Homeschool Portfolio Creation and Expectations

Merriam-Webster defines the portfolio as "a selection of a student's work . . . compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress."

Portfolio Creation Ideas

Merriam-Webster defines the portfolio as "a selection of a student's work . . . compiled over a peri

Here are some "sequential" ideas on portfolio creation. Sometimes a bit of a specific walk-through is best. If your portfolios have been working for years, great! If  not, some "nuts-and-bolts" ideas are listed below:

Ideas for Everyone

  • Choose an easy-to-update storage method for your portfolio materials: an expanding file is super-flexible and can be reused each year.
  • Know where you're going: Set learning goals for your students, be they formal (finish this  textbook) or informal (master multiplication, division, fractions, and  percents.)
  • Decide how you'll show progress in each subject area. Here's a great form to help.
  • Consider keeping a Teachers Plan Book -- but use it to record what your family actually does each day.
  • Every month or two, collect samples from each subject area and file them. Update your reading lists. Print  out (and back up) your computer work. Get those pictures out of your  camera!

Ideas for the Early Years

  • Reading: Can be easily measured by assessing your child's reading level at the beginning and end of the year. Progress can also be shown through a child's reading list or progression through a language arts or phonics curriculum.
  • Handwriting: Curriculum samples, periodic journal entries, copywork, dictation... Date any random papers in order to show progress.
  • Language Arts: Workbook pages are great, but a lesson plan book, curriculum guide, or reading list might work just as well.
  • Mathematics: Workbook pages are a quick and easy portfolio addition, but a lot of early math learning just calls out for "hands-on" activities. Show progress with an annotated list of learning objectives, a lesson plan book or activity  summary, and/or sample activities and pictures. Make sure to accompany your awesome pictures with a written summary so your evaluator can  easily see your child's progress... if you're not a "math person" it can be tricky evaluating a stack of un-dated pictures!
  • Science & Social Studies: Reading lists, field trip brochures, photographs, curriculum guides,  learning journals, teaching journals, mapwork, timelines, drawings, shutterbooks, scrapbook pages, writing assignments, blog entries...  almost anything works!

Ideas for the Elementary Years

  • Reading: What books was your child reading in September? In December? In June? Has their confidence increased? Speed?
  • Handwriting: Curriculum samples, periodic journal entries, copywork, dictation... Date the random paper in order to show progress in your homeschool portfolio
  • Language Arts: Reading lists (both teacher and student read), workbook pages, lesson  plans, teaching journal, learning journal, pictures of projects or activities
  • Writing: Writing samples. Handwritten, typed, dictated to a family member... In a notebook, journal, or scrap paper... Keep samples.
  • Mathematics: If you're not working through a formal curriculum, you really need to be clear about your goals and intentional in your teaching and documentation. Keep an annotated list of learning objectives, a lesson  plan book or activity summary, and/or sample activities and pictures.  Make sure that you're evaluating your child's retention and mastery...  the fact that they could perform a task on Monday does not mean they've retained it come May.
  • History & Geography: Reading lists, field trip brochures, photographs, curriculum guides,  learning journals, teaching journals, mapwork, timelines, drawings,  shutterbooks, scrapbook pages, writing assignments...
  • Science: Reading lists, field trip brochures, photographs, activity pages,  learning journals, teaching journals, drawings, shutterbooks, scrapbook  pages, writing assignments, blog entries... almost anything works. Remember: The goal is exposure, not mastery.

Ideas for the Middle School Years

  • English: Reading lists (both teacher and student read), writing samples (work that your child has authored -- this may or may not be handwritten), workbook pages, lesson plans, teaching journal, learning journal,  pictures of projects or activities, tests. Date items to show progress throughout the portfolio
  • Mathematics: Tests, written work, and competancy projects are key. Shutter books, notebooks, pictures of activities, skills checklists...
  • History & Geography: Reading lists, field trip brochures, photographs, curriculum guides,  learning journals, teaching journals, mapwork, timelines, creations drawings, shutterbooks, scrapbook pages, writing assignments...
  • Science: Reading lists, photographs, learning journals, shutterbooks, projects, writing assignments, tests, lab reports...
  • Other: Letters from teachers, certificates, printouts from online activities

Ideas for the High School Years

  • English: Reading lists and writing assignments are essential here. Tests, workbook pages, and study guides can also help.
  • Mathematics: Tests, written work, and competency projects are key. Extremely  detailed skill charts are possible but incredibly difficult to maintain.
  • History & Geography: Tests, reading lists, learning journals, mapwork, timelines, student projects and writing assignments all work. Mastery and understanding is expected.
  • Science: Written work, tests, lab reports, pictures, learning journals....
  • Health & PE: Activity log, journal, reading list
  • Computer Science: Projects, data CD, completed checklist, typing speed test, quizzes
  • Other: Letters from external teachers (detailing classwork and time commitment), grade printouts from online courses

Minimal Expectations

I have tried to avoid quantifying portfolio expectations. I'm a big believer in a student progressing as is appropriate for them. However, I've had to "not-pass" a rare few  students--due to either an inadequate portfolio or an egregious lack of educational progress. Please note that I'm not talking about  "curriculum" progress or "formal" schooling; I'm referring to a lack of  learning in general. If you're stuck, here are some ideas about how to document progress.


Below I've listed my minimal expectations, the items that send up alarms in their absence. Every child is different, and I'm concerned with your child's appropriate progress--not their location on some official scale.


What I look for in the early years:
Around 5-9 years old; K-2nd Grade

  • Reading: The student either can (and does) read fluently or is regularly working toward that goal.
  • Handwriting: The student is working to develop functional handwriting -- at an individually appropriate pace.
  • Language Arts: The student is regularly exposed to literature and/or other language arts concepts.
  • Mathematics:  The student is systematically building her mathematics skills. (Think  concepts, addition, subtraction, and skip counting.)
  • Science & Social Studies: The student has regular exposure to, and is learning about, the world around him.


What I look for in the elementary years:
Around 9-12 years old; 3rd-5th Grade

  • Reading:  The student either can (and does) read fluently or is working  diligently toward that goal. They are reading a variety of materials.
  • Handwriting: The student either has, or is working hard to develop, functional handwriting.
  • Language  Arts: The student is exposed to a variety of literature, and is  systematically learning basic spelling, grammar, and mechanics, as  appropriate.
  • Writing: The student is purposefully, and regularly, writing. By "writing" I really mean "authoring"... Word processors rock!
  • Mathematics:  The student is systematically building his mathematics skills. (Think  multiplication, division, fractions, percents, time, and geometry.)
  • History & Geography: The student is learning something about various topic in history and geography.
  • Science: The student is continuing to broaden her knowledge of the physical world. Exposure is key.
  • Time: I would expect the student to be doing at least an hour or two of "school" daily.


What I look for in the middle school years:
Around 12-14 years old; 6th-8th Grade

  • Reading: If the student can not read fluently, appropriate interventions are in place.
  • Handwriting: The student has functional handwriting. Keyboarding skills may support this.
  • Language  Arts: The student is exposed to a variety of literature, and is  systematically learning spelling, grammar, and mechanics.
  • Writing: The student is learning how to write. He is purposefully, regularly writing.
  • Mathematics:  The student is systematically building her mathematics skills. (Think  skill mastery, data analysis, word problems, graphs, proportions, and  pre-algebra.)
  • History & Geography: The student is systematically studying history and/or geography.
  • Science: The student is moving toward more systematic learning, filling in gaps as needed.
  • Time: I would expect the student to be actively learning for several hours each day.


What I look for in high school:
Around 14-18 years old; 9th-12th Grade
High school students may not study all of the core subjects each  year. They do, however, need to have a high school plan and be  completing a reasonable amount of course work.


  • English:  The student has functional handwriting and is reading at least a  minimal quantity of literature. The student is learning how to be a  better writer -- He is purposefully, regularly writing.
  • Mathematics: The student is systematically building her mathematics skills. (Think Business Math, Algebra, Geometry, et al.)
  • History & Geography: The student is systematically studying history and/or geography, as appropriate. Deeper learning is happening.
  • Science: The student is systematically studying a scientific discipline.
  • Time: I would expect the student to be engaged in multiple hours, four or more, of active learning each day.


The above goals aren't necessarily indicative of a good education,

but they give you an idea of a starting point  : )