Parents and the Portfolios

For those of you who have been following this, my sections of 7th grade shared their assessment portfolios with their parents this week. The class has been ungraded, the first of its kind at school. After lots of self-reflection and class discussions, they created portfolios to show what they had learned. To find out more about that process, check the previous post.

The students shared their work with their parents right before Thanksgiving weekend. I have to confess that I sort of held my breathe for that weekend. I wasn’t sure what the reaction was going to be. I knew that the portfolios demonstrated an incredible amount of work and thought on the students’ part. They had managed to communicate how hard they had worked in history and where they had grown, but it still wasn’t a grade. It wasn’t a standard form of assessment, one that came from one authority, the teacher, to the other authorities, parents and administration. Each portfolio was the student speaking for herself, explaining her learning and her challenges.

What followed was silence! No phone calls, no emails, nothing! I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or to wait for some other shoe to fall.

When the week started, I investigated, asking the students how their parents had responded to their portfolios. The responses varied, but it was clear that the silence over the weekend had two sources. The first was that the parents had simply not had enough time to sit down and read all that their children had written. Rather than having to digest a grade with a 5-7 sentence comment, there was an entire website: pictures, documents and commentary. It was far more than they usually received. They were interested, but it was more than they could take it at the time. One student said that her father had wanted a grade; her response, “Don’t worry! I explained it all to him.”

The second reason for the silence was that they were truly impressed with how much their child understood her own work. She could talk about it and answer their questions. There was no need for me to do it. The conversation no longer needed to be with the teacher; their child was more than capable to speaking for and about herself. She knew her strengths and her challenges. She had set goals for herself moving forward and had organized a plan to attain them.

A lesson that has come through loud and clear in this new week of the Winter trimester is that it is far more powerful for a student to write as a goal, “I want to participate more in class” than it is for me to write it in her comment. When she identifies it and claims it, change happens. The student drives the growth! A very exciting new stage!

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