What Goes into a Portfolio?

One of the most common questions schools ask about portfolios is, “What goes into it?”
It helps to start with a couple more essential questions – “What is our purpose for the portfolio?” and “Who is our primary audience?”

  • Most of the time, schools want the portfolio to be a demonstration of a student’s best work. One simple way to start is to select 2 to 4 assignments for each subject. (That is, for elementary schools, you might have a couple of reading samples, a couple of writing samples, and a couple of math samples; for middle and high schools, you might ask students to include 2 to 4 assignments from each full-year class.)
  • Some schools focus on a certain subject area; in that case, you might want a sample of each of each type of assignment. For example, a student’s writing portfolio could include a narrative essay, an argumentative essay, and a response to literature; a technology portfolio could show students’ use of word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and Internet research.
  • A “growth over time” portfolio could include examples of the student doing something similar at different times of the year. For example, we could see a first grader’s ability to read independently at the beginning, middle and end of the year; we could also see a Spanish student’s ability to speak in the language at various points. Sometimes, the growth over time is around some deeper skill; by filming math students working through problems throughout the year, we can see how their problem solving skills grow, or science students could show how their ability to create a good hypothesis has improved from one quarter to the next.
  • Project-based learning allows us to see the process of building the project, from initial idea through to completed
    work. We can see the steps – and the mis-steps – along the way.
  • The key element when you are getting started is to build on what your teachers and students are already doing. Your students are undoubtedly doing interesting things; the portfolio should allow you to capture those moments.


    Welcome to the Richer Picture blog!

    This is a blog about both ideas and implementation. Since the 1990’s, we’ve learned a great deal about how schools effectively use digital portfolios and other proficiency tools. We’ll share stories of what has worked well for schools, and what might be useful for you.

    Ideas: From the beginning, we’ve said that the best educational technology projects start with the education, rather than the technology. How do you want your school to be better? What is it that your school community – students, teachers, parents, administrators – needs? What’s your dream for your school?

    Implementation: Turning a vision into a reality is the critical piece in any innovation.  We’ve seen schools come up with creative ways of using time, providing training, and communicating plans, and we’ll have posts that let you know what other schools have put in place.

    Just so you know, this blog is being written primarily by David Niguidula. If you have your own ideas that you would like to share, or questions you’d like to see addressed, just drop us a line!