At the beginning of the semester, I gave each of my first year students a manilla folder. "It's your portfolio," I said. "Guard it with your life. " I told them that no student of mine has ever lost a folder, and I didn't want one of them to be the first. They nodded seriously. Most of the students bring the manilla folder to every class, and many doodle on the outside cover during class discussions.
By the time I collected the folders last week, they were no long clean and new looking. They were worn on the edges, heavily decorated, and filled with papers. I could recognize which folder belonged to which student without even looking at the name on the tab. Each portfolio contained a dozen short response papers, a stack of freewrites, two formal papers, some rough drafts, some creative writing, and a reflection paper. I carried the stack of folders home and kept them for several days, taking my time to reread some of the papers before assigning each student a midterm grade.
In class, one student announced that she had woken up that morning, looked for her folder, and couldn't find it. "I totally panicked," she said, "I was going crazy." She was ripping apart the whole room, searching desperately for it when her roommate woke up and reminded her that I had it. "I felt so relieved," she said. I laughed at the story, but other students nodded in sympathy.
When I returned the folders, the students seemed eager to get them back. One student sighed in relief; another hugged hers possessively, tucking it under her arm like a security blanket. One young man smiled fondly at his folder before sliding it into his backpack. "Some of my best writing is in here."