My baby went to preschool for almost 9 months…and his year of discoveries, explorations, friendships and exponential development was captured in a 2 page checklist and a small narrative paragraph. His folder gives me the tiniest glimpse into what his days might have been…but most of the artwork in there (too little and too neat) looks incredibly guided. Lucky for me my little chap likes to chat and generally babbled about his day when i picked him up…so i knew what songs they were singing or that he could count a little. Yeah…i guess at the end of the day, he is the report card.
I am not interested in a checklist which codes with a little tickmark whether my child is able or unable to do something. And this is where i find value in the portfolio system…as well as a more organic student led report system which can be ongoing.
The latter is something I experienced in the twins’ previous preschool- By the Sea (https://myfourboysandme.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-school-full-of-memories/)
At BTS they had a really nice system where parents or caregivers could come into school on fridays to pick up the kids. On Friday, kids would take their parents around the school, show them all that they had been up to…what they liked, what they were interested in, who they were playing with, special things in the school…and so on. So all through the year I had a really nice sense of what was happening with the boys. This was very informal and while it really was not set up to be a sort of report on progress…it was in effect exactly what it could be. And so, I got 2 incredibly interesting versions of the week because my twins were on such different trajectories…From one i found out about the imaginary play corner, another led me to the books they were reading…one showed me all the pictures they had painted (each one so starkly different from the other, beautifully unguided and imagined by the kids with complete ownership). another showed me what all he was doing in the sandpit. It was all with so much excitement and a sense of pride. And it created a wonderful connect with the teachers and staff as well!
The formal interactions for discussing kids progress over the year was also a wonderful experience. Teachers had detailed documentation and notes and it was such a lovely conversation. A lot more fulfilling than a checklist – i assure you…and it certainly captured the child and his growth in a much more competent and meaningful manner. This coupled with their bag of ‘work’ that came home every friday was great to give me a good glimpse into how they were developing and what they were learning.
Why do I feel that a portfolio is important? (first of all because i do recognize that there is worth in a progress report if it is done right and not as yet another task on a list of chores for the end of the year). Here are components I feel that a good portfolio tries to capture:
Things that capture the learning that has taken place …objectives that have been set up and met and a sense of how one arrives at this.
Children’s work: It is important for the portfolio to showcase authentic examples of children’s work. As a parent of a preschooler, I do not care so much about receiving a portfolio of art and craft that it obviously adult planned and executed and painfully guided in order to have a beautiful finished product. Like i keep on saying in my blogs…learning is largely in the process and not always so much in the product. I don’t expect the paper doggie to have two perfectly glued eyes…i know my 2 1/2 yr old cannot do that unless he is really REALLY guided and made to. I know he prefers giving most creatures three eyes (don’t ask me why…he does!)
Authentic independent art and craft work show me right away how is doing with his fine motor development, his cognitive processes, his imagination and creativity, his ability to take risks and try something he wants to. Teacher art work makes no sense for me to have in a portfolio.
Narrative is important! It tells a story, it provides a real context for what is happening and how it is taking place. Narrative for me is NOT a 3 line paragraph stating the obvious…”XYZ enjoys school and playing with his friends. He is social and likes music. It has been a pleasure having him in class” So impersonal if you think about it…applies to half the class and gives no real sense of anything does it?
Observations – if a preschool is set up right, with space for discovery, experiential learning and independent time, the teacher is actually able to spend some time making notes and observations. Especially if the desired student-teacher ratio is in place. These observations are really important to understand development and then validate the assessment criteria and objectives met in the first component of the portfolio.
Reflections: Along with the child’s work and teacher’s observations, it is important that the portfolio capture to some extent the student’s reflections and thoughts as well. This also brings us to the importance of conversations in the preschool classroom..most teacher-student conversations are directions, instructions or reprimands. There is very little authentic ‘conversation’ happening in a lot of preschool classrooms. It is important for these to take place for a variety of reasons…but yes reflections is one aspect these conversations can bring out.
Pictures: This may be an added cost, but it is good to have some images that capture some of the child’s experiences over the year.
This probably take more time than your standard checklist but it is something that needs to be ongoing and probably not something to be filled up over a couple of days and many cups of coffee. This is a year in the life of a child entrusted to you. Stand up for your self and your work, your children and your philosophy and share the wonders you work with parents and other teachers.
Let the report be something the next teacher can pick up and really understand the child with so she can plan and work with this student to the best of her abilities. Do it for your self, your students and for a more constructive learning and growing experience!
And thank you teachers for doing so much with my kids…i maybe critical of checklists but that does not take away from what you do with the kids, the hours of planning, infinite patience and oodles of love!