USING REFLECTIVE PORTFOLIOS AS A TOOL TO TEACH WRITING TO STUDENTS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES: A PROJECT FOR PRESERVICE TEACHERS

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  • This article was downloaded by: [McGill University Library]On: 12 November 2014, At: 11:30Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    Reading & Writing Quarterly:Overcoming LearningDifficultiesPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/urwl20

    USING REFLECTIVEPORTFOLIOS AS A TOOLTO TEACH WRITING TOSTUDENTS WITH LEARNINGDISABILITIES: A PROJECT FORPRESERVICE TEACHERSC. Bobbi Hansen aa University of San Diego , San Diego, California,USAPublished online: 28 Jul 2006.

    To cite this article: C. Bobbi Hansen (1998) USING REFLECTIVE PORTFOLIOS AS ATOOL TO TEACH WRITING TO STUDENTS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES: A PROJECTFOR PRESERVICE TEACHERS, Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming LearningDifficulties, 14:3, 307-317, DOI: 10.1080/1057356980140305

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1057356980140305

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • USING REFLECTIVE PORTFOLIOS AS A TOOLTO TEACH WRITING TO STUDENTS WITH

    LEARNING DISABILITIES: A PROJECT FORPRESERVICE TEACHERS

    C. Bobbi HansenUniversity of San Diego, San Diego, California, USA

    Teacher education faculties are beginning to examine assessment choices thatare more reflective in nature. An alternative some are experimenting with is thestudent portfolio, which is gaining in popularity at elementary, middle-, andhigh-school levels. This article advocates the use of portfolios as an alternativeassessment at the collegiate level in teacher education classes. A preservicemethods class special project designed to engage teacher-trainees in reflectionsrelated to the teaching of writing in a mainstreamed classroom provides anoverview of how this process can be incorporated into a preservice educationcourse.

    The use of portfolios as an alternative to traditional assessments andgrading schemes is growing more popular at all levels of education(Valencia, 1990; Aitken, 1993; Cirincione & Michael, 1994; Ford,1994). A portfolio is a multidimensional collection of a student's workassembled in an organized fashion and represents the cognitive,affective, or psychomotor dimensions of learning. It is a body of workthat is selected both by the student and by the teacher and reflectedon by students largely through writing. Portfolios provide both tea-chers and students with a means of documenting students' progresstoward learning goals (Ford & Olhausen, 1991). Students oftenrespond to portfolios with improved motivation and attitudes (Frazier,Palmer, Duchein, & Armato, 1993).

    Special education students are especially at risk when encounter-ing more traditional forms of assessment. Performance-based andother forms of authentic assessment are seen as more compatible andsupportive of children with disabilities because they give educators aricher view of what students actually can do. As Nel Noddings (1992)remarked, "we should move away from the question, 'has Johnny

    The writer thanks Kim Jubala, a fifth-grade teacher at Lafayette ElementarySchool in San Diego, California, for her role in the inception and management of thePen-Pal Project.

    Address correspondence to C. Bobbi Hansen, University of San Diego, Alcala Park,San Diego, CA 92110, USA.

    Reading & Writing Quarterly, 14: 307-317, 1998Copyright 1998 Taylor & Francis

    1057-3569/98 $12.00 +.00 307

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  • 308 C. B. Hansen

    learned X?' to the far more pertinent question, 'What has Johnnylearned?'" (p. 179).

    Contemporary educators also perceive portfolio planning andreflection in such a positive way because it involves students in arich variety of cognitive, affective, and pragmatic work opportunities.

    At the collegiate level portfolios are just beginning to emerge asan assessment option. In schools of education, which are engaged inthe preparation of general and special education teachers, it is espe-cially important to model these newer assessment models so thatteacher candidates can experience for themselves the power thatcomes from assuming the responsibility of their own learning (Stahle& Mitchell, 1993).

    THE ROLE OF WRITING IN REFLECTIVE PORTFOLIOS

    Portfolios are part of an evolving process that includes and valuesreflection. Grant and Zeichner (1984) noted that Dewey defined theterm reflection as "behavior which involves active, persistent, andcareful consideration of any belief or practice in light of the groundsthat support it and the further consequences to which it leads."Researchers are now saying that reflection of this kind is importantfor teachers and for students alike (Brandt, 1991; Cruickshank &Metcalf, 1990; Schon, 1987).

    The writing process is emerging as a critical component in reflec-tion since most, although not all, of the contents of a portfolio arecomposed of reflective writings. Thus, the writing process oftenbecomes the vehicle by which students and teachers engage in self-reflection.

    Conversely, students' skills in writing can improve through theprocess of reflection. Brown (1994) cited several clear advantages tothe use of portfolios for teachers of writing. Among them are (1) anintegration of writing into the curriculum, (2) the provision of a clearand complete writing profile, which becomes a record of growth overtime, and (3) the recognition of divergent learning styles of students.

    For students who have learning disabilities, finding authentic pur-poses for writing is extremely important. Typical writing instructionfor these students focuses on techniques for remediating so-calledbasic skills such as spelling, grammar, and handwriting. Becauseworksheets are commonly used to provide practice in these tech-niques, students miss important connections to the use of writing in

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  • Using Reflective Portfolios to Teach Writing 309

    meaningful settings. A central assumption of many educators whoteach writing to students with learning disabilities is that the pro-duction of so-called low-level skills is a necessary prerequisite to theacquisition of composing skills (Bryson & Scardamalia, 1991).

    This view of teaching writing is being challenged by contemporaryeducators. The newer model stresses enriched writing environmentsfor all students including those with learning disabilities, and anemphasis on "writing to learn" rather than "learning to write" as anisolated practice engaged in for its own sake.

    CHANGING NEEDS IN THE PREPARATION OFGENERAL EDUCATION TEACHERS

    Educational service delivery to children with and without disabilitiesin the public schools is changing. Due to the movement toward inclu-sive classrooms, the task of teaching writing to students with learn-ing disabilities is more and more becoming the responsibility of thegeneral education teacher, albeit with support and consultation fromprofessionals in special education. The challenge for teacher educa-tion programs in colleges and universities is the preparation ofgeneral education teachers who can skillfully and competently workwith children who have learning handicaps.

    In an attempt to help preservice students gain a more completeunderstanding of the ways portfolios can be used to enhance thewriting skills of all students, including those who are learning dis-abled, a project was undertaken in a preservice methods class thatused the portfolio as a vehicle for teacher-trainees to gain insightsregarding the needs of special learners and the task of writing.

    Description of the Portfolio ProjectIn the identified preservice methods course each teacher-trainee waspaired with a fifth-grade student from an elementary school in anurban school district. The school had adopted the inclusion model forthe delivery of special education services. During the second classmeeting of the semester, teacher-trainees were assigned to a pen palvia introductory letters written by the fifth graders. The preserviceteachers chose a particular pen pal on the basis of the personal infor-mation provided by the young student. An attempt was made tomatch pen pals who had similar interests.

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  • 310 C. B. Hansen

    The preservice teachers had learned the basics of portfolio assess-ment in a previous course and were now being instructed in themethods of teaching writing skills to elementary students.The course goals established that the focus of the writing portfoliowas twofold: (1) to give the teacher-trainees insights into the com-plexities of teaching of writing to elementary-school children ininclusive classrooms, and (2) to give the teacher-trainees anopportunity to engage in the reflective writing process themselves, sothat they could practice using the process in an authentic setting. Tomeet the objectives of the course, the teacher-trainee learned to use avariety of techniques for assessing themselves and the writing ofelementary-school students. In this way, they learned through experi-ence how authentic assessment helps identify the progress and needareas of students with learning disabilities in general educationwriting classes.

    The students' portfolios had three sections. In section one, whichcontained the actual letters that they received from their student penpals, teacher-trainees were required to analyze the writing samplesand diagnose the writers' strengths and weaknesses. They then wereasked to plan appropriate lessons in writing that matched the skillneeds of their pen pals. In this way they were able to see how instruc-tion in writing needed to address specific learning goals for eachstudent. This exercise also was designed to strengthen the resolve ofnew teachers to plan appropriate writing experiences for all their stu-dents, including those diagnosed with learning disabilities.

    The second section contained reflections from their practicumexperience. A 40-hour practicum is required of all teacher-trainees inwhich they provide classroom assistance to credentialled teachers. Aspreviously mentioned, credential candidates are expected to demon-strate an understanding of how to teach writing to students ofvarying abilities and to demonstrate an understanding of the variousassessment techniques that are available to a writing teacher.

    The third section of the portfolio inclined other forms of reflectivewritings. These other writing entries were chosen by the teacher-trainees and indicated a measure of their willingness to extend theirlearning beyond our classroom and the practicum experience. Theyread widely in professional journals and in trade books about thewriting process and about special considerations when teaching tostudents with learning disabilities. They observed special educationteachers as they were engaged in writing instruction both in inclu-sive and noninclusive settings. They conducted interviews withparents of children who have learning problems. Several developedphilosophy statements for the teaching of writing. After each of these

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  • Using Reflective Portfolios to Teach Writing 311

    activities, they deepened their understandings by writing their ownreflective summary statements.

    Throughout the semester I attempted to ascertain the effectivenessof the writing portfolios for demonstrating progress toward goals. Atthe end of the semester each teacher-trainee brought his or her port-folio to a conference with the instructor and was asked to (1)comment on how the writing of a fifth-grade student evolved over thesemester and (2) talk about the organization of the portfolio and howthe writings supported his or her own reflective thinking processes.

    We all agreed that the development of a portfolio was a learningexperience that could not be measured in a standard way with singlegrade. The best evidence of this comes from the teacher candidates intheir reflective written summaries of the project. I have excerpted afew comments so that the reader may get a glimpse into the learning'sof the teacher-trainees regarding their growth in understanding howto teach writing to children in inclusive settings and their growth inthe reflective process itself.

    "The pen-pal project not only gave me an opportunity to observe thedevelopment of writing skills, it also enriched my life."

    "Exchanging letters with a young child helped me to reflect a littleon the developmental stages of writing that children go through. Mypen-pal's ability to convey thoughts through writing improved quite abit from September to December. I will remember that writing is aprocess for students and to allow time for growth to occur."

    "In this pen-pal project, even the fifth graders who had learningproblems got to participate along with the other students. The studentsreally enjoyed their writing assignments and were able to create newfriendships as a by-product of this project."

    "Through the pen-pal project I learned that authentic writing experi-ences are the best way to engage any student in the writing process.This is especially true for students who have learning handicaps. Theyimproved in their writing skills and they felt very much a part of thewhole classroom. The teacher did not need to isolate these students, butcould teach them what they needed to...

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