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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Math

Creating Math Portfolios
Sarah Picard

Many teachers in the early childhood grades struggle to quantify all that a child has learned mathematically in a year. Portfolios are one way to show student progress from month to month and unit to unit. They are also often used as a tool to communicate with parents and other staff members. But how do you set up and maintain portfolios? How do use them as a tool to communicate with your fellow teachers, your students, and their parents?

Setting up a System
Setting up portfolios can seem like a large task, but if teachers set up a structure with their children, it can feel like just another part of your classroom routine.

At the beginning of the year, set up a large file folder or envelope with each child’s name. Keep the folders or envelopes in a place that is accessible to you and your students. Keep the files or envelopes in an order (alphabetical, by table number or color). You can contain the files in a hanging file folder or a large plastic stage bin.

What goes in the folders?
Teachers and students will contribute to the portfolio. A few times each year, students can write about themselves as mathematicians (See Teaching Our Youngest Mathematicians to Think About Their Thinking). These interviews will be a valuable assessment tool, providing insight into what the students know about themselves as mathematicians.

Most importantly, teachers and students will want to save pieces of work (project drafts, sample word problems, formal assessments) that represent a child’s progress. It works best to save a piece of work from the first week of a unit of study and a piece of work from the final week in the unit. These pieces usually show growth over time, and/or places where the student has struggled. Set aside time at the end of a unit of study to look through pieces of work and select pieces to save in the portfolio. Students and teachers can work together on the selection process.

Students should be reminded to look for pieces where they:

  1. did their best thinking
  2. tried a new strategy to solve a problem
  3. ran into a tricky part, or
  4. worked their way through a tricky part.

Some teachers create little slips of paper that can be attached to a piece of work so the reader will know why the piece is in the portfolio.

I chose this piece for my portfolio because it shows a time when I did my best thinking. I chose this piece for my portfolio because it shows a time when I tried a new strategy to solve the problem.
I chose this piece for my portfolio because it shows a time when I ran into a tricky part. I chose this piece for my portfolio because it shows a time when I tried hard to work my way through a tricky part.

Using the Portfolios
The portfolios will provide clear evidence of a child’s thinking. As the school year continues and units of study are completed, the collection of work samples with the students’ notes attached will show what is still difficult for the student and how much the student has progressed.

Many teachers use the portfolios to explain student progress to parents at conferences. The actual samples of work can point to places where students will need continued support and pinpoint the places where students may need intervention. The portfolios can also be a useful tool for support staff at a school. The authentic assessments can provide information to all adults that work with a student to provide support. They can open the portfolio and begin to understand the mathematical thinking the child has mastered and the areas that require practice. Instead of colleagues explaining a child’s progress in broad terms, teachers will now be able to plan for instruction that meets the unique needs of the learner. And that’s no small thing.

 

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