Centers and Institutes

The Teaching Institute

Portfolio FAQ's From Paul Aspan

What does the term “portfolio” mean?
“Portfolio” refers to all of the work a student has completed for the entire semester. I call it a portfolio because I ask the student to resubmit all of his/her work to me as a collection when I read their final self-evaluation and determine their semester grade.

Are there any mandatory assignments for the class?
Every class member must complete the midterm, the final, and any other assignments I stipulate for the entire class.

In addition to these mandatory assignments, what else must I have in my portfolio?
In addition to the mandatory assignments, each class member must produce at least four substantive pieces of work for their own portfolio. The midterm may be either take-home and or in class. Ideally, the student should have submitted at least two items for her/his portfolio by then.

Here are some examples of what students have produced in the past as successful contributions to their portfolios:

  • A journal, where the student addresses important questions raised by the primary and the secondary literature. These entries need not be long (approximately 500 words), but the successful journals have exhibited consistent engagement of the material. This means the student has written every week, or no less than every other week, 500-1000 words per week.
  • Fiction & Poetry. Students write stories and poems that address key issues our study raises.
  • Artwork and collages. I discourage these, but not in an absolute sense. Visual art often requires an accompanying text to explain how the images represent specific issues from class. The instructor should remind the students that visual art requires twice as much work for successful inclusion in a portfolio. The physical art must be conceived, produced and refined. Secondly, the student must be able to articulate at length how the physical art demonstrates a thorough grasp of the academic material. Although I have received some outstanding work in this medium, too often collages and artwork fail to bridge the gap between the student’s impression and a clear demonstration of mastery of the material in much depth.
  • Individual and group oral presentations. Students may give the presentations to the entire class, or may engage in a mini seminar separate from class time in my office. E.g., four students met with me four times during one semester to engage in a group presentation/dialogue with me. I have also had individuals meet with me in my office. Students have also given presentations to the entire class and led discussion on a topic from or directly related to the syllabus. Also, students have written and performed plays. One group of students produced a video as a sequel to one of the films studied in our class that semester. I need a bit of notice for in class presentations, and the presentation should be related to the material designated for reading and discussion that week in class.
  • I also invite students to discuss other ideas they may have. This process works better with more interaction between student and professor.

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What if a student cannot “come up with” any ideas for the portfolio? What should s/he do?
Comparative essays often seem to help students get started in the course. This process requires reflection and self-inventory. Keeping a journal, as mentioned above, also serves as a basis for more extensive projects.

When should work be submitted?
Work should be submitted as soon as it is completed. The student may submit drafts, outlines, ideas etc. Evaluation for student work will be based upon the finished product, i.e., as he/she has revised it in response to my comments. There is no penalty for trying something that does not completely succeed if the student is able to revise it into a successful piece of work. However, I cannot help people much if they do not submit work until near the end of the semester.

How will work be evaluated?
The student’s semester grade is the product of the combination of the evaluations of the instructor and the self-evaluations of the student. As part of the midterm, students are asked to take inventory of their work up to that point in the semester. The student will write a final self-evaluation that will constitute an argument for a specific letter grade based upon the evidence contained in the portfolio. I will write comments on each piece of work the student submits that should indicate clearly how well that individual component of work succeeded.

Directions for Self-Evaluations

Initial Self-Assessments
Midterm Self-Assessment
Final Self-Evaluation

What if I have other questions not covered by this sheet?
This process works best if the instructor is willing to meet with students on an individual or small group basis regularly. Also, the process works well only if students take advantage of the instructor’s willingness to meet with them.

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