Last week's post was all about how to assess experiential learning activities, particularly when it comes to project-based learning. Project-based learning rubrics are great for evaluating project-based learning activities as single experiences, but how can students document or share their learning experiences on a deeper and more comprehensive level? What can used as a big-picture project-based learning assessment?
Learning portfolios! Students can self-direct project-based learning assessment portfolios, building and managing the portfolios themselves.
If you are doing experiential learning activities of any kind with your students, such as self-directed project-based learning, having students build a portfolio of learning outcomes is essential.
"Self-Directed Project-Based Learning in 7 Easy Steps".
Portfolios showcase experiences, therefore, they demonstrate growth, competencies, and a deep understanding of the content. There are a lot of benefits of project-based learning assessment portfolios including the promotion of autonomy, responsibility, project quality, organizational skills, and a sense of pride, among other things.
Before moving on, I want you to grab my learning assessment portfolio. It is a digital, Google Slides portfolio that is editable and free! Then come back and work through this blog post with that portfolio as your guide.
Let's start with how I use learning portfolios with my students...
1. Timeframe: Students add outcomes on single learning experiences to this portfolio over the course of a session or year. At the end of the portfolio you'll find a place to add cumulative outcomes.
2. Copies of Portfolios: I assign a copy to EACH student through Google Classroom. For a step-by-step guide on how to do this, check out this blog post - How to Assign a Digital Resource Link on Google Classroom.
3. Managing Portfolios: I have students add learning outcomes to their portfolios AFTER EACH EXPERIENCE. This has become part of our routine. One thing I discourage is students waiting until the end of the session to start adding outcomes. Students tend to lose important pieces of evidence, which costs them time.
4. Using Portfolios: Because portfolios are created digitally, they can be shared digitally. Students can save their portfolios for future needs, share them with prospective employers, include the portfolio link in their college applications, or use it get internships, and more.
How to Use a Learning Portfolio as a Project-Based Learning Assessment Tool
The following steps highlight how to use MY portfolio. This portfolio is not required to include portfolios in your assessment strategy, but it is free, so I highly suggest grabbing that copy simply to save yourself time and money.
Let's get started!
1. Editing the Portfolio:
My Google Slides learning portfolio is editable, meaning, you can overlay text, add slides, and delete slides that you do not need. When I say "overlay text" I mean you could insert text over my text to better fit your needs.
For example, there are a couple of slides that have elements specific to project-based learning. If you are doing a STEM activity with students and you would like them to document the experience in this portfolio, you could add a text box to be more STEM specific.
2. Navigating the Portfolio:
One of my favorite features of this portfolio is the navigation system. I have linked the cover photo to the corresponding slide to make movement from section to section quick and easy. Students and viewers of the portfolio can also move between sections in "presentation" view by clicking on the table of contents near the bottom of the page.
3. Personalizing the Portfolio:
As I've said, students build and manage their own portfolios. A portfolio is personalized to each student's unique experiences. So the first thing my students do is make it their own. They give it their unique and personal touch.
4. Documenting Experiences:
Students will add learning outcomes for each project-based learning experience. Once they have completed an experience, they will fill in a series of slides provided with the outcomes included on the slides. Each slide walks students through exactly what to add. Students will go through these series of slides after every unique PBL experience.
5. Experience Summary:
Students will summarize the project-based learning experience in the spaces provided on the slide. Text boxes are included in my portfolio to streamline the process. You do not have to add any digital elements to this slide unless you would like to change the content.
A project summary is important in order to add context to the outcomes. If a prospective employer is looking at a student's portfolio and they see a rubric and a teacher narrative, but not a project summary, they're not going to understand the learning outcomes.
6. Final Product and Presentation:
Two key components of self-directed project-based learning are innovative final products that demonstrate learning and authentic presentations. Authenticity sets PBL apart from other learning experiences.
This portfolio slide offers up evidence of both. Students add photos of their final products and a photo of them sharing their work with an authentic audience. This shows viewers that authentic, deep, community-based learning was had.
7. Goals, Skills, and Targets
Project-based learning is about so much more than grades, and that is the purpose of having a portfolio at all. It is also about growth, competence in essential skills, and deep learning experiences that can't be measured with a test. This slide is largely about those outcomes.
It is also about standards, because let's be honest, we are tied to them whether we want to be or not. This is a good place for students to document benchmarks met. Again, you can modify this slide to fit your needs.
I try to make self-evaluations a priority in project-based learning, and this portfolio helps keep me and my students accountable for that aspect of the experience. My students assess their outcomes using a project-based learning rubric or their self-generated rubric.
I, the instructor, do the same using the same rubric as the student. That student can then go back and improve the experience or the final product to earn a better rubric score. They often do this because they know that their final evaluation will go into this portfolio. This encourages quality work.
I think that reflections are one of the most important pieces of any learning experience, including project-based learning. My students reflect on every learning experience using a reflection guide. These reflections are included in all of my project-based learning resources.
Students can either add that written reflection as an image into this slide or they can write their reflection right into it.
10. Cumulative Outcomes:
The last few slides included in my portfolio offer a place for students to add cumulative outcomes. This is where they look back over the course of the entire year or session and add all of it to these few slides to get a broad overview.
One of the slides offers a place to list all standards met if that is required of your students. Another slide includes space to add transcripts, a final report, or a teacher narrative that summarizes the year.
Again, you can insert criteria that is more suitable for your learning environment or your students needs. I might add a slide where students list all of the 21st-century skills that they focused on during the session, for example. I don't have my students do that, personally, because they keep an entire portfolio on 21st-century skill-building experiences alone. I encourage you to check that out.
Project-based learning is an experience. Yeah, yeah. I've said that 1,000 times. But it's important to note that every aspect of project-based learning ends right here at this portfolio.
I just finished creating the student version of my digital project-based learning activities planner and organizer, and the very last step in every PBL experience is to ADD YOUR OUTCOMES TO YOUR PORTFOLIO! I say this to my students, I suggest this in my resources, I type this out in my blog posts. It all comes down to this portfolio because PBL is an experience and portfolios showcase experiences. Period.
So here's your next step. Head to my blog posts on self-directed project-based learning. Grab my Project-Based Learning Activities Tool Kit. Then get a copy of this portfolio to all of your students. Done. You're on your way to deep, fulfilling, and meaningful project-based learning learning experiences in your classroom.
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.