Using Portfolios for Assessment

A few years ago I started to use student portfolios as part of the end-of-semester evaluation of my students. I have found that portfolios can be an excellent vehicle both for the student’s own self-reflection and for providing summative feedback.

Here is how I use them. At the end of the semester, I ask each student to prepare a portfolio of the written work the student did over the course of the semester. In doing so, each student is asked to read the first and final version of the principal documents that the student drafted during the semester (in the context of my cases, these include the client’s affidavit, any witness affidavits and a brief).

I also ask them to bring the drafts and final versions to the meeting. During the meeting, each student is expected to have reflected on his/her writing, considered how his/her writing progressed over the semester, and point out 2-3 improvements that he or she made. They are also expected to use the drafts to illustrate the progress.

My students find that the act of assembling the portfolio and rereading their own written work serves as a reminder of how far the student has come in crafting a legal theory or developing a factual account of the relevant events or even about some of the obstacles that he or she encountered along the way and how he or she managed to overcome them. I like this method of assessment because it is mainly about self-reflection. Each student in learning from his or her own work. The portfolio is simply a vehicle to make that learning tangible. It is a wonderfully, tangible way to show someone how much he or she has improved over the course of a semester.

I was recently speaking with Larry Farmer from Brigham Young University School of Law. He mentioned that he uses portfolios too. But in his case, they are videos. At the beginning of his course on Interviewing, before any class has been conducted, he asks each student to conduct a mock interview, which is videotaped. The students then spend the semester learning about, practicing, and refining their interviewing techniques.

Then, at the end of the semester, they are asked to review that first interview and to reflect upon their own improvement over the semester. Like the written portfolio that I use, this one also uses a student’s own work to demonstrate learning and progress. I plan to try it next semester.

Are there other ideas out there? Do you use portfolios? If so, how? How can I improve my process? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

4 Responses

  1. At UMKC, we have a porfolio assessment program that is being implemented as a condition of graduation in our emphasis programs. The program was designed and piloted by Professor Mary Kay O’Malley in our Child & Family Law emphasis program. Students are required to compile artifacts of their learning (papers, videos, reflections, etc.) that demonstrate their competency in seven key skills: written communication; oral communication; research and analysis; creativity and flexibility; judgment; professional ethics; and work ethic. Students defend their portfolio in their final semester before a panel of professors from the emphasis area and attorneys and judges from the community. Ultimately, we aim to implement portfolio assessment for all students.

    What we have learned from this program is that portfolios engage students in reflection on their learning in a way that few other assessment tools accomplish. Students take ownership of their education and design learning activities for themselves in order to “round out” their portfolio or attend to specific skills they determine are most important to their development.

  2. A returning student perspective: I’ve been using portfolios as a student at UW-Platteville while working on my masters in distance ed. It’s allowed me a place to collect assignments and to reflect on my progress in a course over the semester and also make some links in my learning between courses over several semesters. The portfolio has served as a central place to think about larger issues of the material unbounded by traditional “silo-ing” that often happens with viewing each course on its own.

  3. From a returning student’s perspective: While working on my masters in distance ed, I have been using a portfolio to collect completed assignments and materials related to each course. The portfolio allows me to reflect on assignments throughout the semester rather than just when they are “due.” Additionally, I find myself able to make connections more easily between courses rather than the “silo-ing” of learning that often happens. Each time I add something new to my portfolio I see my past contributions; and I can think about how each new addition relates to what I have already learned. The portfolio allows me to re-engage with material again and again.

  4. ePortfolios seem like an obvious tool for legal students to use to make their thinking visible, reflect on their learning and development over time and develop an identity as a legal professional. But they also seem rarely used in legal education. I know that this question could take pages to answer, but I am puzzled why there’s not more about this subject.

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