Another View

Learning portfolios are becoming an increasingly popular method of assessing student work. More than just a collection of “the work I did this semester,” learning portfolios also include student reflection on both the product and process of learning. There are numerous benefits to incorporating portfolios into your classroom assessment methods:

  • Compared to paper-and-pencil assessments, portfolios are more pertinent to the skills students will need in the real world.
  • Portfolios enable instructors to evaluate students and their progress during the course at an individual level, which increases motivation relative to comparison to their peers (Gronlund, 2003) 1.
  • Portfolios facilitate students’ reflection and evaluation of their work and learning during the course. This increases student engagement in assessment and students’ ability to self-assess, as well as encourages them to assume responsibility for their learning (Fernsten & Fernsten, 2005; Gronlund, 2003) 1, 2.
  • Portfolios clearly convey the message that assessment is ongoing, and emphasizes the importance of revision by including materials that are developed and refined throughout the course.
  • Portfolios enable instructors to assess a variety of content.
  • Portfolios demonstrate progress and/or achievement to others such as potential employers (Gronlund, 2003) 1.

To implement a portfolio assessment, you will need to identify what kind of portfolio you want your students to develop. Two broad categories of portfolios are development portfolios, which display students’ growth over time, and showcase portfolios, which display students’ best work (Gronlund, 2003) 1.

After explaining the purpose and benefits of the portfolio to students, guide them on the materials they should include; the portfolio will represent a sample of their work rather than a repository for all of their work. The table below shows the five kinds of evidence of learning Huba and Freed (2000) 3 identify for students to include in the portfolio, depending on its purpose.

In addition to providing your students with guidelines for selecting portfolio artifacts, a rubric is a great way to clarify your expectations. There are many existing portfolio assessment rubrics (see example 1; example 2; example 3). Feel free to modify one of these rubrics to align with the instructional goals you are using the portfolio to assess.
Students should also develop a reflection to accompany each product they include in their portfolios. Provide students with questions to guide this process. Gronlund (2003) recommends the following questions:

  • Why was this entry selected?
  • What was done to accomplish it?
  • What was learned from it?
  • What changes would improve it?

Meet with your students periodically during the semester to review their portfolios. This reduces student procrastination, increases student-instructor collaboration, and provides an opportunity for students to receive individualized feedback and instruction for improvement.

(1) Gronlund, N. E. (2003). Assessment of student achievement (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

(2) Fernsten, L., & Fernsten, J. (2005). Portfolio assessment and reflection: Enhancing learning through effective practice. Reflective Practice, 6(2), 303–309.

(3) Huba, M. E., & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.