Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Portfolio Project at the Semester's End

Here's what I've been learning this semester as the prepilot-pilot of Basic Writing Portfolio-ing. I need to develop a rubric that speaks to the needs of my first-level students and which is written in the language of first-level college students--neither patronizing nor over their heads. I need to stop giving them so many paper assignments due near the very end of the semester--can't have them turning drafts in and needing them back immediately for their portfolios. We have two full class sessions allocated to their portfolios, and I wish that I'd scheduled a week.
I don't know if I can claim that their writing has improved due to portfolios or to simply making it through the first semester and growing up a bit, which I've seen happen before in many other non-portfolio classes.

Since their portfolio will contain one in-class essay (and we've only done one, so there's no choice there), one essay based on writing about a book (that gives them two essays to choose from), and a journal entry that they choose to develop, the students will have some say in the matter. One of my biggest fears about using portfolios is that they will become so institutionalized that they will practically become rote documents, with very little student choice in them. Thus, they become larger versions of formulaic essays.

However, underlying all of this fussing is the hard-earned knowledge that I am a perfectionist, and that I wanted the semester to go so smoothly that it would become a legend. That kind of insecurity only goes so far in the classroom and in life, and I am reminded of two other gems of self-knowledge: I tend to carry on much more than is necessary, so things really aren't that bad; and that chaos inevitably leads to wisdom, even if chaos has to drag me by the ankles to wisdom's front porch.


At 9:32 PM, Blogger jocalo said...

We are piloting portfolios at De Anza too. I'll do it the first time next quarter. Rather than the developed journal piece, however, we are asking for a reflective cover letter, one that allows students to describe their own sense of learning and development. That seems more likely to keep the process from becoming rote, since each student would have to be self-referential about their own writing/learning process.

Once I actually go through the experience with a class, I'll have some sense if this approach works.

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

Yes, we were supposed to do a reflective letter, too, but it seemed too much like the in-class essay topic (How has your writing changed?). I may ask them to write a brief cover letter explaining why they selected what they did.

One of the hurdles that I've been tripping over has been teaching grammar in this course. Traditionally, the course has used the grammar chapters in Evergreen and culminating with a 12 year-old exam (that I hated). This morning I finally got over the hurdle when I realized that the reason why I was so time crazy was because so much had been eaten by grammar, while in my freshman comp classes, I had that time to devote to writing.
I go back and forth about how much grammar to teach in the course. This semester I taught clauses and sentence patterns so that when I taught commas and other punctuation marks, we'd have a common vocabulary. How much grammar do you teach in BW?

Thankd for the info. I look forward to hearing how portfolios at DeAnza work, and I'll be happy to send you whatever I've revised for next semester.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger jocalo said...

The only course I teach any grammar in is my Introduction to Linguistics. Early in my career, I found that going over the Big Errors in class was a wash. A few students figured out what to do about comma faults or run-on sentences or agreement. And an equal number started making errors they hadn't made. Brought to the level of consciousness, some students tried to apply comma rules they had always intuited, but got them mixed up.

So no grammar instruction in class. In BW, I require them to complete 30 to 40 sentence combining exercises from Bill Strong's book. That gives them practice in constructing sentences with embedded clauses without the need to create a meta-language to talk about it.

Then I give them individual feedback on any patterns of textual errors. Ahhh--one exception. When I'm returning a batch of papers, if I have found a particularly widespread error in language or format conventions, I'll do a two-minute reminder of what to do. In the context of a freshly graded paper, many will pay attention. But since you can't really teach a whole system of grammar and notation, half measures don't seem to be worth the class time.

In general, I find students proof and edit papers better when they really care about what they are writing. That's where the time and energy needs to go.

At 12:28 AM, Blogger clc said...

I gave my students an in-class "final exam" today in which I basically asked them to assess our method of assessment (a portfolio in which they choose three of the pieces and I required one for a total of four). I was amused to find that many of them were unhappy that they had to make choices about the pieces to submit; several felt a more accurate assessment of their growth could be made if they submitted all their work--good and bad.

At 8:42 PM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

You know, they have a point. . .but scanning one's grade book can bring back memories of the way they were. How does your college use portfolios and at what levels (developmental writing? freshman comp? etc?)? With the BW's, I'm using them to determine if the writer is ready to move on to freshman English, and having to think about and put together a portfolio will demonstrate choicemaking, audience awareness and other writerly/scholarly things.

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