Progress Monitoring & Student Agency: Best Practices for Using Portfolios in the Classroom

Monday, January 2, 2017 -- Scott Sterling

Student portfolios have become a popular assessment choice among teachers—and with good reason. Portfolios are collections of academic work and evaluations representing a selection of performance. They offer a more holistic view of a student’s progress than many other forms of assessment and can be used to capture more learning modalities. But, as with any strategy, there are ways to maximize the effectiveness of using portfolios.

Capture as much as possible

The beauty of portfolios is that you aren’t limited to only capturing your students’ formal assessments; yet, many teachers limit themselves (and their students) to just that. Any work product can have a place in a portfolio, from the most informal doodle to hard assessment data. If your portfolio system is online (another best practice), even academic work products that aren’t on paper can be captured via photo or video. That means elaborate projects and presentations are fair game.

Use accessible rubrics

Portfolios lose their effectiveness if students can’t decipher their own progress. If they are just relying on number or letter grades, students lose sight of how they have improved and how much learning remains to be done. To avoid this issue, students should have regular, easy access to their portfolio, the grades they have received, and the reasoning for those grades. Every portfolio should contain a copy of any rubrics that are being used throughout the year, and rubrics should be prominently displayed in the classroom as well. They should also use student- and parent-friendly language.

Give students regular opportunities to reflect (and capture those reflections)

Too often, students are asked to collect their work in portfolios but then never take the time to look back at their previous work. Consider including a uniform document that appears throughout the portfolio that asks students to reflect on their progress and their plans for the future. Then, collect those reflections in the portfolio as well! The regularity of these reflections and how often work products are included in the portfolios are up to you, but you can probably have students reflect as often as weekly.

Make sharing a regular practice

Portfolios don’t have to be confidential. Part of the regular practice of reflection can be having students share their work with classmates or other students to receive feedback. The practice of sharing actual grades may be governed by school or district policies, but on an informal level, your students’ peers can be an untapped resource to help students learn new ways to improve their work or find out in what ways they excel. Standard sharing practices apply, including putting an emphasis on positivity.

Looking for additional tips to help your students take ownership over their learning by monitoring their own progress? Check out these five best practices to help students analyze their own data!