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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *