One of the most important assessments in nearly any early years setting, regardless of pedagogical approach, is the portfolio. This portfolio includes an array of work samples from the child as well as annotations, observations, and developmental checklists and often grows with the child from school entry to Kindergarten entry or beyond.
As work samples are collected, teachers seek to identify which stage of development the child is currently in and what supports or activities will be needed to reach the next milestone. For example, teachers use children’s drawings as a formative assessment of awareness of print and readiness for reading and writing. Byington and Kim (2017) emphasize that “by being aware of children’s current fine motor abilities and their progress in emergent writing, teachers can use a mix of strategies to foster growth in each child’s zone of proximal development (Vygotsky 1978).” Young children go through some or all of the following stages of emergent writing:
I have worked in two schools that use portfolios to track student progress. Each item in a portfolio is also assessment as learning; these activities were completed for the purpose of collecting a work sample for the portfolio.
But how do portfolio assessments measure up to my growing assessment design checklist?
Criteria 1: Have I started my portfolio assessment by articulating the needs of all students?
Portfolios strongly meet this criteria through iterative cycles of data collection which allow evaluators to continuously see student learning and make adjustments to instruction in response. Since portfolios involve collecting the best student work sample at a moment in time, it is self-differentiating. Each student will demonstrate their current level of development which will be assessed in comparison to previous work samples. Therefore, struggling and advanced student will both successfully demonstrate their abilities in the process. While reflecting on student’s work, teachers will begin to see trends or misconceptions across several students which then offers opportunities to form new small groups or adjust instruction to meet the needs of one or several students.
Criteria 2: Have I made specific plans for using this assessment to impact the instructional design of future learning?
When using portfolios as the primary form of assessment, I have seen teachers use it with fantastic success or no impact. When teachers are experienced in child development and have observed the progress of many children over many school years, it becomes instinctual to observe the child and then plan accordingly. Collecting work samples related to mathematics and counting shows teachers which students need support with one-to-one correspondence, which do not know the numeral names, and which need to be pushed to count higher or move onto skip counting by 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s. From there, student interests drive the choice of theme through which to structure future learning. For my class this year, dinosaurs are the most motivating topic, so working in small groups and encouraging counting skills with dinosaurs has been successful for me this year and I did not decide on involving dinosaurs in my instructional design until after my students demonstrated that interest. However, I have observed less-experienced teachers become overwhelmed by keeping up with the artifact collection process that they miss the opportunity or lack the child development knowledge to decipher what the collection tells them about the child.
For the past five years, I have been part of teams looking to improve educators and parents abilities to access and understand the information contained within a portfolio. One effective method was through digital tools for storing children’s work samples. In 2016, we began working with ChildFolio to organize portfolios. Rather than categorizing work by existing domains, we took advantage of the digital format to link work samples to curriculum goals. This allowed parents to understand the work sample and see how it connects to future learning.
Byington, T. A. & Kim, Y. (November 2017). Promoting Preschoolers’ Emergent Writing. Young Children, 72 (5). Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2017/emergent-writing