The portfolio experience holds great promise as a tool for promoting personal growth and self-initiated learning during an educational experience. The majority of people learn most naturally when they solve problems that are tied to relevant, real-life issues. Critical to such learning is skill in purposeful reflection. As Jones (1984) notes: "By viewing learning as a construction of the individual, not something to be absorbed from teachers and texts, they are experimenting with a 'portfolio assessment' approach to education. In this approach problem-solving and student reflection, and their appropriate portrayal or documentation, receive primary attention" (p. 23).

The portfolio can take many shapes and forms. In addition to the notion of critical and purposeful reflection noted above, Paulson, Paulson, and Meyer (1991) describe the portfolio as follows:

A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that exhibits the student's efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas. The collection must include student participation in selecting contents, the criteria for selection, the criteria for judging merit, and evidence of student self-reflection. (p. 60)

There also are several approaches common to many portfolio experiences:

Self-reflection, core to the portfolio process, requires careful attention. It can be difficult to write self-reflective statements and to avoid superficial or unconnected comments (see Brookfield, 1987, 1995). Thus, it is always important to look for examples of good and bad work to build a basis for assessment comments. For example, what is good and what is bad writing, research, and data collecting approaches. Further, teachers must constantly model self-reflection statements, themselves, and have students examine each other's work whenever it is appropriate. Students may practice by discussing their work in small groups before they write.

The portfolio can be an enjoyable process that enables you to gain "extra" insights, knowledge about who you are, and a deepened commitment to being the best person you can be. Good luck with the process.

Guidelines Suggestions

The portfolio is meant to demonstrate mastery of knowledge, skills, and understanding within the broad field of adult education including teaching and training of adults. In essence, graduate faculty look for a demonstration of the following:

You should demonstrate that the bulk of the materials, written statements, and actual products resulted from your participation in the graduate program. Otherwise, the portfolio process might unfairly favor individuals with long work histories and penalize those who do not have such experiences.

What should you be doing during the early part of your graduate program? Begin to conceptualize what you want your portfolio to look like. You might choose to submit a box or folder of material. You could decide to submit the material primarily in an electronic format such as on a disk at a web site you have created. The choice is yours but remember there are at least two uses for the portfolio. One is what you would include as evidence to demonstrate your growth and development during the graduate program. Additionally you can use the portfolio as an evaluative tool for promotions or salary reviews in your current job or as an important vehicle in seeking new employment.

Following is a description the type of checklist headings or statements you will have available for use in compiling your final portfolio:

______Current resume

______An autobiographical statement to include post-graduate plans and/or career goals and a statement of what makes you unique, interesting, employable

______A personal statement of philosophy

______A list of your course work completed, in progress, or planned

______A brief statement of the professional context in which you see yourself currently or in the future, including information on how this context ties to at least one of the items included in your portfolio

______5-7 items which reflect your professional growth and ability (include a written summary or statement of critical reflection and/or self-assessment on each item as an advanced organizer for any reviewers). Indicate your preferred criteria for judging the merits of the included items and describe any assessments you received from others (peers, supervisors, mentors, teachers, etc.). Include any relevant passages from a personal journal if you kept one during the process. Describe any goal setting you undertook (perhaps as part of a learning contract) as a prelude to development of any included material. Items you may include but are not restricted to are as follows:

Good luck with the entire process. It can be a very enjoyable one and should serve to help you not only place some framework around your graduate experiences but also provide a mechanism for showing current or prospective employees what you have accomplished.


Brookfield, S. D. (1987). Developing critical thinkers: Challenging adults to explore alternative ways of thinking and acting. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. D. (1995) Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, J. E. (1994). Portfolio assessment as a strategy for self-direction in learning. In R. Hiemstra (ed.), Overcoming resistance to self-direction in adult learning NDACE, no. 64 Winter, pp. 23-30

Paulson, F. L., Paulson, P. R., & Meyer, C. (1991). What makes a portfolio a portfolio? Educational Leadership, 48(5), 60-63.

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September 20, 2008