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Christening a Portfolio with a Postcard.

Scorpio Sphinx Portfolios 1-20-05

By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas

The first class of the new semester took place at a small rural Arkansas high school, not at the university as would be supposed. I was invited to teach portfolio writing by Novice Teacher to a group of eleventh grades who are academically at risk. Novice teacher was pondering the best way to engage these learners, so I offered my experience using portfolios for the ESL (English as a Second Language) writing classes I had taught in the Intensive English Program at the University of Central Arkansas. He conferred with the head of the English Department at his school, and she agreed that it would be a worthwhile endeavor.

Objectives, Frameworks.

I began to prepare for the lesson by opening dozens of boxes looking for a couple of example portfolios I had saved and for an opening writing activity using postcards. Of course, after hours of searching, I found the activity in the most accessible, last (and least) possible place conveniently hiding in my file cabinet! After gathering materials, I looked at the Arkansas Department of Education website to scan the Frameworks for English at the 11th grade so that my objectives would match those required by the state.

I established the goal and objectives of the lesson as they related to the Frameworks, created my activities to target the goals, and then went shopping for binders and postcards.

Engaged, Enthusiastic Time Travelers.

I packed up "Godzilla" (our Honda Element), and with canine guests as traveling companions, I headed south for my first lesson. I arrived in time to catch the second half of a block class in World History and was introduced to an engaged and enthusiastic group who were creating stories of being transported back to the glory days of Rome.

When the bell rang, the small group of eleventh graders arrived five females and four males, two of whom were English Language Learners. They were just as curious as I was excited. I began with an overview of why portfolio writing was effective, fun, and personal. I had brought two examples from former students to show them. As they looked at the portfolios, we discussed basic terminology of writing audience, purpose, style, editing, revising and the writing process itself. I asked for examples of what types of writing they already knew how to do and why they wrote them. I confirmed to them that they were already writers, but to be better writers they had to write more.

At this point, we took the time to pick out binders. I had chosen several colors traditional and neon. Novice teacher had stickers and blank paper for them, so for several minutes, they organized and decorated their portfolio binders.

Step-by-Step to the Post Office.

Their first writing activity was to imagine that they were on vacation somewhere in Arkansas and were sending a postcard greeting to their classmate. We reviewed basic spelling, punctuation, capitalization and formatting for addressing a postcard and went over the basic parts of an informal greeting for the content. However, before they were given the actual postcard, I had them do a "mock-up" of their address. They exchanged the example for their partner to check while I monitored their efforts. Once we had the addresses completed, they wrote the rough draft of their greeting. Novice Teacher and I checked the drafts for mechanics and made other suggestions related to content. Finally, I let them choose their postcards from a group of Arkansas-themed scenes. The last step was to transfer the draft of the greeting to the postcard. Before the bell rang again, I collected the postcards to bring to my place of residence and mail from here to see how long it would be before the postcards arrived at their homes.

The results of this activity were immediate and effective. Students were able to correctly compose and format the address; they were able to distinguish a formal salutation and closing from an informal salutation and closing; and they were able to recognize the informal style used for writing to their peers. By the end of the following week, students were receiving postcards about shopping at the mall, having a sauna and massage, or asking for cab money to rescue one from boredom!

Novice teacher has also reported that the portfolios continue to be successful. He has added journal writing and poetry to complement their first task of imaginary writing.

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