Building identities; building confidence

This week in Composition Seminar, one of the essays we read was an excerpt from Ken Macrorie’s Telling Writing. In the footnote of the Norton Book of Composition Studies the excerpt appears in, the editors write, “Macrorie’s work associates a writer’s success with self-esteem” (297). As I’ve been thinking about the productive work that ePortfolios enable in a writing class, this statement really resonated for me—so much of the ePortfolio process involves opportunities for response from others, chances for writers to see others grow interested in and excited about their work; revising, reorganizing, and showcasing their work across a semester (or more) in a public, visible way helps them see that their writing, their ideas, their work matters to others.

This is semester # 3 that I’m using ePortfolios; for the past two, I’ve been struck by how student enthusiasm about these projects increases as the semester goes on, and self-confidence with it. At first, students are understandably nervous about sharing their work broadly, in addition to working with a new genre and with, what is for many, unfamiliar technology. Yet, by the end of the semester, students are excited to be trying out new things, showing one another what they’ve done, and sharing with others outside of class.

In my undergraduate composition theory course last semester, rather than a final exam I scheduled a showcase event where students showed off their ePortfolios in a sort of poster-session format. Using space in the university library, we set up three big screen monitors where three students at a time would project their portfolios. The rest of their classmates became part of the audience. In addition, I invited several faculty members who had expressed interest in ePortfolios, and some whom the students asked me to invite. The first group presented for about 20 minutes, with audience members drifting around around from group to group asking questions. Then we rotated to the next, and so on until everyone presented. Guest faculty came and went as their schedules allowed. Leading up to the event, students expressed a lot of nervousness, but also excitement about getting to show their work to other instructors. After it was all over, several came up to me to say how valuable having outside visitors was for them and what useful feedback they got. It affirmed their hard work and boosted their confidence as writers and rising professionals.

We talk a lot about audience in Composition and Rhetoric circles, and ways of connecting students with authentic audiences. Service learning and community engaged pedagogy are some ways of doing this. I’m finding that combining blogging and ePortfolio composing is also quite effective. All these kinds of approaches help students engage with real audiences, and give them an important feedback loop that is larger than what exists between student and instructor or between student and peer-review group. The visibility of their work is daunting for many at first, but quickly leads to them exploring communication methods and stretching themselves. Useful suggestions and positive, interested feedback from others helps them to build confidence and self esteem.

I’m excited to see what students in my classes this semester do with their course blogs and ePortfolios!

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