Back in August (has it been so long??), I suggested that candidates need to start writing as soon as possible and not wait until everything is figured out. Well you’re probably past that.
So what do you do? Take the writing in waves and tackle the portfolio bit by bit.
Suggestion #1: Read the overview of the portfolio entries carefully. These short paragraphs (one for each entry) will tell you what the focus is. Write as if you are responding to what the overview is saying. This is valuable if you are the kind of person who thinks in terms of a complete picture first. You write out what happened just so that you can be clear about the whole story. Then you can go to the questions in the portfolio and “fill in” the details.
However, if that’s not working for you, do something else. Too many people think that writing has to start in a certain order. That’s just wrong! Do the thing that’s going to keep you moving!
Suggestion #2: So if writing about the overview isn’t working for you, don’t do it. You can go right to the different sections of the entry and work on them one-by-one in the order in which you feel most comfortable.
Let’s start with the first section of the first three entries. “Instructional Context”.
This is the section where you tell assessors what you know about the students you work with. So tell the assessor what you know about your students. You can follow the questions and answer each and be as specific as possible. Use student first names to describe the students (Please check portfolio instructions to make sure it’s ok to use student first names. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.) you are talking about. Be as specific as possible.
You can also use a chart to chart out everything you know. (For those of you who like graphic organizers, a chart is wonderful to use.) You can put different categories of information at the top of the chart and on the left you can put each child’s name. Each cell will then contain specific information about the child – linguistic ability, special needs, range of abilities, personality…everything that the questions ask you for.
After you have a clear grasp of EVERYTHING that you know about your students, you will then choose the most specific and relevant information that answers the questions.
But you might ask, “what does that mean??? What’s most relevant? The most relevant characteristics are those factors that you considered most when you were planning your lesson.
So for example, you may know that your student “Suzy” has a high reading ability, speaks Japanese and she likes the color purple. That’s great, but not all of those things may have influenced you when you were planning a lesson.
Let’s say your lesson was about international poems and you were going to ask the students to choose poems from their own background. Maybe the fact that this student speaks Japanese and has a high reading ability affected how you planned the lesson and what poems you would be working with. In that instance, it is important that the student speaks Japanese and that she has a high reading ability (you would have to explain why), but you would also know that her preference for the color purple is irrelevant in this instance so you can leave out that information. So if you are doing a poetry lesson where all the students must pick a poem and explain it to the class, then it may be relevant that the choices the kids could make included a sophisticated Japanese poem.
Again, as specifically as possible, write about the characteristics of your students that had the greatest influence on you as you were planning a lesson.
(If you have space after doing that, don’t be shy about just writing about what you know about them. Knowledge of students is an important standard. So show the assessor that you know about your students.)
So here’s the upshot: find out everything you can about your students and write it all out. It’s a good exercise for writing the portfolio and it’s a good exercise for you to realize how much you know about your students and how that can influence your instruction. Next, think about the lesson that you will be highlighting. Then, ask yourself, “which characteristics of my students influenced me? Why would this lesson be appropriate for my students? How does my lesson ‘match’ who my students are in terms of their interests, strengths and needs?” The answer to those questions will tell you what to keep in the instructional context and what to take out.
Once you decide what to keep, just make sure that your answers show that you are answering the questions. That will make it easier for you to make sure that you are responding according to what they want. The questions tell you what they want!
I hope this helps. More soon…