Portfolios are collections of selected pieces of work in any area (photography, fine arts, architecture, etc.) which are usually employed to show other people the quality of one’s productions for job application or academic purposes. Their use in the compulsory levels of education is not new: we can track it back to Montessori primary schools or British secondary schools before the 1980’s. Anyway, the formal recognition that the Council of Europe has instilled to school language portfolios based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has made the idea familiar to language teachers at any level of education. For some reason or other, practice with portfolios has not spread as much as educational experts may find desirable and it is not easy to come across examples of use in our primary and secondary schools.
Although there are models and guidelines with a granted official status (see the ones validated by the APEE), portfolios can be adapted to the needs of the individual language teacher or the teaching team of a group of students in flexible and imaginative ways.
Let’s see some examples:
– CILT Junior European Languages Portfolio is addressed to Primary class teachers in the UK but its attractive and clear display, added to the fact that the resource is provided in English, offer the EFL teacher a useful pattern to create a simpler tool for it use in his or her lessons. Thus, the initial pages to collect data and raise awareness on the knowledge of the different languages of a student (biography) can be a useful language activity in itself besides an interesting resource to develop competences such as learning to learn. These pages –together with the dossier and a simplified version of the passport– would establish an initial point for self-assessment and their revision throughout one or more school years, an opportunity for revision and work on language progression awareness.
– Some teachers propose more focused uses of the portfolio. Matilde Martínez, for instance, tells us about her experience with newcomer students in their process to learn Catalan. The students start their portfolios including a biography and a dossier, the latter collecting both written an oral productions.
– Cristina Escobar sheds light on how to improve work and assessment of oral skills through the use of oral portfolios. You may access her study describing the rationale, process and results in an action research project implemented with Secondary students in their English lessons from this website.
– Finally, Carmen Alario highlights several benefits derived from the use of portfolios in the classroom especially to foster multicultural education, cooperation, and the development of thinking skills. You can access the recording of a talk from the Educantabria congress on “Bilingual Sections” from this link (search for the comments on the portfolio in scenes 14-16)