Portfolio Writing Program
Credits and Advanced Placement
If your portfolio earns 3 Miami University credits toward graduation, you will have fulfilled the first-year writing requirement and will not need to enroll in English 111. You will need to take an Advanced Writing course at some point in your academic career. You may choose to do this now, but we recommend that you wait until a subsequent year to fulfill your writing requirement.
For students who take the AP exam and also submit a portfolio, you can receive credits from the AP exam or from the Portfolio Writing Program but not both combined. In instances where both the AP exam(s) and the Portfolio Writing Program award credit, the AP score takes precedence for determining fulfillment of the first-year writing requirement.
On average, 50 percent of portfolios submitted to the Portfolio Writing Program receive credit. (Note: If you are enrolling in classes before you have heard about your portfolio placement, enroll in English 111. If your portfolio placement awards you credit for English 111, you can then drop the class.)
About the Portfolio Writing Program
In 1990, Miami University of Ohio became the first institution of higher education to award students college credit and Advanced Placement based on a collection of their best high school writing. Few universities across the country present first-year students the opportunity to receive credit by submitting a portfolio. Miami’s program is unique, and each year many incoming students participate.
Development of the Portfolio Writing Program
The Portfolio Writing Program was established by Laurel Black, Don Daiker, Jeffrey Sommers, and Gail Stygall to value and encourage high school writing and to provide a fairer way of evaluating it than the standard timed placement examinations. The success of the program owes much of its continuing support to Madelyn Detloff, chair of the English Department; former chairs LuMing Mao, Kerry Powell, Diane Sadoff, C. Barry Chabot and Keith Tuma; Sara Webb-Sunderhaus, College Composition director; and former directors, Jason Palmeri, James Porter, John Tassoni, Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, Diana Royer, Jennie Dautermann, Mary Fuller, John Heyda, Susan Jarratt, and Max Morenberg.
Five outstanding secondary English teachers helped create the portfolio program. Marilyn Elzey of Talawanda High School in Oxford; D.J. Hammond of Madeira High School in Cincinnati; John Kuehn of Kettering Fairmont High School; Teri Phillips of Mt. Healthy High School; Bob Dizney of Fairfield High School; Teresa McGowan of Hamilton High School; and Penni Meyer and Sharon Rab of Kettering Fairmont High School.
Awards & Recognition
The portfolio program has been supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) of the U.S. Department of Education. Additional funding has come from the Miami University Center for the Study of Writing, the Ohio Writing Project, and the Follett’s Miami Co-op Bookstore.
We thank all of the dedicated high school English teachers who have given their students the time, opportunity, and motivation to work on the various kinds of writing that a portfolio requires. In both their reflective letters and personal correspondence, participating students frequently share the appreciation they feel for these teachers whose classrooms have made a difference in their lives as writers—and as people.
Most importantly, we thank the thousands of high school students who have worked hard to compile portfolios and who have generously shared their writing with us. Reading their writing has been and continues to be such a pleasure and an honor.
Helpful Tips for Composing a Strong Portfolio
The readers of your portfolio are all experienced teachers of college composition, and when we evaluate the portfolios for placement, we use the learning outcomes of English 111 as the guide. Before submitting your portfolio, you should consider whether your writing demonstrates these outcomes.
The learning outcomes of English 111 are that students will:
- Demonstrate an ability to write effectively for different contexts, audiences, purposes, and genres (particularly academic contexts, audiences, purposes, and genres) and demonstrate their awareness of audiences’ multiple perspectives.
- Conduct research-based inquiries to explore their own ideas, to engage different perspectives, and to develop findings into sustained arguments.
- Perform critical, close reading, making arguments using textual citation as evidence and demonstrating their understanding of the historical and cultural complexity of texts—how texts can be read differently in different rhetorical, historical, and cultural contexts.
- Locate, evaluate, integrate, and cite secondary sources of information effectively and ethically, using appropriate academic citation methods.
- Produce effectively organized writing that is stylistically appropriate and that meets conventional expectations for particular audiences in specific contexts, also showing evidence of careful proofreading and attention to mechanics that are appropriate to audience and context.
- Reflect critically on their own composing practices and rhetorical decisions.
We asked our portfolio evaluators to share some advice they would give to students who submit to the Portfolio Writing Program.
Be mindful of your tone and style.
Portfolio readers suggest that students need to show mature and insightful thinking and writing. They should also present themselves naturally, not artificially. Evaluators suggest that students should not be afraid to use “I,” and that “their own voice(s) should not be drowned by research.”
We encourage you to “write as yourself,” not as the student you think college professors want you to be. We look for evidence that you think about how you fit into the world, about how issues you write about relate to your personal situations (social, racial, gendered, economic, regional, religious, etc.). Instructors suggest repeatedly: “Consider your audience of portfolio readers. We’re real people who can see through stereotypic, immature arguments. We appreciate critical thinking and self-awareness in each piece, not just description.”
Portfolio evaluators are interested in what you think and see and how you see those things in relation to broader issues and concerns. Evaluators tell students to “think about how the pieces you write connect, and talk about them as a whole, not just as random pieces.” Also, “think seriously about ambiguities, feelings, and problems. Revise, rewrite and show that you are thinking about your audience.”
Be aware of the affordances of different genres.
While a digital project is not required as part of your portfolio, digital and multimodal rhetoric is an integral part of English 111’s goals and outcomes. If digital projects (video, web sites, audio, blogs, etc.) are part of the work that you do, including it for your Writer’s Choice selection, or creating one of your other texts as a digital project may be helpful as part of the evaluation process. Remember that it is not enough to simply publish a text-only work as a piece of digital writing (for instance, an essay posted on a blog); rather, it is important to keep in mind and use the affordances that a different genre can offer as a way of strengthening your argument, demonstrating an important concept, reaching a particular audience, or other rhetorical considerations. If you include a digital project, you may choose to use some of the space in your portfolio to describe your project and the choices that you made within it.
Consider submitting a variety of genres.
It is helpful to demonstrate ability in more than one genre. In years past, portfolios consisting of only one genre, such as all literary analyses or all personal narratives, have not been rated as highly as portfolios that are mixed genres. Thus, if your Persuasive Research Essay is based upon a literary text, you might consider a rhetorical analysis of a political speech, for instance, as your Analysis of a Text, and a short video project for your Writer’s Choice. By varying the types of genres you submit, you demonstrate ability in a range of areas, thus strengthening the potential to receive higher scores from evaluators.
Avoid using college application essays.
While it may be tempting to reuse an essay that was successful in another context, the essays that are usually written for college applications tend to be general overviews of personal and academic experiences that do not effectively speak to the criteria for the Portfolio Writing Program. Even when an essay like this is well written, "The college application essay does not tend to add to a portfolio in a meaningful way, as the audience, purpose, and genre do not significantly demonstrate a writer’s ability within the context of the requirements of the first-year composition courses at Miami."
Remember the importance of the reflective letter.
The most common advice our raters suggest concerns the reflective letter. This initial piece is obviously an important part of the portfolio, much more than just a cover letter. Part of what we mean when we say “reflective” is that we want you to situate yourself for your readers. Reflect on how your own positioning (e.g., in terms of race, class, gender, etc.) influence your writing. Describe the audiences and purposes for each of your texts that you have selected and how you drafted and revised your work to best meet the rhetorical contexts to which you write. One evaluator insists, “Give much more attention to the reflective letter. It should be reflective (many were not) and interesting,” and “go beyond simple summary of what is in the collection. Reflect on how the pieces reveal something about you as a writer and how they are connected.” The reflective letter sets the tone for the whole portfolio and creates a first and lasting impression. Many successful letters strike a balance between confidence and humility; many show awareness of strengths and limitations, as well as awareness that writing has consequences (beyond getting credit for English 111 at Miami).
Use the full 6–12 page single-spaced allotment.
We strongly urge you to take full advantage of the page limit and develop your pieces fully. All evaluators notice whether or not a student’s portfolio has enough “substance.” With this in mind, we ask that students use the page limit and make it work. Longer portfolios (that stay within the page limit) tend to offer analysis and discuss the complexity of issues. Exceptionally brief portfolios rarely earn placement credit because they do not fully develop, support, and sustain a writer’s position.
Develop your writing with specific detail.
Use many details, examples, and illustrations to develop and explain your points. Readers prefer concreteness to vagueness and showing to telling. When appropriate, use dialogue and narrative examples and scenes to help develop your work. As one rater suggests, “Look at a lot of examples in our Example Portfolios and try to figure out why they are good pieces. Usually, it’s not because of the topic but because of how the writer develops the topic.”
Maintain a connection to your project's audience and aim.
Be aware of “hot button” topics and make sure you can take them on in a way that is focused and thoughtful. Also, when using outside sources, work from your own viewpoint instead of simply retelling other peoples’ ideas. When you use outside sources, be sure to use proper in-text documentation and to have properly formatted Works Cited or References pages, so readers know that you know how to give appropriate credit to other writers when you use their ideas.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Include pieces in a variety of styles if possible. Portfolio evaluators say, “forget formulas” emphasizing that “a good five-paragraph theme has no greater chance than a good paper with any other structure… Life is too short to cram into five paragraphs!” Several raters have mentioned that they want a writer to “take chances, use humor—show different sides of yourself! Take time to ask yourself: ‘How can I make this more interesting? More engaging?’ and then take time to revise. No one wants to be bored.”
Revise your portfolio carefully.
Most professional writers see revision as going well beyond changing words and correcting grammar. Give yourself plenty of time to spend reading and re-reading your work, thinking of ways to offer fresher examples and more compelling arguments. Revising also means considering your audience: “Go over your pieces and ‘re-see’ them for this audience and situation.”
Value appearance and correctness.
Of course content is most important, but after taking the time to do the writing, you need to spend time polishing and correcting the work. Both spell check and get a trusted person to proofread. Give pieces titles, number pages, and use a legible, plain typeface or font. Remember the formatting guidelines—use a 12-point font, single-space your documents, and use one-inch margins.