Action Research: Portfolios

How will learners seeing their growth through the use of online portfolios affect their motivation and perseverance academically? More specifically, through goal-setting and performance, will self-reflection within an online portfolio instill grit into learners?


The elements of this Action Research are daunting, and I have been trying to figure out how to show just that. The concepts of grit, growth mindset, self-reflection, self-awareness, self-control, and goal setting have been elements that I have been out to correlate to create what I call, a “grit spectrum”. I believe that someone can be “gritty” in specific areas, and that the term grit is not all encompassing of whether you have grit or you don’t. It is an umbrella term that covers a spectrum of areas, those of which are in the form of self-reflection, self-awareness, self-control, and goal setting, for this study.

The Study

In this study, I am experimenting and implementing said spectrum areas through the form of an online portfolio. My subjects for this study are my 8th grade Language Arts learners. At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, my learners and I decided on using the application, Noteability, to house their portfolios of work. They divided their portfolios into three trimesters, as I would be collecting data specific to time frames of trimesters. The work they upload into their portfolios can be anything, such as projects, assessments, journal entries of our Essential Questions, worksheets, etc. Any artifact that will showcase their academic work is recommended, as the bulk of data comes from seeing and reflecting on their growth over the course of the trimester and year.

Along with the online portfolio for reflection and growth, I gave my learners different surveys to implement a self-awareness concept. One of the surveys I gave them was a learning style inventory (see Figure 1), where they could identify what type of learner they are: auditory, tactile, or visual. This also helped them begin to notice whether they produce work more successfully in these forms, or if they strayed from their learning style in order to produce successful work. For instance, one of my learners is a visual learner. They need to see something in front of them in order to fully understand it. However, they would rather produce written and oral work, such as presenting or discussing with the class, rather than showing a visual as their understanding. On the contrary, some of my learners were tactile learners, and also would prefer to show their understanding by creating a project with their hands.

Another survey I conducted was from Angela Duckworth’s lab titled, “12-Item Grit Scale” (see Figure 2). This survey was specifically identifying whether each learner has grit, or does not have grit based on their answers. This was scored by me, and my learners are unaware of what they scored. None of them know whether they “qualify” as having grit or not having grit. I wanted to observe their work throughout the year to see if their scores match up with their work, efficacy, and growth. One thing I have pondered, however, has been if them knowing whether they have grit (or not having grit) would be a factor in their work, efficacy, and growth. Would them knowing that they have grit instill a sense of pride and motivation in them, or would it give them permission to be lazy? If they were told they did not have grit, would they give up and not try, or challenge themselves to become a person of grit? These factors all have influences, and my goal is to figure out how to instill grit; not just to identify those who have grit.

In order to implement a self-reflective and self-awareness concept, I have created two rubrics for learners to ponder. Figure 3 shows a “G.R.I.T Grid” that learners will reflect on and have a chance to “grade” themselves on per each trimester’s end. The grid is made up of 4 different sections. G.R.I.T. is an acronym standing for guts, resilience, integrity, and tenacity, and each are given their own rubric for learners to grade themselves upon regarding academics and leadership skills. The outline of this grid was created by the College Track program in San Francisco (, aiming to help learners be college ready. After changing some concepts and words, the heart of this grid was exactly what I needed. I have given the learners a grid to keep, and will have them grade themselves on this grid through an online survey at the end of each trimester.

Figure 4 shows my trimester 2 implementation for self-reflection and self-awareness. This rubric is made up of language that adheres to our school’s philosophy (P.A.T.H.) infused with “grit language”. This will be posted on all of the tables in my classroom for learners to reflect on during different times of each week. This not only allows for them to think about who they are and what they are doing, but tell them what role they are standing in at the moment and possibly nudge them toward who they want to become.


Implementing the online portfolios was to have a homebase for learners to add work, reflect, and evaluate. In their portfolio reflections and self-evaluations for trimester 1, learners were asked to grade themselves based on their growth from reflecting on their work within their portfolios. 100% of learners gave themselves the same grade that they were given from me for the class overall, with 73% of the learners stating they could have done better with their work quality. In the same survey, learners were asked to set a goal for trimester 2 based on what they know about themselves now (self-awareness). 44% of responses revolved around achieving a specific grade in the class. The rest of the responses were more concerned with their work ethic and efficacy, leadership, and motivation in the class. This is in contrast to the learner’s beginning of the year goals that they wrote: 90% of learners at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year stated their goals for the Language Arts course was to receive a specific grade, while only 10% indicated anything regarding their work ethic or efficacy, leadership, or motivation.

With these discoveries and data collected from trimester 1, I am confident that my learners are on track toward becoming more aware of themselves through these surveys, self-reflections, and seeing progress and growth within their online portfolios. I hoped for most of my students to be within the upper quadrant of these findings, which they were. 

Going into trimester 2, I will be adding onto these implementations with the addition of weekly self-evaluations (see Figure 4) and “Community Builders”. These Community Builders are activities that build on our weekly lessons, as well as one of the areas along the grit spectrum (self-reflection, self-awareness, self-control, and goal setting). These activities will help learners collaborate and think outside the box, all while learning more about themselves in the end. Becoming more self-aware by understanding their role in our classroom community may continue to increase work ethic and efficacy, leadership, and motivation. At the end of trimester 2, the same survey conducted at the end of trimester 1 will be administered, as well as an additional survey that asks them questions regarding their self-awareness. This survey is still under construction.

Synthesis of Findings

Through this study, I have continually kept track and record of every lesson and activity I do with my learners in order to somehow create a curriculum of instilling grit. This curriculum is intentional for that purpose, and therefore is fluid to one’s teaching style and content area. I will preface this, however, with great care and concern regarding one’s audacity and willingness to truly infuse such a curriculum for instilling grit. My classroom is ran a particular way, giving freedom and a voice to my learners. I do not address my students as such, but rather as a community. I do not set the rules, but we all have a say in our community expectations for one another. My community learners not only focus on their own expectations for themselves, but also for their fellow community members, which in turn has created a sense of accountability.

This structure of culture in my classroom has given ownership to my learners, which I feel is an important element to have when attempting to instill something within an individual. In the end, grit is a belief system that is pieced together with concepts of my spectrum and many others to come. This belief comes from understanding, and could be almost synonymous with growth mindset or intrinsic motivation. However, each of these asks for different (major and minor) skills and thoughts from subjects, which is the reason I was provoked to believe that grit has to have a spectrum. This equation can have multiple different outcomes based on the subject. Therefore, how willing you are to take risks and how you differentiate within a classroom could make or break this curriculum.

I will continue to build my grit spectrum, utilizing and recording everything I do intentionally.  This study, I believe, will force me to follow my learners through the rest of their academic careers. Continuing to test their beliefs and gather data based on the same thought-provoking questions may shed some light on how to instill some piece of grit into people.