A Case for End-of-Year Portfolios

I am a big believer in portfolios, especially writing portfolios. But, like teachers everywhere, I never have enough time to teach everything I think my students need. It is tempting to skip the end-of-semester portfolio. We already did the writing once. Why should we do it again?

I know it takes time, but I don’t skip portfolios. They are worth it for at least three reasons:

  1. Students are forced to remember and celebrate all of the writing they did over the semester or year.
  2. The reflective component assures that students will consider what they learned and set goals for the future.
  3. Some of my less enthusiastic writers finally read my comments–even if it is months too late. Revision happens!

I’ve been teaching variations of digital writing portfolios for the last five or six years. Before that, we used manila folders. It doesn’t really matter if you go paper or digital besides the fact that the students seem a little more excited when their work is showcased online. As with many aspects of teaching and learning, it is about the process, though, not the product.

That said, I am pretty excited with how my students’ portfolios turned out this year using the new Google Sites. The old Sites were  fairly easy for students to build but they looked a little, for lack of a better word, homemade. The new Sites application is even easier for students to figure out, and their final projects look modern and professional.

Building on a portfolio assignment I found in The HyperDoc Handbook (Highfill, Hilton, and Landis, 2016), I created a HyperDoc with the requirements for our end-of-year portfolio (see the screenshot below).

Click HERE to open the Digital Portfolio HyperDoc in a new window.

For the first time ever, I didn’t give my students a paper handout. That is probably the most exciting part of this whole thing: No spending my entire prep period at the copy machine. No lost papers.  I did have to teach students to leave one tab open with the assignment directions. For some reason, students want to close the directions and then ask me what to do next. Of course, that happens when I give paper copies too.

I also made a YouTube video for each step of the portfolio building process. I’ve done that before, but usually I go through the steps one time in class and then tell students to see the video if they can’t remember what I taught. This time, I briefly modeled how to find the videos (top table of the HyperDoc) and how to pause and go back.  After that, every student, without one exception, was completely focused and engaged with constructing their portfolios. They worked for the whole period without asking me for help. If they missed something, they just rewound the video.

For a glimpse at my highly professional (no, strike that–it’s the opposite) tutorials, click HERE.  Yes, the videos are amateurish and imperfect, but who cares? I am happy I didn’t have to repeat myself a million times, and that students can access them whenever or wherever they need to.

If you are interested, I made the videos using YouTube’s live streaming service, which is a fairly new thing. I believe YouTube live streaming takes the place of what used to be called Google Hangout on Air. All I know is I used to have to go in through Google Plus to make a live Hangout, but with YouTube live streaming, I can start from the YouTube video manager. Any video I make is automatically uploaded to my channel. It could not be easier. Well, one thing that could be easier is that my school district could allow me to use it from my teacher account, but that is probably too much to hope for.

I know it would be better to make several shorter videos: two to three minutes tops. However, that takes longer and I didn’t have that kind of time the morning before having students complete the assignment. What I really wish I could find time for is to have students make tutorial videos for each other. I’m sure they’d much rather watch each other than me.

I tried four more new things with this portfolio assignment:

  1. One-Point Rubric: I made a variation of a One-Point Rubric, which I read about on Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy site. (Thank you, @hcmurdoc, for pointing that out to me). Here is my version: Writing Portfolio One-Point Scoring Guide.
  2. Personal QR Codes: Students made personal QR codes to lead people to their portfolios. This was mostly just for fun, but I think it adds a little bit of excitement and motivation to the process. It is an explicit way to “publish” the work. As an added bonus, in order to successfully make the QR Code, students had to practice their informational reading skills by following the detailed directions HERE. (Thank you for this idea and document, Highfill et al., creators of The HyperDoc Handbook.)
  3. Nancie Atwell’s Potential Goals for Writers: A big part of the portfolio assignment is for students to consider how they want to grow as writers. I love this list from Nancie Atwell’s In the MiddlePotential Goals for Writers. The list gives students a wide variety of ideas, accommodating their individual differences and making them feel like they have a choice in how they learn (which they do).
  4. Creative Commons License: As an optional addition, students could license their work through Creative Commons. This is very easy to do and almost every student took me up on it. I love this idea because I am constantly telling my students not to steal content on the Internet. To really drive the point home, it is a good idea for students to think of themselves as content creators. It becomes more personal when they think about how they would feel if others stole their work.

With four more days left of the school year, portfolios are the next-to-last assignment. We spend the final two days of class with an informal “open mic” publishing opportunity. For more on “open mic,” read my earlier blog posts HERE and HERE. I hope students leave my class with two ideas about writing: #1 They are all writers with something to say. #2 Writing can be joyful and fulfilling and, dare I say it, fun.


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