A Writing Portfolio Can Help You Perfect Your Writing Skills

A Composition Course Requirement That Can Have Lasting Benefits

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In composition studies, a writing portfolio is a collection of student writing (in print or electronic form) that's intended to demonstrate the writer's development over the course of one or more academic terms.

Since the 1980s, writing portfolios have become an increasingly popular form of student assessment in composition courses taught in colleges and universities, especially in the U.S.

Examples and Observations

According to "The Brief Wadsworth Handbook": "The purpose of a writing portfolio is to demonstrate a writer's improvement and achievements. Portfolios allow writers to collect a body of writing in one place and to organize and present it in an effective, attractive format, giving the instructor a view of a student's writing that focuses more on the complete body of work than on individual assignments. While compiling individual items (sometimes called artifacts) to include in their portfolios, students reflect on their work and measure their progress; as they do so, they may improve their ability to evaluate their own work."

Process-Writing Portfolios

"The process-writing portfolio is an instructional tool that manifests the stages and efforts in the writing process. It also contains completed, unfinished, abandoned, or successful work. Process-writing portfolios typically contain brainstorming activities, clustering, diagramming, outlining, freewriting, drafting, redrafting in response to teacher/peer review, and so forth. Thus, a picture of the current state of an individual's composing process is revealed. The two essential pedagogical elements in the process-writing portfolio are student reflection and teacher inquiry," says Joanne Ingham, who conducts empirical studies at undergraduate institutions.

Reflective Statements

"Most instructors who assign portfolios will also ask you to write statements in which you reflect on your writing process—what you think you did well, what still needs improvement, and what you have learned about writing. Some teachers ask students to write reflective statements or a letter to the teacher for each assignment. Others may ask for just an end-of-semester statement....," according to developmental writing instructor Susan Anker.

Feedback

According to author Susan M. Brookhart, PhD, "With or without rubrics, portfolios are also an excellent vehicle for teachers to give verbal feedback to students. Teachers can provide written feedback on the portfolio itself, or, especially for younger students, they can provide oral feedback using the portfolio as the focus of brief student conferences."

Portfolio Assessment

  • Julie Neff-Lippman, director at the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound writes: "Portfolios have been seen as valid because they measure what they say they will measure—students' ability to write and revise in a rhetorical setting. However, critics question the reliability of portfolio assessment. Pointing to the number of times a paper can be revised, some claim it is often impossible to determine how competent the student writer is or how much help a student has received during the revision process (Wolcott, 1998, p. 52). Others claim there are too many variables with portfolio assessment and that portfolios do not hold up well enough to statistical measures for them to be considered a reliable assessment instrument (Wolcott, 1998, p. 1). To address the problems with reliability, some schools have added a timed essay test to the portfolio assessment. Still, others believe that the validity of portfolio assessment outweighs the reliability problems associated with it and that portfolio assessment is the kind of evaluation most consistent with the values of compositionists."
  • According to the book, "Teaching Writing in the Content Areas," "[O]ne clear benefit of portfolio assessment is that teachers do not have to mark every writing error, because they usually score portfolios using holistic methods. Students, in turn, benefit because they can identify the content and writing skills they have mastered and the areas they need to improve."
  • "It should be pointed out that portfolios do not necessarily bring greater accuracy to assessment, but they do promote a greater awareness of what good writing might be and how it might be best achieved. The advantages lay principally in that the validity, and value, of assessment is increased if it is situated in teaching and based on a clearer understanding of writing," says writer Ken Hyland. 

Sources

Anker, Susan. Real Essays With Readings: Writing Projects for College, Work, and Everyday Life. 3rd ed, Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009.

Brookhart, Susan M., "Portfolio Assessment." 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Edited by Thomas L. Good. Sage, 2008.

Hyland, Ken. Second Language Writing. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Ingham, Joanne. "Meeting the Challenges of an Undergraduate Engineering Curriculum." Practical Approaches to Using Learning Styles in Higher Education. Edited by Rita Dunn and Shirley A. Griggs. Greenwood, 2000.

Kirszner, Laurie G. and Stephen R. Mandell. The Brief Wadsworth Handbook. 7th ed, Wadsworth, 2012.

Neff-Lippman, Julie "Assessing Writing." Concepts in Composition: Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing. Edited by Irene L. Clark. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003.

Urquhart, Vicki and Monette McIver. Teaching Writing in the Content Areas. ASCD, 2005.

Wolcott, Willa and Sue M. Legg. An Overview of Writing Assessment: Theory, Research, and Practice. NCTE, 1998.