Don't you just hate to write sentences like "The most improved student will present a portfolio of his/her work?"
But, I'm a feminist. Gender neutrality matters. So, try out these techniques.
- Convert those sentences to the plural, if that will work
- Avoid the pronoun altogether -- "The most improved student will present a portfolio of work."
- Use the singular "their" -- "The most improved student will present a portfolio of their work."
Yes, generally singular nouns take singular pronouns. But as you aptly note, 'his/her' is awkward and using only 'his' skews the meaning of a sentence. Using 'their' as a singular, inclusive pronoun has historical precedent and promotes the meaning better than those choices.
This choice has historical legitimacy, is acceptable for all informal writing and — if used consistently — for formal writing as well (though some will raise their eyebrows).
Sources: Professional Training Company: Communication Strategies for Scientists and Engineers and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd edition. NY:Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992
Photo by Henrik Ahlen