Development and Implementation of Student Portfolios in Foreign Language Programs

Purposes of the Portfolio

There are specific purposes a student portfolio can serve in the foreign language classroom. The following list of typical purposes by no means represents an exhaustive description of all the possible functions a portfolio can fulfill. None of the purposes described here is superior to any of the others, and there is no reason why the individual purposes presented here cannot be used in combination with one another.

Perhaps a portfolio's greatest potential lies in documenting and charting students' growth in proficiency in the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. If the curriculum has been designed in a way which allows students to acquire a progressively-increasing base of knowledge and skills, items can be placed into the portfolio over time which allow anyone looking at the portfolio's contents to see increased knowledge and sophistication with using vocabulary, to detect greater accuracy in pronunciation, to hear how the learner's oral production has become more fluent, and to see growth in using the language for written purposes.

A portfolio can be used to document certain kinds of language abilities which standardized instruments fail to measure. In addition to the results of any standardized instruments such as the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview, which can help assess the learner's spontaneous oral production of the target language, teachers can place into the students' portfolio audiotapes and videotapes which capture the learner's use of the language which are useful in determining the progress of a learner's communicative competence.

A portfolio can also be a place where students may place work that, they believe, shows unusual learning and/or ability. During the course of a semester or school year, students complete a wide variety of assignments. If a student feels particularly proud of a composition she has written in the target language, she can place it into her portfolio. If a group of students is assigned to write and then perform a short skit in the target language and they feel a strong sense of ownership of it because they created it themselves, it can be videotaped and included as part of the students' portfolios.

Portfolios can serve as the basis of parent-teacher conferences to review student's progress over time throughout the school year. As Crowley (1993) points out "concrete examples can show the...parent the student's performance in more detail than would an abstract number or letter grade" (p. 544). Parents can be more assured of a child's progress with the target language system if they are able to view videotapes or listen to audiotapes of their child's actually using the target language over time. Similarly, if parents have the opportunity to review compositions the child has written in the target language or to compare exercise sheets which show how the child has steadily come to master more and more of the target language's writing system, they can better understand their child's progress.

Finally, the contents of students' portfolios can provide information to teachers which can help them make decisions about curriculum. If, for example, by reviewing students' writing samples the teacher finds that many students are writing more complex sentences than they have been taught, but their attempts have grammatical errors, the teacher may decide to re-prioritize the curriculum plan to cover more advanced forms of writing which the students appear ready to learn.


Purposes of the Portfolio
Audiences of the Portfolio
Implications of "Audience/Purpose" Combinations
Analysis and Results
Conclusions and Recommendations

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