The Power of Portfolios: What Children Can Teach Us About Learning and Assessment

Elizabeth Herbert provides a nuanced analysis of how creating student portfolios affects students, teachers, parents and a school community. The Power of Portfolios presents Herbert’s learning about portfolios-inspired by Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences work-as a portfolio itself, distillations of lessons learned and questions raised in seventeen years as principal of the kindergarten through fourth grade Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois. Herbert transforms her experience into a model portfolio fluidly, appropriately, and without undue force.

With frequent snapshots of the classroom and snippets of student conver-sation, Herbert describes how Crow Island School’s teachers use portfolios to lead students to metacognition, the understanding of their own learning style and methods. Students cultivate their portfolios with frequent opportunities to comment on what they have learned and on what questions remain, and Herbert’s descriptions of students hard at work writing and talking about their own learning are touchingly vivid. As the responsibility for this reflection rests on the students, not the teachers, students ultimately own and control both their portfolios and the process of assessing their own learning. Teachers and more experienced students guide others through the process. Parents are coaches, too, and Herbert includes a chapter focused on how to help parents learn about portfolio-based assessment.

Herbert’s passion for portfolios will inspire both new and experienced teachers and to explore these documentations of student growth over time that ensure “no limit to the possibility of positive outcomes.”

reviewed by Jill Davidson