The case for the case

case2Portfolio – a portable case for holding papers – a simple name for a collection of works into which a person has poured hours of deliberation and sweat. Today the portfolio is just as likely to be stored on a flash drive that fits into the palm of a hand as in a case. But its purpose is still the same – to demonstrate the quality of work a person can do.

Prospective buyers and employers have been scrutinizing people’s portfolios for centuries. At one time most schools encouraged students to produce works worthy of their portfolio. However, with the increased popularity and ease of standardized testing, the production of quality work has often taken a back seat to test scores. Are the multiple-choice standardized tests scores easier to compare – Yes.  Are they a more accurate indicator of higher order learning skills – not according to a sizable portion of educators.[1]

Selecting products for an educational portfolio can be a mammoth task. First it requires that students learn to keep track of all finished work, and unfinished and preliminary work, and journals. Often they seem to struggle just to find yesterdays homework.

Keeping hold of what they have produced actually works better for students if the students determine how they will do this. Forcing a uniform system on all students often creates a disadvantage for capable students who do not think about organization in the same exact way as you do. (Do you recall any instances when teachers became upset at unnecessarily strict controls of how they organized their lessons?) First, let them know what kind of things they must be able to put their hands on quickly in order to discuss work with teachers/peers, review their own development, and fill their portfolio. Second, present alternate ideas on how to keep store and track their work. Third, learn how to use electronic storage, with appropriate back ups.  This will allow you to keep massive amounts of work in the classroom.

The portfolio should include documentation of a project in various stages (initial concept or sketch, rough and final draft), students’ ideas on the selection of products, and teachers’ written assessments of products. It also helps to have another teacher of the same subject to review possible portfolio products. That does double the work, but also makes the selection process easier and more accurate.

In 1983, Teresa Amabile first promoted use of “consensual assessment,” a way to grade the creative products without depending on any particular definition of creativity. Instead it relied on the knowledge and experience of judges. For this kind of comparative rating to work, the creative products must be from the same domain (i.e., writing, music, computer science). The judges must be very familiar with domain and should not confer with the other judges or do anything else to impose their criteria on the others.[2]

More recently, John Baer found that different kinds of experts (practitioners, critics, educators) in one field tend to agree on creativity. One group of judges rated the creativity of student poems, and stories and the following year, a different group with similar backgrounds evaluated the same works with similar results. But a major drawback remains with this “consensual assessment” technique; it requires that products be compared with each other because there are no norms.[3] The same group of judges would find it taxing to compare products for a graduating class from a single high school.

Even though a statewide comparison would be impossible using this technique, it works well on a small scale. When students finish school and enter the workforce, prospective employers will basically be doing the same thing – gathering in small groups to compare the resumes and work samples; using this comparison to determine who will be the most promising next, new employee.

[1] Cole, K.B. & Struyk, L.R. (1997). Portfolio assessment: Challenges in secondary education. High School Journal, 80(4), 261- 272.
[2] Beattie, D.K. (2000). Creativity in art: The feasibility of assessing current conceptions in the school context. Assessment in Education, 7, 175-192.
[3] Baer, J. (1994). Performance assessments of creativity: Do they have long-term stability? Roeper  Review, 17(1), 7-11

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