Self-Reflection in Language Learning via a Language Portfolio

Eduardo LAGE-OTERO and Matthew LING
Yale-NUS College

Eduardo and Matthew share their experience of developing a language portfolio platform to help their students gain a deeper understanding of their language learning process and reflect on ways in which they can apply their newfound language skills in different contexts.

 

yale nus
Photo courtesy of Yale NUS

 

Recommended Citation:

Lage-Otero, E., & Ling, M. (2021, Aug 26). Self-reflection in language learning via a language portfolio. Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2021/08/26/self-reflection-in-language-learning-via-a-language-portfolio/.

Learning a new language is an important goal for many university students. Although individual motivations will vary, many students embark on this process each semester at Yale-NUS and at NUS. Enrolling in a language course may be their first step, but reaching an advanced level of proficiency demands more time and effort than what a course may require of them. Well-designed language courses provide a guided path towards building confidence and developing the language skills needed to function in various settings. At the same time, language students frequently supplement formal instruction with other co-curricular activities and experiences that take them beyond their comfort zone and help them manage increasingly complex tasks and situations. One of the main goals of the Language Portfolio project is to make the links between these in-class and out-of-class activities more explicit (Chaudhuri & Cabau, 2017; Pérez Cavana, 2012).

Prior to Academic Year (AY) 2020/21, there was no easy way at Yale-NUS to help students monitor, self-regulate, and reflect on how their language learning journey progressed over time. There was a need to provide them with a tool to connect a variety of activities with individual learning goals, bring together seemingly unrelated experiences into a coherent whole, and map them onto an international language standard, such as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)1. An easy-to-use and versatile platform was needed to help language learners gain a deeper understanding of the language learning process while reflecting upon how they engage with the new language in different contexts and at different levels. In a more practical way, we wanted them to easily showcase their language achievements and plurilingual identity to others (Goullier, 2010), not just at the college but also to prospective employers.

Thanks to a Teaching Enhancement Grant2 (TEG), we reviewed the literature on best practices in language portfolio use, prototyped various solutions, and analysed what may work best in our context. After considering several options, we decided to adapt the European Language Portfolio Project (Schneider & Lenz, 2001; Wernicke & Sabatier, 2017) and integrate it into our College’s learning management system (LMS), Canvas (Figure 1). The advantage of using Canvas was that our students are already familiar with it, and it has built-in functionality that works well with the stated goals of the language portfolio. See the Appendix for a full description of the Portfolio components.

ed class canva
Figure 1. Yale-NUS Language Portfolio on the Canvas LMS.

 

During Semester 2, AY20/21, we ran a small pilot with two introductory language courses to assess students’ perceptions of the language portfolio and its impact on self-regulated learning and language learning strategies. In follow-up interviews with the study participants, a student noted how “the questions are having me look back and reflect upon how I was approaching language and also, it offers a lot of solutions, or like good learning strategies”. Several students also appreciated setting short- and long-term goals, although one expressed frustration with the latter, noting: “I didn’t find the long-term goals to be as helpful, in my opinion, because when you set them in the beginning, you don’t really know what’s going to happen through the course of the semester”. This highlighted the need for more guidance from instructors on how to work with different components of the portfolio throughout the semester. A psychology student, in turn, indicated how “the questions […] get you to reflect upon how you were learning the language. It’s like, in psychology, there’s this word called metacognition. That’s how I felt”. Another student valued the can-do checklists for each language level, remarking how “it usually feels very vague to be [doing] one level of Spanish […] So, I found those checklists helpful to be able to evaluate where I was in my language learning process”.

Students also recommended ways of making the portfolio platform more engaging and user-friendly. Some commented that it was text-heavy, at times making it difficult to understand. Others noted that more explicit guidance could be given on what they should focus on over time. Some suggested gamifying the platform and increasing the level of interactivity. As a result of this pilot phase, we are reviewing the feedback received and considering ways that will add value to the students’ language portfolio and lead to students’ greater engagement with it over time. This project also has implications for how language educators assess students in the language classroom, and how we integrate the Language Portfolio into other areas of their college experience. These are some of the ways in which we have begun to integrate this resource:

  • Asking students to submit a PDF of their language passport at the end of a language course with their self-assessment of where their language proficiency improved (see Figure 2 for self-assessment grid);
  • Developing level-appropriate course assignments students can easily add to their language dossier. These include short videos, sample newspaper articles, essays, and recorded presentations;
  • Including the language passport as part of the application process for various campus positions;
  • Integrating the language portfolio into immersive summer language opportunities and study abroad programmes.

We are excited about the possibilities the language portfolio offers our language students to become more strategic and reflective learners while making language instructors consider other forms of assessing their students’ performance.

ed class
Figure 2. Passport Self-Assessment Grid (Click on the image or the caption for a full-sized PDF version of the self-assessment grid)

 

eduardo otego

Eduardo LAGE-OTERO is the Deputy Director of Language Studies and Senior Lecturer (Spanish) at Yale-NUS College. He received his PhD from New York University’s Program in Educational Communication and Technology and has taught at Washington University in Saint Louis and Trinity College (USA). His research interests include second language acquisition, technology-enhanced language learning, sociolinguistics and cognitive science.

Eduardo can be reached at eduardo.lageotero@yale-nus.edu.sg.

matthewling

Matthew LING is a rising sophomore at Yale-NUS College. He is broadly interested in linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and language learning, while dabbling in chemistry, philosophy, and literature. He speaks English and French, learned some Spanish, and is working on improving his Cantonese and Mandarin. In his spare time, you can find him ballroom dancing or relaxing in the library.

Matthew can be reached at matthew.ling@u.yale-nus.edu.sg.

 

Endnotes

  1. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) organises language proficiency in six levels, A1 to C2, which can be regrouped into three broad levels: Basic User, Independent User and Proficient User, and that can be further subdivided according to the needs of the local context.
  2. The Teaching Enhancement Grants (TEG) promote professional development through grants to support Learning Improvement Projects and Learning Communities.

 

References

Chaudhuri, T., & Cabau, B. (2017). E-Portfolios in Higher Education: A Multidisciplinary Approach (pp. 1–210). Springer Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-3803-7

Goullier, F. (2010). Taking Account of Plurilingual and Intercultural Competence in European Language Portfolios.

Jenson, J. (2011). Promoting self-regulation and critical reflection through writing students’ use of electronic portfolio. International Journal of EPortfolio, 1(1), 49–60.

Pérez Cavana, M. L. (2012). Perspectives from the European language portfolio: Learner autonomy and self–assessment.  Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203809426

Schneider, G., & Lenz, P. (2001). European Language Portfolio: guide for developers. Council of Europe: Strasbourg. Retrieved on April, 19, 2005. Retrieved from http://www.coe.int/T/DG4/Portfolio/documents_intro/Eguide.pdf.

Shan Chui, C., & Dias, C. (2017). The integration of E-Portfolios in the foreign language classroom: Towards intercultural and reflective competences. In T. Chaudhuri & B. Cabau (Eds.), E-Portfolios in Higher Education: A Multidisciplinary Approach (pp. 53–74). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-3803-7 (Links to an external site.)

Wernicke, M., & Sabatier, C. (2017). Professional Language Portfolio. Retrieved from https://teach-educ.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2017/09/Professional-Language-Portfolio-En.pdf

 

Appendix

The components of the language portfolio include the following (see Figure 3 for an overview):

  • The Biography aims to develop students’ awareness of their plurilingualism and how to approach language learning through the process of reflection and planning their language learning journey.
  • The Dossier (private or public) allows students to store and display copies of language certificates and other representative samples of their work in the new language (see Figure 4 for a sample dossier).
  • The Passport is a downloadable component in PDF where students document their language skills, language-related experiences, and overall language profile.
Yale-NUS Language Portfolio Adaptation of the European Language Portfolio
Figure 3. Yale-NUS Language Portfolio Adaptation of the European Language Portfolio

 

Sample Language Dossier
Figure 4. Sample Language Dossier