by Yap Kheng Kin
The use of student portfolios has found its way into many classrooms today. The practice has its roots in the visual arts, where it serves as a showcase of student work. The documentation of student work also provides a useful means for teachers to assess student learning and growth.
The challenge, with any student portfolio, is to make sure the students’ efforts in documenting their work are not in vain. We go back to the visual arts to learn a few lessons on how we can make the process of portfolio documentation and review both formative and fruitful.
Keeping Art Portfolios
As art teachers, we usually remind students to keep a visual diary or portfolio and tell them that we will check these. In most cases, however, these students graduate with their portfolio cases loaded with artwork that the teacher has not properly looked through.
The lack of attention to proper documentation and review reflects how art portfolios have become a mere afterthought. Students are not usually required to present all of their work, only the relevant pieces for the exam.
Their visual diary is seldom reviewed as a whole; instead, images are isolated from their original context.
But the teacher’s role is not just to give guidance for exam submissions. It is also to document students’
understanding and development in art, and direct them further on the path of discovery.
Forming Habits of Mind
The keeping of portfolios is an important process for art students to foster a habit of carefully documenting their work.
This documentation process is an important aspect of cultivating the eight studio habits of mind: developing craft, observing, reflecting, envisioning, expressing, stretching and exploring, engaging, and understanding the art world (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2007).
Inculcating these studio habits is a key takeaway for any art student. An easy way to achieve this is to give students a checklist of what we expect in their portfolios and let them do self-reflection in their own time.
Furthermore, portfolios can be a crucial assessment tool, especially since our subject grading is not summative but formative in nature. With the art portfolio, we as teachers have a yardstick to tell them if they are making progress in their work, and how well they are building up their studio habits of mind.
– Yap Kheng Kin, School of the Arts, Singapore
Portfolio Documentation Process
How can we support each student in their development in art? Teachers can use the following process for conducting art documentation with students:
- Explain the requirements of the portfolio. State what its contents are and, if needed, provide your own sample.
- Engage in constant review. It may be helpful to look at the ﬁrst work (diagnostic work) and compare it with subsequent works. Here are three ways you can do this:
- Formal review
Offer a private review of each student’s portfolio; perhaps select a few students for each term. These sessions provide a more thorough understanding of students’ thought processes.
- Informal review
Every so often, informal reviews of students’ works may be done during class time. Make it spontaneous and encourage students to express themselves freely.
- Group critique
Review work with students as a class. At the end of a term, or once students ﬁnish a studio work, display their work in class for feedback and review. Select a few students – good examples or those needing improvement – to talk about each of their works.
- Formal review
Encourage students to reﬂect on their own work. They can be given a set of questions to reﬂect on when they prepare for documentation.
Throughout the documentation process, teachers can cover the technique and process of studio work on a variety of artworks. Students can engage with the teachers to clarify doubts, seek direction, and correct judgements.
This can be followed by teachers’ feedback on possible directions and projections of future outcomes.
Suggestions for improvement of techniques can be simply stated or through show-and-tell instructions. Criticism should be kept to a minimum and more encouragement should be given.
It may be a tedious thing to frequently conduct reviews of their portfolios, especially if there are many students under our care. You may start slowly and at a lesser degree at first, but it is a small step in the right direction for the overall growth of your students.
Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. (2007). Studio thinking: The real benefits of visual arts education. New York: Teachers College Press.