portfolios

Jay Mathews (Washington Post) writes that Confidence in math doesn't always equal success. Reporting on a study from the Brookings Institution, he writes,

countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that do not promote all that self-regard.

Mathews includes pro and con perspectives on this report. Of course, confidence based on a lack of reality doesn't bode well for success in one's life. Some time ago, I remember reading about a study that showed that competent people usually have less confidence than incompetent folks, at least initially, that their ability to do something is better than the average in the room.

In foreign language (and other) education circles, we do our best to make the classroom a safe haven for students and try to relate the classroom learning to their own lives. It's possible that some work harder at making everyone feel good than at learning. Even so, it's hard to see why having fun and making things relevant would reduce learning. The only factor I can think of is that countries that focus on lots of drills will do better on a test that reflects that type of learning. Those scores say little about whether students can employ those skills outside of the classroom. As Mathews cites Gerald Bracy, an educational psychologist as saying,

the report overlooked countervailing trends in Japan, Singapore and other countries that do better than the United States on eighth-grade math tests. Officials in those countries say their education systems are not yielding graduates who have the same level of creativity as American graduates. Some Asian nations have begun to copy aspects of U.S. education, including the emphasis on letting students search for answers rather than memorize them.

Still, it is important for our students to have an accurate sense of how well they are doing and how they can improve their abilities in various areas. Self-assessment and peer assessment, along with seeing their peers work, can help in this regard. For a portfolio system that includes these aspects, check out The Learning Record.

John Liang, Timothy Grove, Sydney Rice, and I presented papers at TESOL 2006 on the theme of "Moving Toward Self-Assessment in L2 Writing."

John Liang began with an "Overview of Self-Assessment in the Second Language Classroom." His overview handout here (.doc) also has a good bibliography on self-assessment.

Next, I talked about using "Course-Embedded Assessment" (.doc) to help students learn to assess their writing. Generally speaking, course-embedded assessment refers to program- or institution-wide assessment embedded in general education courses in order to focus the curriculum on student learning. In my classes, I've incorporated the program rubric for assessing L2 writing in all aspects of my first-year composition courses--from modeling, using it to guide my feedback, having students use it to guide their feedback to others, and to guide their own self-evaluation--so that it becomes part of their mind-framework for looking at writing rather than remaining fragmented information and forgotten as soon as the semester ends.

Sydney's paper looked at "Focused Self-Assessment" (.doc) presenting three basic steps for students to become self-editors:

1. Provide input and examples of both effective and ineffective language use.
2. Involve students in peer review and peer editing, as well as self-editing.
3. Provide students with the key for productive self-editing.

Her approach uses "methodical and uncomplicated" rubrics, an approach that makes it clear and gives to students the tools for editing and revising their writing. Here are her other handouts (all are .doc): Summary, Overhead figures.

Timothy Grove discussed "Showcase Portfolios" (.doc) for helping students become better self-assessors. When students have to select and present their best work, they begin to learn how to evaluate their work.

John Liang ended the colloquium talking on "Toward a Three-Step Pedagogy for Fostering Self-Assessment in a Second Language Writing Classroom" (.doc). The three steps are:

Stage 1: Extensive teacher modeling
Stage 2: Teacher assessment with guided and independent peer assessment
Stage 3: Peer assessment leading to guided and independent self-assessment

One point John mentioned that occurred in all of our talks was the need for rubrics or something that would give structure to the students as they began to learn to assess their learning.