Table of Contents
2 What Is a Language Portfolio?
3 Foreign Language Learning and Motivation
4 The Purpose of Increased Learner Autonomy
5 Does the Language Portfolio Foster Learners’ Motivation and Self-Assessment?
The approach to English foreign language acquisition in German schools has significantly changed in the last decade. Today, students no longer start to learn English in grade five, but begin with the very basics in primary school. In most states, English as a foreign language is introduced in grade three - some states have gone even further and start teaching English in the first grade, e.g. North Rhine- Westphalia. Besides these changes, a major shift from a ‘teacher-’ to a ‘learner- centered’ classroom took place. Consequently, the individual learner and his or her language learning process have become more important in the English foreign language (EFL) classroom than before. New methodology such as strategic learning, reflection, and self-evaluation have moved to the center of attention in order to enhance students’ language learning efficiency. In order to approach these new competences in an appropriate way for children, the language portfolio was developed and introduced to foreign language learners. By now, there are a number of different portfolio, such as the European Language Portfolio for language learners in secondary schools and adults, or Mein Sprachenportfolio, which is being used in primary schools in the state of Hesse. Those new methods of language learning are meant to offer students the chance to monitor their own language learning process and eventually allow them to see their own learning progress over the years. One of the major goals of the portfolio is to rise learners’ motivation and interest in language learning. Research over many years has shown that motivation plays a great role when it comes to foreign language learning and learning in general. Therefore, it is certain that motivation has significant influence on a person’s success or failure in language learning. The portfolio might by the key to the problem of creating, fostering, and maintaining language learners’ motivation over a period of time that exceeds childhood and adolescence. This term paper is concerned with the question in how far the portfolio contributes to increased intrinsic motivation for foreign language learning, and to what extent this is connected to the issue of self-assessment and learner autonomy in the EFL classroom. It will commence by introducing the concept of the language portfolio. In the next step, the connection between foreign language learning and motivation is drawn. After that, the idea of leaner autonomy and it’s purpose in the EFL classroom are explored, so that finally the portfolio’s contribution to leaners’ motivation and autonomy can be critically examined.
2 What Is a Language Portfolio?
The language portfolio can be described as a collection of documents, certificates, report cards, pictures, and other materials that functions as an illustration of the language skills achieved by the individual owner, especially young learners. Today, there is a variety of different language portfolio that have been created over the years. The very first portfolio developed was the European Language Portfolio (ELP), and it was meant to be used in secondary schools in the first place. 1 Another portfolio, which is closely related to the ELP, is Mein Sprachenportfolio for primary classes developed in Hesse by Legutke and his team. 2 It consists of three parts, which are Sprachenpass, Sprachenbiographie, and Schatztruhe. Sprachenpass is concerned with all the languages an individual student learns or is able to speak as well as personal information about the student him- or herself. In fact, it has the appearance of a passport by providing a frame for a photograph of the student who owns the portfolio. In addition, it gives information about encounters with the foreign languages, e.g. holiday trips to other countries. Sprachenbiographie gives a detailed overview of the different abilities a student has achieved so far in the respective foreign language. This part of the portfolio offers students the chance to find out about their weaknesses and strengths when communicating in the foreign language. The third part, Schatztruhe, functions as a collection of various materials that prove the students’ language proficiency to some extent. In this part of the portfolio, it is up to the individual owner what he or she considers precious enough to put in the Schatztruhe. Letters, stories, photos, audio cassettes and other materials could be collected in this part of the portfolio in order to certify the level of proficiency. 3 In todays EFL classroom in primary schools, the portfolio seems to be quite attractive, as there are a number of portfolio by now that adapted the original format of the ELP to some extent, which were customized according to specific needs and ideas in the different states of Germany. For example, the state of Rhineland-Palatinate has changed Mein Sprachenportfolio concerning the amount of text that young learners are confronted with. In the revision more symbols and pictures are used in order to increase the portfolio’s appropriateness for children. Moreover, it provides various new tasks for students that give them the chance to draw or write about specific experiences. 4 According to Legutke, Mein Sprachenportfolio has two major functions. First, it is supposed to display a detailed description of the student’s language proficiency that is comparable across national borders. Second, it is meant to provide incentives for language learners to become multilingual and be willing to communicate with people from other countries. 5 When working with the portfolio, it is essential that students, especially young students, learn to reflect on their learning process and their progress in foreign language learning over time. Only in doing so, the portfolio can fulfill its purpose of facilitating language learning. 6 The Language Resource Center of the United States, which is an institution for teacher education in America, describes the function of the portfolio in classrooms as follows:
Portfolios are purposeful, organized, systematic collections of student work that tell the story of a student ’ s efforts, progress, and achievement in specific areas. [ … ] Portfolio assessment is a joint process for instructor and student. 7
As pointed out, portfolio work is not only something that the student has do to for him- or herself, but it also has to be the teacher’s concern, since her or she has to support the individual student and give advices; nevertheless, it is not the teacher’s task to correct the students’ errors and mistakes in the portfolio. In fact, it depends on the purpose of evaluation, whether the teacher’s feedback can be considered legitimate or not. 8 In Mein Sprachenportfolio, the last page offers space for the teacher’s positive feedback; yet, it depends on the individual student, whether he or she agrees to receive a feedback from the teacher or not. In some classes, it is the learner’s duty to add certain documents to the portfolio such as report cards, which are considered a legitimate means of teacher evaluation in the language portfolio. After all, the portfolio represents a ground for self-evaluation in the first place that is used by the language learner in order to become aware of his or her learning process and find out about the methods of language learning that suit the individual best. Although the portfolio belongs to an individual language learner and only displays his or her language skills and experiences, in some situations it is allowed to work in pairs of two, in groups, or ask the teacher if a problem needs to be solved, since younger students might have trouble with understanding the instructions in the portfolio. For this reason, working on the portfolio may not be done as a homework assignment, as young students probably have trouble with estimating their abilities and language proficiency correctly. Therefore, it is a long-term project that takes place in the classroom on a regular basis. According to Legutke, further research on how to balance the teacher’s support and learners’ freedom for self-evaluation while working on the portfolio needs to be done. 9 A factor that is particularly important when discussing difficulties with leaners’ autonomy while working on the portfolio is the way young learners are addressed in the portfolio. Questions and descriptors need to be formulated in a careful and unmistakable manner depending on age and school system, so that young language learners will not have too much problems understanding the instructions. 10 As a matter of fact, preparation in general plays a great role when the portfolio is introduced to young language learners in primary classes as well as to language learners in secondary schools. 11 Since all of them have developed individual attitudes towards foreign language learning and they come along with differences in language aptitude, the portfolio needs to fit the individual needs of the students in order to enable successful outcomes. In conclusion, the language portfolio is a working method for the foreign language classroom, which serves as a “self-portrait” for the learner. 12 Furthermore, it promotes the learners’ interest in other cultures and contributes to intercultural understanding. The language portfolio can be seen as a newly developed instrument that accompanies and directs a language learner on his or her way to learn and master a foreign language.
1 cf. Burwitz-Melzer, Eva (2006): “Motivation durch Selbsteinschätzung: Fremdsprachenportfolios für die Klassen 3-10.” In: Küppers, Almut / Quetz, Jürgen (eds.) (2006): Motivation Revisited. Festschrift für Gert Solmecke. Berlin: LIT Verlag. 91.
2 cf. Legutke, Michael K. and Lortz, Wiltrud (2002): Mein Sprachenportfolio. Frankfurt/M.: Diesterweg. URL: http://www.diesterweg.de/pdf/978-3-425-02130-0-1-l.pdf (04.08.2011).
3 cf. Legutke, Michael (2003): “Portfolio der Sprachen – eine erfolgversprechende Form der Lernstandermittlung? In: Primary English 2003. 2.
4 cf. Dormann, Hans-Josef et al. (2009): Mein Sprachenportfolio. Ministerium für Bildung RLP. URL: http://grundschule.bildung-rp.de/fileadmin/user_upload/ grundschule.bildung-rp.de/Downloads/Fremdsprachen/Portfolio/Portfolio_ Englisch_Druckfassung.pdf (05.08.2011).
5 cf. Legutke, Michael(2003): 1.
6 cf. Dormann, Hans-Josef et al. (2009): Mein Sprachenportfolio. Ministerium für Bildung RLP. URL: http://grundschule.bildung-rp.de/fileadmin/user_upload/ grundschule.bildung-rp.de/Downloads/Fremdsprachen/Portfolio/Portfolio_ Englisch_Druckfassung.pdf (05.08.2011).
7 The National Capital Language Resource Center, Washington, DC. URL: http://www.nclrc.org/essentials/assessing/peereval.htm (05.08.2011).
8 cf. Burwitz-Melzer, Eva (2006): 101.
9 cf. Legutke, Michael(2003): 2f.
10 cf. Burwitz-Melzer, Eva(2006):101.
11 cf. ibid. 94.
12 Legutke, Michael(2003):1.