Reading the portfolios
The purpose of this method of assessment is to gather qualitative information about students’ experience of learning to write over the course of their four years. Having such information is especially important in an individualized curriculum such as Grinnell’s. In addition, as those experienced with the portfolio requirement at Carleton College report, the process that faculty engage in as they read and score the portfolios helps them to improve their own practice of teaching writing. That is, they can see the kinds of writing, revision, and reflection other faculty assign, and they can discuss how students say they learn, how assignments contribute to that learning, and how writing enhances learning in courses.
The development of the portfolios will be monitored by Writing Lab staff, who will consult periodically with students preparing them. The papers and assignments included in them will contribute to faculty development both in summer writing workshops and in academic-year faculty discussions about the teaching of writing.
One faculty writing seminar each summer will read the portfolios generated that year and collaborate to write both a response to individual students (in the form of a thank-you letter that offers helpful advice to the student, commenting on a reflection and growth and encouraging continued participation) and a report for the Writing Advisory Committee and the faculty as a whole (assessing what this sample of portfolios tells us about the teaching of writing at Grinnell). This discussion and report will focus on what these portfolios tell us about how we are meeting the goals set out in our catalog: teaching students to write with “style and grace,” to “analyze and formulate arguments,” and to “adapt each piece of writing to its context and audience.”
These readers will also consider what these portfolios reveal about how students are learning to write at Grinnell. The answer to this question may inform our advising and our teaching of writing. These workshops will consider questions such as
- How much writing did the students do during the year?
- What kinds of writing did they do? In what courses?
- Did the student’s writing improve?
- Do the writing samples, reflections, and cover letters suggest that students are growing as writers, developing the abilities our catalog sets forth as our goals?
Cost: Students who participate will receive an honorarium of $200, $50 when they meet the benchmarks after first semester, and the remaining $150 when they turn in their portfolio for the year.
A team of five readers will spend 10 days, at a rate of $120/day, to read and assess the portfolios. Then two of these readers will take another five days to write both the notes to the students and the report. Thus, reading the portfolios each year will cost the College about $6000. Some of this money may come from faculty development funds, if the reading of the portfolios can be transformed, as the Carleton model suggests it can, into a rich and meaningful faculty development experience. For example, faculty might discuss how the assignments did or did not produce meaningful writing; they might also discuss the evidence of growth through revision and talk about the role of revision in their courses; they might, as well, imagine ways of responding to papers so that students are encouraged to revise in meaningful ways. The data provided by this project would enable faculty to see writing from many different courses and disciplines and to use these students’ experiences to inform their own teaching.