Portfolios in the Writing Classroom
SABES / World
Yancy, K.B. (Ed.) (1992). Portfolios in the Writing Classroom.
Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Alternative approaches to Assessment
that enables adult literacy students to evaluate their own experiences
and progress come to us in many forms today. These approaches help
students view their own learning process in writing. They also help
teachers identify the strategies students use and how these strategies
change as they progress as learners. The use of portfolios as an
assessment tool is one approach that has become quite popular in
our field recently.
Many adult literacy/adult basic education (AL/ABE) practitioners
are using portfolios in their writing classrooms. Portfolios in
the Writing Classroom contains a range of essays on that very subject.
The book begins with an essay that discusses the relationship among
portfolio assessment, summative assessment and formative assessment.
It also discusses what might be called reflective evaluation,
a form of self evaluation considered very important to the writing
process. The use of portfolio assessment in the writing class relies
heavily on a self reflective process.
The article also deals with the challenges that the portfolio movement
in the United States faces:
Weakening of effect through careless imitation (fear of the
band-wagon effect, as happens in so many other areas
The failure of research to validate this pedagogy. (Many still
believe that it has to be measurable and countable
to be valid and worth doing.)
The co-optation by large scale external testing programs.
(There may be incongruities between large scale portfolio testing
and writing portfolios used in the classroom.)
As in the introductory article, the remaining authors are not from
an AL/ABE background, but mostly from fields related to formal schooling.
Still, some of these discussions will be of interest to the AL/ABE
The remaining articles are described as follows:
Collectively, the chapters reflect a movement from the
self initiated use of portfolios, as narrated in Sue Ellen Golds
chapter, and from the individual struggling to make sense out
of a general assignment to introduce portfolios, as
described by James Newkirk, towards the use of portfolios taken
up by teachers working together in community. Catherine DAousts
teachers are still working individually, but support each other
in a university seminar on Teachers as Researchers.
Sandra Murphy and Mary Ann Smith describe a middle school faculty
cooperating with outside researchers to learn how to derive insights
from a shared portfolio project insights about students
and about how portfolio projects work. Roberta Camps portfolio
project grew out of cooperation between theorists, educational
testers, administrators, and teachers of the performing arts,
for whom portfolio took on a special function as instruments for
student growth allowing assessment of the learning processes as
well as the products
David Kneeshaw discusses portfolio
from an even larger perspective in his description of the Ontario
Writing Folder project, intended to allow evaluation
and record keeping as a student moves across grade levels, but
designed as well to encourage much of the same sense of discovery
by teachers and students that characterizes the individual accounts...
Irwin Weiser tells the last story, of a considered decision to
introduce portfolios into the basic writing program at Purdue
University, primarily as a way to defer summative grading
The books editor concludes with a short essay on the importance
of self reflection and portfolios in the wiring classroom. She also
leaves us with many unanswered questions that can be perhaps best
answered by the individual teacher and his or her individual students.
There are a growing number of articles, but only a few books on
the subject of portfolios, either as an assessment tool for reading
and writing or an approach to helping students improve their writing.
Kathleen Blake Yancy has put together this collection of essays
on the use of it as an evaluation tool and on the pedagogy
I especially recommend this book to practitioners in our field
who, because of the focus of Adventures in Assessment, and the recent
creative wave of assessment tools by many Massachusetts
AL/ABE practitioners that we may primarily think of portfolios as
an inno-vative approach to assessment. In reality, though, it is
more important to think of portfolios as an excellent self reflective
writing tool and as an important pedagogical approach to the teaching
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This article was published in Adventures
in Assessment, Volume 6 (Spring 1994), SABES/World Education,
Boston, MA, Copyright 1994.
Funding support for the publication of this document
on the Web provided in part by the Ohio State Literacy Resource
Center as part of the LINCS
Assessment Special Collection.