Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Building a Student Portfolio

"Isn't that something due at the end of the school year?" she hesitantly asks me.

"Yes, it is due at the end of May," I reply, "but I suggest you begin it now.  It is easier to build the portfolio over the course of a year, rather than all at once at year end."

We are sitting together at a long table with several portfolios laid open.  A first meeting between two homeschooling moms.  She embarking on her first year, and I, the one who will review her portfolio and year-end reports. 

She is already nervous and filled with questions.  Gently, I outline a possible procedure.  It is very similar to the one my portfolio leader gave me years ago when we first began homeschooling.  The advice hasn't changed much, withstanding all these years.  She listens intently, as I begin to explain.

Before I share these tips, it is important that I remind each family to check their own state's requirements, as well as the requirements of your local area, umbrella school, or group.  Some states/groups require much more or much less.  You must adhere to their requirements.  However, these basic guidelines can serve to help you create a concise overview of your student's school year.

4 General Guidelines to Building a Portfolio:
  1. Create the frame work of your portfolio at the beginning of the school year.  For our family, we purchase a three inch binder for each child for each school year.  Generally, we decorate the exterior the summer before we start the school year.  Inside, I add a title page and create divisions with either tabbed dividers or colored card stock.  The divisions I need to include are based on what is required for our umbrella school and a few extras we like to include.  Our divisions are Year-End Report, Attendance Record, Lesson Plans, Reading List, Academic Work (grouped by subject or unit), Field Trips, Extra Activities, and Special Days and Holidays. 
  2. Decide how frequently you want to add to the portfolio.  By making this decision now, you will then routinely add to the portfolio as the year progresses rather than going through a year's worth of student work in May.  My first couple of years, I added papers on a monthly basis. 
  3. Determine a criteria for what you want to keep in the portfolio for your family.  This can be difficult to make one rule for all subjects.  Tests aren't always given in every subject.  A few subjects have limited paper work evidence to keep.  For us, the classes in which tests are administered, these get placed in the portfolio.  For subjects without tests, we tend to save a sampling of day to day work.
  4. Periodically check that the work placed in the portfolio reflects the student's progress and abilities.  A portfolio doesn't have to be filled with perfect papers or stellar reports.  It should reflect the student's abilities and class work.  Additionally, I check to make sure I am not saving too much of one subject and not enough of another.  For instance, if the once a week music class papers are more plentiful than his daily math class pages, the portfolio is not reflecting his actual school year.

4 FAQs concerning portfolios:

How much of one subject should I place in the portfolio?
This depends on the frequency of the class and the amount and type of work required of the student.  Major subjects like math and English generally require a larger sampling than music and art.  Personally, a guideline I use is one student work sample per week per major subject, and one student work sample per month per minor subject.  This generally works out to 36-40 samples for each major subject and 10-12 samples for each minor subject.

How do I document field trips?
There are several possibilities.  One way is to keep a child's ticket, brochure, or paper activity completed while on the field trip.  Take a few photographs during the field trip of your child engaged in a learning activity, in front of a monument, or something memorable from the trip.  Add these to a summary activity like a narration, worksheet, or extension activity, and place them in your child's portfolio.

What about large projects that don't fit into the portfolio?
Over the past years, we have had many of these projects.  Some we kept alongside of the binder.  For instance, when my son created a spiral bound biology notebook, we simply stored it alongside the portfolio.  However, this is impractical for some projects, like the solar system model.  For this, we took a picture of the child with the project and mounted the photograph to a piece of paper containing a summary paragraph about the project.

How can I personalize the portfolio even further?
One idea is to include personal photographs beyond academic work.  An annual 'school' photograph is a nice addition.  We like to add a few pages of pictures showcasing special days and holidays celebrated during that school year.

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