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by Erica Fischer on Sep 28, 2012

Using Portfolios to Support Student Reflection

Last week, #LangChat participants discussed how portfolios can be used to support student reflection. This was a particularly interesting discussion, as not all participants are currently using portfolios in their classrooms, and those that are using portfolios are not all using them in the same way. We were especially pleased to hear from some new participants, including some who teach at the college level, who added their unique perspectives.

Using Portfolios: “What’s the Point?”

Participants shared different perspectives on how they use student portfolios, and what they feel should be included in them. Some have students make portfolios as end-of-year or end-of-semester activities, while others have students keep portfolios throughout the term as an ongoing reflection on their progress.

  • @js_pasaporte uses portfolios as a tool for student-led conferences. Students reflect on their progress in their portfolios and make plans for future improvement based on their performance assessments. They then share the portfolios with parents at the conferences.
  • @cadamsf1, on the other hand, has her AP students keep portfolios so that they can feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the semester. Her students’ portfolios are more like current events diaries that the students write, as opposed to reflections.
  • @tracy_dinesen has her students decide for themselves what work to include in their portfolios, choosing assignments that they feel met the learning objectives. She has students write reflections on their work as well.

@trescolumnae rightfully commented that sometimes students feel like making or keeping a portfolio is something that they have to do for their teacher, making it a seemingly pointless chore. With his students, he tries to emphasize the fact that a portfolio does not “belong” to the teacher; it is made by the student for the student.

Portfolios can be especially helpful with novice learners, as they boost confidence by showing progress. As @SrtaLisa pointed out, portfolios of first year language students show how quickly they learn, keeping them from getting frustrated by focusing on what they don’t know and can’t do. This shifts attention from grades received to appreciation of actual learning and making new goals for the future.

@cadamsf1, @mundaysa, and @tracy_dinesen all tell their students that the portfolios they make in their world language classes can serve as something like an artist’s portfolio that they can show to future employers as demonstration of their skills.

Portfolios: Not Just for Presentational Mode

Traditional student portfolios often focus on student work in the presentational mode. Several participants, however, were quick to note that portfolios can be a place for students to catalog work that demonstrates interpersonal and interpretive modes.

  • @pamwesely noted that interpersonal reading and writing assignments can be included in portfolios.
  • If student portfolios are digital, @karacjacobs suggested having students read each other’s work and respond with comments – prompting students to engage with interpersonal writing skills.
  • @js_pasaporte pointed out that interpersonal tasks with other students during student-led conferences.
    Digital portfolios and online voice recording tools (discussed in the sections below) allow students to record interpersonal exchanges and save them in portfolios to learn from and to show progress.

Creating Digital Portfolios

Many participants were enthusiastic about the prospect of having their students collect their work and write reflections online, creating a digital portfolio. With a myriad of online tools at both students’ and teachers’ disposal, participants weighed in on which ones were most helpful in building a valuable digital record of student progress.

Several participants were enthusiastic about Google Sites as a place for students to create online portfolios. @SraSpanglish appreciates how flexible the site is. @mundaysa shared this Google Site template for students to use: Although intended for college students, it could be adapted for younger students, too.

Some participants also recommended Linguafolio, and have used it with great success – especially with regards to self-assessment. @trescolumnae noted that it is designed for learners of any language, including English Language Learners.

@SraSpanglish shared her thoughts on Glogster for student e-portfolios in a blog post, found here: . She noted that the one downside was that Glogster makes it hard for parents to comment on student work. She has also tried using Thinkquest for e-portfolios, but did not like it.

Upper-level students in @js_pasaporte’s class are trying digital portfolios on Edublogs this year.

@trescolumna’s school district has really embraced edmodo this year; although he says it is not the ideal e-portfolio platform, it works for collecting materials. @SrtaLisa knows a French teacher who uses Edmodo for e-portfolios because she wanted only students and parents to be able to see them.
Finally, some participants advocated using Blogger, or any other blogging platform, as a good way to create online e-portfolios. @mundaysa shared a link to one of her Spanish students’ blogs from last year: . @karacjacobs likes using Blogger because her students can easily embed voice recordings into their blogs.

Incorporating Sound Recordings into Digital Portfolios

One of the benefits of having students create digital portfolios is the ability to include audio and audiovisual materials. Several participants weighed in on the online programs they use to have their students record their target language speaking skills:

  • @js_pasaporte plans to use VoiceThread with her IB students as they prepare for oral assessments.
  • @tracy_dinesen has had her students record spontaneous conversations with Camtasia and Audacity.
  • @karacjacobs likes Soundcloud for its compatibility with Blogger.

Some participants debated the pros and cons of GoogleVoice versus VoiceThread:

  • @karacjacobs has had students embed GoogleVoice files on their blogs, but is still thinking about how to develop a portfolio with them.
  • Similarly, @placido likes GoogleVoice because it allows her to see what students can do “off the cuff” without rehearsing, but she is still finding it cumbersome as a portfolio tool. For her, the best part of GoogleVoice is the fact that students can record using their cell phones – no special equipment required.
  • @cadamsf1 noted that there is now a mobile app for VoiceThread that allows users to record with their cell phones. She likes VoiceThread because students can listen to each other and talk, but also have the opportunity to prepare what they say. GoogleVoice is less interactive, but forces students to be more spontaneous, without rehearsing.

Digital Portfolios and Privacy

The idea of digital portfolios raises questions about student privacy. Should student portfolios be public or private? Are there benefits to keeping them public? These questions are probably best determined by the age of the students and the preferences of their parents. @mundaysa noted that Google Sites does have an option that allows students to keep their site private if they wish. For university students, it is more common to have public e-portfolio blogs.

Many thanks to all of our participants for their thoughtful contributions! And a special thanks to our moderator, @placido.

Don’t forget to suggest topics for future #LangChats here: . And remember to vote in our polls each week to help pick the week’s discussion topic!

Join us every Thursday at 8pm EST (5pm PST) for more #LangChat!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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