The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 13, 2000

Features

Seventh-grade portfolio program expands to social studies curriculum

Seventh-grade social studies teacher David Zuckerman and language arts teacher Stephen Bober propose extending the portfolio assessment project that has been part of the seventh-grade curriculum since 1995. Zuckerman told the Carlisle School Committee on October 3 that he and Bober had become aware that students were using subject matter from the social studies curriculum while learning the mechanics of the English language in the language arts curriculum. "I feel we have come up with a good method to make the social studies curriculum work within the portfolio system of the language arts program," said Zuckerman. As part of the pilot program this year, seventh graders will be develop portfolios to demonstrate their growth in both language arts and social studies.

Every seventh-grade student will participate in the same portfolio process and will create a portfolio of written pieces, according to the teachers. This portfolio will consist of a collection of all classwork materials, including written drafts, commentary, reading records and some evidence of presentations, tests and performances. With guidance from teachers, the students will choose work that best demonstrates what they have learned and how they have progressed towards specific goals.

A choice for families

Families and students have a choice in this "portfolio process." They can receive a traditional report-card grade with no teacher conference, or they may ask for a student-led conference with no report-card grade. The families who agree to participate in the alternative program agree to attend student-led conferences in December, March and June; support their students' effort and their assessment of those efforts; and respond in writing to their children after each conference. The teachers feel the students are challenged to reflect on what and how they are learning as well as how they can improve in the learning process. Ultimately, students develop a sense of ownership in their learning experience.

Bober told the school committee, "The seventh-grade parents will receive a letter explaining how the process works." When chair Paul Morrison asked what percentage of the seventh-graders in the past have chosen to make a portfolio, Bober responded that it was 68 to 90 percent. Parents feel the feedback is more meaningful than just receiving a report card, he said.

Zuckerman explained, "The subjects are so integrated it makes sense to consolidate them into one. The students learn punctuation and to write about subjects in social studies." School committee member Cindy Nock commented, "I had two children go through it. It opens your mind to try new ways of learning. It is a wonderful opportunity. Students acquire the ability to assess themselves as they grow during the year."

Bober went on to say that this requires some risk-taking. "It is a little harder," Zuckermen pointed out. "It is hard to look at what one has done."

Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson concluded the report by saying the school needs to maintain the rigor of the curriculum. "This is a pilot project. The content of the seventh-grade social studies program will not be affected by this portfolio assessment program."


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