Harvard Educational Review
  1. Inside the Writing Portfolio

    What We Need to Know to Assess Children's Writing

    By Carol Brennan Jenkins

    Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996. 282 pp. $25.00 (paper)

    Assessment of children's writing has long been a hotly debated topic among educators. In Inside the Writing Portfolio: What We Need to Know to Assess Children's Writing, Carol Brennan Jenkins brings to life the value of the writing portfolio for elementary grade students, by drawing on her twenty-three years of experience in literacy education as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and teacher educator, and combining her own research with the findings of others around the development of different genres of children's writing.

    While numerous studies have identified developmental progressions within groups of children, such studies frequently leave out rich descriptions of the literacy context. Jenkins' study of the writing of Shane, a third grader, responds to this criticism. She includes writing samples, surveys, and interviews with Shane, along with a chapter written by Shane's third-grade teacher that describes the classroom and Shane's experiences in it. Jenkins also draws on writing samples, surveys, and interviews from Shane's fourth- and fifth-grade years, to take a look at how his writing changes over time. As Jenkins states, the profile of Shane "bring[s] a sense of coherence and life to this book" (p. 25) as the reader becomes familiar with Shane's writing and his reflections on his writing. The reader views Shane's writing through the developmental progressions of personal narratives, story writing, and expository writing.

    Jenkins advocates a collaborative portfolio as a means of assessment, in which the teacher and student work together to select pieces to include and to set goals, as opposed to one in which either the teacher or the student has more authority over the portfolio. Jenkins provides a helpful portfolio implementation plan, including advice for introducing portfolios to students and for integrating them into the writing workshop.

    The interweaving of the case study of Shane, a third grader, with the existing research on writing results in an engaging and informative resource for both beginning and experienced teachers grappling with issues around assessing children's writing.

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