Writing Portfolio

Class of 2022 portfolios:

The Fall deadline is Friday, Nov 1 at 4:30.

The Winter deadline is Fri, Feb 21 at 4:30.*

The Spring deadline is Friday May 15  at 4:30.

Reminder:

The bulk of sophomores will submit their portfolios in the spring, but sophomores going on spring OCS programs are required to submit their portfolios in the winter.

The fall deadline is generally only applicable to students who are "off cycle" due to academic leave.

If you wish to submit your portfolio early, please contact George Cusack: gcusack AT carleton DOT edu

What is the writing portfolio?

At the end of their sixth term, just before they declare their major, all Carleton students are required to submit a writing portfolio in order to demonstrate their skills as academic writers.  A complete portfolio contains 3-5 pieces of writing from the student's Carleton courses, plus a reflective essay in which the student articulates how they have developed as a writer over the past two years.  Each portfolio must demonstrate the student's fluency with certain specific academic writing skills (these skills are listed and explained here).  Portfolios are read and scored by volunteers from Carleton faculty and instructional staff, who award each portfolio a score of "Exemplary," "Pass," or "Needs Work."  The portfolios are then stored in an archive, which researchers in and outside of Carleton may use to assess the overall quality of writing instruction at Carleton and to develop new techniques for teaching and assessing writing.

How do students benefit from preparing a portfolio?

Research shows that people learn more, retain more of what we've learned, and are better able to adapt their knowledge to new situations when they take the time to reflect on their past experiences.  The portfolio creates an opportunity for you to do just that: by looking back over the writing you've completed in your first two years at Carleton and assessing the way your writing has developed, you will develop a clearer sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and a scholar.  This will put you in a stronger position to adapt and grow as you move away from the more diverse phase of your Carleton education and start to take on more complex challenges in your major discipline.

The portfolio also provides a means for identifying students who might need to develop specific writing skills more fully before they get too far into their major.  The roughly 10% of students who earn a "Needs Work" score will work directly with the Director of Writing across the Curriculum to identify the areas where they most need to improve, so they don't fall through the cracks in their major and upper-division courses.  For more information on this, see the page, "What Does a Needs Work Score Mean?"

We realize that it can seem disingenuous to describe the portfolio process as an "opportunity" when you're required to go through it, but we very much hope that you will see it this way.  You'll receive some feedback from faculty readers on your portfolio, and the portfolio program as a whole benefits Carleton in a variety of ways, but the process will be most valuable to you personally if you take the time to go through it properly and really reflect on the way writing has contributed to your experience at Carleton.

How does the portfolio benefit Carleton as a whole?

Each, year, the portfolios are read and scored by a group of around 30 faculty and staff volunteers.  This process give readers a tremendous insight into the ways Carleton students write and the kinds of assignments they complete in their classes.  This allows faculty to develop more interesting, creative, and useful assignments in their classes, and it helps instructional staff (such as librarians and the Writing Center directors) develop better materials and methods to support student writers.

The collected portfolio also allow us to assess the way writing as a whole is being taught and learned at Carleton, which allows us to see broad patterns in student literacy and learning that we might not see otherwise.  Since it's creation, the portfolio program has contributed to several major curricular programs at Carleton, such as media literacy and quantitative reasoning.

When and how should I revise the pieces in my portfolio?

Many students significantly improve their writing skills in their first two years at Carleton -- indeed, that's how it should work! If this is the case for you, you may find that the pieces you wrote in your first few terms might not reflect the quality of your writing now, at the end of your sophomore year.  However, you may find that, in order to meet the portfolio requirements, you need to include one or more of these older pieces in your portfolio.  In these circumstances, we strongly recommend that you revise, using your newly-developed writing abilities to make these pieces stronger than you could have when you originally wrote them.

Even if you're fairly satisfied with a given piece of writing, though, you may want to make some revisions to account for the different audience and situation.  By including a piece in your portfolio, you're taking it out of the context where it was originally written and read (a course on a specific subject, with the instructor of that course as the primary reader) and putting it into a very different context (an assessment of your writing skills, with a primary reader who may not know the subject matter).  In order to engage these new readers, you need to be sure that each piece in your portfolio is accessible to a general audience and effectively demonstrates the writing skills you chose it to demonstrate.  Some specific things to consider are:

  1. Does this piece use technical terminology or jargon that a reader outside this discipline might not know? If so, is this terminology clearly defined?
  2. Does this piece examine a text, theory, or concept that might be unfamiliar to a reader outside this course?  If so, does the piece provide enough information for such a reader to understand your ideas?
  3. Are all sources in the piece clearly cited using an established documentation system (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.)?  This is especially important if you're submitting the piece to satisfy the "Use of Multiple Sources" requirement, but it's good practice to document every source in every piece, even if the instructor you originally wrote the piece for didn't require it.
  4. If you're submitting a piece to satisfy the "thesis-driven essay" requirement, does the piece have a clear and complete thesis, and does the argument that follows clearly stem from that thesis?

Remember, your course instructors grade your work according to a variety of factors, including knowledge of the course material, but your portfolio readers only consider the quality of your writing.  Therefore, you shouldn't assume that just because your instructor gave a high grade to a given piece, it will hold up in your portfolio.

Where can I get help preparing my portfolio?

First and foremost, please see the FAQ for answers to routine questions. 

If you have additional questions about the portfolio requirements such as how to submit your portfolio, which term your portfolio is due, or how to fulfill certain portfolio requirements, you may contact George Cusack (gcusack AT Carleton DOT edu), the Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum.

If you'd like general feedback on all or part of your portfolio you can also contact George Cusack, or you can schedule an appointment with the Writing Center.  The Writing Center associates all receive training specifically on how to help students with their portfolios.  Plus, as Carleton students in their second year or later, all of them are either going through or have completed the portfolio process themselves.