Development and Implementation of Student Portfolios in Foreign Language Programs


Description of Language Programs

The programs that we worked with varied widely in how foreign language education was carried out in the classroom. The programs included two elementary total immersion programs (Chinese and Japanese), an elementary Russian culture program, an elementary Japanese foreign language program, and ten high school foreign language programs ranging from introductory to advanced classes in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Russian. The teachers in the different school sites included: teacher aides at the elementary level who were proficient in the target language and who did the language instruction; credentialed teachers who were native speakers of the target language, but who were not credentialed as foreign language teachers; and, credentialed teachers who were certified to teach foreign language.

Procedure used in Developing Portfolios

To begin work on portfolios we initiated discussions with teachers on the collection of student proficiency data. These discussions took place early in the school year and involved the kinds of information that teachers could collect to document student proficiency in each of the four language skills -- listening, speaking, reading and writing.

In the case of reading and writing, teachers agreed that samples of students' writing and tests measuring reading comprehension were easily identifiable sources for documenting proficiency in these two skills. However, identifying appropriate means for demonstrating listening and speaking proficiency was not as easy. We discussed with teachers the possibility of using audiotapes and videotapes as a means of providing evidence of listening and speaking skills. Issues such as the availability of equipment and logistics involved in the development of portfolios for large classes soon became apparent.

As a way of maintaining ecological validity, we stressed to teachers that it would not be necessary for them to invent new types of artifacts (a term commonly used for an item placed into a student portfolio) for purposes of a student's portfolio. Since teachers are constantly monitoring student growth and progress through both formal and informal means, we discussed with teachers the kinds of practices they use to assess students' current proficiency levels: the types of materials and activities used for that purpose, the kinds of tests and/or quizzes they utilized, etc. Teachers were encouraged to try out different alternatives in deciding upon possible portfolio artifacts. In general, conversations at each school proved to be productive, and at all sites teachers were excited about the prospect of being part of an effort to explore portfolio use in foreign language education. Teachers were asked to submit a written plan explaining the kinds of artifacts they intended to use, their rationale for choosing that type of artifact, and their perceptions of how that artifact could be expected to show student ability.

Six students were chosen from each level in each program to serve as case study students for this "portfolio experiment." Teachers were asked to have these students represent a range of abilities, and (if possible) to choose an equal number of male and female learners. The one condition that we insisted on was that the case study students not be native speakers of the target language. This condition was imposed because many ethnic language heritage students are frequently enrolled in the less commonly taught language programs that we worked with and these students already have varying levels of proficiency in the language. However, our focus was on students who had no familiarity with the foreign language prior to enrolling in the class.

We returned to the schools in the middle of the school year. These visits were planned to discuss two major items. First, we asked teachers to share the samples of student work they had collected thus far. Teachers mostly shared writing samples, tests and quizzes. Most of the teachers said that they were still in the process of collecting samples of student work which could document proficiency in listening and speaking skills. However, some teachers did share samples of audiotapes and videotapes of students acting out skits or engaging in other activities in the target language. These visits revealed that teachers were indeed attending to the task of collecting student proficiency data.

We then discussed with the teachers what they had learned about "portfolio purpose and audience," while collecting items in student portfolios. Teachers were not in complete agreement regarding audience of the portfolios. Some felt that the primary audience should be the students themselves while other teachers felt that the audience should be teachers. Still other teachers felt that portfolios were for parents. However, all teachers agreed that the purpose of the portfolio was to document students' language growth.

Since the foreign language programs varied widely, teachers were allowed to identify a purpose and audience for their own foreign language program. Teachers were instructed that this purpose and audience should guide their data collection efforts for the remainder of the year. For example, teachers who felt that the audience for the portfolio should be teachers and the purpose to track student progress, the process of selecting portfolio items would be geared more specifically (and thus less randomly) towards including related items through which growth could be clearly seen. As an example, one teacher of Japanese noted her tests on students' mastery of Kanji characters were not necessarily cumulative. This teacher used two tests, one which showed how the student had mastered twenty-five characters, the other showing how the student had mastered only the next twenty-five. However, these tests could not be used to show growth and development because of the disjointed nature of the two tests. A similar principle applied for choosing items that document oral skills. A teacher who included in the portfolio a videotape done at the beginning of the year which showed students' mastery of certain vocabulary words and language-use functions should later include a videotape which shows the students' maintenance of those same words and functions, but at the same time demonstrates mastery of new words and linguistic functions.

It was also believed that an objective measure of oral proficiency in the target language should be part of the student's portfolio. Since there was no common objective tool for measuring oral proficiency in the four less commonly taught languages in our project, we developed a matrix that teachers could use easily to assess their students' oral language development. This instrument is called the Stanford Foreign Language Oral Skills Evaluation Matrix (FLOSEM) and was modeled after the Student Oral Language Observation Matrix (Padilla, Sung & Aninao, 1994).

Once again, these meetings proved productive and stimulating, as reported by some of the teachers later in the year. Another important aspect emphasized during the meetings was the use of a "table of contents" as part of each portfolio. The table of contents explains when each artifact was completed, what language skill it documented, and what kind topic and activity it was about. High school students were encouraged to complete the table of contents to their portfolios while teachers were asked to do so for elementary students. High school students were also asked to provide brief notes about why they chose certain artifacts and what they had learned from the work. We informed all the sites that we expected to receive from each program a complete portfolio on each case study student (six from each level) at the end of the year. Portfolios were received during the weeks following the end of the school year.


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

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