What Goes into a Portfolio?

One of the most common questions schools ask about portfolios is, “What goes into it?”
It helps to start with a couple more essential questions – “What is our purpose for the portfolio?” and “Who is our primary audience?”

  • Most of the time, schools want the portfolio to be a demonstration of a student’s best work. One simple way to start is to select 2 to 4 assignments for each subject. (That is, for elementary schools, you might have a couple of reading samples, a couple of writing samples, and a couple of math samples; for middle and high schools, you might ask students to include 2 to 4 assignments from each full-year class.)
  • Some schools focus on a certain subject area; in that case, you might want a sample of each of each type of assignment. For example, a student’s writing portfolio could include a narrative essay, an argumentative essay, and a response to literature; a technology portfolio could show students’ use of word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and Internet research.
  • A “growth over time” portfolio could include examples of the student doing something similar at different times of the year. For example, we could see a first grader’s ability to read independently at the beginning, middle and end of the year; we could also see a Spanish student’s ability to speak in the language at various points. Sometimes, the growth over time is around some deeper skill; by filming math students working through problems throughout the year, we can see how their problem solving skills grow, or science students could show how their ability to create a good hypothesis has improved from one quarter to the next.
  • Project-based learning allows us to see the process of building the project, from initial idea through to completed
    work. We can see the steps – and the mis-steps – along the way.
  • The key element when you are getting started is to build on what your teachers and students are already doing. Your students are undoubtedly doing interesting things; the portfolio should allow you to capture those moments.

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