Why is a portfolio important?
A school portfolio of work should provide an honest representation of a student’s school achievements. Format discussion can be saved for another time. The required content can range anywhere from just the highlights to absolutely everything – the good, the bad and the ugly. However, I accepted that there should be evidence from all subjects. For all the evidence which enters the portfolio, a student should reflect upon what has been learnt from the whole associated experience – not just a final grade.
The downfall of the portfolio
Few people enjoy looking at themselves critically and, unless well supported, the vast majority of students will not choose to do this. Furthermore, a blog is open to the world and demands interaction whilst a portfolio is a something which is shared with those that you trust, admire or want to impress. Therefore, the use of an individual’s student blog to represent a student portfolio defeats its purpose, and hence stifles both.
The re-birth of the portfolio
To help our students produce informative portfolios will require our guidance and our support and our time and an expectation that this should be done. Our guidance must be shown in teaching our students how to reflect effectively. Our support must come in the form of templates and/or scaffolding for student to initially follow. As educators, we should be setting aside time both in class (when work is returned) and before that (in extra feedback that will ignite their thoughts). Our expectations mean that this needs to be done and it is not something a student can avoid. Now I appreciate that the blog provides excellent digital portfolio functionality – an opportunity for a reflective statement and to embed school work. But this needs to be private in order to avoid plagiarism issues and to increase the value of events such as a Student Led Conference.
A student led conference is a school organised forum designed to allow a discussion between a student and their parents (and sometimes teachers) around the portfolio of work created throughout that academic year. With suitable guidance and support this encourages students to reflect honestly on both their work and themselves as learners. Especially when work was often paper based, and might not make its way home, this format makes a great deal of sense. The key objectives are:
- To increase student accountability and autonomy concerning academics and their habits of work and learning
- To hone student verbal communication and critical thinking skills
- To emphasize a student centered philosophy
- To build open relationships with families concerning student progress
- To help students meet speaking standards
- To teach students how to persuade by substantiating claims with evidence
These objectives are still important but with the development of a digital portfolio, the requirement for a specific school arranged time-space has seemingly becomes less pressing. In reality parents, if they choose, can follow their children(s) progress at any time. Hence, over the past few years I have seen fewer parents are attending these days – particularly with upper middle school students.
If the student led conference held at school is abandoned then in the best case scenario student-parent discussions at home could follow a guided student led conference model but this removes a teacher involvement. In many cases this will reduce the high expectations and it also reduces the insight which this process can provide for the teacher about the student. So even the best case scenario is floored and worst case scenario of no guaranteed interaction becomes far too likely to occur.
So I believe that schools should re-mind themselves of the original objectives and acknowledge that process should be re-examined. This should include dialogue with the parents, students and teachers. This should also include a re-examination of the tools used – especially digital portfolios in the form of blogs, but that is another post entirely.