Monday, February 22, 2010

Portfolio - "...the function of reflection in an assessment context isn't entirely clear."

Kathleen Blake Yancey writes in Reflection in the Writing Classroom (1998), Chapter 7, Reflection  and Assessment, that "As we shall see, the function of reflection in an assessment context isn't entirely clear."  Reading this statement in the second paragraph of the first of three readings this week shaped my focus as I read.  All three of our readings this week, Yancey (1998), Wolf and Siu-Runyan (1996) and Mondock (1997) are 12 to 14 years old. So the question I asked while pondering the readings was how does reflection which is at the heart of portfolio self assessment intersect with the current climate of Federal legislation and initiatives? Among them:
  1. formal multiple choice high stakes testing, 
  2. 'scientifically based' programs, skills, and strategies, 
  3. nationally formed standards,
  4. and funding for public schools?
Teachers rightly look for research to support, inform and guide their practice.  In the current climate of politicized education districts are careful to use data and research in more refined ways.  Now 12 to 14 years after these readings were created would Yancey still make that statement?

I think she would.  Searching for clarity produced more thoughts to ponder.  Unless my searches were flawed, which I always wonder when navigating the great world of the web, the NCTE last issued a position paper on portfolios in assessment in 1990,  Resolution on the Development and Dissemination of Alternative Forms of Assessment.  In 2007 they created a position statement, Principles and Practices in Electronic Portfolios, for postsecondary institutions. 

A short hunt for more research on portfolios shows portfolios continue to be used, have entered the digital age, figure heavily in self-assessment and multiple purposes.  Regardless of the political nature of high stakes testing, educators are asking students to reflect and explain due mostly to Mondock's insight that "this evaluation scale provides multiple indicators of student performance and acknowledges differences in individual learning styles. By basing evaluation on student self reflection, the evidence does speak for itself." (Mondock, p. 64.) So the function of reflection may be clear but it's role as a a research based practice remains open.

A few more Abstracts on the topic if you would like to meander....

Andrade and Valtcheva (2009)Abstract:

Criteria-referenced self-assessment is a process during which students collect information about their own performance or progress; compare it to explicitly stated criteria, goals, or standards; and revise accordingly. The authors argue that self-assessment must be a formative type of assessment, done on drafts of works in progress: It should not be a matter of determining one's own grade. As such, the purposes of self-assessment are to identify areas of strength and weakness in one's work in order to make improvements and promote learning. Criteria-referenced self-assessment has been shown to promote achievement. This article introduces criteria-referenced self-assessment, describes how it is done, and reviews some of the research on its benefits to students. 

Barrett (2007) Abstract:
Theoretical background for researching student learning, engagement, and collaboration through the development of electronic portfolios is described in this article. After providing an overview of the limited research on portfolios in education, the author discusses the accepted definitions, multiple purposes, and conflicting theoretical paradigms of electronic portfolios. Principles of student motivation and engagement are covered, and the philosophical issues related to portfolio assessment and reflection are outlined--paying particular attention to the difference between assessment "for" learning and assessment "of" learning.

Electronic Appeal: Writing Portfolios Go Digital (The Council Chronicle, March 04)

Elizabeth Beagle, an English teacher at Landstown High School and Technology Academy in Virginia Beach, has seen a lot of teacher interest in electronic portfolios. She attributes this to the many benefits, which she lists as: "storage, ease of reading, option of alternative assessment, variety, and integration of state technology standards."
She also notes some hesitancy among teachers who might not be as familiar with technology. But Beagle encourages everyone to try it, suggesting they start out slowly and build as their skills and confidence do.
"I think what the electronic portfolio does for a lot of students is that it unlocks their minds. I know when I first started doing this, I had students who would have been reluctant to turn in a standard, written portfolio, but because it was digital, it intrigued them. They were able to express their personality, using fonts, color, and graphics." Enticed, students turned in a portfolio, even if the quality wasn't always stellar.

A Quick Tour of Four Portfolio Programs (The Council Chronicle, March 04)

At St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, students who want to design their own major are asked to create a Web portfolio that demonstrates the connections they've made in their studies.
David Booth, associate professor of religion and director of the Center for Integrative Studies, says that the college has identified four "habits of mind" as central to students' development in liberal arts. Booth and his colleagues believe that Web portfolios are uniquely suited to developing these habits of integrative thinking, reflective thinking, thinking in a community, and thinking in context.
He says that the college is exploring further possible uses for electronic portfolios, such as in the first-year writing program, to increase the cohesiveness of the first-year experience. Some established interdisciplinary programs are also thinking about including Web portfolios, he adds.


  1. Dear Mary,

    I am so glad that you did two things. One is to reiterate that the gurus we read were writing a school generation ago, and so it is right to question their relevance.

    But even better, you sought out more contemporary examples of portfolio use. I am reading THE FLAT WORLD AND ASSESSMENT by Linda Darling-Hammond (who unfortunately did not become our new Secty. of Education). She highlights a number of urban schools (mostly charter) that are 'making the grade' of sending the vast majority of their students on to college. In addition to supporting the students emotionally, educationally, and even financially, these exemplary schools require their graduates to present and defend comprehensive portfolios of their work. The metacognition the students demonstrate, the logic of their arguments (defense), prove them ready for college work.

  2. Correction to title: THE FLAT WORLD AND EDUCATION.

  3. Hi Mary.
    I want to thank you for this thoughtful exploration of "reflection" in the 21 century learning landscape and its relation to portfolios. I've found to be very helpful as I think through readings for future courses and have shared this blog entry with others focusing on writing assessment.

    Thanks for creating such "travel-friendly" reflections.