One of the most effective tools I use to motivate and focus students is portfolios. Many of my students have a difficult time staying on track, keeping up with their materials, meeting deadlines, etc. When I give my students portfolios, it does several things to help them: 1) It puts all of their important due dates and assignments in one place that they find easier to keep up with. 2) It prioritizes assignments and puts them in an official file, communicating the importance of them for the students. 3) It becomes something that students take pride in and and responsibility for.
On the other hand, it is also helpful because it gives me a collection of their work to show parents and administrators how they are progressing. When someone asks how my students are doing, what they are learning, if they are showing growth, or how I justify my students' grades, I have something solid to show them.
When I set up the portfolios, I do the following....
1) I plan with the end in mind. I figure out what I want students to be able to do and what standards I want them to demonstrate mastery of. I design a project that engages the students and incorporates the target skills. I create a rubric for how I am going to grade their work. Then I break the portfolio down into a series of assignments that show progression towards a big picture goal. For example, if they are working on writing a research paper the due dates correspond to steps (research, notes, outline, rough draft and final draft). If they are working on writing Spanish essays, the assignments get progressively longer and more complex.
2) I create a timeline/assignment sheet that identifies what I want them to do and by when. I put it in a table format, print it and staple it to the inside cover of a file folder. The assignment description includes mini checklist rubrics. I also include a space to put their grade and comments.
3) I color code everything. Their folder is one color, the assignment sheet is another color, and rubrics are a yet another. It is bright and easy to find and identify.
4) Students use it on a weekly, if not daily basis. They are expected to keep up with it and organize it. Student-teacher conferences always include a look at the portfolio. Grades directly correlate with the portfolio, and because students have a grade sheet in their folder, they always know how they are doing.
Many of you probably already use portfolios of some sort. If not, give it a try!