Term Paper, 2009
16 Pages, Grade: 1,0
2. BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT
3. POSITIVE FEATURES OF ALTERNATIVE ASSESSMENT METHODS
4. THE PORTFOLIO METHOD
Different Portfolio Types
Criteria For A Good Use Of Portfolios
5. ADVANTAGES OF USING PORTFOLIOS AS AN ASSESSMENT METHOD
Advantages For Pupils
Advantages For Teachers
Advantages For Others
6. DISADVANTAGES OF USING PORTFOLIOS AS AN ASSESSMENT METHOD
7. TECHNICAL QUALITY OF PORTFOLIO ASSESSMENT
8. STRATEGIES TO MARK PORTFOLIOS
Using Assessment Criteria Scales
Integrating Other Persons In The Marking Process
“Important decisions should not
rest on simple test scores”
Bailey 1998, 204
If important decisions should not rely on simple test scores, what else can we as language teachers do to underpin our impression about a student’s language ability? Heaton (1979, 7-8) suggests in his text ‘Writing English Language Tests’ to take into account a number of other factors, preferably from alternative assessment. One very popular alternative assessment method is the portfolio.
In this paper I will discuss the portfolio as a possible assessment method and its implementation in the foreign language classroom. Beginning with a brief introduction to the concept of alternative assessment and its positive features in contrast to traditional assessment methods, the portfolio shall then be introduced in detail. A summary of the advantages and disadvantages of using portfolios as an assessment tool are content of the next chapters, followed by an examination of the technical quality of portfolios. Finally I will have a closer look at marking strategies and tie up the paper with the conclusion.
One of the first researchers to attempt the field of alternative educational assessment was Grant Wiggins (Cunningham 1998, 120). He is considered to be the founding leader of the movement which became prominent in the 1990s. Since then alternative assessment methods have had to be distinguished from conventional assessment. Different terms such as ‘performance assessment’, ‘authentic assessment’, ‘alternative assessment’, etc. appeared and had to be defined. According to Cunningham (1998, 123) the main feature of the term ‘alternative assessment’, which I am going to use for this paper, is the fact that the methods are used “to asses students in settings where the conventional techniques […] would have routinely been used in the past”.
Why then would the portfolio be considered to be an alternative assessment method? For a long time portfolios have been used in different art forms to display and collect creative works (Cunningham 1998, 123). But in the field of language learning portfolios represent a new and alternative method of assessment.
Brown (2004, 13) and Bailey (1998, 207) both offer a list of the contrasting concepts about ‘traditional’ or ‘conventional’ and ‘alternative’ assessment:
Traditional vs. Alternative Assessment
One-shot testsContinuous, long-term assessment
Inauthentic testAuthentic assessment
No feedback providedFeedback provided to learners
DecontextualizedContextualized test items
Oriented to productOriented to process
Focus on ‘right’Focus on open-ended answers
(Own depiction of chosen concepts taken from
Brown 2004, 13 and Bailey 1998, 207)
Even though this list depicts overgeneralized ends of the spectrum which have to be considered with caution, it already shows the positive features of alternative assessment methods. The portfolio is one of them and shall be discussed in the following chapter.
Much has been said about portfolios in the scientific field of learner assessment. But what actually is a portfolio? McKay (2006, 159) describes it as “collections of a student’s work prepared over a period of time”. Cohen and Spenciner (1998, 172) offer a very similar definition, only adding that the collection of works has to be done systematically. Genesee and Upshur (1996, 99; In: Brown 2004, 256), as well as Arter and Spandel (1992, 36-43; In: Cunningham 1998, 143) support this point of view, saying that portfolios should be purposeful collections of a students’ work. Therefore it is important that every portfolio aims towards a goal and not only represents a collection of random material, just like a meal is not only a mixture of randomly chosen foods, but a composition of well-chosen ingredients. But which kind of ingredients can be used for the different portfolio-dishes?
Brown (2004, 256) suggests the following list of students’ work:
- essays and compositions in draft and final forms;
- reports, project outlines;
- poetry and creative prose;
- journals, diaries, and other personal reflections;
- notes on lectures;
- self- and peer-assessments
(own selection based on Brown 2004, 256)
The list may be extended much further for there are no limitations on what material can be added to a portfolio. The only important rule that has to be observed is that students and the teacher have to agree on those materials.
McKay (2006, 159) and also Brown (2004, 256) point out that the portfolio may also include additional material which was not created by the student himself, such as pictures, audio clips, interviews, newspaper or magazine clippings, etc.. Still these materials should include a personal statement or reflection of the student to draw the connection to the language learning process.
There are many definitions for the type of work that belongs in portfolios: works in progress, a student’s best work or the work of which he is most proud or which show a student’s efforts, progress and achievements (Cohen, Spenciner 1998, 172; Brown 2004, 256; Bailey 1998, 216). The many definitions of which work belongs in a portfolio indicate that there are different types of portfolios – some that focus on progress and some that focus on specific achievements. Even though one will find a number of different categorizations in portfolio- related literature, they all fit into the basic types mentioned by McKay which I am going to focus on in this work.
McKay (2006, 160f) lists three different types: process, archival and aggregated portfolios. The process portfolio displays a student’s growth. It is a “work in progress” and addresses short-term goals (McKay 2006, 160). Archival portfolios on the other hand put the emphasis on selected works from the process portfolio. At regular intervals the best works are selected so that at the end of a term or upon graduation the archival portfolio might be handed on to the next teacher or a future employer (McKay 2006, 160). The third type, the aggregated portfolio, collects work samples from all the students’ portfolios and gives the teacher the possibility to “evaluate the assessment of writing (of older students)” (McKay 2006, 161).
 For a better readability I will use only the male form, while addressing both sexes.
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