Part II: Reflection of Portfolio Use in my Pre-service Placement
Upon completion of the first part of this inquiry article, I still had some unanswered questions. The research I had reviewed dealt mostly with portfolios within a reading and writing classroom. This led me to wonder how they could be implemented in different classroom arrangements. To answer this question I went to Tim Dohrer, an English teacher from Illinois who is here at Penn State working on his doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction.
Tim and I spoke of creating short-term portfolio projects. Instead of having a yearlong or semester long portfolio, a teacher who structures his/her classroom around various projects can have one of the projects be a portfolio. He gave me an example of how he turned a unit on poetry into a portfolio unit on poetry. There were basic requirements for the portfolios, but the students had control over which poems to read and write about. The project was definitely a portfolio in the sense that there was student control and multiple ways of students to respond to poetry. However, there was no revisions or self-reflection/evaluation. In congruence with the first part of this article, I think any portfolio project should entail self-assessment and reflection. It is in this form of portfolio projects I see my cooperating teacher's class succeeding with.
Upon reviewing the portfolios of my cooperating teacher's 12th grade English classes, I realized immediately that they were folders not portfolios. My co-op informed me that they had been placing all their work in there, with the hopes of revising one piece at the end of the year. She has her students create a lot of different projects so there is not an abundant amount of writing and not an in-depth focus on revision.
When we entered her classroom she had already planned a unit arranged around literature circles. The students were responsible for reading a multicultural book, creating a portfolio of roles and journals, and a final project. Danielle and I were responsible for the final project: a group choice of creating a reader's guide, children's book, newspaper, or book of poems. The portfolio of roles and journals was my coop's project and was the focus of the beginning of the unit and ours was the end focus.
It was not until the roles and journals were due that our coop referred to them as a portfolio. Roles were to be brought in for group discussions along the way but were not collected until the end. A journal was due each Friday for three weeks, but were only commented on and handed back for revision and resubmittance at the end. The requirements for the portfolios were 4 roles (1 page typed each) and the three journal entries (also 1 page). What most of the students did was wait until the end to write up their roles and very few revised their journals, in fact quite a few did not turn them in on the due dates.
Looking at this in hindsight, I think if the purpose is to create a portfolio, this needs to be addressed in the beginning and the students need to be aware of what a portfolio entails. As it was, the portfolio was again a folder of roles and journals and that is exactly how the students saw it. In order to create a true portfolio, areas of revision, multiple drafts, editing, and self-assessment need to be highlighted. Evidence of multiple drafts and a form of self-assessment needed to be included in the requirements to insure revision and reflection. Students should have been given a working folder to keep their work in from the very beginning. There needed to be strict guidelines as to what was required and deadlines for drafts. Different days could have been assigned for new roles and others for peer editing and revision. There needed to be some way to keep track of their progress instead of just collecting everything at the end assuming they did it as they went along. A separate grade could be given for the working portfolio and the presentation portfolio. I feel all of these things should have been focused on more if it was to be a portfolio. I don't think her project was really a portfolio because her purpose wasn't to focus on revision or self-assessment. The end product meet her needs in that it gathered all their work together, but it was not evidence of the best work these students are capable of. Being teenagers who are going to put things off for as long as possible, this project was hard for them because they were given so much time to procrastinate and were given no incentive to work hard daily. Instead of having this project completed before we started ours, it was hanging over their heads and for many it seemed as if we were hitting them with two projects at once because the due date for the portfolio was the day before their book projects were due.
Other adjustments could have been made to ensure the success of this portfolio project. The groups could have been better structured. They ranged from 1 person to 5 people. I think that if each group had an equal number of people it would have gone smoother. Also, I would have liked more control of who was in what group. The groups were unbalanced in terms of leaders/followers and workers/slackers.
Another thing I would have changed was the books themselves. The focus was supposed to be multiculturalism, but for some of the books this was stretching it. All the books had a very powerful sense of culture, but I would hesitate to say they were multicultural. Only a couple had more than one culture represented or focused on the struggle of opposing cultures. A better selection of books could have been made. Also the books differed greatly in appeal and difficulty. The students who had shown to be successful in the past chose the shortest, easiest book while the ones who usually struggle with literature chose some long, difficult books. This caused some groups to whiz through their books and others to stumble through. Again mixed ability groups and better chosen novels could have rendered these problems.
Due to the purpose of the multicultural book unit, I was unable to implement any of my ideas on portfolios, but I was able to see prospects of future use. I was able to review their yearlong portfolios and see how short term portfolio projects could have worked in the classroom. It is hard to implement something merely to do it when you know it is not serving the purpose of the classroom learning. My ideas about portfolios did not match what was desired of the unit. In order to have implemented portfolios, the focus, structure, and requirements for the unit would have changed.
Belanoff, P. & Dickson, M. (Eds.). (1991). Portfolios: Process and Product. Portsmouth, NH: Boyton/Cook.
Gill, K. (Ed.). (1993). "Process and portfolio assessment in writing instruction." Classroom Practices in Teaching English, Volume26. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Tierney, Robert, Carter, M., & Desai, L. (1991). Portfolio Assessment in the Reading- Writing Classroom. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Dohrer, Tim. "Portfolios and the Writing Process" Spring 1998.