In a classroom where student ownership of learning is expected, individual student portfolios are must haves. Portfolios create running records for students of what they learned or not as the school year progresses, and shapes students’ thinking and learning in ways that allows them to have control over their skills and abilities. Portfolios help them avoid error, revise, write and read purposefully, make connections, and analyze and solve problems based on the good learner habits they develop. With a portfolio, a student begins to think about how she learns which at the very least helps to avoid repetitive mistakes and, for others, accelerates their learning through a process that’s easy to integrate and manage in the classroom.
Every student begins the year with a manila file folder kept in a class drawer and, as the days and weeks go by, items from class are collected: quizzes, test, short responses, and practice or enrichment activities. On days when the opportunity presents itself, a student uses the portfolio to redo any item in it for a better grade, with an explanation provided for the teacher to review. For example, a poor quiz score is improved. The student researches the right answers, explains what was wrong, then how she will remember not to make the same mistakes again. Redoing the quiz has many benefits: it motivates the student to improve a class grade; allows for the independent relearning; eliminates the “downtime” that inevitably happens; is easy for the teacher to grade; ensures a better understanding of content; and puts the emphasis for learning back onto the student.
Reworking assignments provides the time for students to manage their learning, and deal with it tangibly. A test isn’t given then forgotten, in fact, it’s now a primary document in the on-going recording of the history of every student. Letting students relearn at their pace, either alone or with a peer, also provides for a differentiated classroom setting, and a change from the normal teacher-as-gatekeeper routine.
Amazingly, a simple file folder of each student’s work can have a major impact on the day-to-day environment of the classroom, and it requires little planning, preparation or effort, just opportunity and a classwork grade for effort.
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Kafalas' fiction captures the wonder, sadness, irony and joy of life. His characters are unlikely heroes who find courage and inspiration in the lives of others. His writing belief is that less is more—his characters can tell their stories better than he can.