On Digital Portfolios.
I remember the days where English teachers were tasked with collecting their student writing into a thick, dense portfolio. As a student, I would flip through the endless mass of collected papers laced with red pen and struggle for meaning. Instead of perceiving the exercise as a learning opportunity, it felt more along the lines of a history of my inadequacies – as marked by the fiery red pen. In the end, I chalked it up to a written record justifying my final English grade at a very competitive school system where grades were often challenged by students and parents.
Whichever way one lands pedagogically on the technological divide, it is undeniable that computers have reconceived the practice of writing over the past 10-20 years. Handwriting, once a subject in elementary school that was assigned a grade of equal importance to math and language arts, is slowly being worked out of the necessary curriculum. Subsequently, students are no longer turning to composing their drafts on handwritten pages, and many of them do not. The days of rewriting entire drafts, bearing through intolerable hand-cramps and cycling through countless sheets of paper have given way to copy/ paste, carpel tunnel and an environmentally friendlier approach to writing. Due to this re-envisioning of the writing process, it only makes sense that the way students present and are assessed on their writing be reflective of those changes.
What do you wish you knew about digital portfolios or Digication before, that you know now?
In retrospect, I wish I knew how much enhanced my teaching/ course would be, and how much I was able to impact my students directly with this new teaching tool. I wish I wasn’t so scared to fail my first quarter teaching digital portfolios and that I was more confident in the “classroom of learners” approach. I was also surprised how much the students came through, and continue to as I teach writing via digital porfolios.
What strategies would your recommend to colleagues?
Firstly, I would recommend pairing up with another teacher who is more practiced in digital portfolios for ongoing support. Secondly, I really love Reynold’s idea of having students choose a visual simile/ metaphor for their writing process. It really brings their process from the amorphous to the concrete. And third, when working with digital portfolios I would reexamine my strategies for how I assess student work opposed to hard drafts. The pedagogy that writing is a process is very much what digital portfolios are all about. Therefore, I would be very careful to give large grades (that seem final) to any paper until the final portfolio is completed at the end of the quarter. Rather then grade, from an assessment perspective, I avoid making too many marks on student papers. Instead, I write up a 2-paragraph reflection on every final paper students turn in, and make it mandatory that students include this reflection in their portfolios. In that way students can see their assessment history as well. Also, I have students reflect on their process in their midterm paper, and again in their final reflection. Most valuable about the process is when I request students tell me in their final reflection essay what they were able to reflect on their writing process over the course of the term, how they are able to prove that assertation, and consequently what grade they should receive in the course. It is amazing how accurate they are and how much responsibility they accept back on themselves and their own process.
How has working with digital portfolios affected your classroom practice or pedagogy?
Since I have adopted the digital portfolio into my First-Year Writing classes, students seem to take more ownership of their work and their process. Writing no longer reflects what I, the teacher, want, but something more personal for the students themselves. Most of all, I have witnessed students become incredibly reflective about their own writing. Because of the way digital portfolios are laid out, students are able to see the marked changes in their own writing and comprehend their own improvement instead of walking away shaking their head about their grade. In my FYW classes, I feel that learning has become a path toward actually improving upon their writing rather than an excercise towards a final grade.