Assessment Implementation

Thoughts on End-of-Year Portfolios (Ep. 415)

In today’s episode, Tim shares his thoughts on the topic of portfolios as the end of the school year approaches. Portfolios can be a valuable opportunity for students to reflect on their learning and showcase their work, especially at the end of the semester or the end of the year. Listen as he shares ideas for types of portfolios, learning activities, and AOEU resources you can use when working with portfolios as we wind down the year.  Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links



Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. Today I wanted to put together just a quick solo episode just on portfolios as we come toward the end of the year. And I think there are a lot of great ideas out there. I want to let everybody know this is not going to be about super advanced portfolios. This is not going to be about AP art and design portfolios. It’s a little late in the year for that. And by the way, congrats to all of the art and design teachers who just finished and props to you who were able to navigate the college board website for submissions. Just judging by what I was hearing from everyone, maybe the less we say about that, the better, but you’re through it now, and hopefully all is in all is well. So congrats on getting that all taken care of.

But for this episode, I want to talk a little bit more about what we can do at other levels to help kids put together a portfolio at the end of the year. I think there have been a lot of people emailing, writing in, asking us about quick lessons, about how to fill their time, about how to get through the end of the year. And I think an aspect that’s maybe being overlooked is just the chance for kids to put everything together that they’ve done to reflect on what they’ve learned, to reflect on what they’ve created throughout the year. I’m not saying this is a time filler. It definitely could be, but I think it is a good opportunity in the last few weeks of school to have kids look back at everything they’ve done throughout the year and put that together into some kind of a portfolio.

So today as we go through this, I’m going to share with you ideas for three different types of portfolios, three activities that I think are worthwhile, and three of my favorite AOEU resources that can help you. Now before I dive into all of that, I want to tell you about a pro pack that I put together a few years ago. It’s called Student Portfolio Basics. And if you don’t know where to start when it comes to portfolios, if you don’t know exactly how to go about helping students with portfolios, that is a great place to begin. There are a lot of videos, a lot of resources in there, a lot of information that can give you a great start. And if you’re doing a lot with portfolios as is, the pro may have some new information that could be helpful.

There’s a lot in there on writing artist statements, on student reflection on getting outside feedback. one-on-one conferencing with your students, and some keys to success with portfolios. So if you are a pro member and that is of interest to you, that pro pack is worth checking out. Again, it’s called Student Portfolio Basics. But all of that being said, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on three types of portfolios, three good activities, and three quality resources, all of which can hopefully help you when it comes to having your students put together their portfolios here at the end of the year. So let’s dive in.

Okay, to begin, let’s talk about three different types of portfolios. And I would say to begin, just some advice to not limit yourself to the school of thought that says that a portfolio is just a collection of your very best work. Obviously that is what it is, it is what it can be, but we can also adapt that to fit our classrooms, to fit our students to fit our needs and our timeframe here at the end of the year. And if you only have a couple weeks left of school or if you’re on a rotation, you’re only going to see your kids a couple more times. Think about how we can maybe make that portfolio smaller, or how can we have them select a few works that are of a little more importance to them. Can you put some more thought into what you’re going to ask them to do, what you’re going to ask them to select rather than just collect all your best work?

And yeah, the idea of here’s all of my best work has been drilled into a lot of us since high school and ever since, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Can it? Yes, it absolutely can, but there’s so many other things you can do. And especially if you have had your students document their work all year, they should have photos. It’s easy to select them based on whatever criteria you choose. And same if you have them keep all of their work throughout the year. But even if a lot of stuff has been sent home, you only have a few pieces in the room, that could be enough to make this work. So all of that being said, I’m going to go back to the first idea of the type of portfolio is just kids putting together their best work. I think there’s a lot of value in having kids select what is best, what is second best, that comparative thinking, the comparing and contrasting, thinking about what we did well, what we could do better with each of those works.

If work a is better than work, why is that? What are the qualities that make it better? Why do you like it more? Is it objectively better or is it something subjective that you like about the work? And these are all thoughts that I think are worthwhile for kids to grapple with, for kids to spend time with. And just being able to think about and reflect on their work in that way, it can be really worthwhile. And so if you’re having them select their six or eight or 10 or 12 best works, I don’t know how many they’re going to have. This is, again, up to you with how much time you have left, how much time you want to put into these portfolios, but however many you have them select, have them write down which works they chose, why they chose their works, what they enjoy about them, just think about all the things that you would want to ask them.

And you can frame that through writing, you can have a class discussion, you can just sit with them and chat about it, but having them think about their best works, decide why they’re the best works and kind of justify their selections, I think can be a great exercise and something that’s definitely worthwhile. Now the second type of portfolio they can do is having kids select their favorite works. Now as I just mentioned, there’s maybe a conversation to be had about what is objectively better and what is subjectively better, what kids enjoy and why. And so I think that’s another good conversation to have, have them pick out however many works that you want them to have in their portfolio and tell them that they should be their favorite works. And they should be able to talk about why those works are their favorite. It may be an awesome end result. It may be something where they just really, really love the process, maybe something that not a lot turned out great, but the color scheme is spectacular and they want to hang it in their house, whatever the case may be.

There are different reasons that artworks resonate with us. There are different reasons that we may have a soft spot for a particular piece. And having kids think about that as well is very good for them. It’s very much worthwhile to think about, why do I connect with this piece? Why do I like this piece? What is it about this artwork that appeals to me? And having them sit with those thoughts, process those thoughts can be really worthwhile for them. So that’s a good way to do that too, is just have them select their six favorite works, their eight favorite works, and talk about or write about why those are their favorites. And see if there’s a pattern there. Do you like certain works because of this reason? Do you feel drawn to this type of work? And why do you feel drawn toward that? I think there’s a lot there that can be explored and is worth exploring for the kids.

And then the third type, this is maybe a little more difficult for kids, but I would love to hear from them on the portfolio of works where they think they learned the most. And it doesn’t need to be their best work, it doesn’t need to be their favorite work, just thinking back, looking back at different things that they’ve done throughout the year and choosing which one of those works taught them the most. It may be a new type of process, it may be a new medium that they explored, it may be some cool things about art history that you taught about when you were introducing the concept, any of those ideas. Just have them look back and say, “Oh, this was something new. This was something intriguing. This is something where I learned a lot.” And just have them go through select a handful of works where they learned something new or learned a lot, whether that be about the artwork, about the medium they used, about themselves when they’re creating it. It could fit any of those criteria. And again, have them write about, have them talk about why they selected those ones.

So just three quick types of how you may want to put them together, just thinking about what your kids can handle, what they might be interested in, what types of ideas you want them to explore when it comes to putting together the portfolio. So it could be best work, could be favorite works. It could be some overlap there. It could be works where they just learned the most, but as long as they are going back through a lot of what they’ve created this semester or this year and making some thoughtful selections, any of those three can be worthwhile.

Okay, next step here, I wanted to talk about three different activities that you can do with portfolios, with single artworks, with any of those things to keep your kids interested, keep your kids engaged. Now, first idea is going to be an artist talk. That’s a tough one, especially for kids who do not like getting up in front of the class. And this might be something that you have been building toward. If you have kids discuss works frequently, they’re going to be a little more comfortable doing this. If you don’t talk a lot, maybe this is not the best choice to have them pop up in front of everybody and talk about everything that they’ve created. So I’m just going to put some thoughts, some planning into whether or not this works for your students, but artist talk can be anything where they just get up and talk about their works.

It may be the whole class, may be a small group that they’re in front, but they want to share a little bit about their works. And it can be quick. It can be a two minute or three minute talk about their work. They can go longer if they want to. Again, you know your class. You know what works for you. But just thinking through how I would do this, I think it’s simple enough to hand kids a note card or just have them open up a notes app on their phone, whatever you want to do, and just give them a three, two, one format. And so for example, pick out three of your favorite works that you want to talk about. Just share with us what they are, why you created it. Talk about them for, say 30 seconds each, and just have them list those out. And then maybe pick two things that they learned from creating one of the pieces, from creating all of those pieces, whatever the case may be.

Have them list a couple things that they learned to talk about what that learning process was like for them. Whatever else that you may want to consider when it comes to that, talk about that for 30 seconds or a minute. And then one thing that they want to keep exploring. So three works, two things they learn, one thing to keep exploring. And that thing to keep exploring might be an idea that they ran into when researching, it might be a material that they used just once or twice but want to keep doing that, it might be a concept that again is worth taking a deeper look at or learning more about, any of those things. But they talk about each work for 30 seconds, talk about a couple things they learned for 30 seconds, talk about one thing they want to keep exploring, keep learning about, keep creating.

All of a sudden, you have a two and a half, three minute talk without too much trouble at all. So an artist talk is something fun, something interesting that may scare them a little bit, but also engage them and get them to think and talk about their work. So definitely would encourage that if you think that’s something that would work for you. Second idea that I really like, or second activity that I really like is getting adult feedback on your work. Now I learned this or saw this for the first time a while ago with my colleague Lindsay, and she had her students make some clay pieces, and then had those clay pieces go home with a piece of paper that had an assessment. And the parents, or family, or cousins, or friends, or other teachers, or whoever can fill out that assessment. Just literally anyone outside of school.

They were clay mugs. She had them use their clay mugs and answer some questions about them, just about their experience drinking from the mug. How was it holding it in your hand? Is this something you would use? What other comments do you have? What other ideas or suggestions do you have about this piece that they created? And I think that’s a great idea that is kind of fun because they’re showing off their work. They’re getting to share their work with people who maybe haven’t seen it before or haven’t spent a ton of time with it before. So that’s kind of a fun one. And you’re opening them up to some new conversations with people they maybe haven’t talked about their art with previously. So that’s kind of a fun one. And if you want to throw in the idea of like, hey, whoever you have, review your piece, have them take a selfie with it, just so you know that they’re actually doing that and giving them some good feedback with it.

So just a fun idea to get some feedback from one or two or three, however many people you want outside of the regular art room to share with people they maybe don’t share with and to get some feedback from people who they maybe don’t talk about their art with a lot. So cool idea to get some outside feedback. And then third activity is just have kids write an artist statement. It’s an oldie but a goodie. And your kids may be sick of artist statements at this point. So if they are, try out the other two ideas. But I like the idea of artist statements because kids are able to be thoughtful, kids are able to reflect, and they’re able to put their ideas down privately. And a lot of times, there are things that they maybe are willing to share with you that they don’t want to share with the class, or there are things that maybe they don’t want to verbalize but are happy to write down.

And so there are a lot of good ways to go about writing artist statements, and I will actually talk about that with one of the three resources that I want to discuss here in just a minute. But putting together an artist statement can be great. Having them talk about what’s going on in the work, what their inspiration was, why they created it, why they struggled with it, what they learn, what they’re happy with, what they would change, what ideas they’re moving forward with. Any of those things can be worth exploring and it can be as short or as long as you want it to be. But again, that idea of reflecting is always worthwhile. And so I think having them write an artist statement, like I said, it’s tried and true. It may be overdone for some people, but it’s always something that can be really worthwhile. So maybe explore the idea of an artist statement as one of your activities as well when you put together the portfolio.

All right. Finally, I wanted to talk about three resources that I really like that can help with portfolio building, checking those portfolios, seeing what’s going on with them from the teacher’s perspective and helping kids write about them as well. So first resource is called a portfolio reflection checklist. And by the way, I will link to all of these. So if you go to the show notes, you can get a copy of each of these three that I’m going to talk about. So this portfolio reflection checklist has a bunch of reflection questions that you can go through, similar to what I just mentioned, but a little more elaborate, a little more well-written than just ideas off the top of my head. But it also includes vocabulary that kids can work into their artist statement, and it’s a good resource for them. And so there are reflection questions. There’s probably a dozen of them, but a couple of them could be about, how is this at work, about who you are or what you like?

Just the idea of our work being a reflection of them or their ideas and asking them, how did you use your own unique ideas in your artwork, reflecting what’s in their head and what they’re creating. We can also talk about the message, along those lines. Or if they want to take a different direction, you can ask about techniques and processes, or when did you try something that you are not sure about as part of this project? Just having them think back through some of their works and talk about what’s in the portfolio, what they’ve created, and how they created. And then there is vocabulary, not only about line shape, color form, texture, but also things that dive a little deeper going along with that. So if we’re talking about shape and form, there’s also vocabulary for silhouettes and things that are exaggerated, things that are stylized, things that are flat, things that are rendered.

If we’re talking about space, we’re also having vocabulary about overlapping and depth and types of perspective. But there are also different prompts about composition, about different mediums and how you use those different mediums, also describing art and the artistic process. So a lot there that’s worth checking out can be a good reference sheet for your students as they are writing their artist statement or their reflection. Second, as far as the resources go that I really like, there’s one that’s called writing a portfolio statement. And I will read from this resource and just says, “Most artists write a portfolio statement to complete their portfolio. Portfolio statement should tell viewers about you, your art, and the portfolio of work that you’ve created and curated.” And so you can go over that with your students if you don’t think it’s quite self-explanatory, but just get the idea across to them that this statement is expressing what is in this work, not only that you’ve made, but you’ve selected as one of your best or one of your favorites, or one that you’ve learned the most.

And then it talks about all the different things that you can include in your portfolio statement, whether that be themes or subjects that you enjoy working with. And what captures your attention as an artist? Where does your inspiration come from? What are you trying to say with your art, or different materials or mediums that you have explored? Anything like that, or just why you made the selections you did. And it’s a lot more open-ended than the portfolio reflection checklist that I just talked about. But that statement can be open-ended, and you’ll get a lot more variety. Kids will have to think a little bit harder about what they’re doing and why they selected what they did, but I think the idea of writing a portfolio statement is something that can be really beneficial for students as well to think about, to explore, and put together along with the portfolio they’ve put together.

And then finally, the last resource that I want to talk about is one for you as a teacher, and it’s a rubric that is a sample growth portfolio assessment. And now, we’re not necessarily talking about growth portfolios here. That’s not the specific goal of what we’re putting together here, but I think the rubric can inherently just kind of fit what we put together. And if you maybe want to talk about, especially these are the works that we learned the most, this growth portfolio assessment will work well because it’s talking about documentation of evidence, talking about research sketches, in progress, et cetera, things that help the development. And if you want to make that part of the portfolio where they’re talking about what they learn, that’s a great piece of it. And there’s also stuff about seeing how kids are learning and progressing, developing and building on skills that they have.

And there are good talking points for each of those that you want to chat with your kids about, about visual growth, about skills developing, about building on itself and what they learn throughout the course of a semester, throughout the course of a year. And then ideas for reflection, ideas for craftsmanship, just a lot of really, really good things for you to look at. So it’s definitely not something that you just print and put in front of your students. It’s definitely more for you as a teacher. But if that helps you clarify your thoughts on what you want your students to put in their portfolio, clarify your thinking about what you’re looking for when they are curating or selecting their works, that’s a good reference point and a very good place to start. So again, we will have all of those available for you in the show notes, but we’ll do it for the podcast today.

So like I said at the beginning, I just wanted to put together some quick thoughts after our last couple of marathon episodes, but I know people are still looking for important quality, engaging things that you can do at the end of the year. My thoughts went to portfolios, so I just wanted to put a bunch out there, and hopefully it’s something that can help you. Hopefully some of my thoughts here can give you ideas on the things that you can do in the coming weeks, in the maybe coming days. I don’t know how much time everybody’s got left right now, but just something to look forward to as you wrap up the school year.

And I, of course, will link to the resources that we mentioned, the checklist, the rubric, the portfolio statement piece, also the pro pack I mentioned in the beginning, the clay take home assessment. A lot there, so lots of links again this week. And in amongst the plethora of resources, I really hope you’ll find something that works for your classroom. Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you, as always, for listening, and we will be back next week talking about some AOEU stuff that I’m very excited for you to see.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.