Portfolio talk in a sixth-grade writing workshop

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this study was to describe how sixth-grade students talk about their writing and their writing portfolios in a natural setting. A qualitative approach was used in the study. Through interviews, classroom observations, and analysis of site artifacts, I studied four female sixth graders’ talk in the context of a writing workshop for eighteen weeks. Assuming the role of limited participant observer, I spent a minimum of six to eight hours each week in the classroom observing and interviewing the informants during the second semester of the 1993-1994 school year. The primary questions I addressed were (a) How do sixth graders talk about their writing? and (b) How does writing fit into the informants’ personal literacy configurations?

I codified all data in order to analyze how students talked about their portfolios. Two themes of talk emerged in this analysis: textual responses--responses to content, language, perspective, and mechanics; and affective responses--the role of association, imagination, accomplishment, singularity, effort, fantasy/realism, and entertainment value in their writing. Results revealed that the research participants applied a wide array of criteria-- both textual and nontextual in nature--to their writing and their writing portfolios. These criteria did not increase Significantly in number; however, students’ abilities to articulate the criteria developed.

In addition, results indicate the social nature of writing. Five complex, interactive, and recursive factors highly influenced the manner in which students talked about their work: students’ prior writing experiences, shared trust, ownership and responsibility, classroom activities, and the opportunity to reflect.

Results also suggest that students have the ability to assess their own writing and, therefore, should participate in self-assessment and in the establishment of a common composition vocabulary. Furthermore, the study reveals that portfolios encourage ownership and responsibility and aid Students in seeing themselves as writers. Finally, portfolios can be powerful reflective tools that may help many students in articulating their thoughts about their writing and in making revisions to their pieces. Students who do not see revision as an essential part of writing, however, may reap few benefits from portfolio assessment.