Pasta & Portfolios: Assign tasks, not tools

The purpose of making pasta.

The purpose of making pasta. Photo by @amyburvall

A recent sojourn into the wonderful world of portfolio process design has convinced me that we need to increasingly, in our schools, assign tasks – not tools. Underneath the structures of portfolios (the ‘document’) and student led conferences (the ‘conversation’), we want deep reflection on both learning and self-as-learner, the real purpose.

Any extraneous restriction/imposition, not serving the purpose that supports that reflection forms a superfluous distraction, generating an artificial focus, potentially (but not necessarily) diminishing focus on what really matters the most.

When I make pasta for friends or family, the purpose is to create  an experience – not a dinner set or a specifically shaped piece of flour & egg. If I spent too much time worrying about what bowls someone told me to use or how thick someone told me to make each strand, it could potentially (but not necessarily) detract from the ‘dining experience’ – the real purpose.

It seems that when students are creating that ‘reflective experience’, allowing them to choose their own paths, as much as possible, would allow them to retain a focus on this real purpose.  Choose the bowl yourself – one that suits your purpose. There are lots of bowls out there.


Portfolios – A very tricky, simple idea.


It seems that organizing a process in schools where students gather evidence of their learning and compile a #portfolio is very simple. That is, it would be very simple if you didn’t need to bother about it being a meaningful process. This is where the difficulty lies. I have experimented with different types of portfolios, both student and teacher, for a number of years and have always found that they tend to get done, yet the purpose of the portfolio is more than getting it done. Looking back, one thing I would change if I was to go through this process again is to better define their purpose, and ensure a higher degree of choice offered throughout the process, choices based on this flexible purpose. It just so happens that I am in the middle of this process and will share my thoughts along the way.