portfolios and the learning world

Sunday, November 14th, 2004

Recently, the English Department at Tunxis met with Business and CIS Departments to discuss the objectives, assignments, and work that students do in programs where writing is a requirement. In my mind, these kinds of discussions where faculty from all walks of the campus come togethert to exchange ideas are important for the people taking courses as well as for the teachers teaching them. The English Department at Tunxis isn’t a service department out of which students take their fresh abilities and apply them in other courses. If this was the case, no teaching in any other area would be done until first year writing was completed, right? On the other hand, we don’t see ourselves as cut off from the college community as a whole. We do hope, of course, that students will be able to explain themselves in other courses, and in this way we do service the college, but I’d rather see composition teaching as an offering to students who may be asked to express themselves elsewhere, either in Microeconomics or in British Literature.

I’m a big fan of teachers who ask their students to write outside of a composition course but who also take charge of the idea of writing for their own purposes, independent of the writing workshop.

Imagine a college environment where students only practiced using the language in composition, technical writing, and Literature. It would be an odd place indeed.

It would be interesting to create a learning portfolio for students to develop throughout their program career, a sort cummulative project whose outcome is to show a range of ideas and abilities, which checks along the way, a major element of this portfolio being writing.


5 responses to “portfolios and the learning world”

  1. Neha says:

    Am glad you mentioned the portfolio…I think it’d be a great idea to require a portfolio of students to chart their development. Here at Seton Hill, every student must start maintaing an exhaustive index of all their work, academic and co curricular, with equal weight given to both. My thinking is that it motivates students to put in a little better than their best effort when dealing with any aspect of school.

  2. Maureen says:

    All students at Saint Joseph College must complete a writing portfolio, no matter their major. I think it is a good idea because it does offer an opportunity for growth. You can include academic or creative works in your portfolio as long as it was work completed at St. Jo’s. In your Junior and Senior year, your portfolio is evaluated by the faculty and you must pass with a good score in order to graduate.

  3. Allie says:

    This reminds me of elementary school, where some mysterious force, aided by our classroom teachers, kept a portfolio of our work, including writing, through our whole time there. The art teachers did a similar thing, but at the beginning (or end, or both?) of every year we had to draw a picture of someone jumping to reach an apple in a tree. I have the drawings still, but never knew what happened to my other work. And other writing portfolios were kept sporadically in middle and high school.

    In college, it has been obvious to me to keep a portfolio of one’s own work– not only to refer back to the research for one’s own amusement, or for other papers, but also for entering the grown up world. I’m in the process of applying for internships for next semester, and several of them ask for a writing sample with your application. At my paid job, there’s been a lot of employee turn-over lately, so I’ve seen many people come in for interviews and the whole gantlet, including little proof-reading tests and letter writing.

  4. steve says:

    Thanks, my friends. This is excellent encouragement.

  5. J.I. Abbot says:

    Thank you, Steve, for talking about writing as only a writer can – with gusto as well as craftsmanship.

    In order to reinvigorate our society in general, but, yes, also our schools, with a passion and respect for writing and reading as things other than practical and technical skills, those of us whose work is to write and teach (in whatever combination – and the teaching need not be in “English”) need to be more vocal and activist regarding what writing is. There is a tendency for professional teacher-types to try to appropriate, annex or wrest control of writing and even writing portfolios and argue that these are somehow indigenous to classroom teaching, part of some esoteric craft called pedagogy.

    Pedagogy in that worldview plugs directly into life (particularly the workplace) but the reverse is not somehow true – life is not supposed to be a place where one can discover the same processes that go on in the classroom, as offered by the specialized priesthood of educators. Therefore, writing and reading among the “laity” are not officially encouraged – except by passionate teachers who have made this their special mission.

    I think of the absurd (even entertaining) notion that portfolios were somehow “invented” by prophetic high school teachers in the late 1980s or so – rather than by forward-thinking practicing writers in, say, the 1950s at places like Black Mountain College. In a sense, even that was not a beginning; since as far back as the anthology (Gk. anthos + logos, for flower system) or maala (Skt., a synonym, meaning garland) existed, writer-teachers have conceived of anthologizing works-in-progress.

    But to discourage antiseptic approaches to such work, teachers might urge students to compile all sorts of texts and objects in their lives – as a good habit with a lot of applications. Then the officially mandated portfolio will not be such an unnatural and merely “educational” phenomenon.

    Ezra Pound, apart from all of his problems, wrote of the book becoming “a ball of light in one’s hand”. That is something which cannot be taught by behavioristic direct instruction or its higher ed. equivalent. It can, however, be modeled merely by the glint in a teacher’s eye, or inspired and illuminating activity in the classroom.