Development and Implementation of Student Portfolios in Foreign Language Programs

Implications of "Audience/Purpose" Combinations

The combination of purpose and audience is an essential element in implementing portfolio assessment since together they ensure that the assessment process is a systematic undertaking, not a haphazard process of randomly "throwing things into a folder or box". When careful consideration is given to audience and purpose of the portfolio, answers emerge to such questions as: What should be placed in the portfolio? How often should materials be placed in the portfolio? Who decides what goes into the portfolio? Who should be given responsibility for its safekeeping? What should be done with the portfolio at the end of the school year?

As an example, assume that a teacher decides that the primary purpose of the portfolio is to provide a place for the student to keep and display work she is particularly proud of, and the primary audience for the portfolio is the student herself (as opposed to the teacher). Given this configuration of purpose and audience, teachers open the possibility for students to feel a greater investment in the learning process. Teachers should consider, though, what the contents of the portfolio might look like at the end of the period of study: in cases where the majority (or all) of the control is given to the learner, there is no guarantee that at the end of the period of study the portfolio's contents will provide an outsider with evidence of a clear progression of skill development and emerging proficiency.

Consider another example of a teacher who decides to make the portfolio parent focussed. Here the main purpose could be to place items which could be shown as part of a "Parent-Teacher Night" conversation about the child's progress. It would be important for a teacher to show parents not only evidence of the child's current level of proficiency, but also some charting of the child's progress. Thus, one might find in this portfolio clusters of related items which the teacher has chosen. Groups of artifacts would be related to one another because they illustrate development, and the teacher could thus say to parents "At the beginning of the school year, you can see that Elena was able to use the vocabulary to write simple sentences, but you can now see that she's using her words to write a story of connected sentences with some more sophisticated vocabulary."

Finally, suppose that the department chairperson of a foreign-language program wants teachers to focus more of their effort on developing students' communicative competence as evidenced in spontaneous oral language situations. Further, the department chairperson decides that she wishes to see evidence of this across individual language programs. The audience for the student portfolios then becomes the department chairperson, and the purpose of the portfolios is to provide evidence of a faculty's implementation of a departmental goal. In keeping with this audience/purpose combination, teachers could decide that portfolios needed to have both more and a greater variety of speech samples to document growth in communicative competence. Thus portfolios would probably contain more video and audiotapes as opposed to written documents.

In sum, the task of deciding upon a combination of purpose and audience is an essential first step in implementing system of portfolio assessment. Doing this task at the onset helps to insure that the assessment process is carried out systematically. In the work to be described here, the purpose was to establish a portfolio system that could be used by foreign-language educators at both the elementary and secondary levels. We provided technical assistance to teachers on strategies for developing student portfolios that could be used to document a student's progress in the foreign language. In working with teachers our goal was to communicate the importance of audience/purpose as they worked through the details of establishing portfolios in their classrooms.


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

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