How do we introduce portfolios in our school?

Posted on October 19, 2017 by David Niguidula

Digital portfolios allow a student to keep track of their best work over time; the idea that a student could have a (curated) collection of their progress through all the years of elementary, middle and high school is very attractive to many schools.

While the long-term goal may be to get everyone connected to a portfolio, schools still need to start somewhere.

Some steps that might help:

  1. Start with a small group. You can begin with a small group of teachers (about 4 to 6) who can conduct a pilot project. This group commits to starting with a portfolio for at least a semester, and having students from their classes add one or two entries into their portfolios. Critically, this group isn’t just there to rubber-stamp the process; they are looking to see how portfolios can be integrated into the life of the school. As this group works through the pilot, their feedback about what works well and what needs adjustment (not just with the software, but with the process) is important.
  2. Share a vision with the whole school.  Two of the essential questions that emerged out of the original digital portfolio research were, “What is the purpose of the portfolio?” and “Who is our primary audience?” The leadership of the school needs to identify a purpose for collecting and reviewing the student work. There are many legitimate purposes, from wanting to show progress over time to a deeper focus on skills that aren’t measured as well by traditional testing methods, to wanting to reach parents on a different level. Pick a purpose, and have the conversations to help everyone reach a shared understanding of what that purpose means to them. Professional development activities (like these workshops) can be helpful here.
  3. Plan a roll-out. Assuming that the pilot goes well, some attention needs to be paid to rolling out the portfolio to the rest of the school. You could start one grade level at a time, or move from department ot department. You may not bring everyone in all at once, but everyone should know that they are going to be involved at some point.

Of course, this all needs to fit with your situation. When assembling a pilot group, one principal deliberately chose one of the less tech-savvy teachers – but who was clearly a teacher that others looked up to, and who could keep the focus on the educational aspects of the pilot. Your may have many reasons for wanting to work with portfolios, and your school community can help you focus on what problem they most want the portfolios to address.

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