November 13, 2007

Security folder

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."

9 comments:

Overeducated Twit said...

"Some of my best writing is in here."

Wow. Just wow. I would love to hear those words from a student.

post-doc said...

That is the sweetest thing I've read lately. I adore stories about your students.

chichimama said...

No one has ever lost a folder? Really??? Because I totally would have lost it. I lost my master's thesis. Twice. But perhaps if it has been my best writing...

Lorianne said...

Hmmm. My students keep portfolios as well, but it never occurred to me to give them folders on the first day. Yes. That might be another idea I "borrow" from you, just like the "really wretched intro" exercise you'd blogged a month or so ago.

Any more teaching ideas I can't live without? :-)

zhoen said...

I like that you give them the confidence not to lose the folders. Very sneaky.

YourFireAnt said...

Jo(e), what a gift you've given those kids. This post brought tears.

FA

kathy a. said...

lovely!

Aliki2006 said...

Blogger ate my comment...

Very touching! My students use portfolios, and they have certainly lost plenty. I hadn't thought about giving them folders before, so maybe I'll give this a try in the hopes they become a little mroe invested in their own work.

Rana said...

That's so sweet!

The writing workshops I taught once required the students to keep copies of their work in a manilla folder too - but I don't recall them generating as much affection.

Perhaps it was being allowed to draw on them?