In public school systems of Kentucky, writing portfolios are used as an assessment of a student’s ability to reach higher order thinking and expression of such through writing. The theory is that students will learn to write a variety of pieces that reflect the types of writing that people use for communication in the working world such as reports, editorials, and business letters in addition to creative pieces that include poems, short stories, and other fictional pieces.
The writings for working world applications are supposed to motivate a student by allowing him or her to write for real world purposes, which, in an ideal world, inspires a sense of ownership in what they have written because it is their personal thought processes that created the document. Creative pieces are necessary for helping students to teach their minds and thoughts to roam, to think outside the proverbial box.
Other pieces of writing in the Kentucky writing portfolio are reflective in nature such as the personal narrative, memoir, personal essay, and letter to the reviewer. These types of pieces encourage students to think about what they have done and what they have learned from it. Reflection is an important part of learning. Writing can be cathartic. It can help us see clearly where we have been and maybe even where we can go from where we are.
Additionally, the writing portfolio implements teaching and learning of the fundamentals such as content, structure, and conventions. Students are taught prewriting skills, purpose and audience, idea development, support, organization, and the basics about writing good sentences, proper use of language and grammar.
A problem with portfolio writing is that it consumes a great deal of time and some teachers are concerned that teaching time for basic skills and content for their grade levels is lost. However, a paper entitled The Impact of KERA Writing Portfolios on First-Year College Writers presented by Kathryn Mincey at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (47th, Milwaukee, WI, March 27-30, 1996) indicates the following in the abstract:
Several phenomena surrounding the institution of writing portfolio assessment in Kentucky schools have been observable and measurable for some time now, and many writing instructors in higher education have watched developments with delight and curiosity. One acknowledged benefit is the increased use of writing as a learning tool across the curriculum. A study tested the perception that students, as a result of Kentucky’s portfolio assessment project, are better writers or at least more willing to write when they come to college. Both students and faculty at Morehead State University were surveyed, 748 freshmen and 28 faculty. Some of the students surveyed had completed portfolios and some had not. The student surveys showed that (1) students who completed portfolios wrote somewhat more than those who had not completed portfolios in high school; (2) neither group particularly enjoyed writing; however, (3) portfolio writers experienced more comfort with writing; and (4) that those who had completed portfolios were better writers. The faculty survey revealed that, contrary to some popular opinion, teachers have seen freshman writers fairly evenly holding their own or improving in basic skills, with many more seeing improvement in the last 5 years. Also, when it comes to being writers, first-year college students are demonstrating significant improvement in understanding the writing process and showing more comfort with writing. (Contains 17 figures.) (TB)
Working with writing portfolios does consume a great deal of time. For some students, writing is very difficult and keeping those students on task is often quite a challenge. Scoring portfolios takes a lot of time, too. At our school, we have some students who are taking 9th and 10th grade English in their senior year along with their 12th grade English class. Sometimes, I wonder if we should modify students’ portfolios according to their post-graduate plans.