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Preparing Intermediate Student Portfolios Julie Dermody

The use of portfolios has grown tremendously over the past ten years and for good reason. Portfolios are an excellent means of demonstrating student growth. At times, items from individual student portfolios may be submitted as alternative assessments for proficiency requirements.

Portfolios vary according to their purpose. Some school systems require portfolios (especially in the area of writing) and are very clear in the expected content. Some teachers include student projects, videotapes, computer disks, and cassette tapes of students reading in their student portfolios. Other teachers are computerizing their students' entire portfolios. Some teachers return student portfolios at the end of the school year, others pass them onto next year's teacher, thereby allowing student portfolios to continue over several years.

The time to consider using portfolios is before school starts. First ask if your school requires portfolios and if so, obtain a list of expected content. If portfolios are not required, decide what your purpose for using portfolios would be. For example if you are interested in documenting writing growth within portfolios, it will not be necessary to put science papers and other subject materials into the portfolios (unless they demonstrate writing growth).

Once you decide on purpose, the next question is how and where to store the material. Options include: three-ring binders, hanging files, folders, new pizza boxes, and even shoe boxes (though it is best to have papers fit flat within the portfolios). I used legal-sized hanging files this year and it worked well. The students could easily access their portfolios and they were large enough to accommodate large or oddly shaped items.

Selecting pieces for inclusion within the portfolio can be the choice of the teacher, student, or both. I tend to select the initial pieces to include in student's portfolios and allow the students to select the final year-end pieces. I find it is best not to send the papers to be included in the portfolio home first because the return rate is most often not 100%. Instead, I invite parents to come and look at their child's portfolios at any time and, for very special pieces, I have sent home copies of a specific assignment. I also review the contents of the portfolio at parent-teacher conferences.

I have my students select the final pieces for their portfolios. They design a cover and create a dedication page as well as a table of contents. I find at this age, it is often difficult for the student to describe in detail why he/she selected an individual piece to include within the portfolio (too often their reason is simply "I got a good grade on it," or "I liked it"). I found it works better to have the students assess their overall growth as they look at their pieces chronologically. (The students stamp the date on each item before they place it into their portfolio.)

Within their overall written assessment piece, I require details and specific examples that illustrate what type of growth they are identifying. Often the students want to rewrite a piece they wrote earlier in the year before placing it into their portfolio. I encourage these revisions and ask them to analyze what specific changes they are making so they can include this information in their final evaluation. This year I laminated their portfolio covers and used our school's bookmaker to create their final portfolios.



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