Friday, July 6, 2012

What's in a Portfolio?

I'm over at Heart of the Matter Online today talking about homeschool portfolios. Go take a look!

What does a hard-working homeschooling mom do with all those 3-D projects, art papers, grammar workbooks, and math tests? Keep everything? Yikes! Throw them all away? Horrors! Of course, Grandma’s refrigerator makes a wonderful display area, but when Grandma’s fridge is full, there is an alternative that can make both the savers and the throwers happy, believe it or not. The solution is to make a portfolio to showcase a selection of each student’s best work throughout the school year. Portfolios are required by law in some states, but they are a good idea for everyone for several reasons: preserving hard work, providing evidence for skeptical grandparents or other family members and friends, planning purposes for younger siblings, and recording grades and/or levels earned.

I’ve made portfolios for each of my children for each of the twelve years that we’ve been homeschooling. Since I know that the word portfolio strikes fear into the hearts of many homeschooling moms, I’ve broken down the process for you in order to make it not so scary. I also wanted to provide you with some motives behind the idea for creating portfolios for your children if you are not required to do so by your state law

The word portfolio buzzes around the homeschooling community faster than a case of chicken pox. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a selection of a student's work compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress.” Notice that the definition contains the word selection. A portfolio does NOT contain every single piece of paper ever touched by your children’s pencils.

It includes a representation of completed work, which has the best writing samples, the best test scores, the best artwork, the best note booking pages, and the best worksheet pages. It also entails pictures of 3-D projects, field trips, and other activities that can’t be condensed to a single written document. I traditionally keep most tests for our yearly portfolios. For subjects with a lot of papers (such as math worksheets), I keep one out of every twenty or thirty worksheets. For subjects with fewer papers, I keep one in every ten or twenty pages.

What about dioramas, full-sized body outlines, and salt-dough maps? What about all the learning games we play instead of doing boring worksheets? How are those activities documented in a two-dimensional portfolio? Take pictures! For a while, these projects occupy a place of honor on the dining room table or on the window seat. Then they graduate to living under the guest room bed. When the next project is ready to reside under the guest room bed, the first one moves to the circular file. But first, I take a picture of it. We set the little people up again and the kids pose as I flash the pictures I forgot to take when they originally made the project. You can make professional scrapbook pages to go in your portfolios, or you can slap the pictures onto cardstock, write up a few labels, and call it good.

Field trips can also be documented with pictures. If you usually sling a camera around your neck and annoy even the most photogenic of your children with the flash, this will be a breeze. In addition to documenting trips with photographs, you can incorporate ticket stubs, programs, and maps, either hand drawn or removed from an old atlas with your route highlighted. If it’s relatively flat and can be taped or glued to paper or cardstock, then it can go in a portfolio. Another idea is to place smaller items in an envelope and then attach the envelope to a piece of cardstock. Remember to label the envelope.

If you’re a journaler, or if your children enjoy journal writing, you (or they) can include weekly or monthly journal pages documenting the highlights of your school year. This might also be a good, nonthreatening exercise for the reluctant writer. It’s interesting to look back through the years and see how your priorities have changed. Children will oftentimes be amazed that their favorite subject in second grade turned into their worst subject by seventh grade, or the reverse. They’ll enjoy remembering friends who have moved away and their favorite co-op classes.

Finally, what would a portfolio be without lists? You can include lists of goals for the year, books read, resources used, and more. These can be located at the front of the binder so they don’t get mixed in with the math papers or the science lab reports.

If you give your children report cards each year or graduation certificates, these may be included in your portfolios as well. I prefer to put these kinds of documents at the very front so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. If you don’t want to punch holes in special items (or can’t due to size or format), place them in clear sheet protectors.

Happy portfolio-ing!

Q4U: How do you keep samples of your kids' work from overtaking the dining room table?