Ask me about portfolios
A professor at Harvard told me, "I don't know why more students don't submit a portfolio. Harvard looks at portfolios from home-schooled kids, so why not from anyone if there is a well-organized portfolio...?"
Find out more by asking Mr. Mac
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Ask me about the "Campaign for Visual and Active Classrooms"
Look at what Howard Gardner writes about Alternative Assessments
How about reading a speech by Bill Gates?
Here's what Steve Jobs said to a group of students
The importance of School Reform TheStudentisTheClass.com
Note: It cost me an airplane ticket to get this information. I am sharing it with you because I feel that many students need the extra boost that a portfolio can give to their college-hunting efforts. I hope you will be moved to write to me and express how this information aided you (that would be helpful in marketing my services). I'd also appreciate an hour of consulting with you about your case. You can do the consultation in person or by telephone or Skype.
Notes from a conversation with a professor (Nov. 30, 2005)
McCrea: Gardner mentions gathering a portfolio as a way to measure understanding. How would it work for a standardized test? How could a portfolio be introduced as part of the standardized testing process?
Professor: There are issues about validity and the reproduction or duplication of results and how the test is evaluated. If the child repeats the test and gives a best effort, will there be a similar result? Is the test valid? Does it really test understanding? Can a second evaluator look at the portfolio and give it the same grade as the first evaluator gave? These are issues that can be worked out. The IRS doesn't look closely at every income tax return. Only a certain percent are audited. So evaluators in schools could pull two percent of the portfolios from High, Average and Challenged learners. You can learn more about this by looking at books that describe portfolios.
McCrea: Do you know of any schools that are assessing their kids in
this way, with portfolios?
Professor: There's a list of schools that use the Multiple Intelligences methods. NewCitySchool.org in Saint Louis, Mo., for example.
McCrea: I've just visited the Met school in Providence, RI where students are given evaluations by a two-page letter (every 9 weeks), not by letter grade. The teachers teach all the subjects for four grade levels so that the students are known very well by their advisor. The emphasis is on connecting the student's interest to the real world and finding rigor in the process. I would imagine that their "exam by exhibition" follows the Gardner model of assessment.
Hetland: I'd like to learn more about the Met school. Metcenter.org
McCrea: In Florida, we use a standardized test called the FCAT. I'm interested in figuring out how an expanded FCAT would work. Would there be a set of guidelines for the appearance and contents of the portfolio? I've seen how a "high stakes" exam distorts people's thinking, or rather how teachers twist and turn in order to respond to a standardized test.
Professor: This would not be a "best practices" portfolio. I would imagine that you want the standardized portfolio process to show progress in understanding, so there have to be a range of materials, not just the best of the student's work.
McCrea: If we have to have high stakes tests, let's make them assess the students' actual learning. A lot of students are picking up tremendous lessons in Social Reasoning and Emotional Intelligence. It's clear to me that the FCAT assesses only a part of the linguistic intelligence and portions of the math and 3-D abilities. The rest of the learning styles and capacities are untouched. I'm curious to know how the portfolios could be constructed to accurately expand what is assessed.
Professor: There is some standard literature out there that will guide
the creation of useful formats.
(The professor then described some books that are available at the
PZ.Harvard.EDU web site).
References for this documentary
Portfolio Practices: Thinking Through the Assessment of Children's Work
The Project Zero Classroom: New Approaches to Thinking and Understanding
Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice
T. Hoerr: Making a Multiple Intelligences School
Making Numbers Make Sense: A Sourcebook for Developing Numeracy
Critical Squares: Games of Critical Thinking and Understanding The Project Zero Classroom - Set of two books
The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests, the K-12 Education That Every Child Deserves Educating for Understanding (Lois Hetland)
Pythagoras's Bow Tie The Eureka Effect: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking
Alison Gopnik, UC Berkeley The Teacher as Coach (Jan. 2005, NY Times Magazine)
FROM THE BOOK DESCRIPTION at pz.harvard.edu:
Imagine yourself participating in workshops organized according to several strands of
work from Project Zero "Teaching for Understanding", Multiple Intelligences, the Arts, Portfolio Assessment, and A Culture of Thinking. While you may not have been able to attend our Project Zero Classroom Summer Institute, you can join us by means of this publication. The Project Zero Classroom: New Approaches to Thinking and Understanding is a resource to use again and again. In addition to chapters based on workshops, strand sections on "Teaching for Understanding, Multiple Intelligences, the Arts, Portfolio Assessment, and A Culture of Thinking" include additional readings to help you further pursue ideas. In this sense, it is a map and guide to a wealth of work from Project Zero. You might even consider reading with colleagues in a study group. Regardless of how you use it, this publication offers you ways to think anew and reflectively about classroom practice.
(See Gardner's point about how to assess students from Intelligence Reframed)
If individuals indeed have different kinds of minds, with varied strengths, interests and strategies, then it is worth considering whether pivotal curricular materials like biology
could be taught AND ASSESSED in a variety of ways. Read More
Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School
Thomas R. Hoerr (Principal, St. Louis. Mo.)
Keeping a portfolio for each child - a collection of work and artifacts that give a picture of the child's growth - is a way of capturing progress without using paper and pencil measures. Unless the portfolio is given credence an shared with parents as a report
card is, however, it will seen as just a grab gag with little educational significance. At New City School, the spring Portfolio Night highlights the role of the portfolio.
During Portfolio Night parents and children review student artifacts and reflections and put their hands on evidence of student growth. Families come together to celebrate student progress and accomplishments and to talk about areas needing more attention and effort. In short, reviewing portfolios gives parents an opportunity
to view their children's progress in all of the intelligences.
All items in a portfolio should contain a reflection sheet. Completed by students, teachers or both, these forms indicate the particular intelligence an item addresses and why it was chosen for the portfolio. Without a reflection sheet, it is easy for objects to lose their significance over time. Photographs of three dimensional accomplishments as well as audiotapes and videotapes that capture a student's progress should also be included in each portfolio.
The following notes are from an interview with a professor in Project Zero. These are a transcript from the interview. April 10, 2006
Q: Portfolios are used to evaluate student learning, but could portfolios be used to evaluate a school? The way high stakes tests are being used?
Dr.: You are trying to assess the quality of the teaching by measuring the quality of the learning. What we're really doing is measuring how much kids have learned. We're also measuring what they've been taught. ...and whether what they've been taught is important enough to be spending their time on. It's a complex mix of things we're trying to achieve in assessment.
There's nothing wrong with a standardized test as long as it doesn't shape the entire curriculum.
We see arts being dropped out of the curriculum. Kids are being rote-drilled on reading, writing and math skills. The skills aren't enough for kids to succeed in the world. Students could succeed completely on the test but not have what they need for succeeding in the world.
Skill is not enough. We need kids inclined to use those skills, to do something with them. The students also need to recognize "where are the problems out in the world?" To stay alert when an appropriate skill can be useful.
Portfolios have a better chance of documenting and recording that kind of information than a standardized bubble test.
The bubble test is good at telling you if someone can recall particular bits of information out of context. But there is not a strong connection between a good test result and using that information flexibly in response to a new situation, to the needs of context. We need more effective measures if we want our kids to learn for understanding. That is, learn in a way that allows them to respond in an adaptive, critical and creative way to the problems in the world.
We don't want to give them highly refined problems all the time with very clear answers.
Problems in the world are fuzzy and you have to poke your way through them. Portfolios can give kids practice in that kind of thinking. "I've done something... Now, what is it for?" For example, we can ask, "How can we find out the truth about something that took place a long time ago?" as a goal for understanding. History is about finding out (how do historians think?), and what is "truth"? Well, students soon discover that history is not about a sequential list of facts. Students learn that history is about making interpretations and comparing positions.
That type of understanding is more likely to show up in a portfolio than on a standardized test. You can see growth over time in a portfolio.
How can you use a portfolio to assess whether a school is doing its job? Let's speak for a moment about standards
Standards set by states are leaning in the right direction. They are trying to give a clear enough vision of what we want our kids to
have to become disciplined thinkers.
What are disciplined networks of information? How do we use this information?
Now we can check our teaching to see if we are aiming in the right direction. Some standards are too fragmented (what is 2 + 2)
instead of "why do we have algorithms?"
The skills have to be in service of the understanding. It's not just
skills, it's "skills for what?"
Question: I often hear students ask me when I teach a matrix, "when
am I ever gonna need this?"
Dr.: In portfolios, we have kids and teachers self-reflecting about these big ideas that cut across the school. Then we can see how
well is this school developing information in students' minds.
So let's assume that every classroom has kids keeping portfolios. Kids reflect on what is in the portfolio and they select items to demonstrate specific learning.... So this is going on in every classroom in the state.
If we have a random selection process when we drop into a school, then we have within our grasp the data to help us understand how well the school was aiming toward the particular goals. This random selection does not take kids off the task of really developing understanding.
In systems, you get what you assess. That is a quotation from Lauren Resnick and everyone knows that it is so. If you measure a reading skill, you get that skill, not the understanding for using the skill.
We name what we value when we test it. We currently value discreet information out of context. We end up saying that we don't value understanding and "using information logically and creatively in response to problems in the world."
However, there is a problem with reliability. Reliability tells me that I won't get a wildly different result if the same person takes the same test one day apart if nothing new has been taught. If student A and student B each know the same amount, they should get the same score.
Portfolios are subject to different interpretations. There is so much variation in the way kids learn. Are the people rating the portfolio going to grade in a consistent manner? It is not an insurmountable problem.
Look at the International Baccalaureate diploma. The external examiners are trained to evaluate in a consistent way. They achieve very high interrelated reliability ... But you have to train people to assess portfolios according to clear criteria. It would take funding and effort and commitment. If we had a group of external evaluators, we would be getting a much richer evaluation of teachers and schools.