Sunday, June 28, 2015

Portfolios and Self-Assessment

Portfolio based assessments are not new. I remember researching authentic and holistic portfolio-based assessments for my final undergraduate inquiry project. Authentic and holistic. This was in the mid-nineties, when many educators were talking about holistic assessments. We discussed the whole child, whole language, holistic learning. With the backlash increasing against the proliferation of data-driven, high-stakes, multiple-choice tests, the assessment pendulum seems to be making a swing back toward more holistic, portfolio-based assessments.
As Peter Afflerbach points out in Understanding and Using Reading Assessment K-12, there are many valuable reasons for using portfolio assessments in the classroom: “The public forum provided by the portfolio process requires students to anticipate different audiences, communicate effectively with their classmates, and clearly reason about their learning based on the evidence provided in the portfolio” (83). Afflerbach sums up nicely why I use online portfolios with my tenth grade and creative writing students. My students begin our course with the construction of their online portfolio on day one, creating an opening web page that explains a self-selected metaphor for their writing process. We talk not about both the written rhetorical choices that a writer makes as well as the digital rhetorical choices that impact the viewer/reader. Throughout the semester, students post a variety of their work: multi-media research projects on their independent reading selections, benchmark literary analysis essays with reflections on their growth over time, embeded research blogs, and the text of our personal essays accompanied by video recordings of that text turned into a speech. Their final portfolio is part documentation, part a showcase of their work over time. Students self-assess their work, posting their reflections on what they have discovered and changed.

I have seen first-hand how incorporating writing portfolios can encourage more self-reflection on the part of my students. Especially given that our portfolios are online, students are constantly reflecting and reassessing how they present themselves digitally. And having created online portfolios with my students over the past few years, I now have a collection of models and mentors for my students to access as they are building their own. Afflerbach points to self-assessing as being one of the strongest reasons from employing portfolios in the classroom: “When students experience the control that accompanies self-assessment, they grow in self-esteem and agency” (90). I whole-heartedly agree. In fact, for the past two years, as a result of my students spending more time on self-assessment throughout our course, I have opened the opportunity for my classes to create their own rubric for their final online portfolio assessment.

In the last few weeks of our course, my students and I spend time reflecting on our learning experiences. What have we learned about reading? What have we learned about writing? What are the skills we have spent time developing? I ask students to think about how they know they have grown in their skills and abilities. What does evidence of learning look like? On a note card, students individually write down the skills on which they feel their final online portfolio should be assessed. Then, they meet in pairs and small groups to compare criteria. Finally, the class comes together to build our collaborative rubric for their final portfolios, and using a shared Google document, we spend about a week reflecting, revising, and rewriting the assessment criteria. Students not only collaborate to write the assessment criteria, what they are assessed on, they also decide how those points are assigned. I tell them that the final portfolio assessment must be worth 200 points, but they have to agree on how those points are assigned. As the teacher will I be assessing their portfolio for those 200 points? Will students take some of the ownership of that assessment process? Will students self-assess their entire portfolio?
Students in my Creative Writing and tenth grade English classes have been creating their final portfolio grading rubrics for the past two years. And each class is different. This past semester, my Creative Writing students wanted me to assess 50 percent of their final portfolios. I used the class-designed rubric to assign 100 points, and they used the same rubric to assess for the other 100 points. My honors English students didn’t want to split the grade. Instead, they wanted to be 100 percent responsible for assessing their final portfolio, but with the caveat that they completed their assessment through either a peer or teacher conference. My honors students wanted to talk through each of the criteria and how it applied to their portfolio as a whole.

Although each class ends up with a slightly different set of criteria, for the most part, their final rubrics end up looking quite similar. I attribute this to the consistency with which we engage in self-reflection and assessment throughout the semester. At the onset of each unit, students have the criteria and rubrics which will be used for their summative assessments. They know what they are working toward. Following each unit, as students are posting their work to their online portfolio, students are once again assessing how well they met the criteria outlined on the rubric. So by the time we get to the close of the class, students have been using the same sets of criteria throughout our course. Afflerbach states that student success with portfolio assessment can be measured when “...students are expected to grow in their ability to use the assessment strategies that are modeled and taught by their teachers” (88). I would argue that an even more powerful measure of that success comes when students are empowered to create those assessment strategies.

Here's how I manage my student portfolios.
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