A lot of parents are homeschooling these days, and apart from the researching and planning and experimenting and revamping, there’s always the ever-looming presence of the end of the year: review time. Some parents opt for the standardized test, which I’m sure comes with its own stress. We have always gone the route of portfolios. Ah, yes, the nifty little binder containing within it the fruits of the year’s labor; the majestic educational scrapbook.
When I was a “young” homeschooling mom, homeschooling my daughter (the only one of school age), I was so proud of the first portfolio I’d made. It certainly seemed like we had done a TON of work that year and I stuck everything into her portfolio in chronological order…and that was it. With all the pictures and pamphlets from field trips, it looked so neat. What a great way to document my sweet little girl’s first adventures. Walking into that first review I was confident I’d done a great job. My reviewer, however, was less than impressed. She was unable to keep track of how much we’d done for each subject, and in the end, she showed me that we had done almost literally no math. No. Math. For an entire school year. I hadn’t even caught that as I put things together. But, we were new; this had been our first year, and she gave me some tips on how to proceed.
The second year, I kept everything together and routinely checked each subject to make sure we were covering it. We were good there. But come June, I had over a hundred pictures to sift through – some were so great they were just a picture of her smiling with a bunch of other kids and no context whatsoever – and a stack of papers out of order that I had to try and organize by subject (They weren’t even in chronological order!). I cried a lot that June as I attempted to create order from the chaos. But the reviewer assured me, it was better. Since then, I have figured some things out. Now, I have FOUR school-age children (Kindergarten, Second Grade, Third Grade, and Sixth Grade) needing portfolios and have created a method of organization that works well for us.
With the new school year approaching, and having just finished the previous year’s assessments, some may be wondering how to get through another year without scrambling at the end to document from memory and how best to present the work that’s been done. After six years of homeschooling, here is the method that works best for me and makes the one-on-one as comprehensive and simple for our reviewer as possible.
1.) Document as you go. This may sound like a crazy amount of extra work, but I allot time to do this in our schedule, which looks something like this: 6 weeks on, 2 weeks off. For six weeks, we homeschool and I put any worksheets or papers into one folder. Anything that doesn’t have an 8 ½ x 11 record, like canvas paintings or hands-on activities, I take pictures of. It’s also a great idea to keep a list of any activities that may pop up after you’ve already made your lesson plans, like discussions you have in the car or that time you were watching a movie and it presented an impromptu talk about social activism. Keep the list in the child’s folder to document later.
At the end of six weeks, the kids get a two-week break. This gives me time to print pictures and organize everything from their folders into their portfolios (and also plan for the next six weeks). At this time, I also create my “Subject Lists,” which I’ll explain below.
The benefit of this is that I only have to remember what they’ve done for the past six weeks (As opposed to an entire year, and let’s face it, with four kids that might cause some sort of cranial hemorrhaging), and since we change classes every six weeks (some are on-going, like “Math,” some aren’t, like “Dinosaurs!” or “I’m An Inventor”), I don’t have to sift through a year’s worth of stuff and remember what goes with which class or subject (Writing the date on things also helps. We’re trying that this year.). I learned the hard way that trying to do even one portfolio in one go is enough to make you cry, let alone more!
2.) Color-code your subjects. This is completely unnecessary as long as you have a good table of contents and label your sections well, but I’ve found that this has a great benefit to it. Not only does the change of each color signal to a reviewer that that particular section is finished and a new one is beginning, but after the portfolio is complete, you can visually see which subjects are more sparse than others. For instance, if my orange section is thinner than all of my other sections and orange is Social Studies, then I know that the following year I need to focus more on Social Studies. The color is a quick way to assess whether or not you’re covering the subjects equally. (Plus, the colors are bright and pretty!) Obviously, not all sections will be the same size, but if there is only one orange folder compared to three or four folders for every other color, it may be time to rethink your lesson plans.
Here is what our color-subject breakdown is, though everyone’s will be different:
- Red – Homeschooling Co-op
- Orange – Social Studies
- Yellow – Art
- Green – Science
- Blue – Math
- Purple – Language Arts
- Pink – Life Skills (cooking, gardening, money management, etc.)
- Black – Extracurriculars
I do occasionally add an appendix at the end (which is generally separated by a divider but not color-coded) to include extra materials like lesson plans (if I put in the effort to type them up neatly). This is a new development as I steer more and more toward having my crap together.
3.) Update Subject Lists as you go. On top of a general Table of Contents at the beginning of the portfolio that lets the reviewer know which color represents which subject (and in what order she/he will find them), I use Subject Lists at the beginning of each colored section to list the activities done for each subject. For example, the first page to appear in the purple section is my Subject List headed “Language Arts.” Underneath, I list everything we’ve done for that subject at the end of a six-weeks period. After every six-weeks period, I add on to the list. Not only is it a quick overview for the reviewer of what we’ve done before delving into the actual records I’ve provided, but since you have a list, it’s easy to then file your material in that order, assuring that if the first thing on the list is “spelling,” the first folder in that section will contain spelling tests and activities; it helps you know how to put the portfolio together.
To make it even easier, my Subject Lists are bullet-pointed and I precede the bullets with an asterisk to indicate that I am providing a record. Let’s say you do a storytelling project that has no written record and you have no pictures to print out from that activity (Let’s face it, sometimes when you’re really focusing on something it’s hard to remember the camera.). I would document it like this:
As opposed to:
This lets the reviewer know that you still did the activity, but don’t have a record to provide (which is perfectly ok).
The only drawback I’ve found to this method is thematic units. We are currently doing a class called “Welcome to Japan” because my daughter is fascinated by Japanese culture. Though the class itself would fall under Social Studies, activities like writing a haiku or cooking a traditional Japanese dish would fall under Language Arts and Life Skills (cooking). In this case, I type the name of the class (with an asterisk, if needed) and the activity under BOTH Social Studies and Language Arts/Life Skills and indicate in parentheses on the Language Arts/Life Skills Subject Lists that the record of it can be found in the Social Studies section. An example would look something like this:
*-“Going to Japan” – a class about Japan and Japanese culture *-Haikus *-Cooked Japanese Tempura
*-Haikus (example in Social Studies section under “Going to Japan”)
*-Cooking *-Japanese Tempura (example in Social Studies section under "Going to Japan")
This way, the reviewer knows that my child wrote a haiku (Language Arts) and cooked a meal (Life Skills) when looking at those sections, but will find the haiku itself and pictures of the food in the Social Studies section since the broader subject we were studying was Japanese Culture (Social Studies). If it sounds a bit confusing, it is. It’s what I’ve found – so far – that works for us, but I’m sure it will vary depending on the unit and the family.
My list of materials is pretty simple per portfolio:
- -1 – 4” D-ring Binder (Yes, we actually fill it.)
- Paper folders with holes in all the colors you use (tape for pictures doesn’t stick to plastic folders and make sure you buy folders with holes or you’ll have to figure out how to secure the folders with paperclips…yup I’ve been there.)
- Cardstock in the colors you use (good for Section Lists and adding pictures)
- Double-sided Tape
- Scissors for trimming pictures
- Plastic, colored dividers (though colored cardstock works just as well)
- 3-hole punch
- Clear page protectors
- Table of Contents and Subject Lists
- Records, pictures, and materials from your classes
And there you have it. It may sound like a lot of work, but it not only makes the organization process so much easier, it makes it easier for the reviewer to follow when assessing your child’s work.
The review process is different from person to person. Some reviewers prefer other methods of organization (I’ve heard of one who only reviews digital portfolios in Google Docs). Once you find a reviewer you like, the best way to figure out how to piece together your portfolio is to ask for feedback on it. A good reviewer should be able to let you know what is and isn’t working and it is to your benefit to organize it in a way that makes it easy for the reviewer to clearly gauge how much a child is learning and demonstrates growth in each subject.
If this is your first year building a homeschooling portfolio, it’s going to be stressful because it’s new territory. If it’s not your first year but you’re still struggling with organization, this technique might make it a bit easier. I’m certainly no expert, and as any homeschooler can tell you, nothing is one-shoe-fits-all. But, I hope this post will help you at the end of your homeschooling year so that you don’t end up a quaking mess in a crater of addition problems and crayon drawings.
Have you found a different way to create a homeschooling portfolio that you’d like to share? I’m still working out the quirks in my method and I’d love to hear about yours! Any questions about the steps? Feel free to ask!