14 Days until Portfolio Review: Gathering Materials

So we already discussed what Maryland law requires and we got all the pictures off of our cameras and phones. Now what?

The next step is to collect everything else that tells us or is an example of anything the kids did or that you tried to teach them, such as (and not limited to):

  • Workbooks
  • Papers and worksheets
  • Puzzle books
  • Art — paper, glass, 3D structures, whatever.
  • Pamphlets from museums and events, ticket stubs, park maps, class materials, and any other ephemera.
  • Scraps of paper
  • Calendars
  • Notes
  • Lesson plans
  • Written and online records
  • Diary entries
  • Facebook or other social media sites
  • Screen captures from Minecraft or anything else that lives solely online
  • MP3s or videos your kids created or starred in
  • Text books
  • Book lists

The goal is to just get all of this stuff in one place before you search through it and try to figure out what it all means. Chances are that, unless you’re a spazz like me, you don’t have nearly all of those things above. Maybe not even half. Just collect what you do have.

(Side note — my reviewer actually recommends keeping all the papers and things for each month in a pile… At the end of the month, let the kids search through everything and pick their own samples. That’s also a spectacular idea! Of course, that doesn’t work when you don’t actually do it, or the pictures are on your phone for four months, or your kids don’t care about showing off math or heath and just want to pick 87 pictures of watercolor ponies.)


You could choose to bring in the whole workbook or just pull out a few pages. Each choice has pros and cons.

For example, if you use mostly workbooks, and there’s eight subjects, and you have three kids… well, you’d better bring a pack animal to carry all that weight.

On the other hand, if you have to pull pages out of non-perforated workbooks, it’s messy. Also, some kids really like everything together in a book and would never let it be hurt in such a fashion.

But remember, workbooks are in no way required. Maybe you don’t have any at all.

Papers and worksheets

Worksheets are, of course, super easy to work with. No book to tear them out of and they usually have a place to mark the student’s name and date.

Of course, some kids just refuse them, so maybe not so easy. We don’t use a super huge lot of worksheets around here, either. If we are, then you know I’m stressed out and the kids are just being super nice to me.

However, we do generate large amounts of paper for drawings, sketches, watercolor, pastels, chalk, etc.

Puzzle Books

The workbook’s more fun cousin is the puzzle book. We do a lot more of those. Which Way USA is one of our current favorites for Social Studies, and the little ones have enjoyed Highlights, High Five, Puzzle Mania, and other similar things. They tend to be smaller than a workbook, so it’s easy to just bring the whole thing with you.


This can be awkward if they like to make 3D structures or delicate glass art. My daughter is currently enjoying making lots of shoe box dioramas. Glass and large 3D art projects are not easily brought in as examples, so frequently I’ll just choose something else or bring a picture.


I just love the word ephemera. It sounds neat and it’s a useful word — basically it’s things that are written or printed, but aren’t intended to be kept or last a long time.

It includes pamphlets from museums and events, ticket stubs, park maps, class schedules, and anything else that might be handed out to you or your kids that just shows that you went places and did things.

Scraps of paper

I don’t know about you, but I have all sorts of weird scraps of paper and post it notes around to remind myself of something we worked on or planned to work on. Sometimes it’s just enough to jog my memory.


Whether it’s on your wall or on your computer, calendars will list a lot of things about what you and your kids did. Maybe you lost the pamphlet from the aviation museum and you forgot to take pictures. That’s ok, it’s still good to remember you went, even if you don’t have examples from the trip. You can describe the semester’s lessons without showing examples of every single one. More on this later.


Some years I’ve taken notes as we learn things just to remember we did those things.

Lesson Plans

I’ve used paper planners and online planners. Once again, it won’t be a sample of work, but it will remind you of all of the different topics you’ve tackled this semester, so it’s very handy for writing a summary.

Written records and Online records

Maybe in your system you don’t write plans so much as what you already did. Or maybe you write plans and just check it off when it’s done.

Diary entries

Same as above.

Facebook or other Social media sites

I tend to post about fun and cool things we’re doing, so this can also be a reminder or a way to find pictures other people took of my kids that I can use as examples. Plus, once your kids get older, maybe you can use a social media site as part of their portfolio — Facebook essays, beautiful photography on Instagram, sketches on Deviantart, music on SoundCloud.

(Yes, I’ve played music from SoundCloud from my laptop during a review. The reviewer remarked, “Ooh! Sounds kind of like Imagine Dragons!” It was awesome.)

Screen Captures

Sometimes games can be educational (actually very frequently!) and the only way to get examples is through screen shots. Maybe it’s the perfect orbit that your child managed in Kerbal Space Program, or a well-done titration or laser beam through PheT simulations, or even working logic gates in Minecraft. When we used Khan Academy, a screenshot was often the best way to get math examples from it.

MP3s or videos

Maybe your child wrote a song, played an instrument well, or starred in a home movie they wrote and directed. Maybe they learned stop-motion photography and now you have a video about lego people being eaten by a shark. Perhaps your child runs too fast in gymnastics so you can’t get a photo that isn’t blurry, but you can get an amazing video of him doing a flip.

Yes, I’ve brought in videos of gymnastics… but decided against the lego video.

Text books

If you use them, get your text books in a little pile somewhere. You may want to glance over the Table of Contents to remember what topics you studied.

Book lists

Lists of books you read to the kids, audio books, and books the children read to you or themselves.

I use Goodreads to track our books. It keeps track of the date the book was finished and I have a shelf for each kid (to remember who read what) and a shelf system to mark which semester they read it. So any particular book will have 1-3 tags indicating the child or children plus another tag for the semester, such as 2016Spring.

It also can scan barcodes (yay!) and even has a bulk scan capability, so I can scan a whole ton of books before we take them back to the library.

At the end of the semester, I just use the filters to make a list for each kid for that semester and print it out.


Once you’ve gathered everything in place, we can move on to summarizing what topics the kids worked on in each subject.

After that, another post about translating everything into educationese, followed by choosing just enough of the right kinds of portfolio materials.

Finally, I’ll post about how to prepare yourself for the review visit.

Other posts in this series:

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