How do I curate student work, or help students to curate their own work?
For years, my district had students collect sample writing pieces in portfolios. These portfolios were heavy; they were divided into several folders and contained years of student work. Year after year, more work would be added. Occasionally they would be cleaned out, but more often than not I would see work from first and second grade in my seventh graders’ portfolios. (I would even find a student-made spelling dictionary with words going back to first grade.)
At the end of the year, language arts teachers suffered from “portfolio anxiety.” There were so many forms to fill out, so many directions to follow. Which pieces should be left in? Which should be removed? Which folder does each form or piece of work go in? And the biggest concern of all: Who had the hole punch that made the two perfectly-spaced holes at the top of the final data sheet that had to be clasped into the inside cover of the portfolio?
It was with great joy that we each delivered our heavy box of portfolios to the main office on the last day of school. At the beginning of the year, however, we needed to collect the next crop of folders. They were sitting, gathering dust, in the same spot where they were left in June. Why did the office need to collect them every year if they were never touched?
Our portfolios were more about forms and data collection, and less about reflection.
We no longer use those portfolios. I can’t say that we have solved all of our problems, but we are moving in the right direction. All students now have Google Drive accounts where they keep their work. All data is collected on Google Sheets and can easily be accessed by teachers who need to use it. Students write occasional reflective pieces about their work.
What still needs to be done? Students need to reflect more often. They need help in collecting, curating and organizing their own work. Many have Drive folders that are as messy as their lockers. Students should be creating a space with samples that represent their growth over time, not just a folder with all of their work in it. We need to explore the use of more online tools to truly create a digital portfolio.
I recently created my digital portfolio as part of my graduate work. I know there are many other tools out there to help students do the same. It is an overwhelming task, but with small steps we can continue to improve.