Leaders of Their Own Learning: Chapter 7: Passage Presentations with Portfolios

How can students provide evidence of growth and learning through meaningful rites of passage?

A portfolio is a selected body of student work—with reflections—that provides evidence of a student’s progress toward standards, learning targets, and character growth. Passage presentations are benchmark presentations at the end of pivotal transition years (e.g., fifth grade, eighth grade, twelfth grade). During passage presentations, students use their portfolios as evidence to demonstrate their readiness to move on to the next level of their education. Student portfolios are the anchors for passage presentations during which students—with nervousness, excitement, and pride—stand before teachers, parents, other students, or community members and present evidence of growth and readiness to move forward with their learning.

Portfolios are not a new idea in schools; however, they don’t always serve the same purpose from school to school. As part of a student-engaged assessment system, their primary purpose is to engage students in assessing their growth and learning. Reflecting on their work and how it demonstrates mastery of or growth toward standards, learning targets, and strong character is primary. For this reason, portfolios are connected to many other student-engaged assessment practices.

What I've gained from this experience is confidence. I'm ready. Casco Bay High School student during her 12th grade passage presentation

Learning Targets

  1. I can define the key components of a portfolio system and a passage presentation.
  2. I can explain the power of passage presentations with portfolios on the students who give the presentations and other members of the school community who participate. .
  3. I can determine what students, teachers, leaders, and community members would need to do to implement passage presentations with portfolios successfully.


Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment. Copyright 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Read: Portfolios to Document Learning and Growth

Portfolios generally begin with an introductory statement or reflection. Beyond this, the body of the portfolio can be organized in a variety of ways: 

  • By discipline (e.g., biology, history, music, physical education)
  • By student roles that cut across disciplines (e.g., myself as a writer, myself as a historian)
  • By habits of scholarship (e.g., collaboration, revision, service)
  • By a combination of these three characteristics.

Other important choices include:

What Will Be included in Our Portfolios?
The first thing to consider is whether the portfolio is a stand-alone document or a tool to aid a verbal presentation. This decision determines a great deal about what goes into the portfolio. A stand-alone portfolio will need written documentation for each piece that describes the reason it was chosen for inclusion, as well as contextualization and reflection. Further explanation of the assignment, as well as rubrics and other criteria, may need to be included. Related to this decision is to what degree the portfolio will give a general overview of a student’s performance in a subject versus a snapshot of strong or weak work, or work that shows evidence of growth.

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What is Our Schoolwide Portfolio System?
Schools should identify how many layers their portfolio system will include. Many schools use working folders in each class or for every subject area. These working folders contain all assignments and reflections and can then be used to pull work from for the more formal portfolio. Schools may also add an additional layer to the passage presentation portfolio for work culled from previous grade- level portfolios. Whatever the system, the portfolio should be a living document within the classroom. Students can and should select work, write reflections, and assess progress on an ongoing basis. Portfolios may also include the multiple drafts, self-reflections, feedback, and rubrics to tell the story of the growth of the student as a learner.

How Will Portfolios Be Used to Teach Reflection?
In order for portfolios to be a tool for student-engaged assessment, they must be a regular part of classroom conversation, not a static collection of student work. They should be used on a daily or weekly basis for reflections on progress, self-assessment, and ongoing analysis of student work. In this way, they are an important data source for documenting progress.


  1. How do dynamic portfolios engage students in assessing their growth and reflecting upon their learning?
  2. What are the ways to approach organizing a portfolio? What kinds of work and artifacts would be collected for each?
  3. What do leaders, teachers and students need to do to ensure that a portfolio is a living document and that cultivating it is approached systematically within a school?

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Watch: Providing Evidence of Growth Through Passage Presentations

Passage presentations are benchmark presentations at the end of pivotal transition years (e.g., fifth, eighth, twelfth). During passage presentations, students use their portfolios as evidence to demonstrate their readiness to move on to the next level of their education.

To become grounded in this component of student-engaged assessment, view the video Passage Presentations in Secondary Schools, which shows one format for passage presentations. Then review the The Who, What, and Why of Portfolios and Passage Presentations from Chapter 7 of Leaders of Their Own Learning. Consider the following questions.

  1. How would you describe the purpose and significance of passage presentations?
  2. What are the roles of the student, teacher, and school leader in preparing for and conducting a passage presentation? What are the roles of other community members during passage presentations?
  3. What artifacts could students collect and share to provide evidence of academic and character growth?
  4. What connections to other student-engaged assessment practices do you see?

Passage Presentations in Secondary Schools

Read: Schoolwide Implementation of Passage Presentations with Portfolios

Passage presentations with portfolios are most effective as a schoolwide practice. Review pages 291-293 of Leaders of Their Own Learning, which focuses on schoolwide implementation of passage presentations with portfolios. Using that section of the chapter and the Who, What, and Why of Portfolios and Passages Presentations, as a resource, begin envisioning what it would take to  implement this practice at your school, as part of a system of student engaged assessment. Consider schoolwide and classroom structures and systems and include all major stakeholders in this process: leaders, teachers, families and, of course, students.

While reading and reviewing consider:

  1. What is the vision for passage presentations with portfolios in your school? After defining that determine:
    1. What is currently happening aligned with the vision?
    2. What step could you take to move us closer to the vision?
    3. What do teachers throughout the school need to learn in order to be successful?
  2. How will teachers need to be supported to deeply understand the purpose, process, and preparation necessary for success?
  3. What support will students need to document, reflect on, and present evidence of their growth and learning through passage presentations with portfolios?  
  4. How will the school community be a part of the process?

Dig Deeper

When Students Lead their Learning   Learn more from Leaders of Their Own Learning author Ron Berger as he explains how student-led conferences scaffold to passage presentations within a system of student-engaged assessment.

Student Portfolios as an Assessment Tool   Consider how student portfolios can be used for assessment.

Portfolio Assessment  Review types of portfolios, benefits of using portfolio assessments, and ways to use portfolio assessments effectively.

Student Profile: Portfolio Defense  View this video to see how students and teachers prepare for, present and assess a college success portfolio defense prior to graduation.


For Teachers…

  1. What systems are currently in place at your school for gathering and reflecting on student work? How can you build on that system—in your classroom, and across your grade level or school—to develop a common system for portfolios?
  2. Write a guidance document for students, including a calendar, that helps students understand what’s expected of them and when they will prepare for passage presentations.
  3. Write an agenda for a discussion with colleagues and school leaders. How can you collectively share the promise and possibilities of passage presentations with your school community, including parents? How can passage presentations become a valued and meaningful tradition at your school?

For School Leaders…

  1. What are some of the differences between student-led conferences and passage presentations? What unique audiences and purposes could they serve at your school?
  2. What is your role in helping parents understand the why, what, so what, and now what of successful passage presentations with portfolios.
  3. What advance planning—on the school calendar or professional learning calendar—should you do to ensure that teachers and students have what they need to successfully curate a portfolio and share their learning and growth through a passage presentation?