Rhetoric and Composition/Teacher's Handbook/Using the Portfolio Method
The purpose of the Portfolio Method
The portfolio method is a type of assessment emphasizes writing process over writing product. Many composition instructors teach writing as process over product. Thus, the portfolio method, which also helps teachers to align their instruction with their assessment. A portfolio is a type of assessment that reflects the process of writing. Additionally, a large emphasis of portfolio classrooms is reflective learning. Through portfolios, students may begin to become more self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Self-awareness helps students tune into what lessons/concepts they need to study the most. The portfolio method was especially in pedagogical vogue during the 1990s. However, the tenets of the portfolio method have been applied and expanded in more modern pedagogical concepts such as student-centered learning and individualized education.
Kathleen Blake Yancey, a leading scholar on classroom portfolios and reflection, offers this insight on the purpose of portfolios: "Because they are created and used in context, these classroom portfolio projects are highly individualized, intended to serve the learning needs of students in a particular classroom who are working with a particular teacher... In other words, by their very nature portfolios make possible the developmental charting of individuals, as well as a rich portrait of the writer composing for several occasions"
Learning Porfolio: A learning portfolio, or learning-focused portfolio, is typically the type of portfolio used in writing classrooms. The learning-focused portfolio includes writing at any and all stages, at any level of competency. Diverse writing samples ensure a richer reflection experience for the student. Because the learning portoflio is the standard for most writing classrooms, the information on this page is largely focused on this type of portfolio.
Showcase Portfolio: Master, or capstone, portfolios include only a student's best writing samples. Master portfolios are more likely to be used outside the classroom for interviews, graduate school applications, archiving, final projects, and publication.
- Objectives: Some portfolios employ a thematic approach. For example, the entire porfolio will include writing samples related to oppression or vocation. Other portfolios employ student selected themes. Still other portfolios are multi-genre based. Also, it is very important to determine which specific writing skills you intend to teach through the portfolio. Do you want to emphasize organization and voice? Ideas and research? Sentence fluency and grammar? Depending on which writing skills you want to emphasize, you may want to shape the portfolio's theme accordingly.
- Grading/Scoring: Portfolios require a different type of grading. Whereas traditional grading systems are focused on percentages and letter-grades, portfolio classrooms are focused on feedback. Many times, feedback is provided without any percent or letter grade. Determine how you will weight the writing's content and mechanics as well as the reflective components of the process. You will also need to determine if products other than the final draft will factor into the final grade.
How do I logistically manage using the Portfolio Method in my classroom?
Organization is key to successful implementation of portfolios. Three important factors must be well organized by the instructor prior to implementing portfolios. Bear in mind that once portfolios are being used by your students, there is always room for further adaptation. However, there are three factors you should try to plan for prior to implementation.
- Timing: Whereas non-portfolio classrooms (product classrooms) have roughly four-six major assignments due throughout the term, a portfolio classroom will have many more assignments due throughout the term. For example, for every one paper a product classroom assigns, the portfolio classroom will assign brainstorming, outlining, one or more drafts, and then the finished product. Look at the semester as a whole and plan backward from the due date of the final portfolio submission.
- Binding: How will your students compile, bind, and submit their portfolios? Traditional binder portfolios are rarely used, though they can still achieve the same purpose. Efolios are portfolios that use computer programs to bind students' electronic work. Many schools offer network file space or online boards such as Moodle and Desire 2 Learn which make efolio binding electronic, and thus easy. Flash or thumb drives are another option. Consider how students should organize their electronic files. You may want to regulate students' folder and file names for consistency and ease when grading.
- Reflecting: How will students reflect on their portfolio work? The portfolio method is generally considered useful for the teacher, but more useful for the student. In order for the portfolio method to be useful, students must be actively engaged in reflective activities throughout the process. Consider prompts students might respond to in a portfolio. Will students reflect at each stage of the process? Only after final drafts? If organized well, the reflective component can also be very helpful to instructors in terms of assessing the student's self-awareness and learning in the course.
What are the Drawbacks of the Portfolio Method?
The portfolio method does have a few disadvantages. For one, teachers and students alike are less familiar with portfolio assessment than regular, traditional assessment. Because students and teachers learn from experiences, they may be at a disadvantage in a portfolio setting because they have fewer experiences with it.
Portfolio method is not a solution for problem students. That is, students who may not take any assessment seriously are not any more likely to take portfolios seriously. Students who struggle with deadlines may struggle even more so with portfolio method. The key to mediating these problems is to help students see (and portfolios is a great way to do it) that the time that they are investing in the class has benefits. If students can hone a sense of pride about their work, they may begin to dedicate more effort to the assignments and be more precise with deadlines.
Portfolios are more difficult to organize and manage than traditional papers, and especially for novices. There is more "stuff" to keep track of with portfolios. As such, there is often more to teach. For example, teachers should model and students should practice good reflection. These extra lessons are hopefully worth the time once students are able to use them to increase their self-awareness as writers.
- Yancey, Kathleen Blake. Portfolios in the Writing Classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1992.
- Johnson-Sheehan, Richard and Charles Paine. Writing Today. St. Cloud State Edition. White Plains, NY: Longman, 2010.
- Damiani, Victoria B. "Portfolio Assessment in the Classroom." Helping Children at Home and School II. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists, 2004.