Date of Award

Spring 1995

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas R Newkirk


In this study, I examine the complexities of incorporating literacy portfolios into an elementary school classroom: the purposes for using portfolios, issues of ownership and audience, the nature of children's evaluative decisions, adults' responsibilities in children's development as evaluators, and the institutional pressures impacting adults' abilities to incorporate children's voices into existing evaluative practices.

The study was conducted in a third grade classroom where children read and wrote in a variety of genres for authentic purposes and audiences every day. Although the study cannot be described as an ethnography in the strictest sense, research methodology is drawn from that discipline. I gathered descriptive data during a year of participant observation; conducted formal and informal interviews with children and adults; documented and analyzed the oral and written reflections children made about the artifacts they placed in their portfolios; and also reflected on adult attempts to guide children's development as self-evaluators. Particularly interesting is my role not only as researcher, but also co-teacher.

As we attempted to use portfolios, we struggled first with issues related to purpose: adults' stated purposes for the portfolios were very different than their operationalized purposes, also children's understandings of the purpose often differed hugely from adult understandings. Furthermore, adults' and children's purposes were often at odds with existing evaluative structures in the school. Next we struggled with issues of power and ownership: If children owned the portfolios, what kinds of adult interventions were appropriate? I document specific teaching interactions--efforts to help students to set goals and make plans, develop strategies, and evaluate their work by criteria.

Finally, I consider roles portfolios could assume, first as classroom assessment tools which might potentially replace report cards, and then as tools for developing learner independence and skillfulness. Since such roles will not be possible within existing institutional structures, I conclude by envisioning what new schools might look like.