4 Reasons To Use Student Writing Portfolios
Student writing portfolios make sense as assessment tools in English language arts classes, but they have broader utility. Not only can teachers employ these across content areas as meaningful forms of assessment, they can help students build them to be practical and transferrable artifacts. Below are four detailed justifications for making the use of student writing portfolios a priority.
1. Authentic Assessments – Assessment is fundamental to any instructional program. Despite being so inextricable from instruction, methods of assessment couldn’t be more controversial in America. Critics cite the much-maligned emphasis of standardized tests for a declining interest in teaching as a profession along with an increase in pathological anxiety among students. Enter writing portfolios.
Writing portfolios are authentic in that they represent student responses to the actual skills and content being learned through a given curriculum. They allow students to show development of a skill or understanding of content over time rather than through a high-stakes snapshot. Students aren’t likely to be writing about concepts they haven’t been taught. They won’t be expected to use techniques unfamiliar to them. The same can’t be said for standardized tests. Of course, performance is dependent somewhat on writing prowess, but teachers can tease out what they wish to assess from each sample, choosing between the content or structure of given pieces.
2. Alternate Assessments – Related to the authenticity of writing portfolios is their value as alternate form of assessment. All the reasons stated above support this value. Going a step further, opponents of standardized testing (especially parent groups) can advocate for the use of writing portfolios as antidotes to once-and-done, high-stakes tests. For the purposes of collecting statewide student performance data, writing portfolios are impractical. However, for districts that elect to use standardized tests as significant determinants for promotion, writing portfolios might be a replacement. Using portfolios to gauge skill development and content understanding requires more labor from staff, but the assessments should be ongoing. A well-managed portfolio shouldn’t be examined all in one sitting. If teachers are using them correctly, they should be able to present a report on student performance at any interval.
3. Practical Artifacts – Resumes are becoming less about lists of skills and experiences and more about proof of these. Attractive online portfolios featuring writing and products are expected in many contemporary fields and will be expected to increasing degrees in years to come. The writing portfolios students keep through the upper grades can become the seeds of these later portfolios. Students might as well become accustomed to keeping their work in virtual spaces that others can access. Their writing portfolios might take shape as blogs. Several companies provide hosting for student blogs. Others host user-made portfolios that take the form of clean, professionally made websites. Students might as well be encouraged to use the same tools that are used in the open market. In some cases they might be able to share some of what they write as podcasts or searchable videos. They might not keep samples from middle and high school indefinitely, but they can become comfortable with maintaining virtual artifacts that represent the best of their work.
As an aside, teachers might value virtual portfolios as ways to save space and materials. Rather than storing dozens of binders and lugging home attaches filled with papers to grade, a teacher can simply visit a student’s online portfolio to gauge progress. Having some form of back-up storage is recommended, but even this can be digital.
4. Transferrable Artifacts – The portability of writing portfolios is another advantage. Many universities and scholarship providers are looking for applicants to have some kind of portfolio in addition to or in lieu of grades and test scores. Even selective high schools might require this for students looking to enroll from middle school. Certainly students should get used to using the tools they will need to know as they enter competitive workforces, but they might need to use these tools to cross the requisite bridges along the way. This makes writing portfolios vital, not just advantageous.
Student writing portfolios aren’t a new idea, but they have plenty of modern utility. Whether as an alternate to standardized testing or as a transferrable portrait of performance, these portfolios can be more than places to store student work.
Written by Jeff Hartman