Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Early Childhood Student Portfolio

The Student Portfolio

There's a lot of truth to be found in the saying, "A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words." It's especially worth a thousand words when parents, who have little insight into who their child is at school, come to hear about their child's progress, or maybe even more importantly, their child's lack of progress. It's especially worth a thousand words when parents have a child with disabilities or special needs.

So how can we, as teachers, capture and document the meaningful tell-tale work a child has produced. What "pictures" can we organize in a meaningful way that will tell a child's story?

A child's portfolios is really assembled by the child. Everything in the portfolio refers to the child through the child's thoughts and activities. It also includes anecdotes, comments and observations from teachers, and if possible other appropriate school staff. The portfolio uses documents produced by the child during the current academic year. These documents often include sample writing, artistic work, photographs recording work which can't be kept (such as block building or a costume designed by the child), and in today's classroom we can even save videos and audios either produced by the child or featuring the child's work or behavior.

The portfolio is known by many names: the Memory Book, My Activity Book, My School Journal, My Diary, or My School Year. The child's physical and mental act of organizing his portfolio is an important learning process involving planning and creating. It can be a different world out there for a child to take nothing and begin to build something on the pages of this personal record. This year-long process details how the child has organized, or not organized, his thoughts and interests. It details the amount of attention the child is able to devote to the project. Its mere appearance tells of mental and physical coordination. And perhaps more importantly, it gives teachers and parents an idea of how the child views himself among his peers and within his world.

The first step to utilizing this important teaching tool is to introduce the idea to the class. During a group time the teacher can tell students how recording our own personal history helps us grow into stronger students. It helps us set goals. It helps us remember: when we couldn't do something but now we can, how we felt when we tried to do something that didn't work out, or who were the people we celebrated with when we accomplished something important. It reminds us of a favorite book and why we loved it so. It can be magical because it can save almost everything about us. Our portfolio can be a personal secret or it can be shared with everyone. The designer gets to decide.

The second step to help children understand how to develop a portfolio is to explain methods of organization. It's also important to say how the way the portfolio is organized will help the reader to know the child. One important element of the portfolios is the dating of the included material. Early dated block building photos compared with later dated photos can show how much the child has been able to organize space and understand basic structures.

Writing samples can give immediate insight into language development as well as eye-hand coordination. These clues can assist a teacher in suggesting specific books to further the child's interests. Writing samples can indicate vocabulary development and general understanding of syntax.

Including artwork of any type can show the child's artistic style and his attention to details observed. Even sculpture, through the use of photography, can become part of the record. Musical works can be recorded on CD and inserted into the portfolio.

Records and pictures of science projects and math projects can show teachers and parents a child's understanding and interest in these areas. For some teachers and parents, it didn't happen if it isn't recorded. If it happened there is probably a way to record it in the portfolio. Will the portfolio be placed in chronological order or will it be placed by subject matter?

Teacher anecdotes, comments, and observations can be worked into the portfolio in a few ways. There may be opportunities to insert explanatory notes throughout the journal to help parents or other teachers have a more rounded understanding of what the entry is referring to. There may be a child created index to direct readers to specific pages: art projects pages 3,5,6,10 etc.

The developing portfolio will become a valuable teacher's ally during conference times throughout the year. As the child grows so does the portfolio. Helping a parent see and understand a child's learning pattern through the child's own efforts is a very personal thing to do and its impact on parents is palpable. Some parents will comment, "I never knew my child could do this." and others may say, "I didn't know she liked math and is so good at it." The portfolio is also an effective sharing tool if a child is struggling in an area. The documentation can provide a way for teachers and parents to develop a realistic plan to help the child to the next step.

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