Looking into the Mirror: Helping students speak more reflectively about their work during portfolio presentations
Why self-reflection and portfolios?
"The missing link in developing self-confidence and taking responsibility for their own learning lies with the students. They need to begin to take a more active role in reflecting and evaluating their learning by themselves. One way they can begin to do this is through portfolios." (Silvers)
"When students take an increased responsibility for evaluating their own work, they begin to internalize instructional goals and standards and to apply them to future efforts. With this growth in autonomy comes a sense of ownership of one's own learning and growth." (Hart)
The portfolio process
In order to help students do this kind of work, students in my 9th grade class created two portfolios during the year to coincide with the end of the semesters. To begin the process, students were given the list of learning objectives they were to have accomplished during the semester. They revisited their notebooks and the folders in which they kept all their work from the semester and selected work to demonstrate that they have fulfilled those objectives. Students then presented their portfolios to me one-on-one in ten minute presentations. They were graded based on how well their work fulfilled the objectives, as well as how well they were able to reflect on and talk about their work.
The first semester's portfolios
When assessing students' performance during the presentations in January, I noticed several things. First, there was not necessarily a correlation between a student's academic performance and his ability to speak reflectively about his work. There were several "A" students who could not assess their own successes; there were several failing students who were able to talk about their work reflectively. Second, I noticed that there were several categories of statements that students made - some categories reflected non-reflective statements and others reflected reflective statements.
- Naming – The student gives the "title" of a piece of work. "This is my character sketch. (Turns the page.) This is my freewriting." Naming could appear alone or could be part of another utterance. Students often named work and then had other comments to make about it. If that is the case, then the other comment determines the reflectiveness of the utterance. Much of the time, though, students just named the work and this is non-reflective.
- Summarizing – The student explains what the assignment is about, but does not mention about what he learned. "This is my character sketch. We made up a character and wrote a story about him."
- Giving Directions – The student explains the steps of assignment. "This is my character sketch. First, we brainstormed on what kind of character we wanted to write. Then, we made up a whole bunch of facts about him like his birthday and his favorite color. Then we decided on the important traits about our character..." This is closely related to summarizing, but differs in that the student explains the steps of the assignment as if he were giving directions on how to complete it.
- Teacher-Centered Assessment - Student cites that he learned something from the work because the teacher marked it as such. "I learned a lot from this piece of work and you can tell because you gave me a good grade."
- Process-Oriented - The student reflects on his own personal process in completing the assignment. "This is my character sketch and this was a really difficult assignment for me. I had a lot of trouble starting and thinking about what I wanted my character to be like." This differs from giving directions in that it discusses the student’s own process and the student reflects on the positive and negative experiences he had with the piece of writing.
- Criterion-Based Assessment – The student compares his work to criteria discussed in class. "I did well on my character sketch because I was able to show how my character was mean instead of telling the reader he was mean." He may or may not point to evidence in the text; being able to point to specific examples in the text that correspond to the criteria is preferred and considered more reflective.
- Growth Over Time – The student compares two different pieces of work and shows how one is better by comparing it to a previous piece of work that was not as good. "You can see here that I did better with my freewriting because this first piece of freewriting in September I couldn't write nonstop, but in December you can see that I wrote non-stop for the entire 15 minutes."
In order to help students speak more reflectively about their portfolios during the second presentations, I planned an intervention that taught students the specific types of statements that I wanted them to make and the statements I wanted them to avoid. Students then selected the work for their portfolio, thought about what they were going to say for each piece, and classified each statement in terms of reflectiveness. I assisted students in clarifying and classifying their statements.
Results of intervention/second semester's portfolios
There was a 73.3% rise in students who scored at or above grade level in reflection after the intervention and a 51.9% decrease in students who scored below grade level. When surveyed, eighty-one percent of students said they felt that the intervention helped them think about, plan, and improve what they were going to say during their presentations.
- Move from presentations to conferences - from summative to formative assessment.
- Linking portfolio conferences to reading and writing conferences in order to increase reflective skill.
- Widening the audience of portfolios to peers, families, and school community.
- Increase students' abilities to analyze work.
Hart, Diane. "Opening Assessment to Our Students" Social Education 63.6 (Oct 1999): 343-5.
Silvers, Penny. "Portfolios and the Student's Valuing Process" Portfolio News (Spring 1994).