Portfolio Assessments for English Language Learners

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  • 0:03 Using Portfolios
  • 0:45 Writing Samples
  • 1:14 Pictures & Recordings
  • 2:08 Teacher Checklists & Notes
  • 3:02 Student Reflections
  • 3:26 Tests & Quizzes
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

A student portfolio is a collection of artifacts that demonstrates progress and growth over a period of time. This lesson describes how teachers can use portfolios as alternative assessments for English language learner (ELL) students.

Using Portfolios

Not all students are able to demonstrate their learning using traditional measures. This is especially true for ELL students, who often have limited English proficiency and may have difficulty reading the directions of an assignment, let alone completing it. Portfolios are a great alternative to standard assessments because they measure student growth over a period of time, rather than language proficiency.

Many teachers choose to keep student work in a file folder over the course of the year, and they allow students and parents to look through their work and reflect on their growth. Other teachers have found digital portfolios to be a preferable alternative. Let's take a look at some examples of documents that teachers can store in a student portfolio.

Writing Samples

Samples of a student's written work are one of the most common additions to an assessment portfolio. A student's writing can tell you a lot about his or her abilities. If a student with limited English proficiency is able to write a barely comprehensible sentence on the first day of school, but can write several mostly comprehensible sentences by mid-year, a portfolio can help document that success. This gives you an idea of what the student has accomplished and allows you to set new learning goals and vary your instructional methods as needed.

Pictures & Recordings

Pictures are an extremely valuable assessment tool when you want a student to demonstrate comprehension of a topic or familiarity with content knowledge. You might ask an ELL student to draw a series of pictures to illustrate the main events from a story or to draw and label a diagram of the different layers of the earth's crust. ELL students can illustrate the water cycle or draw slices of pie to represent fractions. Their pictures will tell you whether they understand the concepts being taught, so they are meaningful additions to portfolios.

Audio and visual recordings can help document growth in student listening and speaking abilities. These files would be appropriate for a digital portfolio. You might decide to make a video of students giving an oral presentation or record their responses to teacher-led interview questions. Students can even use websites like Screencast-O-Matic or VoiceThread to add narration to pictures of class projects.

Teacher Checklists & Notes

Sometimes it can be difficult to document success in the area of speaking proficiency. One way to show growth in this area is to informally assess students with checklists. As ELL students interact with classmates during collaborative activities, you can walk around the room and keep track of their language skills.

You can use different checklists depending on what you're assessing. Do you want to know whether this student is able to use content-area vocabulary correctly? Are you trying to figure out whether this student was able to comprehend the story you just read in class? Are you gauging your student's ability to ask and respond to questions?

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