How to Create and Manage Student Portfolios

Tips and ideas on how to establish and manage successful student portfolios.

By Dawn Dodson

Three manila folders

Student portfolios are a beneficial strategy to building a sense of ownership and accountability in the classroom. Through the utilization of portfolios, students are able to reflect on past accomplishments and struggles, as well as establish goals for future learning. In my language arts classroom, it was necessary for students to visit their portfolios on a regular basis to manage the work being entered, and keep track of goals they established throughout the quarter.

My objective was to incorporate portfolios as a teaching and learning tool. I found the portfolios to be most effective during writing workshops, where students were able to reflect on their previous work. Through my experience using them in my sixth grade classroom, I found the following to be key components in managing a successful student portfolio.

Manage Your Time Efficiently

As a teacher, there never seems to be enough time. I struggled with balancing instructional class time and portfolio reflection. I found the best solution to be to dedicate a certain block of our day to “portfolio time”. It took the place of silent reading and/or writing warm-up exercises. My students would then have ten to fifteen minutes to add one or two pieces of work, along with a reflection into their folders. This time provided assistance and motivation for students creating and keeping track of academic and organizational goals. After students formed the habit and adjusted to the routine, it became a beneficial way to begin the week.

Find the Best Portfolio Style for Your Class

Over the years, my students have experimented with various types of portfolios. They’ve used binders, pocket folders, accordion folders, and manila folders—just to name a few. I’ve even experimented with bins and mailboxes so they had a place to house three dimensional projects. However, the most successful portfolio system in my classroom has been manila folders. I organize them by class. Students are chosen each month to hand out and collect them. This procedure helps folders stay organized and safe, while still providing easy access for students and me.

Additionally, creating the actual portfolio can be time well spent. Allow your students to decorate their folders with images and words that describe their personalities and interests. I also have my students begin a list of goals on the inside cover of their new folder. As the year progresses, students are able to check off goals they accomplish and create new ones. I’ve found that the continual review and creation of new goals has been motivational for many of my students.

What You Should Include

My sixth grade students often need a little guidance in what to include in their portfolios. From all graded work, to only placing exemplary pieces into their folders, my objective is for students to choose pieces of work to accurately demonstrate learning. This might include choices that represent hard work, or corrections on a test that helped them finally understand a concept. For many of my students, this is a new way of thinking about their work, and ultimately, their learning.

In the end, portfolios are a record of a year’s worth of learning, and a celebration of students’ accomplishments. Creating the time, procedure, and routine are the key components in managing a successful portfolio experience.

More Portfolio Management Ideas:

Pictorial Portfolio

Students take pictures of assignments and assessments they feel are important, and provide captions to explain them. The portfolio construction can be as creative as students wish. There are also writing response suggestions included in the plan.

All about Me Digital Portfolio

This portfolio is created over a twelve week time span. Students’ work is organized and displayed through Power Point, video production, or webpage.    

Student-Led Portfolio Conference

This lesson caught my attention because my school conducts conferences in the same manner, as well as includes portfolios in the structure. This is a great lesson to teach students how to lead a conference and share their learning.

Electronic Portfolios

Students use CD-ROM and iMovie to create a portfolio that can be used to apply for college. The structure and organization of this lesson can be easily adapted for lower grade levels.  


Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson