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Curating a year of writing: assembling writing portfolios and time for reflection

With two weeks left in our school year, it is at last time to begin putting together our writing portfolios, setting aside some time to time travel through our year of writing workshop, and reflect upon both the progress we’ve made as writers as well as the goals we’d like to set for the new school year.   In my first year of teaching, I simply collected together my students’ writing folders and handed them over on the last day of school.  What a mistake…and what a lost opportunity!  In their haste to get out of the building and begin summer at last, many of these portfolios were left behind in hallways, or simply tossed aside – too much to have to carry to the “let the summer begin!”  festivities.  I remember looking sadly upon all those scattered pieces of writing, work that we have spent so much time creating and refining, and making a promise to do better.

After every piece of writing has gone through the writing process (drafting/revising/editing/publishing), my students file away their writing in two folders: “Work” –  all their drafts and revision in chronological order, from first draft to final revised piece,  and “Published”: the final typed version, with its rubric:

photo 1 (1)   photo 2 (1)  photo 5

we  store these folders in our Portfolio Center:

writing portfolios

and move on to our next genre study cycle, never to look upon them until this time of year.  Over the next two weeks, I revisit each student’s sets of folders with the mission to find two stars and a suggestion –  “here are two wonderful ways in which you developed as a writer, and here’s a suggestion for next year.”  Each student gets a short note in which I share this, along with a photograph taken of them from one of the many writing celebrations we have shared.

On the day each student gets back his or her folder, we spend a class period just looking over these folders and re-reading bits and pieces of old work.  I love listening in as my kids rediscover their memoir worthy moments, or marvel at all the work they put into their feature articles or persuasive letters and essays.  We always make time to share thoughts about our writing journey: what we discovered about ourselves, what we struggled with, what we excelled at, and where we want to go next .  These conversations give my students a chance to reflect and celebrate their work, and they also give me insight into what I need to improve/fine tune about writing workshop next year.

I am, of course, under no illusion that my students will ever revisit this collection of writing again.  Some may store them away in memory boxes (as I did, for my own children), some may “lose” them somewhere between home and school that very day.  But I, their teacher, feel much better about surrendering these writing folders with this one last look at their sixth grade writing year.

How do you “surrender”  your students’ writing portfolios? Please leave a comment, and let us know!

Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

6 thoughts on “Curating a year of writing: assembling writing portfolios and time for reflection Leave a comment

  1. As an early elementary teacher, I often struggle with how much writing to send home and how much to keep at school in some sort of portfolio. I love having the kids look through their work and reflect on their growth. I also want parents to know what is going throughout the year. So I find I always trying to find the right balance of what to send home and what to have kids keep in their portfolio. Anyone else out there found a balance that works for them?


  2. Great thoughts! Just finished my reflection rubric for my 9th and 10th grade ELLs. Tomorrow we begin looking at our writing this year and evaluating how we have improved. I think I should invest in the cart that you have in the picture. It would make storage so much simpler.


  3. I teach first grade and I too pull out work from across the year for the students to survey (all of their published pieces and most of their “work” except usually the abundance of drafts and stories written in September.) It’s so visible the growth in volume, penmanship, and knowledge of conventions that students have had during the year! This is usually what they notice first with comments like “Look how I used to spell___!” But interestingly they often look back at their small moment stories from early in the year and often LOVE the stories so much that they recall them as their favorites! After they have gone over their writing, they pick a story that they will share at a final Author Celebration during which we invite parents to listen and comment on stories. I also give them a brief reflection page with questions like “What was your favorite kind of writing this year? What used to be hard for you, but now is easy? What are you really good at as a writer? What is the most important thing you have learned about writing this year?” The answers and depth to which students answer these questions vary a lot, but then when we discuss them as a class, we are able to soak in the joy of all that we have learned.

    On a personal note, as a kid I saved samplings of writing over the years, and the writing that I did in 6th and 7th grade is writing that I treasure as an insight into my pre-adolescent self. It is wonderful that you do this for your students.


  4. There is much in our students’ portfolios, including the writing pieces they’ve chosen each trimester (we do a tri system, Tara). I remember that you also wrote about collecting your writing life when you visited Bonnie’s group, & have shared that with some of the teachers. Both ideas are so worthwhile. The thing that former students have told me they keep are some of the finished pieces, but also their writers notebooks & the field journals, which capture all the out-of-building trips. As you said, I’m sure not all do this, but those last two ‘bound’ books seem especially important. I love your response, the note & picture. I never thought of doing that, just had a final conference with each student. Terrific post, as always, & will keep & share!


  5. I’m inspired for next year. Thank you! I really need to spend time this summer upping my game so I’ll be ready to hit it out of the park with the next school year.


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