What is a portfolio?

Some principal remarks:

  • The term “Portfolio” can refer to a material document or document folder as well as a method or even an ideal.
  • The concept of Portfolio is hard to grasp – especially for those who do not work with portfolio; portfolio meaning both process and product, path and goal, tool and toolbox, method and principle
  • The term “Portfolio” appears both in educational and professional contexts
  • Portfolio has to do with research and evidence and evaluation
  • A Portfolio focuses attention in two directions:
    a. to the person producing a portfolio (folder)
    b. to the person to whom a portfolio is presented

Some glossary remarks

Portfolio folder | any folder containing a “…purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas…” (s. Section A – definition of portfolio).

Portfolio | If the sheets and contents of a portfolio folder are bound and fixed, this form of collection is commonly called a “portfolio”. Whenever a student refers to “my portfolio” usually a bound, book like form of a portfolio documentation is meant.

Portfolio document | any document a student selects to be contained in his/her portfolio folder (portfolio).

Portfolio certificate | an authorized document certifying a student’s achievements in his/her portfolio work.

Portfolio Certificate Folder | a folder particularly containing portfolio certificates.

Portfolio standards | any standards that define basic requirements for all parts of the portfolio work and thus provide a basic qualification framework for the portfolio work.

Portfolio criteria | any standard based criteria developed and set including student participation for the purpose of quality control.

Portfolio method | a method of documenting and assessing a student’s learning process and/or learning outcomes on the basis of the portfolio principles (s. sec. B).

Portfolio documentation | any purposeful collection, documenting a student’s learning process and/or learning outcomes.

Portfolio presentation | a student gives an oral presentation of his/her portfolio documentation or portfolio work.

Portfolio examination | any examination that employs portfolio documentation as evidence and proof of a student’s achievements; a portfolio examination usually consists of three steps:

  • The student produces a portfolio, to be assessed, judged and commented (and perhaps marked) by the teacher or a representative of a particular examination authority on the basis of the portfolio criteria,

  • The student gives an oral presentation of his/her portfolio, focussing on topics contained in the portfolio and chosen by the student; the portfolio presentation is also assessed, judged and commented on (and perhaps marked) by the teacher or a representative of a particular examination authority on the basis of portfolio presentation criteria,

  • The student answers questions related to the presented portfolio put to him/her by an examination committee or from the audience. This ’disputation’ is also judged on the basis of ‘portfolio disputation criteria’.

Note | In this particular form of examination utilising the principles of portfolio, the benefits of a change in paradigm become evident.

Portfolio evaluation | any evaluation based on Portfolio work; it can be Evaluating a student’s particular portfolio documentation (portfolio) for examination or qualification purposes, or Evaluating any process or product using portfolio methods

Portfolio application | any application that employs portfolio certificates or folders

Portfolio assessment | the assessment of a student’s learning process and outcomes on the basis of any kind of portfolio work or documentation

Portfolio assignment | any assignment that employs portfolio

Portfolio project | any project that is designed to allow for portfolio assessment, and that employs the portfolio method

Portfolio work | all work that is associated with creating a portfolio, portfolio folder or documentation, i.e. planning, organizing, designing, introducing, presenting, assessing, evaluating, applying, promoting, demonstrating and documenting any teaching or learning process and outcome by using portfolio methods

Portfolio joke | any joke that ridicules portfolio

Joke portfolio | any purposeful collection of jokes selected in compliance with a given theme, topic or assignment or a portfolio which is so poorly done that one can only cry out: “this must be a joke!”

A. Definiton:

„A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection.“ ((1) Paulson et al. „What makes a portfolio a portfolio?“ in Educational Leadership 48/1991, issue 5, pp60-63)

B. The following descriptive elements are typical for portfolio:

a. Choice:

The student chooses individually

  1. the topic of the particular piece of research
  2. the methods and procedures to be used
  3. what pieces of evidence are put into the collection and
  4. what is taken from the collection to put into the portfolio
  5. the structure and design of the portfolio documentation and presentation

b. Documentation:

The student’s documentation

  1. is generally written on paper (still)
  2. can be written on CD or DVD or as digital doc.
  3. should include pictures and /or other visual elements
  4. will contain pictures of handcrafted pieces
  5. is to comply with aesthetic quality criteria applicable to all portfolios.
    The criteria list is produced both by students and teachers.

c. Assessment and self-assessment:

The student’s assessment includes

  1. Review: What was planned, what actually happened, under what circumstances? What was achieved?
  2. Reflection: Analysis of plans and actions from different points of view: What did I do? How was it done? With whom? Why? What did I learn? How did I learn? What skills could I still learn or improve?
  3. Evaluation: going beyond review and reflection, the student should include in his portfolio a quality analysis of both the planned and the achieved with respect to effort, progress and time management: What is the value of the project’s outcome? Were my aims and methods realistic? Did I change them during the project? What evidence do my learning outcomes provide with regard to knowledge, skills and attitudes as well as competences?

d. Evaluation:

Besides the student’s own assessment, the portfolio includes

  1. evidence of the teacher’s feedback and assessment, as chosen by the student
  2. peer review or other external assessment, as chosen by the student
  3. an external assessment using marks or other comparative indicators. if chosen by the student or if required by the awarding body

e. Participation:

The student must be involved

  1. in developing and setting the criteria for obligatory and voluntary parts of the portfolio
  2. in developing and setting the quality criteria for the portfolio work
  3. in the review process, both with peers, teachers and others
  4. in the oral portfolio presentation process
  5. in the feedback process of the final evaluation

f. Presentation:

The student will orally present his/her portfolio in

  1. class
  2. an upper school meeting
  3. a staff meeting
  4. a monthly work exhibit
  5. an art exhibition
  6. an End-of-Term presentation
  7. a school festival

g. Making new resolves:

The student may want to improve with regard to

  1. contents
  2. methods
  3. framework
  4. presentation
  5. learning outcomes

C. Examples of portfolio types:

(from a selection of over 30 types), listed according to specific objectives:

a. For a specific purpose:

  1. Performance portfolio
  2. Documentation portfolio
  3. Showcase portfolio
  4. Assessment portfolio
  5. Professional development portfolio

b. For a specific qualification:

  1. Language portfolio
  2. Competence portfolio

c. For a specific time during a longer learning period:

  1. entrance/exit portfolio of prerequisites / accomplishments before / after a given time period

d. For a specific learning/teaching environment:

  1. Project portfolio
  2. Main Lesson portfolio
  3. Work experience portfolio
  4. Class portfolio
  5. Year-project portfolio

e. For a specific media of presentation:

  1. Electronic portfolio

f. For a specific time span/period of learning:

  1. Cumulative (school) portfolio
  2. Progress portfolio
  3. Annual Review portfolio

D. Portfolio work consists principally of 5 steps:

a. Collection
b. Selection
c. Reflection
d. Presentation
e. Making new resolves

E. The Portfolio method emphasises:

  1. learning and teaching in dialogue
  2. developing and employing a vitalized feedback-culture
  3. student participation
  4. the student’s personality
  5. a stronger focus on how a student learns rather than on what is taught
  6. efforts, improvements and achievements rather than deficits
  7. formative rather than summative assessment
  8. the consideration of non-formal and informal learning
  9. the acquisition of competences (for example social and personal competences) that go beyond skills, knowledge and attitudes
  10. strong and mutual cooperation among the faculty members
  11. the paradigm of life long learning

F. Portfolio-work benefits:

a. the student who

  1. can take initiative
  2. can take responsibility for himself and his peers
  3. can increasingly experience team work
  4. can practice cooperation and dialogue
  5. learns how to learn effectively
  6. learns self-assessment
  7. can learn to document and present his achievements properly
  8. experiences the possibility to integrate non-formal and informal learning outcomes into his formal learning process
  9. becomes increasingly aware of his or her competences
  10. experiences greater pride in what he or she does and achieves

b. the teacher who

  1. learns to see how a student learns
  2. is willing to get into closer touch with the students with regard to their efforts, progress and achievements
  3. can assess the student’s learning and progress more frequently and more accurately in a process of dialogue
  4. can feel enriched by the student’s growing authenticity
  5. learns more about a student’s personality
  6. has more opportunities to help, encourage and guide weaker students
  7. has more opportunities to motivate more gifted students
  8. is introduced by the students to new topics and subjects he has not yet covered in his curriculum
  9. cooperates more closely with his colleagues
  10. can improve his ability to engage in open dialogue

G. Portfolio side-effects:

(positive, especially when in combination with frequent presentations – annual/half term/each term/quarterly):

a. On the part of the student:

  1. Increasing self-confidence
  2. Increasing awareness of other learning partners – fellow students, teachers, parents
  3. Increasing authenticity in presenting learning outcomes
  4. Increasing confidence in the teacher’s efforts
  5. Increasing trust in the integrity of teachers and fellow students
  6. Better judgement of his own strengths or weaknesses
  7. Greater motivation to go to school and to learn

b. On the part of the teacher:

  1. A greater sense of responsibility and satisfaction in his profession
  2. Increasing awareness of the student’s individual development
  3. Increasing confidence in the student’s efforts
  4. Better judgement of the effectiveness of his own teaching efforts
  5. A closer cooperation with the colleagues
  6. More substantial consultations with parents
  7. Greater motivation to go to school to teach
  8. Stronger sense of corporate identity

c. On the part of the parents:

  1. Increasing trust in the teacher’s ability to understand and judge the student appropriately
  2. Increasing confidence in the student’s earning efforts and achievements
  3. Increasing confidence in the school’s ability to organize the learning process efficiently
  4. Decreasing fears the student could fail to meet expectations
  5. More confidence in the student’s future even when he does fail
  6. A greater certainty that the students are advised and coached individually and according to their needs
  7. Greater confidence in that the student develops according to his personal capabilities, gifts or disabilities
  8. Stronger sense of corporate identity

d. On the part of the school:

  1. Consultations with parents can be more substantial
  2. Consultations with teachers can be more substantial
  3. Administration can be more effective
  4. A stronger presence in the community
  5. Stronger sense of corporate identity

H. Portfolio hazards:

a. Portfolio may be misused whenever the above principles are neglected for reasons of impatience or ignorance or simple misunderstanding. In that case, teachers may use the (‘modern’) term for ordinary teacher-centred techniques, but fail to acknowledge the idea. (“Platitude Portfolio“).

b. When used for examination purposes, portfolios could lead to a demand and overemphasis for standardisation in contradiction to the various aspects of the principle of choice (“Standardized Portfolio“).

c. Portfolio can be asking too much of a student if all teachers want to employ portfolio for all purposes all the time.
(“Overkill Portfolio”).

“Portfolios are as varied as the children who create them and as the classrooms in which they are found.“

Paulson et al. 1