Using Writing Portfolios

A writing portfolio is a limited collection of a student’s writing for evaluation. It is different from the traditional writing folder that contains all of a student’s work; a portfolio contains only a student’s best efforts.

Why should I ask students to compile writing portfolios?

Explanatory Writing Rubric

Having students compile portfolios makes the whole process of writing more meaningful to them. They will more willingly put forth their best efforts, knowing that they are accountable for producing a certain number of finished pieces. They will more thoughtfully approach writing as an involved and recursive process of drafting, sharing, and rewriting, knowing that this process leads to more effective writing. And they will more responsibly craft finished pieces, knowing that their final evaluation will depend on the finished products they include in their portfolios.

Having students develop writing portfolios requires patience and perseverance from everyone involved. But there is no better way to keep track of a student’s development as a writer from quarter to quarter. Portfolios are also extremely valuable when you discuss a student’s progress with parents or other teachers.

How much writing should be included in a portfolio?

You and your students can decide how many pieces to include in the portfolio, but we advise that students compile at least three pieces of writing from each quarter. (Students could contract for a certain amount of required writing.) All of the drafts should be included for each piece. Students should also be required to include a self-evaluation sheet that assesses their writing progress.

Note: Some teachers allow students to include one or two pieces of writing from other disciplines.

How can I help my students with their portfolio writing?

Students need class time to work on writing if they are going to produce effective portfolios. Allow students to explore topics that genuinely interest them. Allow them to write for different purposes and audiences and in various forms. In addition, expect students to evaluate their own writing and the writing of their peers as it develops—and help them do so. Also provide them with sound guidance when they need help with a writing problem. Create a stimulating classroom environment that encourages students to immerse themselves in writing.

Portfolios can turn beginning writers into practicing writers who regularly compose—thinking, talking, and exploring options in their writing over and over again. In all of these ways, portfolios are tailor-made for writing workshops.

How do I grade a portfolio?

Before students even begin their portfolios, you should establish expectations. Students need to know how many pieces they should include in their portfolios, how their work should be arranged, how the portfolios will be assessed, and so on. You can use specific writing rubrics to grade each piece as it is written and a portfolio evaluation to grade the whole collection once it is  assembled. You can also develop your own critique sheet based on the goals you establish for the portfolio.