Sharing information about happenings in the classroom with parents is always a positive experience. I’ve found this to be true in my Honors Precalculus, Intermediate Algebra, and Math Topics classes at Seattle Preparatory School, when I involved them in providing feedback to portfolios.
After evaluating the math showcase portfolios in the end of the trimesters, I sent home a letter to the parents explaining the purpose of the assignment. I let them know that their children were taking responsibility for their own growth in mathematics through creating a unique piece of work, highlighting their progress as a learner. I asked them to review the portfolio with their son or daughter, and fill out the parent-feedback survey. I asked specific questions and welcomed their suggestions and comments.
1) What new things did you learn about your son/daughter after viewing the portfolio?
2) What parts of the portfolio did you like best?
3) Did anything in the portfolio surprise you?
4) How was this portfolio helpful in showing you about your son/daughter’s growth and development in mathematics?
5) What do you want to know more about?
6) Questions? Suggestions? Comments?
In answering the first question, parents said they learned about the clarity of their child’s thoughts, their appreciation for math, their frustrations, how they stepped up to ask for help, that they were honest about their study habits, how they matured, that they had an understanding for themselves and saw their mistakes as learning opportunities. Some parents couldn’t pinpoint any new things about their son or daughter, rather appreciated their candidness regarding their efforts and struggles, or admired their child’s efforts in math. Others learned the “depth and complexity of the challenges in the math curriculum.”
Many parents liked the summary best, others the portfolio as a whole, the reflections on a quiz or test on which someone didn’t do well but from which they learned, the artistic elements, or that the students were enthusiastic and proud of themselves. A father was pleased to see his son’s step-by-step approach to solving problems. A mother liked how her son progressed from struggling at the start to taking responsibility for getting help, and another liked the project about population growth. One parent stated “His passion for math came across in his written words. Sometimes we do not see it in his verbal communication.”
And what surprised the parents?
“That despite her earlier struggles, math is one of her favorite subjects.”
“The fact that he wanted to prove to himself and parents that he was worthy to be in your class.”
“I was happy for the trust Eileen had in her teacher such that she could freely express her learning process.”
“I’m not surprised by anything, really – but I am amazed and delighted at the learning!”
“The portfolio itself, as a presentation, surprised and pleased me. The neatly written problems showed amazing confidence and organization. I was also surprised how little I understood!”
“The crazy cover page. He does have an amazing sense of humor.”
Furthermore, they were surprised by the care with which their children presented their work, the depth of the insights into math struggles, and their honesty.
Parents have found the portfolio helpful in showing how well their children were doing, showing both work and honest self-reflections, growth in confidence, improvement in test-taking abilities, or what areas they were good at and what they needed to improve.
“The written portions were wonderful and gave us an insight into our son we had not really seen before.”
“The self-reflection is so helpful because we never discuss math at any other time. She is doing math that is much too advanced for me. This way, I get to know and understand where she is and how she feels about math.”
“From Eileen’s trust I was able to derive a willingness on the part of the teacher to meet her student where she is in her learning process and take her forward from there” – said a father, who happened to be my dear colleague.
The fifth question was left blank most of the time but I received suggestions about possible assignments. Some parents wanted me to write more comments on the portfolio, and some wanted to know how the class was handling the material taught.
Overall, the comments about the portfolios and the class were very positive. The vast majority of parents were pleased that they got a chance to read their child’s reflections. Surprisingly, I received only one comment expressing an opinion otherwise.
“This may have been a valuable exercise to help students reflect on their math progress the first trimester, but should not be repeated every trimester. We don’t think the portfolio should be graded. Math grade should be based on math performance not on journaling.”
“I like the concept of the portfolio. Self-analysis can only help.”
“Thank you for using this portfolio for keeping parents informed on topics and student progress in your classes.”
“It shows very clearly the level of accomplishment she has gained. More importantly her level of confidence in her mathematical abilities.”
“Thank you for teaching Christopher responsibility as well as math. We certainly support your efforts. We appreciate your treating the students like adults.”
“Thank you for doing such a nice job in the classroom. Sean feels comfortable and knows you care about your students and want them to succeed. I think this is evident in the way you make yourself available to your students.”
“I’m impressed by the learning dynamic that Eileen is engaged in.”
“Thank you so much for diversifying the traditional approaches a little bit to allow some self-expression on the student’s part. This is a beautiful Portfolio. I am so used to reading her English/Philosophy papers. This is so refreshing. Kind of an interdisciplinary approach to one aspect of the class. Mathematicians are human beings, too!”
“Thank you for encouraging Chiyo to take a broader view in reflecting on her own approach to and progress in math. This certainly has helped her with strategies to address the challenges. This is the first time we’ve seen a teacher, especially in math, give their students the power to guide their own learning process in this way.”
“I’m pleased you are encouraging students to write about their mathematics experience. How about doing this every trimester?”
“Thank you for the wonderful job you do as an educator. Connor and his classmates are very blessed.”
“Thank you for inspiring my daughter in math. She enjoys your teaching method. She is proud of the abilities that she has gained in your class. Keep up your positive attitude and work.”
“Lots of growth & confidence this term. She’s enjoying your class a lot.”
“Thank you for your wonderful support, your persistence and impressive dedication. Thomas is truly grasping the mathematical concepts and is enjoying your class very much.”
“Thank you! This provides a sharing of information & insight that could not occur in any other fashion.”
“This portfolio is an excellent idea! I admire both the student and teacher for willingness to commit both time and energy to something that can be looked at with pride and respect.”
The encouragement and support of the parents expressed by these words gave me a lot of energy for my everyday teaching and made me feel valued as a teacher. The portfolio assignment proved itself as an excellent tool in my teaching.