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Case 22
Three Stages of Apprenticing Students into Portfolio Ownership


Juliana Chau






English Language Centre, Core A, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Hong Kong (SAR).

22.1 Context

A few years ago, the English Language Centre of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University adopted the use of the portfolio for language learning. Initially, portfolio implementation was confined to mandatory credited courses, such as, English for Academic Purposes, English in the Workplace and English for Professional Purposes, where submission or non-submission of work by the students would have no bearing on the course grade. In other words, portfolios did not constitute part of the course requirement. However, changes at the institutional level, including restructuring of departments and programmes, drastic cut of government-funded student places and emphasis on lifelong learning and creativity, have begun to demand corresponding shifts in the provision of language training by the English Language Centre in two areas.

The first area of change stresses the need for proficiency courses that encompass the development of language skills, as well as, the students’ ability to think critically and to transform acquired knowledge into knowledge for action, or ‘wisdom of practice’ (Shulman 1987, cited in Chetcuti et al.2006, p. 105). The second area stems from the gradual discontinuation and replacement of credit-bearing language programmes with non-crediting ones, with the possible consequence of reduced student motivation to study seriously. The issue of offering non-credited language enhancement programmes without prejudicing the English Language Centre’s role in providing training, support services and self-learning facilities to help students acquire the necessary profession-related language skills beneficial to their future career is a critical one (HKPU2005, pp. 1–2).

In 2005/06, in response to these changes, the English Language Centre launched a series of new language enhancement initiatives in the form of Profession-related language training (credited) courses and English Language Enhancement Programme (ELEP) (non-credited) modules, each dealing specifically with one aspect of language proficiency: vocabulary, writing, speaking and listening, presentation skills, grammar, pronunciation. Portfolio work is an integral component for successful completion of both programmes.

The primary aim of this case study is to apprentice students into the practice of using portfolios for language learning and assessment through three stages. It involved 11 Hong Kong Polytechnic University 1st year students enrolled in a language enhancement writing module over a span of 11 weeks in the summer of 2005. The students came from a variety of disciplines—Textiles and Clothing, School of Design, Hotel and Tourism Management, Accounting and Computing. The ‘blended delivery mode’ of the module incorporated classroom instruction (22 hours, 75% of module grade), web-based exercises (5 hours, 15% of module grade) and independent learning (3 hours, 10% of module grade). As a record of their achievements and self-directed language development, the students were required to submit a portfolio at the end of module, showcasing both progress and product through their collection of work. Some of the rubrics in the portfolio are provided below.

22.1.1 What do students include in their portfolio?

The portfolio is essentially a reflection of how much time and effort the students have put into their English study. As such, there is no right or wrong way to put a portfolio together. Each student’s portfolio will look different. Below are some suggested items of evidence that could be included. The students can discuss any other suggestions with their teacher.

Suggested items

22.1.2 Will the portfolio carry any weighting in assessment?

Yes. For language enhancement modules, the portfolio will account for a maximum of 10% of the overall grade and will be allocated as follows:

In order to complete the language enhancement writing module satisfactorily, the students are required to fulfil the following:

22.2 Learning Outcomes being Assessed

With portfolio work, students are expected to be able to:

Examples of guiding questions to help students to compose their reflections include:

Table 22.1: Three stages of apprenticing students into portfolio ownership
Stage Weeks


Dominant Portfolio type

Modelling 1–4

Teacher as instructor

Formalist portfolio: product as model

Practising 5–8

Teacher as partner; Student as negotiator

Expressivist portfolio: product to promote personal/emotional response

Applying 9–12

Student as owner/ initiator; Teacher as guide/mediator

Cognitivist portfolio: product to deepen awareness; Social Constructivist portfolio: product to highlight the genres of the discourse community


22.3 Assessment Procedures/Details

Anecdotal evidence, derived from the initial portfolio implementation, raised two main concerns:

  1. the use of portfolios for learning and assessment is a novel practice for most students (and possibly tutors); and
  2. the increased workload for tutors due to the need for dialogue and feedback.

To address the first concern, it was felt necessary that students be given training in three stages to apprentice them into the construction of a portfolio (see Table 22.1).

The first stage relied on the use of a ‘model,’ where students were encouraged to pursue, in writing, what was discussed in class (for example, marriage versus co-habitation) and to collect related articles and underline useful or interesting expressions. At this stage, with the aid of explicit instruction and a sample, the students’ attention would be directed towards criteria 1 to 3 in the checklist (see Appendix A). However, artefacts that reflected or fulfilled other criteria would also be considered acceptable. The second stage involved ‘practising’—the students could choose to respond to any issue in writing and to bring up for further discussion the meaning- or language-related matters, with reference to criteria 4 to 6 (see Appendix A). The last stage -‘applying’—highlighted the role of the student as owner or initiator in the construction of the portfolio, stressing what and how they had learned through justifying or reflecting on the choice of writing / article, and how they would use this newly learned experience (see Appendix A, criteria 7 to 9).

A generic feedback form-cum-checklist for students (Appendix A) was developed. This served a dual purpose of keeping the tutor workload to a minimum while maintaining two-way communication. The students were required to submit their portfolios in week 4 (end of the ‘modelling’ stage), week 8 (end of ‘practising’ stage) and week 12 (a week after completion of ‘applying’ stage and end of the whole module).

A ‘successful’ rating would translate into the 10% module grade, ‘adequate’ 5%, ‘thin’ 1%. 0% would be awarded to either non-submission of the portfolio or no effort or evidence of own work. A final grade would be obtained by averaging out the three ratings.

As shown in Table 22.2, the nine criteria would correspond to the three stages of apprenticeship and three domains of development (meta-language, affect and cognition).

Table 22.2: Language development through portfolio use (checklist for teachers)



Development Domain

Dominant Portfolio type


1. Have an understanding of what was discussed in class

(meta-) linguistic


2. Have some further practice

(meta-) linguistic


3. Have made progress

(meta-) linguistic



4. Have reflected on the experience

affective; cognitive

expressivist; cognitivist

5. Have identified reason(s) for the choice



6. Have mastered the skill/fulfilled the objective

cognitive; (meta-) linguistic

cognitivist; formalist


7. Have developed the capacity to use this new experience in learning or other contexts

cognitive; affective; meta-linguistic

cognitivist; expressivist; formalist; social constructivist

8. Are able to self-assess and exercise self-discipline

cognitive; affective; meta-linguistic

cognitivist; expressivist; formalist; social constructivist

9. Are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and the need for further development

cognitive; affective; meta-linguistic

cognitivist; expressivist; formalist; social constructivist

22.3.1 Significance of the Checklists

The checklists for students (see Appendix A) and for teachers (see Table 22.2) are of significant value in the portfolio-mediated teaching-learning process. Notably, both the students and the teachers need specific guidelines for (self-)assessment in initial portfolio implementation to acquaint themselves with the system. In Hong Kong, teacher-fronted instruction and conformity still dominate classroom pedagogy. It is scarcely surprising that changes or innovative practices are often greeted with skepticism and anxiety. The inclusion of a checklist, delineating clearly the criteria for development and the amount (or quantity) of input, will help to lessen ambiguity, thereby, reduce resistance. Despite a lack of depth in the students’ portfolio comments, evidence from this study points to the need for teachers to accept the paradox that, in fostering student ownership, more (not less) guidance and (teacher) responsibility are required in the early stages of portfolio-based learning.

22.4 Strengths and Limitations

22.4.1 Strengths

By delineating the stages of apprenticeship, the students seemed to develop a better understanding of how the portfolios were constructed, of how portfolio construction could be a learning experience in itself, and of the nature of learning being recursive, cyclical and iterative. The reason for this is that they could revisit any stage of the apprenticeship or showcase artefacts, highlighting any aspect of their experience/achievement by referring to the criteria. More importantly, both the summative and formative functions of the portfolios were accorded due weighting—summative (module grade) and formative (generic feedback and/or written comments, dialogue sustained over 11 weeks of the ELEP module).

22.4.2 Limitations

Given the small number of participants, it was relatively manageable for the tutor to examine each artefact closely and to comment on each to encourage two-way conferences and reflection. The primary concern is that there is no knowing how likely students are to apply the acquired knowledge in other contexts.

22.5 Contributor’s Reflections on the Assessment

Below are some unedited comments articulated by the students:

Choice: ‘If time is allowed and when we don’t have too much workload, writing reflections would be the most effective way in language learning … it allows us to express what we have achieved in learning … portfolio activities can help develop our English … better than spoon-feeding.’

Reflection and analysis: ‘Learning English is absolutely ineffective when there is no direction. The method (portfolio) can help us analyse and change our weakness … encourage us to improve our language ourselves. It is a big incentive for me to write a paper in English without much constraint.’

Modelling and feedback: ‘I prefer comments and corrections … I can learn from the articles, improve my vocabulary and help me to use them in other situations … the checklist is easy to use, not too time-consuming.’

There is much debate about the role of portfolios in education, in particular, the pain and gain of its implementation for the purpose of learning and assessment (Chetcuti et al.2006Jones and Shelton2006Klenowski2002Hamp-Lyons and Condon19932000). It is hoped that this case study will help to shed light on how apprenticeship into portfolio ownership can be achieved and how the summative and formative dimensions of assessment can be addressed with the use of portfolios. Further exploration along the path will be of significance. As Hamp-Lyons and Condon (1993, p. 177) caution:

Like all beneficial innovations, its greatest benefits come when it is not entered into lightly or unquestioningly, but when critical eyes are brought to bear upon it, demanding enlightenment and thereby helping to ensure excellence.

22.6 Bibliography

Appendix A

Portfolio checklist for students

In what way have you developed as a proficient learner? Items that show you: (entries in one study portfolio as an example)


Item Number/Description

Teacher’s comment




1. Have an understanding of what was discussed in class

Learned about genres. Interesting, I looked at articles in a different way.

Glad to know that you’ve learned something new.

2. Have some further practice

Found an article about gay couples, but a lot of the words I don’t know

Don’t worry too much about this for now. Keep reading.

3. Have made progress

Look up some words, but I used a Chinese-English dictionary

Did you try an English-only dictionary?

4. Have reflected on the experience

Didn’t know where to look at first, or I’m too lazy.

Consider doing something about this?

5. Have identified reason(s) for the choice

Illustration helped me.

OK, did you check the table of contents?

6. Have mastered the skill/ fulfilled the objective

Found that I am less afraid of words that I don’t know. Able to write fast

Perhaps you’d like to think about whether the ideas are clear?

7. Have developed the capacity to use this new experience in learning or other contexts

Looked for other articles and got help from the teacher

Great. Do talk to me or other teachers.

8. Are able to self-assess and exercise self-discipline

I now write more often, but something frustrated with so many mistakes

Why not write short paragraphs first rather than one long essay?

9. Are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and the need for further development

A bit lazy, but need to work harder

Perhaps you can draw up a study plan and stick to the schedule

Date submitted: __________________      Date returned: ________________

Overall rating: (☑)   Successful (10%): ☐  Adequate (5%): ☑  Thin (1%): ☐  No effort or evidence (0%): ☐

Suggestions: I’ve enjoyed in particular reading about your dreams; thank you for sharing them with me. I also like the way you designed the cover. What does the ‘bow’ stand for? It seems you like fantasy novels. If you do, we have got quite a collection for you. Check them out and let me know what you think. Keep up the good work.