Department of Writing

Portfolio Groups

The portfolio-group grading system brings faculty together for productive small-group discussions of teaching and grading. It encourages the development of “community standards” for the four basic letter grades and allows students to select which papers will represent the bulk of their grade. Teachers may adjust the final grade with a plus or a minus, after evaluating student drafting, reading, participation, attendance, and so on. The portfolio grading groups allow teachers to design their own assignments, including in-class assignments and exercises, while adding very little to the end-of-term grading teachers normally do. Faculty report that it encourages them to “coach” their students through the term as students draft and revise papers for possible inclusion in the portfolio. Finally, the portfolio system ensures that students receiving a C or better satisfy the expectations of at least two—and, by implication, as many as five or six—WRT 150 faculty.

The system we are using was adapted in the mid-1990s from a model described by David Smit and others in Portfolios: Process and Product (Heinemann, 1991).

Here is how it works:

Faculty meet for an hour every week or two in small groups to discuss assignments, student writing, teaching, and grading. Teachers use copies of student work as anchors for discussion. Teachers report back to their students the results of these discussions, so that students gain an awareness of the expectations of the group—and, by implication, the program as a whole.

At the end of the semester, each student submits a final portfolio comprising three pieces of writing from the course, including at least one paper integrating outside sources. Final portfolio grades—the grade agreed upon by at least two faculty—constitute the student’s letter grade in the course. The usual practice is to adjust the student’s portfolio grade with a plus or a minus (or no adjustment) to reflect additional aspects of the student’s performance in class—participation, effectiveness in peer review, completion of reading assignments, attendance, and so on.

The portfolios are graded with a simple letter grade: A, B, C, or D. Each portfolio is read and graded by the teacher and by one reader from the group other than the student’s own teacher. Graders offer brief comments on D portfolios only. Usually each grader reads roughly the same number of other teachers’ portfolios as he or she has students—though portfolio groups may negotiate other arrangements.

When the first reading is done, teachers compare the grades their students received to their own impressions based on their familiarity with the student’s work in the portfolio. If, after reviewing an individual portfolio, a teacher disagrees with the grade, he or she may ask for what would then become a third reading from within the group. If the two outside readers agree, the teacher must assign the agreed-upon grade. If the two outside readers disagree, the teacher’s own grade prevails. In effect, then, teachers serve as a “first reader” in a three reader grading system.

Students whose portfolios receive a C must receive a grade of C or better in WRT 150.

Students whose portfolios receive a D may not receive a grade of C or better in WRT 150.

The portfolio groups are organized at the beginning of each semester, and teachers generally work with different people from semester to semester in order to become exposed to a variety of perspectives on academic writing.

Procedures for Portfolio Group Meetings

Papers for discussion should be distributed at least two days prior to the meeting. Ideally they will be distributed at one meeting for discussion at the next meeting. In order to make sure that the right number of papers are being discussed and that all teachers have the opportunity to submit their students’ work, the distribution of papers for discussion should be coordinated by a chair of the group.

Everyone should read and assign a grade to each paper prior to the meeting. In general, three papers should be discussed for about 15 minutes each. Discussing more than four papers during a one-hour meeting is not very productive.

At the start of each discussion, each person should state the grade he or she assigned to the paper and give a very brief explanation (a sentence or two). Once everyone has spoken, the group can engage in an open discussion of the paper. The discussion should not exceed 10 or 15 minutes, even if no consensus is reached on the grade. Repeat the procedure for each paper.

At the end of the session, the group should briefly discuss what they’ve learned about one another, about teaching writing, and about grading WRT 150 papers.

Page last modified January 8, 2007