What to Include in a Student Portfolio

What to Include in a Student Portfolio

Student portfolios are educational tools teachers use to create alternative assessments in the classroom. Including the right items in student portfolios are important, but before you decide on the items, review the basic steps for getting started, creating student portfolios as well as their purpose.

The Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education notes that portfolios should show student growth and change over time, develop student thinking skills, identify strengths and weaknesses and track the development of one or more products of performance, such as samples of student work, tests or papers.

'No-Fuss' Portfolios

To achieve these goals, allow students to be involved in creating the portfolios. This will help minimize your paper-gathering time and help students take ownership. Jon Mueller, a psychology professor at North Central College in Illinois, says that portfolios can be easy to manage and offers some tips for items to include in what he calls "no-fuss" portfolios: Have students select a piece or two of their work over the course of a quarter, semester or year; at the time of each selection, have the student write a brief reflection on the item, as well as why she included it; and, at the end of the quarter, semester or school year, ask students to reflect again on each item.

Sample Items

The kinds of items you have students include in their portfolios will vary by age and abilities. But, this brief list may give you ideas to get started.

  • A letter to the reader discussing portfolio items
  • A reading log
  • Quotations the student especially likes
  • Graphic illustrations of information, such as charts, concept diagrams, timelines and photographs
  • Video recordings of readings or performances. You can film students reading or performing using a smartphone and then download the filmed version onto a computer.
  • A sample paragraph showing mastery of specific writing techniques
  • Sample essays of various types -- descriptive, narrative, explanatory, expository, persuasive, cause and effect, ​compare and contrast or defining terms.
  • Writing that students created in their other classes, such as reports, speech outlines, essays or projects.
  • Research-related writing, including a description of procedures, instruments such as surveys, results, and products
  • An explanation of literary terms using examples from what students are reading
  • Creative writing, including stories, poems, songs and scripts

Reflection Phase

The Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education says that to make portfolios really useful, remember that their purpose is to serve as authentic assessments -- evaluations of real student work over a given time period. Unlike other forms of assessment, such as a timed test, students should be given time to reflect on their work, says the department. And, don't assume students simply will know how to reflect. As with other academic areas, you may need to teach students this skill and "spend time helping them learn how to (reflect) through instruction, modeling, lots of practice and feedback."

When the portfolios are complete, take time to meet with students individually or in small groups to discuss all of this learning material they have created, collected and reflected on. These meetings will help students gain insights from their body of work -- and give you a clear look at their thinking process.