Teaching English: Portfolio Evaluation by STEPHEN A. BERNHARDT (1992)

Although this article is older, I found it worth the read since I want to use portfolios to assess and evaluate my students in the future. However, the word assessment is often used to mean evaluation. In the article Bernhardt (1992) states “that it is unreliable to base [evaluation] on a single sample of student writing” (p. 333). Thus, it is also unfair to evaluate students on “a single sit-down test” (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 333). This is especially true in English classes, where the very nature of the discipline is reliant on the writing process and conferencing. Bernhardt suggests that utilizing portfolio assessment allows students to reflect what they can do for a variety of texts, audiences and purposes (1992, p. 334). Students can show their writing process and get the choice/freedom to control what goes into their portfolio. They also get to spend the needed time on each piece of work and portfolios will mean more to parents than a single exam (Bernhardt, 1992, p. 334).

In my own classroom, I hope to get students to blog their work under each outcome (in student/parent friendly ‘I Can Statements’). Students would then write a letter to their teacher at the end of the year that outlines one piece of work from each outcome to be evaluated, but all of their work would be included. They would receive feedback on all work and teachers, students and parents could all have a say about what work should be evaluated. Students could monitor their growth between school years and have the chance to revisit their work. I would also have “author’s chair” be a weekly routine in my class, where students can help each other, conference their work and showcase their talents. The one downside I see would be making a rubric for each of the outcomes, especially when students may use various indicators for each outcome. Therefore, making the rubrics with the students for each outcome at the start of the year would be important so that students could guide their work from there.

I think portfolios in English are practical and if they foster technology, they better prepare students for the future.

For more information: Bernhardt, S. A. (1992). Teaching English: Portfolio evaluation. The Clearing House, 65(6), 333-334.

Response for Ch. 9 and 10

Communicating About Learning

In Chapter 9 Davies discusses that caregivers are busy but both teachers and caregivers “come together in caring about the student” (2011, p. 85).  Communication may be difficult but students benefit from many individuals, including themselves, being part of the conversation. Students should be involved with “the process of preparing and presenting” because it “gives students the opportunity to construct their understanding and to help others make meaning of their learning” (Davies, 2011, p. 86). Also, it is important that all parties involved give feedback (Davies, 2011, p. 86). Some ideas are a student=generated newspaper, self-assessments and work samples, demonstrations of learning and student-parent-teacher conferences. The one thing that I question is involving students in all conferences; sometimes there are issues to deal with that I do not think the student needs to be present for. However, most of the time I think this is a good idea. I like the idea of teachers getting anonymous feedback.

I would personally like to have an online course where all assignments, feedback etc. is accessible to parents and students. I think parents should receive notes from their teachers. Using agendas and sending notes home and requiring students to get an initial of their caregiver(s) is one way to continue the conversation. I think student involvement is increased if you require them to have a portfolio, take books home to read, run a conference, etc. and these ideas are all things I want to incorporate. In the end, students should be doing as much work as the teacher!

One thing I wonder about is how the learning centers at a parent conference would work. This seems confusing and like an excessive amount of work.

“We can avoid pretending that a student’s whole performance or intelligence can be summed up in one number” – Peter Elbow.

There is no one right or best way to do this” – Davies.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end” – Ursula Le Guin.


Evaluating and Reporting

Davies notes that “evaluation and reporting occur at the point in the classroom assessment cycle when the learning pauses, and the evidence is organized and evaluated by comparing it to what students needed to learn” (2011, p. 93). Then the results are shared, usually on a report card. An easy way to understand this is evaluation = end. Assessment = all the way through.

Evaluating requires teachers to professionally and fairly look at what a student can do, in relation to a standard (usually a grade or age level). Areas of improvement should also be recorded (Davies, 2011, p. 93). This is a subjective practice! Professionalism comes in when we make sure we collect many pieces of evidence that are reliable and valid (triangulation) (Davies, 2011, p. 94). I wonder how teachers decide what assignment is worth the most?

I like the idea of talking evaluation through with students before they go home so they can explain it to their parents. An explanation of grades, etc. should also be included. Students should also be given a chance to evaluate themselves and teachers and students can talk if their marks do not match. Not only does this create a less subjective evaluation, debating and negotiating is an important life skill for students to have.

Something that really bothers me is the idea of “compensating for the compulsory.” We are required in secondary schools to report using grades, percentages, letters, etc. yet research shows that this results in “less impressive learning, less interest in learning and less desire for challenging learning” (Kohn, 1999). This is very confusing and if I want to try to implement a grade-free class but am required to mark in the end it seems a bit hopeless. I hope we align our teaching practices with the current research but it seems we are often years behind (look at inclusive education, for instance).

One random idea about making group work accountable (do not know why this chapter made me think about it, but it did): Students would be made aware of this beforehand and sign a contract. Then a 100 points is assigned to each student. At the end of the process, students self-evaluate themselves and then each other and debate what mark each person should get out of 100. If everyone does their share they get 100. However, if one person did 70% of their work they get 70. Then the person who picked up the slack gets 130. The teacher then gives them a mark and considers students self-assessed mark. If the group got a 70% overall in this scenario, person one would get 49% (70×70/100), person two would get 49 (70×70/100), and person three would get 91% (130×70/100). I would not want to give those low marks BUT I think if this was used and explicitly explained, students would be motivated to participate equally. Not perfect, but definitely something that could be adapted.

Chapter 7 and 8 Response

Using Assessment to Guide Instruction

What I gathered from this chapter is that it is important to include students in classroom assessment, like daily routines, to foster better learning opportunities. Davies gives the example of constructing a list of good reading tips as a class. When I taught Grade Five we made a list of what it means to be a good oral presenter. Then this criteria guided their speeches. I like that Davies mentions that teachers should add what students miss. I also like the idea of taking the criteria and using it to assess areas of improvement and strengths.

A quote that stuck out for me was: “Isn’t it time your students worked harder than you?” It is true that whoever is working hardest in the classroom is learning the most so a balance would be ideal. Now, that is easier said than done!

Guiding Your Own Learning

1. I find that students are most engaged in their learning when they are interacting with each other and have a clear direction. In this particular instance, students were in a circle sharing insights about a specific teacher-guided question. The strategy used was a jigsaw so that students could focus on one thing and get a chance to be the teachers. I was circling the room during the initial jigsaw group work and making sure everyone was understanding their task. Then I sat with the students in the circle but did not have to facilitate too often because of the talking stick used. Students knew the purpose because we just had read a book that related to the topic. However, they did not know the curriculum outcome. They were able to self-monitor and their discussion was more in-depth than I had expected. To make it even better, I would let students know the outcome they are working on.

Collecting, Organizing, and Presenting Evidence

I like the idea of getting students to be accountable by making them collect and evaluate their own work, with some teacher support. I think students are more likely to redo their work and take pride in it if they know it will be collected in the end. Davies also mentions that these packages are great data sources and foster communication with parents (2011, p. 74).

The steps:

1. Keep it simple and give students direction, purpose, audience and reasoning.

2. Involve students so they know more about what they learned and what they need to learn.

3. Get students and parents to value the work. One idea is a student led conference (Davies, 2011, p. 78).

4. Share the evidence! This can include showing works in progress, reflections on the course/learning and best works! There are many types of portfolios (process, reporting, best-work, and learning goals). Whatever one is selected, make sure there is a straightforward and consistent system in place.

I personally want to do blogging with my students or an online portfolio of work. This is easily shared and is relevant to our technological world. I did many creative portfolios in English, career and physical education and thoroughly enjoyed them. I could easily tie this into the English curriculum and it fits nicely with the writing process. I would get students to put information under each ‘I Can’ curriculum statement to show their mastery. I think students, parents and teachers should add work to a portfolio. I think it would be cool to build a blog from an early age across all subjects. This would be a great way to monitor growth throughout the years. Also, many people could provide feedback throughout the years/studies.

I wonder if a mark at the end (with feedback throughout) would be more beneficial than marking each piece. I also wonder if this would motivate students more? Parents would need to be made aware of this change.