International Conference on English Language Teaching Instruction and Assessment


Portfolio Assessment: What's in it for me?

Dr Jo Lewkowicz
English Centre, The University of Hong Kong

Portfolio assessment is more often associated with the creative arts and subjects such as photography and design. It is, however, gaining popularity in the field of language education, with students at all levels being encouraged to compile a language portfolio. Being a purposeful collection of students' work, the portfolio acts as a record of students' achievement as well as of their evolving language competence. It may focus on a particular skill such as writing or it may be more integrative showcasing a range of language skills and abilities.

Perhaps the most comprehensive and widely reported initiative in this area is that of the European Language Portfolio. This initiative aims at enabling all language learners from primary school pupils to adults to report on their foreign/second language competencies. It has a dual function - a reporting function as well as a pedagogical one. As Little (2002) points out, the portfolio provides information additional to formal examination results and certificates about the owner's experiences in language learning as well as concrete evidence of his/her proficiency and achievement. At the same time it aims to promote pluralism and cultural awareness, it makes the learning process transparent and encourages learner autonomy. Given the different educational systems and the diverse languages spoken and taught within the European Union, what this initiative exemplifies is the potential of the portfolio for a range of stakeholders.

Initiating the portfolio process may be time consuming both for the learner and teacher, but the benefits should outweigh any drawbacks. This paper will consider the numerous potentials of the language portfolio not only for its owner, but also for other stakeholders such as teachers, parents and the potential employer. It will show how current technology is helping to overcome the major drawbacks of the portfolio - that of it being cumbersome in terms of size and of concentrating on written rather than oral skills. The paper will draw on current research within Asia to argue that given certain conditions, language learners may find portfolio assessment motivating and other stakeholders will accept this form of assessment, provided that sufficient time and effort is given over to explaining the value of the system.

Little, D. (2002). The European Language Portfolio: structure, origins, implementation and challenges. Language Teaching 35/3: 182-189.