Using Portfolios to Enhance the Learning Process in High School

A high school student’s portfolio can give both the teacher and parents a clearer picture of a student’s learning process than a single test ever will. Students can learn a lot from keeping a portfolio as well, but it must be done correctly. To use a portfolio to enhance the learning process, rather than simply record it, a few things need to be taken into consideration.

It’s A Process, Not A Product: Portfolio building should not be something students are allowed to perform in a rush the night before the “final portfolio” is due. Rather, there should be periodic checks to ensure that students are keeping and organizing their work as they complete it. These periodic checks can focus more on completeness than presentation, of course, and can even include concurrent reflections written or orated by the student regarding their progress thus far as documented in the portfolio. This will allow the student to discuss their progress in the course, and better understand themselves as learners.

Expect Organizations: Teachers should require organization in a portfolio, not just as a final product, but during the portfolio-building process as well. This asks the students to practice organization skills while building the portfolio, and will also allow them to reap the benefits of the effort organization takes when they look back through the portfolio for past assignments, projects, tests, notes, or other contents. Students will learn the value of organization and how to accomplish it.

Make Progress Visible: Another important aspect of portfolios is that student progress should be visible by looking through them. As students’ skills and/or knowledge in the subject matter increases, their work will reflect their growth, and the portfolio should chronicle that growth by providing a single place where all of the work can be viewed. Students will be able to flip through their portfolios as they build them, observing what they’ve learned and what they are learning, and will have a more clear picture of the learning journey their teacher has taken them on. Students will be able to observe their own progress and take pride in their growth.

Allow Acknowledgment of Weaknesses: Some students have more trouble progressing than others, so portfolios should also be used to help students identify their weak areas. Whether a teacher requires students to put all of their work into the portfolio or only the best of their work, many students will notice that there are some assignments, tests, or projects they aren’t so proud of. The portfolio can help students identify what topics or skills they are doing poorly in, so that they may focus on those issues and improve.

Appearances are Important, but not THAT Important: Problems arise when grading teachers lean too heavily on the appearance and creative decoration of the portfolio rather than on the contents. Appearances are important, of course, in creating a portfolio that has a professional feel to it, but this should only be a fraction of the portfolio assessment.

Have Students Assess Themselves: Portfolios should allow all of these benefits to be brought together in a portfolio assessment written or orated by the students. Each student should be required to look at their portfolio at the end of the term and really ask themselves what the portfolio did for them. Did they learn how to better organize? Did they see how the course and their skills/knowledge progressed? Were they able to identify their weak areas in order to work on improving them? When students are asked to look for these things and write or talk about them, they will better appreciate having built this portfolio which they can now also keep as a neat record of their learning and accomplishments.