March Of Folly
Peter Berger is right to criticize those who use portfolios inefficiently and unfairly. [“Portfolio Folly,” March.] Portfolios, after all, are not for teachers; they are for students. The goal of educators should not be “to teach and assess,” but “to encourage and guide students in their learning.” Too often, we leave the students in the dust as we cling to our fad-driven whirlwind of initiatives, committees, and new practices. It seems that no matter how hard we struggle, no one is satisfied with the results. Evaluation of student writing can never be objective. The quality of a piece of writing cannot be measured in numbers or letters any more than joy or anger or amazement over a new discovery can be. Such judgments serve only to discourage students from the act of writing—and teachers from the act of assigning it. But by re-seeing this complex etching of emotion on paper over time in a portfolio, students learn that writing matters, and skills evolve. And teachers learn that students care and can think. Naturally, more writing will happen—because it is valued, not because it is measured. Teachers spend so much time and energy on teaching strategies, trends, and assessment that we allow students to sit back and relax, unaccountable, while we, ironically, sweat and learn the most.
Tad Phippen Wente
North High School
A Last Lesson
The article about Dennis Frederick [“A Lesson Before Dying,” March] has really touched my heart. I am a mother and a teacher. Cancer has touched my life. What an inspiration Dennis is. Life is real. Death is real.
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A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 1998 edition of Teacher as Letters