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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Portfolios as a Vehicle for Meaningful Learning

*Read the introduction to this series: Student Portfolios: Quality Performance Assessment in Action

When visiting Muñiz Academy, I had just been newly introduced to the idea of portfolios and was excited to see real student examples. I came from a high school where there was no additional requirement for senior students to complete in order to demonstrate their readiness to graduate: rather, graduation requirements consisted of a GPA minimum, an MCAS score minimum, and course credit requirements. The colloquial “senior slide” was real. By the time senior year rolled around, with no cumulative project in sight, we became experts in figuring out just how much work was required to “get by” — to receive our average grades while putting in the least amount of effort possible.

Senior portfolios don’t lend themselves to the experience that I faced in high school. Instead, portfolios require students to engage in self-reflection and make connections between the learning that was done throughout the semester and school year. 

One of the presentations that we attended gave insight into how these connections can be extremely powerful. In this particular presentation, as the student shared each of his artifacts and explained their importance, one of the artifacts stood out from the rest—a painting of his family that he created in one of his art classes. The student presented his family portrait with pride and explained what he was able to accomplish through his painting. He talked about the elements and artistic choices that he made in order to symbolize the relationships between his family members and the role that family plays in his life.

After his formal presentation, when asked to elaborate about one key thing that he felt he learned throughout his time at Muñiz Academy, he further expanded on the importance of this artwork to him. He explained that he is outspoken and often was the class clown. However, when it came to talking about personal matters such as his family, he was the complete opposite. He described this as “building walls around him” because he had perceived sharing about private or family difficulties as a weakness. The portrait came to symbolize what he had learned during his time at Muñiz Academy: family was actually his strength. He learned that through sharing personal experiences, people have the capacity to grow and connect with each other and help each other during difficult times.

The space for reflection that portfolios emphasize allows for connections to be made between the tangible work created in school and the learning that accompanies it. Learning is most powerful when it promotes personal connection and proves to be relevant to real world experience.

Read Part 2 in this series: Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

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