of the portfolios.  So it’s time to revisit the why of the portfolio in my class and let that inform what the function of it in my course.

Currently in my class, the portfolio has become a vehicle for students to catalog and present summative assessments.  Each page is categorized by objective. On a given page, students state the unit objectives and embed their summative assessment.  In addition, they provide reflective feedback on the unit in terms of what helped their learning and didn't help their learning.  

The portfolio has become a place for these student artifacts to be curated and organized based on learning objective. The fact that it’s organized by learning objective prescribes the artifact that needs to be on that page.  I want to find a way to break that and require students to think a bit more about what they are choosing to include. That means a new form of organization.

With the increased use of Canvas LMS as a way to submit and provide feedback on unit assessments, the portfolio is becoming redundant as a way of presenting me with assessments. It’s easier for me to provide a workflow for document feedback, revision, and resubmission directly from Canvas rather than through the framework of the portfolio. 

I've looked at how some other districts are using portfolios as place for students  to collect their best artifacts from across their courses.  A recent episode of the Teachercast Podcast led me to some great examples.

 These portfolios travel with the student throughout their high school career.  For each artifact, students enter the name of the project, the course it was from, the tools used and a reflection.  So, rather than the teacher dictating what artifacts should be in the student portfolio, the student presents what they are most proud of.   

So why do I want students to create a portfolio for my classroom?

I would like the purpose of the portfolio is to communicate mastery of non-content knowledge and skills to a public audience.  Ok, I may be ready to actually hedge on that because I could include content skills as well. Since these skills are applied across multiple activities, students would need to choose one that best represented their ability to for example “I can perform data analysis and evaluation of evidence.”
So if I’m not necessarily going to be looking at content objectives in the portfolio, it makes more sense to look at something outside of content skills.  So,we could frame these in terms of success skills (a.k.a. 21st Century Skills). I consistently go back to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework for a nice list of skills that are not content specific. Rather than having students address all of these, I could ask students to present on one from each strand.

So the why of the portfolio is to present evidence of learning that is not associated with content skills or knowledge. But, should I just leave it there? I would love students to also address their personal learning preferences.  Not only at the start of the course, but reflect on them over time.  I want them to look at their preferences through a growth mindset. 

As far as audience goes, I think that it would be nice to have them designed for a public audience.  As they stand now, the documentation is simply a conversation between the student and myself.  It assumes a lot of information and is essentially inaccessible (in terms of comprehension and organization) to anyone outside of our physics classroom. In this sense, I think the portfolio has failed in that it is no longer designed for a public audience.  It was always my hope that my students could add the link to this portfolio as a part of any application as an example of the type of work they are capable of.  But, in it’s current form it would not provide that function. In its initial iterations, I think it did provide that function. It has since mutated into a different beast that really has no place outside of the walls of my classroom.  I don’t want to slay it. So, the beast must be transformed. 

Where I stand right now heading into term 4 for my student portfolios?

  1. Pages will be based on specific content/success skills.  Still not sure how many or how much choice I will allow.  I’ll get back to this.
  2. Students will be asked to choose an artifact which addresses that skill and explain how it addresses the specific skill.
  3. Students will choose a growth goal related to their personal learning preferences to track for term 4.
  4. Students will create this with a voice that is directed for a public audience.  I want to include a plan that requires students to share this portfolio with others.  I’ll have to think about the best way to do this one.

I think this ties in nicely with the fact that we will have time after the AP test to focus on activities that would address a wide variety of success skills.  Also, there will be time to get feedback and revise the term 4 portfolio components as we go.

In our district we currently have no portfolio that would travel with the student from year to year. So although I may want my portfolio to end up being this large document reflecting large scale growth over time, it will never be that.  So in terms of a time frame, I’m looking at something smaller in scale. If I do a better job giving meaning to the portfolio process, perhaps it could span outside of my classroom.

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