The Learning Record

Fostering Discerning Thinking

Informal White Papers

From the Web to Walden

Joy to the World

Roses, grasses, chicks, and children

An Open Assessment Manifesto

Other Links

Frequently-asked questions


Minimal Marking

Small multiples for tracking work

Sample grading criteria


Sources of Support


Contact Information

Fair Test: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Why Use the Learning Record in College?

Rhetorical and Pedagogical Uses of the Learning Record

There are important rhetorical and pedagogical purposes for using the Learning Record model in college-level classrooms, beyond the general approval currently enjoyed by portfolio evaluation. The practices of inquiry, data gathering and selection, observation, summary, analysis, and evaluation used in keeping the Learning Record cultivate habits of mind that are central to all disciplines. The Learning Record model engages students in the kinds of activities that foster critical thinking, foreground connections between writers, rhetoric, purposes, and audiences, and demonstrate meaningful uses of writing.

Part A gives students an opportunity to reflect on their development as readers, writers, and thinkers in a discipline as they enter the class. Where students are asked to interview parents or others familiar with their development, Part A also engages students in first-hand research on a subject of great personal interest to them. They practice interviewing skills and strategies, gathering field notes, and making summary interpretations which become part of the record.

The data collection section is in two parts; it engages students in making first-hand observations of ongoing activities, and in selecting relevant examples of work demonstrating their own development over time. The observational notes, though brief, help students learn about and reflect on the relationship between direct perception and interpretation or evaluation. Because these observations must present positive, rather than negative representations of activity, students are confronted with the powerful role of language in shaping perceptions of reality. The selection of samples of work engages them in matching evidence and criteria for achievement.

In the summary interpetation of Part B, students engage in synthesizing and analyzing the fragmentary data provided by the data collection section in the light of Part A. They develop interpretations of this data as representative of their development across five dimensions of literacy learning: the dimensions of confidence and independence, skills and strategies, knowledge and understanding, the use of prior and emerging experience, and reflectiveness, and they connect these dimensions to the key themes or goals of the course. This provides practice in making analyses according to theoretical frameworks and grounded in evidence. They also practice summarizing a large volume of diverse data concisely.

Finally, in Part C, students present an argument for a grade, based on the reasons and evidence they have developed and presented for readers as related to the established grade criteria for the course. At the midterm, they reflect on what they hope to accomplish for the remainder of the semester, and make suggestions for improving the functioning of the class. This section engages students in the process of making informed judgments based on the rhetorical process of making an evaluation argumentbased on criteria supported by solid evidence, interpretations, and reasoning.

The moderation process also contributes to students' development in important ways. Students are paired to read and discuss the Learning Records of several of their peers. The partners focus on the completeness and quality of the overall portfolio of work together with its learning record. Since they have shared the same sequence of activities in the class, they can make informed suggestions for the selection of examples to be included, comment on the observations, and respond to the interpretations and conclusions about the quality of work. This activity engages students in actively reflecting on the composition of an effective portfolio of work and its overview. How much material should be included? What range of material will best represent the student's development? Should there be more observations, or a greater range of them? Increasingly, portfolios of work are being used as measures in workplace environments; even where they are not mandated, they can serve as powerful evidence of work accomplished. But beyond this rather mundane professional purpose, it also engages students in reflecting about their own development as learners, helps them take more responsibility for that development, and encourages them to pursue it actively.

The learning record does not abrogate the responsibility of the teacher to provide students, their families, and institutions with appropriate reporting about student achievement and progress; rather it helps ensure that such reporting is valid, supported by solid evidence, and meaningful. Meanwhile, this model of evaluation reflects back to students our care and concern for their continued progress, our confidence in their own observations and interpretations, and our respect for their judgments about their own learning.

The Learning Record | © 1995-2014 M. A. Syverson

" "