Today I had my 2nd portfolio evaluation. In my program, students all prepare an electronic portfolio [mine is here] to track their growth and development. We must each pass three portfolio meetings with our advising committee, and demonstrate that we are making progress towards a dissertation. This whole process is a really wonderful way of both marking progress and forcing us to stop and think both reflectively and analytically about our goals and research interests. It is, essentially, what we do instead of comps, comprehensive exams, that are still prevalent in some disciplines. That is an over-simplification, though, as both the process of preparing the portfolio and the periodic evaluations, are far more than mere assessment–the growth is largely in the doing.

As a result of working on my own portfolio, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate the use of non-test based assessment and evaluation in my classes. This summer I experimented with having two classes keep a writing portfolio. At the midterm and end of the courses, the students looked over their portfolios and answered questions about how they had improved in their writing, and set goals for themselves moving forward. I’m somewhat lukewarm on the results. Some of the students really got into it, and showed that they were able to really reflect on their writing; others simply mirrored the comments that I had given them on their essays. And then there were the students who hadn’t turned in any work at the midterm–or even the end of the class–and of course it was quite difficult for them to reflect on evidence that simply wasn’t there. I haven’t had a chance to really think about the whole experiment and how I could have scaffolded the activity better or more clearly modeled what I was hoping they would do with their portfolio reflections.

I am not using portfolios this semester, mostly because I didn’t want to continue with it without taking time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and to make improvements. I might return to it with the graduate classes I teach; I think perhaps that trying to learn to critically reflect, and to articulate those reflections, is a lot to ask of students who are also English language learners, unless I am able to figure out how to better prepare and support them through the task.


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