What is a Portfolio?

A portfolio is a compilation of a student's academic achievements and experience. Portfolios are developed throughout a student’s entire education, but in a particular way during the high school years. For students in high school, WISDOM always recommends to start compiling portfolio material as early as possible. Some parents even like to include grade 9 in their student’s high school portfolios! Planning ahead and being organized will help to keep the portfolio development a smooth process.

High school portfolios often include a wide range of examples of student achievement and experience. These things could include:

  • Dated samples of student work
  • Records of student experience such as volunteer hours, work experience, or sporting events
  • Copies of graded unit tests, assignments, quizzes, and practice exams
  • Midterm exams
  • Samples of essays and creative writing assignments
  • Photos of projects
  • Lists of literature studies
  • Records of facilitator evaluations or tutor feedback
  • And the list goes on...

Check here to see if there are upcoming portfolio workshops online or in person.

The article below provides an in depth explanation of the development, and philosophy of student portfolios.

Preparing A Portfolio – By Joyce Sehn

WHY a portfolio?

Portfolios continue to be a very effective method of communicating who you are, and what you can do. Presenting your portfolio in person, and talking about what it contains, adds reinforcement and credibility. This could greatly aid you in getting a job or a seat in the post-secondary institution of your choice. Your portfolio will distinguish you from the many others represented by a stack of applications. Years ago, if a young boy showed an interest in a particular field, he apprenticed with a master, practised until he had acquired great skill, and then produced his own masterpiece. Thus, the goldsmith’s beautiful piece of jewellery, the sculptor’s statue, and the tailor’s suit demonstrated competence in the chosen field. 

Things are not very different in the professional world today. An architect shows a building he has designed, with plans and photos of his work. A furniture designer has photos and scale models of his designs. A violinist will perform, or submit a recording of a performance, and have a list of works studied, and so on. This is still the best way to show what you can do! 

In an institutional setting, the focus is on curricula and outcomes, content and knowledge. Economic considerations dictate that simple methods be used for evaluating students, thus we have standardized tests, multiple choice questions, and letter or number grades. This method is useful in assessing how students compare to each other, but studies have shown it is not the best way to encourage or assess learning.

In a home setting, we have the freedom to focus on real learning and thinking skills, to develop a love for learning, and to become life- long learners. We can see firsthand what has been learned and the level of understanding achieved. This can be conveyed to others in a variety of ways, including the use of anecdotal notes, samples of work, and the student’s assessment of his or her own learning. This will show what makes them unique - precisely the purpose of a portfolio! 

To develop a strong portfolio, it is helpful to answer the following questions:

1. WHO are you?

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your likes and dislikes?
  • What are your talents, interests and hobbies?
  • What experiences do you have? What have you accomplished?
  • What have you studied? What have you read?
  • What are your distinguishing personality characteristics?
  • Where have you lived? Where have you travelled?

2. WHEN and WHY are you preparing a portfolio?

Are you starting a portfolio for a six year old with the goal of preserving memories via photos and a scrapbook approach, or do you need a portfolio in the near future to present to an admissions officer of a college or university? Obviously, these two differing reasons will produce very different-looking results. 

Everyone should start a portfolio as soon as possible! The habit of keeping records, saving samples, and filing things in a presentable manner is invaluable. Not only will you have a record for yourself, which you can enjoy reminiscing over in future years, but you will be ready to produce a portfolio to meet requirements when a need arises. It will evolve over time, changing and improving, depending on the need at the time, and the effort exerted.

Students need to be involved! It will be primarily Mom’s job in the early years, but just as older students must take responsibility for their education, they should take responsibility

for preparing their portfolio. This is important enough that it should be included in their program plan at the high school level. The process of preparing and presenting a portfolio, as far as the developing of skill is concerned, is almost as important as the end product.

3. WHAT should be included?

Once you have answered the above questions, you will be much better prepared to proceed. You must then choose what to include. Because no two individuals are the same, no two portfolios will be the same. The list of possibilities is virtually endless, but below are some ideas, in no particular order, from which you may choose (and add your own ideas):

  • cover page with name, and a photo of yourself
  • table of contents of your portfolio
  • a description of your philosophy of education, your family’s vision/goals
  • a list of strengths, weaknesses...all the things listed in “Who are you?” above
  • lists of extra-curricular-type activities, community and church involvement
  • a transcript of marks (given by parents or based on tests or outside evaluations)
  • certificates from on-line courses
  • diplomas, completion certificates, music festival awards
  • lists of musical pieces studied, performances
  • lists of concerts attended, places visited (such as museums, etc.)
  • character reference letters, employer reference letters
  • character development analysis checklist
  • lists of courses studied, descriptions of courses
  • educational goals, program plans
  • log of readings
  • photos, videos and audio tapes of activities, projects and accomplishments
  •  samples of photography, design, art work
  • a resume (you may use the same one you would use to apply for a job)
  • writing samples and work sheets, such as math tests
  • tables of contents from curricula studied, test results
  • lists of courses/workshops taken (swimming, first aid, baby-sitting, safety, computer)
  • goals for future education and career plans

4. WHAT does a portfolio look like?

Generally, people use a binder or folder of some sort. If it needs to accommodate bigger things, such as original artwork for example, it could be quite large, but usually 8 1/2 by 11 size pages are sufficient. A three-ring binder simplifies arranging and rearranging pages to meet various needs. Non-glare plastic sleeves enable the insertion of pages without punching holes in original documents. A power point presentation could also be used, but the downside of this is availability of equipment. Decide on a simple method of compiling things. Just putting everything in a box may mean you’ll never get back to it, or that you’ll be overwhelmed with the task of organizing it when you eventually get to it, but it is a start. Slipping things into an album on a regular basis will keep things organized chronologically. Scanning documents, photos and projects is another option. When you need to present your portfolio, you can then choose and use relevant items.

A personal example:

Each of our youngest girls has two portfolios. The first is a photo-album type, which covers the early years of their home education. Pictures and certificates are quite prominent. Its main components include:

  • photos of activities
  • samples of penmanship
  • art work (or photos of art work)
  • reading lists
  • lists of what was studied during this time (arranged by subject)

The second portfolio is a more serious-looking one, which covers the high school years. It includes:

  • a description of a classical education and our philosophy of education
  • lists of what was studied arranged by subject, including names of books and texts used
  • samples of writing
  • a list of books read
  • descriptions of online courses and completion certificates
  • a parent-generated transcript
  • a WISDOM certificate recognizing High School Completion (which states that the student has completed the objectives set by the parents)

Much of the process of preparing these portfolios was enjoyable, but there were struggles, too. Deciding what to include, what format to use, and the order in which to present things, was not easy. But, the effort was well worth it! We have a great record of those precious years, and both girls gained admission to a university/college without any Alberta courses or credits, simply by presenting their portfolios.

Part of The Gilbertine Institute