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18 Jul 2018

Literacy Portfolios in Action

Sheila Valencia


Valencia, S.W. (2018). Literacy portfolios in action. Santa Cruz, TextProject, INC.


I first began working with Bellevue teachers in 1989, as they were reconceptualizing their student learning outcomes for literacy. As with other curriculum development projects, it quickly became apparent to teachers and administrators that the content and form of their assessments had to change as well. Classroom-based portfolios became our focus. A year later, we began a long-term collaboration to design and implement classroom assessments that would help us document student progress on the learning outcomes, and that would also help us improve teaching and learning. When we began this process, none of us could have imagined that it would last seven years, and none of us would have predicted that we would write this book. Now, after seven years of problem-solving, conducting action research, collecting data, and actually implementing portfolios, we are ready to share our work with teachers and administrators who want to change the face of literacy assessment and instruction.

The concepts and strategies contained in these pages have stood the test of time and of experimentation by many teachers working at many grade levels with students from diverse backgrounds. Our intention is not to provide a formula or prescription for how portfolios should look or how they should be implemented and used, but rather to take you through a process of thinking about how to put portfolios into action. We hope to raise issues and offer ideas for your consideration; ultimately, the decisions to make are yours and they must fit with your goals for student learning, your particular students, your teaching style, and your purposes for keeping portfolios. Our aim is to foster good instruction-to view portfolios as an instructional tool as well as an assessment tool. In the end, it is good instruction that improves student achievement, not simply good assessment. This portfolio book is different from many other portfolio books in two important ways. First, we systematically present a way of thinking about portfolios. The model, if you will, a process for making decisions about the type of portfolio, what to place in it, how to structure interactions with it, and how to use it to evaluate student progress and report to others. In other words, rather than simply providing ideas, we provide a problem-solving approach that teachers can use to make their own decisions. We do this by describing the rationale and thinking behind what we do as we present examples from our own classrooms and our students.

Second, we emphasize using portfolios rather than simply collecting student work. The premise of this book is that if literacy portfolios are to achieve their intended benefits, then they must be used by teachers and students as instructional tools as well as assessment tools. Using portfolios in this way requires that teachers and students understand the reading and writing processes, be able to interpret student literacy work samples and portfolio artifacts, and apply that knowledge to improve instruction and learning. In this book we use actual student portfolio artifacts to discuss student performance and instructional considerations. We also help readers understand how to use portfolios by providing suggestions for making portfolios an integral part of instructional lessons and for helping students learn how to engage in self-reflection and self-assessment.

Literacy Portfolios in Action is intended for new and experienced teachers in grades K-8; we assume that readers have a basic understanding of literacy learning and instruction. It can be used as a supplementary text in literacy courses, it can stand alone as a text for literacy assessment courses and professional development experiences, or it can be used as an individual professional resource. The chapters are clustered into three sections. The first section (chapters 1 and 2) provides the conceptual framework for understanding classroom-based assessment and portfolios.

In this section several different portfolio models are presented. It is important to read this section before reading any of the other chapters because terms used throughout the book are introduced and explained here. Section 2 (chapters 3-8) dives into the heart of using portfolios including logistics of setting up and managing portfolios, in-depth analysis of reading and writing artifacts, issues of growth, and the role of self-reflection and self-evaluation for students and teachers. Section 3 (chapters 9 and 10) addresses using portfolios to communicate with outside audiences, both parents concerned with individual children and administrators concerned with large-scale portfolio evaluation. Each of the ten chapters begins with an overview and a quote from a student, teacher, or parent involved in the portfolio process. Research background, conceptual frameworks, practical suggestions, and dilemmas are woven throughout each chapter.