Personalized Curriculum: Sophomore Core Portfolios at Poland Regional High School

Daniel Burgess, a junior at Poland Regional High School in Poland, Maine, doesn’t mince words. “I’m a procrastinator,” he says, “And I will do a lot to get out of assignments that I don’t like.” Last year, Dan approached his Sophomore Core Portfolio with trepidation. But Dan eventually realized that the Portfolio was a unique opportunity, a chance to focus his intelligence, humor, and self-awareness on the task of answering three essential questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing?

That work, Dan realized, he very much wanted to do. Following the Portfolio’s guidelines and paying attention to its assessment rubric, Dan gathered work that he had produced in class and on his own, collecting Wction and expository writing (particularly notable: a science assignment, a tour of the “Beautiful Alimentary Canal with Esophbus Tours!”), a videotaped performance of his participation in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, visual art, and demonstrations of service to others (both a teacher’s letter of commendation for tutoring a fellow Spanish student and a satirical photo essay of his epic eVort to remove a used napkin from the school’s lobby floor) as evidence to support his responses to the central questions. Dan connected the work with funny and insightful prose that linked each piece of evidence to the three essential questions. While Dan was pleased that he received a Distinguished evaluation of his work (the top of the scale), he values the project for its utility to himself. “I am going to use this as a portfolio when I apply for jobs,” he says. “I think it’s the best way, short of getting to know me over a long period of time, for someone to understand who I am and what my goals in life are.”

Like the Sophomore Core Portfolio required at Poland, many schools ask students in formal and casual ways to reflect on their lives, on their challenges, on their learning, and on their growth. When schools ask students to use their own experiences as curriculum, they are honoring students’ lives and giving students important practice in these habits of honest self-assessment. The Poland project also reminds students to connect the work of school to their lives as a whole, asking them to build their Portfolios around “at least eight pieces of evidence from the student’s life that address the essential questions of the portfolio. Students can choose evidence from class, co-curriculars, home, hobbies, job, or wherever they Wnd evidence that best answers the questions.”

Heather Manchester, Poland teacher and Roundtable coordinator -Poland’s roundtables are similar to advisories elsewhere-helped her students work through the process of creating their Sophomore Core Portfolios last year, making the Portfolio project into her Roundtable’s curriculum. “It was about getting kids connected with themselves,” Manchester recalls. “We made it into a year-long project. In Roundtable, I staged activities that got the kids thinking. Then they put it together.” Work with the Portfolios continues into the junior year Roundtables; students create résumés that they will add, extending the Portfolios
to complement their new focus on career exploration.

Dan Burgess believes, “This project was effective for me because I realized what kind of freedom there was.” Manchester and other Poland teachers are pushing for more freedom this year for this capstone project; sophomore Roundtables are looking at other ideas, such as chronologically organized personal narrative, highlights and bloopers videos, and personal timeline. Whatever form their Portfolios take, Poland students will be using their own lives, accomplishments and challenges as curriculum, reWning their ability to describe who they are, what they’re doing and where they’re going. While self-reflection doesn’t come as easily to all of us as it eventually did to Dan Burgess, measuring progress toward goals, determining if we are in healthy situations or if we need to make changes, and summoning the words that represent our assessments are crucial, lifelong skills.