Image courtesy of Sean Winters

This is week two of my #444ELT personal challenge. Here is a link to week one.

This week I spent time digging through articles on the use of portfolios in the classroom. This is something I already do and have done for a while, but I wanted to see what others were doing and to see if there was anything I could do better. I learned a great deal this week and I may keep on reading about portfolios as I feel there is some real value to it beyond what I am doing at the moment.

I invite all comments, suggestions, and even criticisms. Share below in the comments section or on Twitter.

Article: Nunes, A. (2004). Portfolios in the EFL classroom: Disclosing an informed practice. ELT Journal, 58(4). 327-335. Retrieved from

Summary: Hoping to improve on the teaching-learning process for teachers and students in a Portuguese high school 10th grade English language course, Nunes (2004) set out to use portfolios to gather samples of the students’ work along with things the learners felt were important to them as individuals. To begin, the instructor presented the rationale behind the use of the portfolio and asked the students to choose the material they felt was important to include. At first, the students struggled to fully understand what was expected of them, so the teachers created a questionnaire to help guide them in their reflections. Shortly thereafter, the students began providing more material for the portfolio which continued throughout the program.

Upon completion of the course, Nunes separated the written reflections the students had provided in their portfolios into four main categories: syllabus based, instructional based, learning based, and assessment based. Of the nearly 700 entries written by the students, 43% were focused on learning and 36% were about the instruction. Only 14% of the submissions were on assessment and 7% on the syllabus. The author notes that most of the entries on the syllabus were negative in response to something the students didn’t like.

As for the content of the reflections, the level of complexity moved from more simplistic to a higher-level order showing that students took the reflection seriously. The instructor was able to use the reflections during the course to help guide their teaching to meet the students’ needs and goals. Also, students were able to become more autonomous learners as they identified and analysed the potential deficiencies in their learning.

Remarks: I have been using portfolios in my classroom off and on for a while now. For the most part, I have been using them as a means of archiving the students work and using it a place for the student and myself to go back and forth in a cycle of feedback and revision. In this study, it appears that teachers were focusing on the use of portfolios for student reflection and growth. I have to admit that I haven’t used it in this same manner, although self-reflection has been a part of some of the work that my students have completed. What I appreciated about this study was how the teacher recognized the need to modify the instructions instead of forcing the students to complete the task without the proper guidance. The shift towards a more structured outline with a questionnaire appears to have been successful and is something I think I will need to start implementing in my own classroom.

The other thing I found interesting was the areas of reflection that the students decided to write about. Students are normally quite reserved when it comes to sharing their opinions about the content areas of instruction, in this case the syllabus choices. It shows how important it is to have the students involved in the process of choosing areas of study in the classroom. I believe that the students would have been more inclined to write about the syllabus choices if they had had a hand in the selection process.

Questions: While the study was designed to be fairly narrow in its selection of what to cover in the study, there are a few things I am left wondering about along with some questions for future studies:

  • What difference would this make with a mixed language group?
  • Was this used for other assessment purposes? If it was for marks, what were the stakes?
  • How much would the reflection topics have changed if students had been involved in the topic selection process?
  • How much did the students improve their language skills?
  • Did the students feel like this experience was rewarding and helpful?


Article: Ripley, D. (2012). Implementing portfolio-based language assessment in LINC programs: Benefits and challenges. TESL Canada Journal, 30(1). 69-86. Retrieved from

Summary: During the piloting of the Portfolio Based Language Assessment (PBLA) project in the Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC) programs in Canada, Ripley (2012) interviewed six participants on the potential benefits and challenges on the use of portfolio based assessment in in the language classroom. The purpose of the survey was to help guide future work in the PBLA project and to help all those involved learn more about how the project was being implemented in various situations. Those involved in the project first went through a five-day training session that involved work with the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB), a languages standard used in adult language education programs. The instructors also received written material on the implementation of the material in the classroom. They were also supplied with Language Companion binders for each student in their classroom. This binder is divided into seven sections where student work is added and where students can find reference material related to their language education.

After interview each of the six participants, Ripley divided their responses according to the five research questions and summarized the results. The responses included these main findings:

Perceived benefits

  • improve assessment practices and help instructors and students better integrate and understand the use of the CLB in the classroom.
  • teachers and students better identity students’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • reduce inconsistencies between the various programs, especially as students move between various LINC programs.
  • frame assessment through the use of rubrics.
  • increases the use of real-world language tasks.

Perceived challenges

  • adds to the teaching workload, at least in the short-term.
  • fitting the new curriculum into an already established syllabus.
  • large and heavy binders to carry around.
  • getting other LINC instructors on board.
  • dealing with a steady intake of students.
  • the potential for consistency when dealing with a large number of LINC programs across Canada.

Differences in perceptions between the various stakeholders

  • Who is responsible for the binders?
  • What are the costs involved in producing more binders?
  • Students appreciated the additional resources.
  • Students and teachers worked together to set goals. This was seen as a benefit and also a time challenge.

The use of the PBLA materials

  • The references section had a mixed reception with the instructors.
  • The ‘My Notes’ section was used to put in additional material from guest speakers.
  • Portfolio item selection was almost completely teacher-led.

Future implementation

  • More concrete examples in training.
  • More and varied support.

Remarks: Not being involved in a LINC program in Canada, I was not aware of the PBLA project until about 18 months ago when I ‘accidentally’ attended a workshop given at TESL Canada. I must say I was really glad that I did. Colleen Rogan and Joanne Pettis did a wonderful job taking us through the different sections of the portfolio and how it is used in the classroom. While I am more inclined to use an e-portfolio for various reasons, there is merit in using a paper-based system in a settlement program. This format removes the barriers that sometimes arise due to costs or skills involved in using a technology based approach. I think there could be a place for it in PBLA and I believe that is the thinking within this project as well, but that will take time and I appreciate the pedagogy behind the program. Again, my use of portfolios differs slightly from PBLA due to the academic expectations and format inherent in EAP, but there is so much that can be gleaned from PBLA.

In regards to the survey, I find it interesting that there were different responses to the amount of time involved. I think it comes down to what you have been involved with in the past and your level of understanding on what is being done. Once someone has run a portfolio program in their classroom, I think the time involved actually would substantially decline. I know with my students, I struggled at first to get them to use their portfolios, much like the first article I summarized. In the end, the routine of using the portfolio reduced the number of questions and increased the student productivity.

I really like how the portfolio is divided up and this is something that I may have to look at more deeply. Combine this with the questionnaire format found in the first article and I think this would be quite effective in the language classroom.

Questions: PBLA is one of those things that you have to see in use to appreciate the depth of thinking involved in its creation. I don’t want to oversell it, but the work, the research, and the testing that has been done in the creation of the PBLA project combines together to create a very mature ‘product’ even though it is still early on in its implementation. However, I still have a few questions about this research project:

  • While we find out a bit about the students, I wonder what the perception of the students is regarding the use of portfolios?
  • How well would this transfer from a Task-based approach to other approaches such as a Content-based course?
  • While PBLA is designed as a low-stakes assessment, could this be applied to a more high-stakes situation such as a college level course? What changes would need to be made? How would this change what students add to their portfolios?
  • While this study was focused on the implementation of the portfolios and the teacher’s use of PBLA in the classroom, what were the results of the students in terms of growth?


Article: Ok, S. (2014). Reflections of ELT students on their progress in language and vocabulary use in portfolio process. English Language Teaching, 7(2). 53-62. Retrieved from

Summary: In this study of 46 Turkish first year university students in a high-level English reading and writing course, Ok (2014) reviewed the students’ reflective essays on the use of portfolios and also interviewed ten of the participants. Students at first found the process of using a portfolio in their course as “boring” and also felt that it added to their already busy work schedule. A review of their reflective essays showed that the students did find the use of portfolios as helpful, especially in being able to connect their grammar learning to their reading and writing. Eventually, students felt that the process did become more enjoyable and became more confident in their writing ability. One by-product of the use of portfolios was the ability to take time to process what they were learning and then apply it in a meaningful way. The largest area of growth was in vocabulary and then language integration. Students mentioned that they felt that the use of portfolios did help them to see their growth as they looked back over what they had written.

Remarks: One of the main reasons I use portfolios is to keep a record of the students’ work so that both the students and myself can see the growth in their language education. While I am not sure if this was one of the main criteria for the implantation of portfolios in this situation, it appears that the students were able to see this on their own. The reflective portion of portfolios is critical since students need to know they are growing in their language ability. In this case, some of the students were able to see the growth looking back from their use of English in high school. Being in a reflective environment allows use to stop and view things from various angles and approaches. In this case, students connected previous knowledge to things they were doing now. Reading over some of the comments in the article, I can see how students began to find writing enjoyable which is a major milestone when working with students from different cultures and languages.

Questions: This was more a reflective view of the use of portfolios instead of numbers and data, but there are a few things that came to mind while reading it:

  • How well did these students do in future classes compared to those that had not been involved in portfolio use?
  • How much did their vocabulary grow? Were they able to retain that knowledge better than those who used memorization techniques and lists?
  • While the study only looks at the students’ perception of the use of portfolios, what criteria was used to select items put into the portfolio?
  • How much was this portfolio used as assessment for marks or grades? Would making it a larger part of their overall marks change how students felt about it?

Article: Alonso, A. C. (2013). Students’ beliefs on portfolio assessment. Alicante Journal of English Studies, 26. 225-238. Retrieved from

Summary: Alonso (2013) surveyed 15 Spanish-English translation students studying at University in Spain on their opinions of the use of portfolios in their course. The portfolios were used in their classroom to collect individual work, self-reflection and self-assessment, group work and oral presentations. It was worth 40% of their final grade and was to be completed before the end of the course. The results of the study showed that about two-thirds of the participants felt that the use of portfolios helped them grow as future translators. While most felt that they wouldn’t change anything about the format of the portfolio, some students suggested a reduction in the grade weighting, while the remained felt it should be removed from the course. Two students felt that it was a waste of time, while the remaining students felt that it added to their learning and helped them grow. All of the students felt it was hard work to add to the portfolio, but many saw the value in it.
Remarks: I wouldn’t call this an overwhelming success if one-third felt that the use of portfolios weren’t helpful. I wonder how much the weighting played in that decision. Also, I can’t help thinking that the complaint in the time it took to work on the portfolio showed that the use of the portfolio was as an assignment instead of as a survey. Adding pieces to your portfolio shouldn’t be a burden, although there is some additional work in the form of reflection. This time should be factored in to the syllabus planning instead of just tacking it onto the workload. It is interesting to see how this becomes a product instead of a process when it is used in this manner. Also, this makes me wonder if students were properly trained in the use of portfolios before starting. By the sounds of things, students were told how much this was worth in regards to their assessment and they were told they needed to do this. Having the portfolio as just another form of assessment will change the focus of how it is approached by the students. I feel that lowering the grade and giving a more guided structure along with time in class to work on it each day would help students become part of the process instead of creating an end product.
Questions: I have already mentioned a few things in my remarks, but here are some questions I had while reading it:
  • How much time was spent on preparing students for the use of the portfolios?
  • What was said to the students in regards to the purpose for the use of portfolios?
  • How much time was spent in class in portfolio preparation?
  • How many items were put into the portfolio?
  • Was this portfolio transferred to future classes for continued evaluation and guidance?

6 thoughts on “Collecting

  1. Very interesting Nathan! PBLA was introduced in the Pathways project at VCC – which has courses from CLB 5-9. The curriculum can focus on community, workplace, or academic pursuits – so comes closer to your EAP setting. There were significant changes that needed to be made – assessments not being kept by students, building in ‘mirror’ activities as well as ensuring each of the CLB competences areas were assessed 2x – near the start and then near the end of the course. Also meetings with the students was increased to raise awareness of progress. From the feedback I’ve heard both in LINC and in Pathways is that the students love it. It helps them to really have a more accurate picture of where they are at and where they need to go. It really helps them to focus their efforts and be aware of what works for them.

    Anyway – this is great! Thanks so much for taking the time to research and post.


    1. The work that I’ve seen so for on PBLA has been great. I think there is something there that could be used to create a model for other programs.

      Thanks for the comment!

    1. That is one way that portfolios are used. I use mine in a two-pronged approach. There is the ‘sandbox’ area for the student and myself to work on the creation-feedback-revision cycle and then there is the ‘showcase’ section with reflection, which is what you mentioned. The reason for both is to not only see the end product, but the process as well. This gives both of us a sense of where they have come from and where they are now.

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