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Considering opportunities afforded by portfolios in the classroom

Throughout my experience in public high school in Kentucky, my peers and I were frequently burdened by English teachers with the responsibility of creating formal portfolios of our best work for final submission in our Senior year of high school. Like my peers, I was frequently annoyed with the task of sorting through my work, assessing why certain papers stood out above others, and noticing and correcting mistakes in those papers. By the time it was completed however, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity afforded by the assignment to reflect on not just the texts within the portfolio, but also my impressions of what high school had meant to me as well as where I felt I was headed intellectually, professionally, etc. I took the opportunity to let the teachers assessing my work know that I didn’t really think that the work in the portfolio did justice to my voice, interests, or passions as a writer given the academic nature of the work expected of me. Without question, there was a sense of artificiality that I felt was connected to that portfolio, and a reflection letter provided a unique opportunity to be authentic and to stand out. I had not been fully encouraged to give real voice to the included submissions in the portfolio, but I somehow gathered that authenticity was important in a reflective letter that numerous teachers might read. As far as I knew, the audience tripled from one teacher to at least three assessors.

In this early example of my experience with portfolios, two things stand out to me: (1) the need for the audience to be expanded beyond that of a single teacher in order for meaningful work to be done; and (2) opportunities for personal reflection facilitate the development of voice, a powerful tool that will serve the student well in a wide variety of professions and activities. Reviewing the contents of the blog entries that I have included as assignments in Rick Beach’s course “Teaching Digital Writing? at the University of Minnesota, I have noted the following developments in my own work and the implications that they may have on future classes that I may teach:

- The importance of dynamic, engaging media, hyperlinks, hypertexts to engage both the author and the audience; these qualities facilitate author initiative; in short, timeliness required to complete the work provides opportunities for revision and reflection on the content and process.
- Familiarity and practice with engaging, dynamic media provides opportunities for expanding audience to peers through comments.
- As I shifted my focus to learning the process of creating new media, my work became less traditionally academic or formal.

I moved from merely adding a few hyperlinks within my blog postings to creating personally meaningful podcasts, films, presentations, and voicethreads – all of which I will continue to use in both personal and professional settings. I became more familiar with the utility of blogs as portfolios and wikis as a central one-stop location for class news, assignments, and student work. I’m glad I got to explore ComicLife also, which provides opportunities for students to create their own texts in the medium of comic books and graphic novels. Also, I recognized my expectations of successful role-plays and I think that if I were to include an on-line role-play in a class, I would need to properly scaffold the work to encourage meaningful dialogue among students.

Given the chance to fully utilize available technologies in a classroom, I would probably have students create portfolios by a similar design as had been created in this course. I would have the class use blogs as the preferred media for constructing a final portfolio, and gradually provide opportunities for students to work with varied new media so that they will have both meaningful texts to create as well as opportunities to reflect on the process of learning new technologies, media, and narrative forms. Ideally, they would have opportunities to produce video, audio, and other visual works that require careful planning, technical mastery, and editorial finishing.