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Chapter 2

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Published by: pavansohal on Jul 17, 2009
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Using Portfolios in an Interage Grades 4 and 5 Class 
Robyn S. Lane, 4/5 Interage Teacher
 West Patent Elementary SchoolBedford Hills School District Westchester, New York 
I teach in Bedford Hills, New York, which is a suburban community approximately onehour’s drive north of New York City. The district contains diverse economic groups includ-ing blue-collar to upper-class families and has five elementary schools. My school wasdesigned as an “open-space” environment in the 1970s, and we are organized into four dif-ferent teams, with approximately 100 students and four teachers assigned to each group. Iteach an interage combination of fourth and fifth graders who range from children who arebarely reading to those who are functioning at an advanced middle school level. Most of thecurriculum is team taught, and both the teachers and students seem to profit from thisapproach, which I characterize as very cooperative and supportive. I especially like the inter-age arrangement because I can spend two years with my students. During that time, I seegreat growth and change.
My initial interest in portfolio assessment had less to do with my professional curiosity than with my experience as a mother. My daughters, who were then in elementary and middleschool, brought home evidence of their learning—test papers, graded reports, homework assignments—that were all neatly presented and commented on by their teachers. Yet, thesepapers were tossed away quickly, and my children didn’t value what I as a professional wantedthem to value. They had worked hard on their assignments and should have wanted and val-ued feedback. This behavior certainly had implications for me, as a teacher of nine- and ten-
year-olds, and I questioned if my students’ work with my comments also went into the trashin their homes. Little did I know that the answers to my many questions about evaluationand learning would result from an opportunity to explore the meaning of 
authentic assess- ment.
My district participated in a three-year project on authentic assessment, whichincluded participants from all areas of the Hudson River Valley region of New York State who were willing to perform action research on authentic assessment in their classrooms. A colleague and I were accepted into the project, and so we began a journey that would alterthe way I viewed teaching and assessment forever.
The most critical part of the entire portfolio process lies in choosing the purpose for the port-folio. Teachers are now beginning to use many different kinds of portfolios: Some portfoliosshowcase students’ best work; some portfolios document growth within a specific contentarea or with reading and writing skills; and some portfolios assess students by providing addi-tional information not presented from traditional assessment. It doesn’t matter what anotherteacher may choose as a purpose; what matters is adapting the process to one’s own class.Obviously, to answer the question about purpose requires making choices.IknewfromthestartthatIwassearchingforawaytomakemystudentsproductsandeffortsmoremeaningfultothem.Therewasadefinitedisparityinthedegreeofinvest-mentforallofusmystudents,theirparents,andme.Ineededtoengagestudentsinaprocessofreectionaboutthemselvesandtheirworkaswellastondameanstomaketheirgrowthcleartoallparties.Ithereforedecidedthatthegoalforusingportfoliosinmy classroomwouldbetodemonstrategrowthinthestudentsabilitytocommunicateforavarietyofpurposes.I’vediscoveredthatthebestportfolioprocessinmyclassistousesev-eraldifferentkindsofportfolios,eachdesignedtomeetadifferentpurpose.Inthefollow-ingsections,I describethelookandfeelofdifferenttypesofportfoliosandhowIusetheminmyclass.
portfoliotoevaluatestudentsworkinaparticularsubjectarea,eitheronalong-orshort-termbasis.Forexample,thisyear,agroupofteacherscreatedaninter-disciplinaryunitontheHudsonRiverValleyregion.Aswedesignedthelessonsandactiv-itiesforthissix-weekcourseofstudy,wewereunsureabouthowtoassessourstudentslearning.Duetothegreatamountofgroupworkbuiltintotheassignments,wedidnt wanttogradeorevaluateeverypieceofworkthatstudentscompleted.Atraditionalunittestwasunappealing,asitcouldneverdocumentthebreadthofknowledgewefeltourstu-dentswereattaining,anditcertainlywoulddiminishthestudentsenthusiasm.Wedidplananalunitproject,butthatdidntfitourpurposeofassessingstudentsongoingperfor-mancethroughouttheunit.Everymeansofassessmentwehadtraditionallyusedinthepastfeltflat,uninspiring,orartificial.Ultimately,wedecidedtohaveourstudentskeepalloftheirunitworkina
5 C
includingscienticobservations,pointofviewjournalentries,art,andpoetry.Itsoonbecameveryclearthatthemostinteresting,aswellasthemostauthenticassessment,wouldinvolvethiscollectionofwork. We had already established that the central purpose for this unit was to have the studentsfocus on how they learned and that this would require their self-reflection. We were faced with the problem of how to choose entries for the unit portfolios. The holding folders con-tained a tremendous amount of work that reflected the day-to-day classroom experiences. Again, focusing on the purpose for the portfolio aided the process of deciding what to col-lect. Since our purpose was both to evaluate and to promote self-reflection, we decided thatstudents should use the portfolio to show knowledge gained from the unit. From the mater-ial in the students’ holding folders, they were required to choose eight entries for the specificcategories on the requirement sheet. For example, we decided that, of the nine journal entriesthe students completed, they had to choose two, and of the five science experiments they documented, they had to choose one. Students were also encouraged to include a free choicethat demonstrated something they felt good about as well as the selection that they were leasthappy with. The written aspect of the students’ final project was also contained in the port-folio. Once these categories were selected, it became obvious that a process of thoughtful self-reflection was needed, so we devised a technique using evidence of learning strips. Thestudents were aware that the knowledge we expected them to gain from the unit was in theareas of history, culture, environment, and economy. Therefore, we asked them to chooseportfolio entries that demonstrated their learning in each one of these areas by completingthe following learning strip: “My selection shows evidence of my learning about (history,environment, economy, culture) of the Hudson River Valley Region,” followed by two tothree sentences of explanation. These strips were then attached to the work that the studentsselected. We held our breath a bit in anticipation of what we might actually receive from the stu-dents. If our students couldn’t complete this task, it meant that they couldnt reflect and makethe connections we hoped for. This type of assessment not only examined our students butreflected on our teaching as well. We were both surprised and delighted that the technique worked well with many of our students; others needed more guidance to make the connec-tion between learning and portfolio selection. Figure 2–1 is a sample of a fifth-grade student’sevidence of learning strip.In addition to this reflective activity, students were asked to write a “Dear Reader” letteras a cover sheet for their portfolios. The letter introduced the portfolio selections anddescribed the student’s feelings about this learning experience. Figure 2–2 is an example of afourth-grade student’s letter, which describes her feelings about this project. Students knew before making their selections that their portfolios were going to be assessed, and we con-structed a rubric to do this (see Figure 2–3). A copy of this rubric was given to the studentsfor their use as they assembled their portfolios. Our students were familiar with rubrics,because they had been used for self-evaluation of research reports. In this instance, however, we decided not to have students do self-evaluation with the rubric, because they had already completed a great deal of reflective activities, and we didn’t want to overdo the concept. Con-tent unit portfolios have been excellent because they focus our students and help us toachieve quality learning in a short time frame. These portfolios can also work well withlonger units of study.

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