How not to go crazy or Why I’m going to try portfolio assessment

As I become more proficiency-oriented in my teaching practices, I find myself devoting more and more time preparing lessons for the six classes (four different preps)  that I teach each day.   Finding authentic resources and developing proficiency-based lessons and assessments require an enormous amount of time, but are one of my favorite aspects of teaching!  However, these types of lessons generate more open-ended products that require greater amounts of time to grade—and more scores to record. Last year I found myself working an average of 80 hours a week.  As much as I love my job, this did not feel like a balanced, healthy lifestyle!  As a result, I spent a lot of time this summer thinking about how I can reduce the amount of time I spend grading and recording student scores, while still ensuring that my students receive the feedback they need to improve proficiency.

I began by identifying the following problems with my current grading practices:

#1: I record too many grades in my online gradebook!  The amount of time that I spend on the monotonous task of recording student scores on every in-class activity, homework assignment, formative assessment, etc. has become overwhelming.  Due to the sheer number of scores that my students accumulate in one quarter, the grades are so diluted that each one makes very little difference to their overall grade.  (I use a weighted system in which the categories Speaking, Reading, Writing, Listening, and Miscellaneous are each worth 20% of the total grade.) As a result, I am spending an enormous amount of time correcting papers and recording scores that are not going to change any student’s overall course grade. As a further challenge to my already limited time resources, each of these individual scores has the potential to generate an e-mail that must be answered from an anxious parent or student, many of whom are constantly checking (and questioning) each gradebook entry.

Problem #2: I do not encourage my students to take ownership of their learning. When I assess myself on my school’s annual goal-setting questionnaire, I always score lowest on the portion having to do with student self-assessment/goal-setting.  It has been difficult for me to share the responsibility for monitoring student progress with those who are the largest stakeholders—the students themselves.  As I began to spend more and more time on maintaining records of student achievement, compiling data from formative assessments, planning remedial activities, etc., the students have become more and more passive in their own learning. Those who are motivated by high grades look only at the score they’ve earned on a given assignment while those that are less grade-motivated crumple up their returned papers without even looking at the scores.  Neither group devotes much attention to the carefully constructed feedback I have provided on their work.

Possible Solution: Portfolio of Progress Assessment 

In order to address these problems, I’m going to try portfolio assessment for the first time.  I’m not exactly sure what this will look like yet, but these are my current thoughts:

1. The students will continue to complete proficiency-based interpretive, interpersonal and presentational activities throughout each unit of instruction.  I will collect their work and provide feedback, but not a score, before returning the papers to the students.

2. At the end of the unit, I will have students compile and submit a portfolio of their best work for each language mode/skill.  I will have the students complete a form in which they reflect on their progress and explain why they have included each work sample.

The grade on this portfolio would be the major (only?) Miscellaneous grade for the unit, while the Integrated Performance Assessment, would provide the Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking scores that make up the other 80% of the overall grade.

I am hoping that being able to record one portfolio grade, rather than a separate score for each formative assessment/activity/assignment will significantly reduce the amount of time I spend entering scores into the computer.  Completing a feedback checklist is also less time-consuming than the calculations required to assign a score, further decreasing the time spent on grading without limiting the amount of feedback that the students receive.

In addition, I believe that this portfolio assessment will encourage the students to be more reflective of their own learning, as they will be choosing some of the work that will be used to formulate their grade.  Furthermore, they may be more motivated to consider the feedback they receive in order to improve before having to submit their portfolios.

I’ll let you know how the Progress Portfolio works in my classes in a few weeks, but in the meantime I’d love to hear from any of you who use portfolio assessment in your classes!

Update: I was not able to make this system work for me!  I felt like I was spending more time, rather than less time grading and the students didn’t really “buy in” to the idea.  I also felt very disorganized!  As a result, I discontinued this process after the first few weeks of school.  I know that other teachers produce great results with portfolios, and I may revisit the idea in the future.

4 thoughts on “How not to go crazy or Why I’m going to try portfolio assessment

  1. Kayla

    Bonjour Madame Shepard!

    J’adore votre site-web et je songe vraiment adpoter certains de vos idees, surtot le portfolio de progress car je trouve que je passe la plupart de temps en corrigant le travail de mes eleves. Cependant, je me demandais comment vous faites pour collectioner les exemples de “interpersonal/presentational speaking” pour les portfolios de progress. Est-ce que vous demandez aux eleves de les enregistrer?

    Merci bien pour les infos et votre gentillesse de partager vos lecons!

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Kayla, merci de vos commentaires. Je dois vous avouer tout de suite que je n’ai pas reussi a faire marcher mes idees sur le portfolio. J’ai fini par passer plus de temps a corriger les papiers qu’avec un systeme plus traditionnel. Donc, j’ai abandonne le systeme apres quelques semaines. Mais, pour repondre a votre question, je remplis une formule avec une rubrique en ecoutant les activites orales et c’est cette formule que je collectionais. Moi, je n’aurais jamais le temps d’ecouter des conversations enregistrees, quoique je connaisse des collegues qui reussissent a ecouter des conversations que leurs eleves ont enregistreees avec Google Voice. Lisa

  2. Kerri

    Salut! I am revamping my district’s curriculum map for levels 1A and 1B. Your blog is very helpful! You bring great insight and inspire me greatly. I have been using portfolios for many years now, and do have the students select 3-4 pieces per quarter to “show off” if they were to have a museum gallery. In order to increase accountability, reflection and participation in their own learning process, I do have them record their grades on a graphic organizer in the inside cover of their portfolio. I never thought of giving a grade to their portfolio because the items in the portfolio have been graded. May I ask if you have a rubric that you used to grade the portfolios? How do you come up with the 20%? I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this and share your wonderful blog with us:-)

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Kerri. Thank you for your questions about the portfolio idea that I shared last summer. Unfortunately, I found my idea unwieldy, time-consuming, and disorganized so I discontinued it after a few weeks. (I just added an update to the original post for future readers.) I think that your system sounds much better. I continue to have a grading system (described in a recent post) in which formative assessments are 20% of the grade. I chose this percentage because I want these practice activities to count a little bit (so that students will do/prepare for them) but I want the majority of their grade to be based on the summative performance assessments (IPA’s). Thanks for reading!


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