What to Include in a Student Portfolio

Female holding portfolio at window
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Student portfolios or assessment portfolios are collections of student work meant to define individual progress and inform future teaching. These can either be in physical or digital form—ePortfolios are increasingly popular. Because student portfolios and are designed to be comprehensive representations of a student's abilities, they can be used to design accommodations and modifications. Creating productive student portfolios starts with choosing the right items to include.

To decide what work to pull for a portfolio, remember that portfolios should accomplish the following: show student growth and change over time, increase student self-assessment skills, identify specific strengths and weaknesses, and track the development of at least one product of performance (work samples, tests, papers, etc.).

Items to Include

The pieces of a great student portfolio vary by grade and subject, but the bottom line is that they should paint a detailed and accurate picture of a student's skills and abilities. Choose some of these items if you're not sure where to start.

  • A letter to the reader outlining each portfolio item
  • A list of term definitions that will be helpful to readers
  • A collection of individual goals for the year, selected and updated by students monthly, quarterly, etc.
  • Graphics—charts, concept diagrams, timelines, photographs, etc.—showing important data such as test scores
  • Book excerpts or quotations chosen by the student
  • A chart tracking every free-choice book a student has read that year
  • Reading logs
  • Photographs of students working
  • Anecdotal notes from one-on-one or small group time with students (e.g. guided reading notes)
  • Video recordings of readings or performances (for ePortfolios)
  • A sample paragraph of writing featuring a few key writing techniques
  • Sample essays of various types—descriptive, narrative, explanatory, expository, persuasive, cause and effect, ​and compare and contrast are all good options
  • Technical writing such as a process analysis essay featuring student-drawn diagrams
  • Creative writing samples, including stories, poems, songs, and scripts
  • A collection of graded math quizzes showing performance trends
  • Student work from other classes such as Art, Music, or academic subjects not taught by you

How to Get the Most Out of Portfolios

Once you've decided what student work will most precisely show student development, you can get started assembling portfolios. To ensure that both you and your students benefit as much as possible from this process, involve them in the assembly and ask them to reflect on the finished product. Portfolios offer the unique opportunity to view overall growth through a few choice items—use it.

Assembly

Have your students help you create their own portfolios. This will instill a sense of ownership in them and cut back on your own assembly time so that more effort can be put into designing future instruction using portfolio material.

Ask students to select pieces of their work over the course of a month, semester, or year—they should have ample time to build their portfolios. Give them well-defined guidelines. Tell them what type of learning you want to see and provide examples and non-example items. If you want more representations from language arts than science, explain this. If you want more examples of independent work than group work, explain this.

As they are choosing their items, students should write brief descriptions/reflections for each that tells why they chose it. Check in with them as they are constructing their portfolios to make sure that they understand and are providing sufficient evidence of learning.

Reflection

Assessment portfolios should serve as authentic assessments or evaluations of student work over a given time period. Unlike other forms of assessment such as a timed test, students need to reflect on their portfolios at length to identify areas for improvement and areas of growth. Rather than assuming students will or will not know how to review a portfolio, be explicit about how to do this. You may need to teach the skill of self-reflection through instruction, modeling, and feedback just as you would teach anything else.

When portfolios are complete, meet with students individually to discuss the learning material before you. Show students how they are meeting various learning goals you have set for them and help them to set goals for themselves. Your students will be able to demonstrate their critical thinking skills and share their experiences with you during this invaluable experience.