The Portfolio in Progress
When designing the template for this year-long assignment, I was certain that the process would be an additive one for students, and not just in terms of length. In fact, using Google Docs took away the question of page length entirely — another way that students had to grapple with the actual content of their writing, instead of just trying to meet the minimum requirements. In what other ways would the format influence the assignment?
As the months passed and their documents grew, I realized that we were creating a more dynamic version of portfolio-based writing. I remembered the green portfolios from my own middle school, how students would select their best pieces of writing and fill out quick questionnaires on why they had selected that item. Eventually the portfolio was a show piece that you could bring home to your parents.
Our experiment with Google Docs asked the question: What if you put everything in your writing portfolio? What if you were required to do that kind of thinking and reflection on every piece of writing, to accept and defend it even if it wasn’t “your best work?”
As my students contribute to these “portfolios in progress,” I watched them slowly but surely get their minds around their own abilities, and then start to improve their craft, first with strong support from myself, then primarily from their peers, and eventually on their own.
Below are a few illustrative examples from one student’s Writing Doc. The first is a snapshot of their reflection after their very first essay.
Things were developing even by the second essay reflection.
When we reached the middle of the year, students wrote a “Reflective 2Fer,” where the thesis had to analyze their own composition skills. Below are a few paragraphs this student composed about their own work.
At this juncture, I decided it was time to tweak the template a bit, and that included re-booting with a new Google Doc — Writing Doc 2.0. Instead of having the reflections at the end of each assignment, students would set their own goals at the TOP of the document, and edit and add to that list at will. They were given the five feedback categories as a guide.
One student started out with three goals, the suggested number.
By the end of the year, they had posted multiple revisions to their goals, including noting places where they felt proficient.
I feel conflicted about moments where students used a good score as evidence that their writing didn’t have any room for improvement. Using Google Docs definitely helped put the emphasis on feedback over grades, but it has yet to be the silver bullet I sometimes wish for. On the whole, however, their meta-cognition about writing has improved by leaps and bounds. The flexibility of writing and revising their own goals gave them ownership in the way that pre-written “Focus Correction Areas” do not.