Student Portfolios, An Invaluable Tool in Your Child’s Learning Journey

There are pressing reasons why your child should start developing one as soon as possible.

student portfolio

Singapore is in the process of redefining learning, and we’re a full month into a new school year that promises fewer exams and other weighted assessments for many students.

In a Straits Times feature last year, Singapore’s Ministry of Education expressed its hopes about what its schools could achieve, given more quality time for learning:

“Schools can use this time to pace out teaching and… deepen students’ learning. For example, schools could leverage applied and inquiry-based teaching and learning approaches to encourage students to observe, investigate, reflect, and create knowledge as part of their learning processes.”

Are students sensing the change? Do find out from your children if there have been any interesting classroom discussions or assignments so far.

How else can you help your children to be more aware of what they are learning — in and out of the classroom — and to reflect on how they have grown through the process? This is where a student portfolio may come in handy.

What Is A Student Portfolio?

In the world of education, a portfolio is a compilation of a student’s work, along with any other “evidence” of learning that may be relevant. It reflects the student’s passion and competency in his or her area of interest.

Portfolios are also useful for personal learning, as they enable students to view their completed projects over a period of time and assess their own progress, while creating an archive of their work and achievements for future assessment interviews.  

There are many ways to put together a student portfolio. It could be a notebook or pocket file containing essays, artworks, reflection pieces, and journal entries, just to list a few possibilities. In keeping with the times, digital portfolios are becoming the more common option, with students showcasing their works and thoughts on PowerPoint slides, web sites, or social media sites.

To start planning for the portfolio creation process, ask your child about the work that he or she is producing in school, or at an enrichment centre.

Here are some questions that you can ask an older child:

  • Which of your assignments or projects are you most proud of, and why?
  • What was your most challenging assignment or project to date, and why?
  • Which assignment or project this term has helped your learning, and how did it do that?
  • What would you consider a “good” piece of work, or one that you would like to showcase in a portfolio?
  • If you had to redo this piece of work, what would you do differently, and what improvements would you make?

If you are helping a younger child, simplify the questions:

  • Did anything memorable happen when you made this piece?
  • What skills did you need to complete this work?
  • What did you do well in, for this piece of work?
  • Did you encounter any problems while doing this piece of work?
  • What did you learn from this piece of work?

With their answers and self-selected works, they can begin putting together their portfolio.

More Ways To Track Learning

If you are not sure where to begin, you could first store away your children’s awards and other certificates in a folder for easy reference.

“I keep a text file listing my 13 year old’s academic and extracurricular achievements for each year. We also have videos and photos from her sporting competitions, which are filed by date. She’ll get her own Chromebook soon, so I can hand everything over to her,” says a mother of two.

“My eight year old doesn’t have any certificates but he enjoys building with LEGO, and I’ve started an Instagram account to showcase his creations. I’ll ask him about what he’s built, and base the photo captions on his explanations. When he’s old enough to run the account, I’ll let him take over.”

When Should Students Start A Portfolio?

Many parents in Singapore have helped their Primary 6 children to create their portfolios when applying to secondary schools through the direct school admission (DSA) exercise.

However, with the new centralised online portal for the DSA, which will be launched later this year, this may no longer be necessary.

“I think a student portfolio is beneficial regardless of the changes in the DSA,” says a mother whose 13-year-old daughter went through the DSA selections last year.

“My daughter had to sort through her awards and certificates and decide what to include. On the advice of some experienced mothers, she only chose to highlight achievements in areas where she had shown sustained interest, and achieved good progress. The order of her achievements was also carefully thought through, such that the achievements related to the DSA category she was applying for were highlighted first.”

It turned out to be a valuable learning experience.

“Through the process, she discovered her strengths,” says the mother. “She also believes in being an all-rounder, and she said if she had realised earlier that there were areas where she was ‘lacking,’ she may have done more [to address the gaps].”

Portfolios will still be a requirement for students applying to get into a school that has its own application portal, such as the School of the Arts (SOTA). For such students, especially those who receive their skills training outside of school, the portfolio preparation process typically begins when they are in Primary 4, to give them sufficient time to build up a critical mass of works for them to mull over and finetune at a later date.

Student portfolios are useful not only for those with artistic inclinations, or for the short-term goal of secondary school admissions. It is a tool to document a student’s learning process.

It is never too early to develop a portfolio for your child. What is valuable about the portfolio is that it gives a child the opportunity to look back in self-reflection and self-evaluation. This self-awareness will serve your child well during internship interviews, college application essays, and job applications in the future.

There are no hard and fast rules governing portfolio creation. But some guidelines for parents are in order:

“Don’t tell your children to copy something that you see online, or to copy the portfolio of someone who has been successful in the DSA exercise [or in any other area],” says Toh Menghua, who helps students at her enrichment centre, Artgrain, with portfolio preparation. “Developing a portfolio should be an organic process. It’s not backward engineering — your child must own the process.”