Portfolio/ Documentation Books: The Burning Question

We have had numerous emails and blog comments regarding our Portfolio/Documentation Books.  (Thank you for your interest and patience for this post!)  Here is a little bit more information about them to help inform parents and other blog visitors.

Each child in our class has a Portfolio/Documentation Book with their name and photo on the top.  These folders are filled with clear sleeves to easily update what is included inside.  

After a trip to London England with YRDSB's Leadership Study Tour in 2011, our school team received great inspiration from their approach to early years documentation.  At the two schools that we visited,  we were impressed by their documentation notes, organization, and how well they made the learning in their classrooms visible.

This inspired us to start something similar that would fit into our Bond Lake P.S. context here in Richmond Hill, Ontario.  

Below are some images (cropped for privacy reasons) of how the documentation templates look like.

On the top is space for the child's name and date, the context in which the learning took place, and the level of support that was given by adults.  (Educators circle whether it occurred indoors, outdoors, if it was child/adult initiated, whether the child was alone, in a pair, small group, or large group.)

In the middle is a space for a photo of the child engaged in play-based learning, inquiry-based learning, or other curricular learning experiences.

On the bottom of the template is space for educator notes (observations or dialogue between the children), next steps, the links to the curriculum, and who made the observation.

Last year we also started to use this template for math interviews.  Below is an example of an interview about ordinal numbers.  The only difference, is that the image section has clip art of students in a line that matched our question about ordinal numbers.

Another component of our Portfolio/Documentation Books are our monthly writing samples.  Each day our students are expected to share their thinking through graphic communication (drawing/creative expression paired with writing) and post it on "Our Daily Writing Hangs Here" wall.  The next morning we sit in front of the writing wall to discuss and give feedback for our writing.  The writing samples then get placed into a filing cabinet, and saved until the child is asked to choose their two best pieces for the month.  After the two pieces are selected (using our learning goal and success criteria that is reviewed each day during our feedback time) there is a reflection template that is filled out by the educator and the child to describe their work and next steps for improvement.  These two samples then get placed within the Portfolio/Documentation Books.

The purpose of these Portfolio/Documentation Books is to make visible our daily learning and discoveries.  Learning in kindergarten that is play-based and inquiry-based requires many photographs, as we do not run a worksheet based program.

Our hope is that students re-visit their learning and share it with their parents during Family Fridays.

For our classroom, these templates were an excellent way to start documenting our students and making observations of their learning.

Our next steps will focus on more in depth pedagogical documentation of our inquiries and math problem solving experiences.  These experiences are more difficult to squeeze into one photo and a single page template.  For this reason, we will sometimes use the template above and sometimes create the story of learning using a word processing program.

I hope that this gives you a starting point, and that it better explains our process for you. There will soon be an interview available about this via the ETFO kindergarten page as well.  Feel free to make a comment on this blog post about your impressions of these books, as well as other questions that you may have.  I would be happy to clarify them for you!  

Please note that these Portfolio/Documentation Books include moments of learning and observations. More pedagogical documentation in the form of inquiry binders and panels are also used around our classroom.  Those are not per child, but rather for small groups of children or the whole class.

Share your thoughts :

  1. I've just discovered your blog and I feel as if I'm having a huge "a-ha" moment! I've spent the last hour reading your posts and this is exactly what I've been questioning, wondering, pondering, reflecting on, etc.. for quite some time. I've been struggling with my feelings that a factory model in education is exactly what we don't need for our children. This blog speaks loudly to that and shows me more possibilities of what that can look like. I have read a lot about Reggio and feel like it truly reflects much of my own beliefs as a teacher. However, teaching in a public school provides some obstacles. I have an inquiry based teaching approach and have many things in place already but I really appreciate all your posts in how you've transformed your space and your philosophy. I love your documentation books and am excited to try something similar with my kinders. I've been using Evernote but I really like the interaction, accessibility and ownership that the portfolios provide for the children. Thank you for keeping me thinking, wondering, questioning!

  2. Katie,

    You have just made my day! Thank you for discovering our blog and for writing such an honest and thoughtful comment!! I'm so pleased that this has led you to your huge "a-ha" moment!

    I can't wait to hear how your portfolios go!

    Good luck!!

    1. Your Blog keeps me smiling all the time. where can I find more on "thinking and learning time" also I would like to know more about the "Daily Writing"

  3. Great post! I have 50 students and find it overwhelming to do paper portfolios and documentation for them, so I have mainly been using MaxJournal, Pages, and Evernote on my iPad. It has been working out great and documenting has turne dout to be one of the better things about moving towards a more Reggio Inspired style classroom. I really like how your students can access their portfolios easily though. Thanks!

  4. Thanks Kathleen!

    I would love to explore MaxJournal. This is the first time that I have heard of it. Is it an app?

    If we had more than thirty students, I'm not sure that I would be able to keep up with a paper portfolio either! Those who do this with alternate day are miracle workers!!

  5. Hi Joanne,

    We met briefly at the Summer Institute in Sudbury this summer. Thank you for sharing your ideas around portfolios. You have inspired my team here at Rainbow to try something new with our portfolios as well. I like how they are out for the children to revisit and share with others. Feel free to visit our blog as well..I would love to hear your ideas!



  6. Thanks Tara!

    I am going to visit your blog right after this comment I'm writing...

    Good luck with your portfolios! Loved meeting you all and am quite impressed at the work from the Rainbow District School Board in Sudbury.

  7. Hi Joanne,
    What amazing documentation binders! I'm sure you are very busy, however, I was wondering if you had a chance if you would be able to send me a copy of your portfolios? I teach in whitby ontario. thank you so very much for sharing wonderful ideas, very inspiring.

  8. I forgot to send my email
    Thanks again

  9. I love all of your ideas! I have 2 questions please: do you print up the photos of everything? That seems kind of expensive. Also, what are family Fridays? Thanks

  10. Came across your blog via Pinterest and was wondering if you could possibly email a copy of your documentation templates?

  11. Your potfolio/dcoumentation binders are just what I have been looking for help with! I have been struggling to find a balance between all of my handwritten notes and getting them into the portfolios to show more indepth learning and coverage of learning outcomes/big ideas!

    Any chance you can share your template for portfolios? rachmontague@hotmail.com I am a teacher in Burnaby, British Columbia

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  13. I would love to explore MaxJournal. This is the first time that I have heard of it. Is it an app?

    If we had more than thirty students, I'm not sure that I would be able to keep up with a paper portfolio either! Those who do this with alternate day are miracle workers!!
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