What Are BSU Faculty Saying?
One of the best ways to see how to use portfolios in the context of the BSU Writing Program is to talk with other instructors. You can learn about their success, failures, excitement, and frustrations when it comes to portfolios. Their first hand experience can help show you what to expect in your own classes. The following three interviews with BSU FYC instructors showcases some of the pros and cons of portfolios, provides some information you should think about if you are going to use portfolios, and gives a perspective on portfolios from within the BSU community.
FYC Instructor Beth Dalton Interviewed on November 7, 2007
Beth Dalton uses portfolios in basic writing 101 and 102 as required by the writing program and she has used them in 103 in the past. She currently does not use the portfolio in 103 but does use a three step revision process. During this process students peer revise their first draft, turn in their second draft into Dalton for comments and feedback, then turn in a third revised draft. Dalton says, “I would consider my 103 a modified portfolio course.” In 101 and 102 students complete four writings assignments and a timed writing. Similarly, to 103 Dalton has students peer revise each assignment, turn in a second draft to her for comments, and then students choose three of the four writing to revise again for the portfolio. In both courses drafts are heavily commented on by Dalton. In 101 and 102 students receive tentative grades on drafts and then a final grade on the portfolio as a whole based on fulfillment of assignment, effort on revisions, and overall content and quality of each essay. In 103 students receive a tentative grade on the first draft they turn in and then a final grade on the second draft.
Dalton stresses that using portfolios is about pacing; courses have to be thoroughly planned out. Dalton doesn’t currently use portfolios in her 103 due to logistics. She has a heavy course load that she feels doesn’t feasibly allow her the time to grade that many final portfolios. However, Dalton does see portfolios as useful to students. Portfolios allow students to learn from their mistakes and promotes thinking about writing. Dalton explains, “we are teaching our students to think as much as we are teaching them to write.” She does see a problem with portfolios based on her experiences with them. Sometimes she finds that there can be a lack of effort from the students because they have so many chances to revise. She also worries about giving to many opportunities to revise. Dalton says, “we [instructors] have a responsibility to prepare them [students] for what they will face in other classes.”
FYC Instructor Dr. Merrielle Turnbull Interviewed on November 9, 2007
Dr. Merrielle Turnbull has used portfolios only when teaching 101 and 102 in the past, which she does not teach anymore, as required by the Writing Program. She does not use them in any of her other courses. When Turnbull did use portfolios in 101 and 102 students peer workshopped and then turned a draft into her which was handed back with comments and a grade. Students would complete six essays and then choose three to revise again for the portfolio. The portfolio was graded as a whole at the end of the semester. Turnbull sees problems with using portfolios. In her experience students only made surface changes in revisions. Also, as Dalton mentioned, students wouldn’t put much effort into drafts when the had so many chances to revise. Finally, since students revise so many times based on comments from the instructor, she wonders if it really is the students voice and writing in the final portfolio. Turnbull suggests, “I don’t know if we get a sense of that true writer.” Turnbull also argues against the use of portfolios for program wide assignment when they are holistically scored. She doesn’t see holistic scoring of portfolios as fair to students.
FYC Instructor Mary Clark-Upchurch Interviewed on November 12, 2007
Mary Clark-Upchurch uses portfolios in her FYC courses. She begins with what she calls a zero draft where students bring in their beginning thoughts on the assignment. As with other instructors, students then do peer workshop and turn in a revised draft for comments. Clark-Upchurch doesn’t grade the drafts. Instead, students choose three of the four essays for the final portfolio at the end of the semester. However, she allows the students to revise the three essays as many times as they would like before the portfolio is due and she offers to comment on the revisions. The final portfolio is worth 60% of the students grade. Clark-Upchurch grades the three essays in the portfolio individually and then averages them together for the final grade. She returns the portfolio during the final period meeting time and has a five minute exit conference with each student. Clark-Upchurch uses portfolios because they embrace revision. She says when students just turn in an essay for a grade they don’t revise further. Portfolios make students revise. Clark-Upchurch does admit that it took her time to understand the portfolio method and use it to its full advantages. She says, “I did create a lot of work for myself at first.” However, with time and practice portfolios became manageable.