Recently I’ve been reading about portfolios as an alternative form of assessment. Portfolios could be used to assess the experiences of learning instead of testing knowledge of learning. A portfolio should be an ongoing assessment of learning and not just handed in at the end. The teacher plays an important role here to guide the process and interact with the student and their portfolio. This enables the portfolio to reflect the process of learning more than just the product. This portfolio should reflect learning objectives of the course and could certainly act as formative feedback for the student constantly updating them on their progress. Reflection on this development is also crucial to separate a portfolio from activities.
Within language teaching, the portfolio can reflect students’ progression as a language learner. The portfolio won’t necessarily assess their language but will demonstrate their experiences and (hopefully) their improvements in their language learning journey. Each language student has different strengths and weaknesses and teachers can use portfolios to promote self-directed learning so that students target their weaknesses independently. Through work samples or activity/experience documentation, students demonstrate their active interaction with their weaknesses.
Taking the skill of reading as an example I want to share my preliminary thoughts on a portfolio design for assessment purposes. Often classes complete an IELTS activity with a long text and up to 15 questions only. Sometimes teachers incorporate pre- or post-reading activities but there is much language input in the text as all language learning opportunities may not be maximized. The ability to read the text is not being assessed; rather it is the process of learning language stemming from the reading.
Within a portfolio, students might include the reading and their answers to the questions as a start. However, students could engage with the text more and complete some critical reading within which the student discovers more about the text (purpose, inferences, analysis of sections etc…). If a portfolio stopped here, apart from resembling learning activities only, progress may be limited and opportunities to explore the language within the text may be lost.
Students could explicitly notice unknown language, vocabulary or grammar structures, and make an effort to learn and subsequently produce this language. Written or spoken texts could be produced with the student paying attention to the language learnt. The class could use an online forum to talk (written or spoken) about issues or topics from the text with the teacher facilitating (or stirring the conversation) debate or discussion. Students could even drive the interaction by creating new threads or posting their own questions or comments based on the text using the target language. Transcripts, summaries or reflections of these discussions could easily be included in portfolios.
e-Portfolios can be a personalized central collection point for all their digital documentation of learning. Websites or programs that offer e-Portfolio solutions all promote the organization of students’ documents in a range of formats and links to external websites where students’ work has been uploaded. These portfolios can even have a plagiarism checker included to ensure all students submit their own work for their own portfolios. Finally, most e-Portfolios offer a reflection platform to ensure students are working cyclically and not just completing one off activities.