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Portfolio and Written Comprehensive Exam

Overview
Students choosing the portfolio option for completion of their degree are required to develop a portfolio of selected work from their program, take a written comprehensive exam, and pass an oral defense of their portfolio and written comprehensive exam (with focus on the portfolio). (For more information about the written comprehensive exam, please see MARC Written Comprehensive Exam: Objectives and Procedures.) Students must include at least 10 pages of new work—work written specifically for the portfolio—and a reflective introduction. The reflective introduction must be a minimum of 3 pages and may count toward the 10 pages of new work. Other new work may include a teaching philosophy (if relevant), introductions to and reflections on individual pieces in the portfolio, revisions of previous work, etc. Students will work closely with their portfolio/exam committee to decide on what will constitute “new work” for the portfolio.
Objectives

Objectives
The portfolio provides you the opportunity to select and showcase your writing ability and “best work” in the program. The portfolio might also include written work that represents areas of expertise or interest you have developed while in the MARC program or “themes” that emerged when you examined your work as a whole. In addition, you will write a reflective introduction to the portfolio that demonstrates your ability to think carefully and critically about your work in the program.
Alan Purves explains the writing portfolio this way: “Think of the portfolio as a museum of you, or as your self portrait. It will show the world the variety of things you know, are interested in, puzzled or intrigued by; the variety of things you can do; and the variety of things you have done.” In other words, the portfolio represents an argument about you as a writer, your writing process, your journey through the MA program in Rhetoric and Composition, and the quality of your written work.

Procedures
Students sign up for the portfolio course (ENG 5390: Independent Study) during their last semester in the program; however students should determine their portfolio committee in the semester prior to enrollment in ENG 5390: Independent Study. Portfolio/exam committees are made up of three graduate faculty: one director and two readers. The director and one of the readers must be graduate faculty in the MARC programs. 
Students work closely with their committee to determine which writing projects should be included in the portfolio, as well as to write the reflective introduction and other new documents specifically for the portfolio. Students must observe the following requirements for inclusion of projects in the portfolio:

  • at least 4 projects totaling 30-40 pages of material and providing “evidence” for the claims made in the reflective introduction
  • at least 2 projects (of the 4 total) that are 10+pages in length
  • a reflective introduction to the portfolio of at least 3 pages (counts toward the required 10 pages of new material)

Reflective introductions should demonstrate your ability to think carefully and critically about your work in the program: What have you learned? How have you learned? What changes have occurred in your perspectives? Who are you as a learner, teacher, researcher, and writer now that you’ve completed your program? Your reflective introduction should also provide readers with a “map” of the portfolio itself. You should identify what documents readers will find in the actual portfolio, the order in which they will find these documents, and your rationale for organizing documents in this particular way.

The portfolio itself should be professional in appearance and easy for readers to use. You should place documents in some kind of binder and consider using dividers for individual pieces of writing. You should also provide readers with a table of contents, as well as a cover page for each document that includes the title of the document and brief description of who the document was written for, what class the document was written for, and when the document was written. 

You will work closely with your committee to develop and revise the portfolio throughout the semester. You will then submit the final portfolios to committee members at least 1 ½ weeks before the scheduled oral defense (see details below). (Remember: you will also be writing your comprehensive exam during this same time as well. The oral defense cannot be held until you have submitted both the final portfolio and the written comprehensive exam.)

You are responsible for knowing and meeting deadlines associated with completion of MA comprehensive exams and application for graduation. Please consult the Graduate College website for information about these deadlines. Oral Defense

All students completing the thesis or portfolio options must schedule and pass a one-hour oral defense. The oral defense is designed to give students and their committee members the opportunity to discuss the students’ culminating project—the thesis or the portfolio and written comprehensive exam. While the oral defense of the portfolio and written comprehensive exam will focus primarily on the portfolio, students should be prepared to answer questions about their coursework in the program, as well as any additional questions committee members might have about the written comprehensive exam responses.  

Written Comprehension Exam

Overview
Students who choose the portfolio option for completion of their degree must, in addition to satisfying requirements for the portfolio, take and pass a written comprehensive exam. The written comprehensive exam will be comprised of three questions: two questions will cover core competencies in the program—rhetorical theory, composition theory, composition pedagogy, and research methods; the third question will cover the students’ area of specialization. Students will develop their own questions for the exam in consultation with their committees. Students will use the MARC Comprehensive Exam Reading List to develop two questions covering core competencies in the field. They will develop their own reading list for their area of specialization and develop one exam question covering this specialization. Students will take the exam at home over a 72-hour period.

 
Exam Objectives
The written comprehensive exam is designed to assess a student’s mastery of core competencies in rhetorical theory, composition theory, composition pedagogy, research methods, as well as mastery in the student’s area of specialization. In particular, the exam is designed to assess students’ ability to place core competencies and the area of specialization in conversation with one another.
 
For example, a student with an area of specialization in feminist theory might develop and respond to an exam question about what a feminist approach to qualitative research in composition studies might look like:
 
“Discuss a feminist approach to research design. What quarrels have feminist researchers had with so-called “traditional” research questions and methods? How do they seek to address these concerns? Develop a hypothetical research question and preliminary research design to help us understand what a feminist research project in the writing classroom might look like.”
 
Rather than simply ask the student to summarize feminist theory or research methods, these questions ask the student to synthesize knowledge in two areas (feminist theory and research methods) and to apply this knowledge to a problem or issue in the field of composition. These are the kinds of exam questions you will develop in consultation with your portfolio committee.
 
Exam Procedures
Students will select a portfolio/exam committee in the semester prior to their enrollment in ENG 5327: Directed Portfolio. The portfolio/exam committee must be made up of three graduate faculty members: one director and two readers. Only MARC graduate faculty may serve as directors of portfolio committees. At least one reader should also be a MARC graduate faculty member.
Students should access and begin studying works on the MARC Comprehensive Exam Reading List prior to or at the beginning of the semester in which they enroll in ENG 5390. Books and articles on the required reading list cover the four core competencies in the program and are largely taken from core classes in these areas.
 
Working in consultation with the portfolio/exam committee, students should also identify an area of specialization and begin developing an additional reading list of at least ten sources (books and articles) that best represent this area of specialization. Once committee members have approved the reading list for the students’ area of specialization, students may begin working on actual exam questions.
 
Students will develop three or more possible questions for the comprehensive exam. Two of the three questions must cover core competencies in the program. The third question will cover the students’ area of specialization. All exam questions must be approved by the committee before students take the exam. The committee may use the questions as they are written or revise them slightly for the actual exam. Students will have 72 hours to take the exam. Typical procedure will be to deliver the exam to students on a Friday at noon and receive completed exams back from students on the following Monday at noon.
 
Each exam response should be 6-8 double-spaced pages, excluding bibliographies. Exam responses should reference readings on the required and student-developed reading lists.
 
Students are responsible for knowing and meeting deadlines associated with completion of MA comprehensive exams and application for graduation. Please consult the Graduate College website for information about these deadlines.
 
Oral Defense
All students completing the thesis or portfolio options must schedule and pass a one-hour oral defense. The oral defense is designed to give students and their committee members the opportunity to discuss the students’ culminating project—the thesis or the portfolio and written comprehensive exam. While the oral defense of the portfolio and written comprehensive exam will focus primarily on the portfolio, students should be prepared to answer questions about their coursework in the program, as well as any additional questions committee members might have about the written comprehensive exam responses.