[ESCRIBIR EL NOMBRE DE LA COMPAÑÍA] The European Language Portfolio (ELP) a reflexive tool to promote learners’ autonomy DR. GILDARDO PALMA LARAAbstract: This article provides an epistemic stance of the Common European Language Portfolio(ELP) as a promoter of students’ autonomy. It also analyses it as a successful innovation with 90%of adopters in the faculty of languages of Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP)according to Markee’s theory of innovation and Ajzen’s (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior. TheELP is thus not only a tool for pupils to work closely together developing and exchanging materialsand activities in their language classes, but also to stimulate the reflective processes that arecentral to learners’ self-sufficiency.
Abstract: Este artículo proporciona una postura epistémica del Portafolio Europeo para lasLenguas (PEL) como promotor de la autonomía de los estudiantes. Tambiénpresenta el análisis de esta innovación en la Facultad de Lenguas de laBenemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) según las teorías deMarkee y la de Ajzen (1991) sobre el comportamiento planificado exitoso. El PELes así no sólo concebido como una herramienta para que los alumnos trabajen enestrecha colaboración en el desarrollo y el intercambio de materiales y actividadesen las clases de lengua extranjera, sino también para estimular los procesos dereflexión que son fundamentales para los alumnos y su auto-suficiencia. I. INTRODUCTION Under the impact of socio-linguistic research into Second LanguageAcquisition (SLA) corpora, communicative theory has clearly emphasized thelearners’ importance to take their first step towards autonomy when they recognizethat they are responsible for their own learning (Holec 1979; cited in Little2007)Since the communicative approach to language teaching was first introducedin the mid 1970s, the European research community has continued to explore theprocesses of SLA and there have been significant innovations in second language(L2) and foreign language (FL) teaching (Kohonen, 1999; Little, 2005). In the lightof these experiences obtained, the decision of the Council of Europe to develop theCommon European Framework of Reference (CEFR) was taken, in the early1990s, to set up a taxonomic approach to the description of linguisticcommunication and the skills that the learner must acquire (Little, 2007). It is more
comprehensive than anything previously attempted and thus provides anunparalleled basis for international discussion and further work (Kohonen, 2005). The CEFR’s action-oriented approach assigns a central role to languageuse in language learning: “Language use, embracing language learning, comprisesthe actions performed by persons who as individuals and as social agents developa range of competences, both general and in particular communicative languagecompetences” (Council of Europe 2001, p.9). Thus, the “I can” descriptors of theself-assessment grid (ibid, p.26-27) and the “can do” descriptors of the illustrativescales lay a consistent emphasis on a broad learner-centered basic orientation inlanguage teaching. As a result, promoting learners’ autonomy to foster SLA is anobliged endeavor (Little, 2007).Such educational goals as promoting learning-to-learn skills and lifelong learninghave thus become crucial. In this vein, the Common Core of English as ForeignLanguage (EFL) Program at the State University of Puebla has actively beeninvolved in developing its language educational curricula by adopting the CEFRpolicies. In this program students from different backgrounds, sex and ages cometo learn and/or to improve their skills in English, among other languages within theCEFR (Council of Europe, 2001) complex descriptive set of standards for thespecification of L2 proficiency at six levels in relation to five communicativeactivities: listening, reading, spoken interaction, spoken production and writing. Inthis context, the European Language Portfolio (ELP) is being piloted as a tool toenhance learners’ self-assessment and self-confidence to attain the CEFRdescriptors. Therefore, the goal of this article is twofold:
1. It discusses the implementation of the ELP whose main aim is to find out learners’ conceptions and views concerning the use of self- and peer assessment in the assessment of language skills. 2. It attempts to analyze the ELP curricular implementation through Markee’s (2002) framework: S-shaped curve of diffusion of an innovation. Furthermore, it proposes some pedagogical implications based on Ajzen’s (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior.II.LITERATURE REVIEW2.1 OVERVIEW Under the impact of socio-linguistic research in Second LanguageAcquisition (SLA) corpora, communicative theory have clearly emphasized theimportance of providing learners with a rich diet of authentic experiences fromwhich they could develop both socio-cultural competence and input required forLanguage Acquisition (Kohonen 1992). Since the communicative approach tolanguage teaching was first introduced in the mid 1970s, the European researchcommunity has continued to explore the processes of SLA and there have beensignificant innovations in second languages and Foreign Language (FL) teaching(Kohonen, 1999). In the light of these experiences the Council of Europe decidedto develop the CEFR in the early 1990s to set up a taxonomic approach to thedescription of linguistic communication and the skills that the learner must acquire.It is more comprehensive than anything previously attempted and thus provides anunparalleled basis for international discussion and further work (Kohonen, 2000b).
The CEFR has proved to be extremely influential in the promotion ofplurilingualism in Europe, in syllabus design, curriculum planning, and in languageexaminations in a number of European countries. Little (2005) posits that this is awelcome trend that the many language experts, educational officers and politicianswho created, designed, promoted, and implemented the framework should becongratulated on. Language learners, language teachers, educational institutionsand employers will probably find the framework a helpful tool in the setting ofcurricular goals and entry requirements, in comparisons of curricular systems invarious countries and regions, and in communicating in rather concrete termsabout what language learners can and cannot do in their FLs.2.2 The CEFR Communicative Approach The CEFR (2001, p.9) is not tied to any single method of languageteaching but rather presents a more general, Action-Oriented CommunicativeApproach in terms of the customary communicative language competence,expressed with the linguistic, sociolinguistic and pragmatic components, and thestrategies in communicating and learning. The CEFR gives a succinct summary ofthe central concepts in communication noting that language users draw on thecompetences at their disposal in various contexts and under various conditions andconstraints to engage in language activities involving language processes. Theyproduce and/or receive texts in relation to themes in specific domains, activatingthose strategies which seem most appropriate for carrying out the tasks to beaccomplished. The monitoring of these actions by the participants leads to thereinforcement or modification of their competences. Competences are defined as
the sum of knowledge, skills and characteristics that allow a person to performactions. The CEFR also emphasizes the importance of Learner Autonomy as a goalin modern language learning and teaching. The goal entails enabling learners todevelop a stance of socially responsible language learning in the course of theirlearning processes, accepting responsibility for their own learning. To proceedtowards this goal; teachers must progressively delegate pedagogic responsibility tothe learners in the course of their FL learning. Language teachers must alsoencourage their students to reflect on their learning and to share experiences withother students. In this process students develop an awareness of language andcommunication (Kohonen, 2001 a). This involves a knowledge and understanding of the principles according towhich languages are organized as linguistic systems and used in communication.This knowledge helps them to assimilate new language experiences into theirevolving linguistic framework for an increasingly accurate and fluent personal useof language. Students also need to develop their study and heuristic skills to makeeffective use of the learning opportunities and use available materialsindependently (Kohonen, 2001 a). Connected with these goals, is the notion ofplurilingual and pluricultural competence involving a complex, multiple languagecompetence on which the user may draw in intercultural contexts. The notion refersto the ability to utilize the competence in the mother tongue and knowledge andskills learned in a foreign language for the learning and use of other languages(Little, 2005).
2.3Autonomy Vygotsky (1978), an early precursor of the theory writing in the 1920/30s,emphasized social interaction as the basis for the development of higher-levelmental activity of the individual. He described this process of development usingthe metaphor of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), referring to the zonebetween the individual’s actual and potential planes of development. The tasks thatpupils can do on their own are within their area of self-regulation. The developmentin the zone thus proceeds from other-regulation to self-regulation, from taskscarried out with the help of others (scaffolding) to increasing self-regulation andautonomy. In socio-cultural theory, students are seen as a significant resource fortheir own learning as well as for each other’s learning (Kohonen, 2001a). Theyneed to take charge of their learning in order to enhance their autonomy asstudents and language users. This shift in the research has brought about a newfocus on the students themselves as language learners. Students need to befacilitated to develop a basic reflective orientation to learning by working on theirexperiences, beliefs and expectations of language use and learning (Little, 2005). Beliefs are socially constituted, interactively sustained and time-boundassumptions about the roles and duties of the participants in the social teaching–learning process (Lantolf, 2000). Consequently, they are modifiable and
changeable (at least to some extent), rather than being stable and permanent. TheELP is likely permeated by these issues, as Cavana (2007, p.23) posits: “One of the main purposes of the ELP is to promote learners’ autonomy that is for students to take responsibility for their own learning […] in particular the LB represents this pedagogical aspect through the detailed biography, the checklists and the planning instruments it uses”.2.4 The ELP The ELP is connected with the CEFR as a pedagogical language learningand reporting instrument. Little (2007) posits that the pedagogic functionemphasizes the process aspect of language learning: helping the students toidentify their learning aims, to make action plans, to reflect, monitor and modify theprocesses, and to evaluate the outcomes through self-assessment and reflection.The reporting function, on the other hand, is concerned with the product aspect offoreign language learning: providing a record of their language skills and culturalexperiences by relating their communicative skills to the proficiency levelsaccording the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Thus, thisdistinction between the two functions is essential for understanding its potential toenhance FL education. It consists of three parts: the Passport, the LanguageBiography (LB), and the Dossier. 1. The Passport is used to build up a cumulative record of the students’ language learning and intercultural experience. At its centre is the owner’s own assessment of his/her achieved proficiency in L2/FLs, undertaken on the basis of the so-called self-assessment grid.
2. The LB provides a reflective accompaniment to the ongoing process of learning and using L2/FLs, and engaging with the cultures associated with them. It supports the setting of learning targets and the process of self- assessment by expanding the descriptions of proficiency in the self- assessment grid into checklists of communicative tasks. 3. The Dossier is the least defined part of the ELP—in many models it consists of no more than an empty table of contents for the students to fill in. Its purpose is to provide a space in which ELP owners can show what they can do in the various languages they know and illustrate their intercultural experience, usually in written text but sometimes also in audio and/or video recordings. In some implementations the dossier is also a place where owners keep materials relevant to their current learning; for example, vocabulary or grammatical rules they know they need to master, plans and drafts of projects they are working on, and newspaper or magazine articles that are relevant to their learning goals.III. CercleS ELP for use in higher education This ELP is distributed by the European Confederation of Language Centersin Higher Education (CercleS). The “canonical” version is bilingual in English andFrench and was developed in the Centre for Language and CommunicationStudies, Trinity College Dublin. It is aimed at university learners at all proficiencylevels. The goal-setting and self-assessment checklists in the LB cover all sixCommon Reference Levels. Thus, this ELP is likely to be translated into more than20 other languages (Cavana, 2007) to show its efficacy to develop students’communicative competences and autonomy. The CercleS has been the panacea
to produce incipient research about ELP implementation within different contextssuch as the following: Cavana (2007) posits that the chief intentions of the ELP are to fosterlearner’s independence. As a result, the LB stands for this educational featurethrough exhaustive checklists and planning instruments. There is a range ofdifferent learner types, although there are many different versions, and an almostendless amount of research studies, with very little relevance for classroompractice. This study works out how to integrate a checklist in the LB, based onsome essential learning style categories, to help students through self-observationand reflection towards self-knowledge and autonomy. This study was,consequently, based on her teaching experience about how learners realize theirown ways of learning a language and their self-reflection upon it. Colwell (2007) posits that the development of learner self-sufficiency andself-assessment is central to the ELP. In the development of learner autonomy,learning is facilitated by involving the learner in every stage of the learning process,including assessment, correction, and feedback. Colwell (2007) described anongoing, classroom-oriented research study that aimed to investigate, documentand analyze the development of the learners’ ability to engage in the processes ofpeer assessment and self-assessment by means of a social constructivistapproach. The ELP model used in this study was currently sponsored by TrinityCollege, Dublin. The study sought 1. to examine and experiment with ways toinvolve learners and their judgments in the L2 writing assessment process bymeans of collaborative teamwork, 2. to help build and support a case for peer
assessment and self-assessment in the undergraduate L2 writing class. As thisstudy shows foreseen outputs included student-produced good practice guidelinesfor peer assessment and self-assessment in the L1 Spanish undergraduate EFLwriting class which, along with criteria, procedures and ‘can do’ statements for peerassessment and self-assessment of L2 writing ability, it also included refined ‘cando’ statements for writing levels B2, C1 and C2. Church (2007) comments his personal experience when using the ELP atthe University of Padua. Church’s study shows that he mainly focused on twoaspects: 1. developing self-assessment skills and autonomous learning, 2.developing and encouraging intercultural learning and skills. Thus, the firstobjective was central to the teaching and learning of writing and speaking skillswith students taking their second university English course in the Faculty ofPolitical Science. The second was relevant to increasing awareness of culturaldifferences and appreciation of cultural and linguistic pluralism with students whowere doing a revision course in preparation for the Erasmus program (all will useEnglish as a vehicular language, but many will not be going to Great Britain orIreland). The ELP was eventually introduced with the first group and subjects wereasked to complete the self-assessment grid of the Passport. This was followed byusing ‘My next learning target’ and ‘Learning how to learn’ sections of the LB.Consequently, for Erasmus students the ‘Summary of language learning andintercultural experiences’ and “Ways in which I have engaged with the culturesassociated with the L2/FLs I know” from the LB were accordingly used as a means
to address the question of cultural differences. He intended to develop appropriate‘can do’ statements to be used in particular learning contexts. Consequently, forthe speaking domain, Church (2007) had a clearly good idea of what the questionscould be. However, for the intercultural skills he remained less certain about theresult. Schaffner (2006) claims that the Language Centre of the University of Zurichand the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich uses the CEFR both as ameans of classification of courses and as a diagnostic tool aimed at helpingstudents to choose a course at their level of proficiency. The tools offered tostudents on their website are threefold: 1. self-evaluation with the help of the leveldescriptors of the CEFR available in several languages, 2. link to the Council ofEurope website, with the level descriptors and with further information about theELP, 3. link to the DIALANG testing system [DIALANG is a European project forthe development of diagnostic language tests in 14 European languages. Tests aremade available on the Internet free of charge. The project is financially supportedby the European Commission, Directorate General Education and Culture, underthe SOCRATES Program, LINGUA Action D]. Since the course choice dependsmostly on self-assessment, an evaluation of students’ placement strategies wascarried out at the end of summer term 2006 in order to gain deeper insight intotheir actual procedures. In the questionnaire, Schaffner focused both on generalcriteria of choice such as course lists, categorization of the courses according tospecific language skills, previous courses, and the teacher, as well as the means ofself-assessment offered on the Language Centre of the University of Zurich and
the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich’s website. Schaffner alsoevaluated students’ need for further placement information or counseling. The main results of this evaluation conducted on the basis of 1,375 samplesconfirmed Schaffner’s hypothesis that pragmatic criteria of choice are too heavilyweighted. Another significant outcome was that students often do not manage toassess their own proficiency appropriately, even when referring to the leveldescriptors of the CEFR. The main finding is that the placement procedure has tobe improved by means of a more guided presentation of the Language Centre ofthe University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich’sprogram and more appropriate assessment tools on their website.IV. Professional Application This paper discusses the implementation of the ELP with a slightly fairlystress in the LB, within the Common core EFL program at the State University ofPuebla, as an innovation. According to Little (2007) and Cavana (2007) the LBsection focuses on the EFL pupil’s linguistic identity by providing for regularsummative self-assessment related to objectively derived proficiency scales. Inother words, descriptors in the checklists help learners to see themselves asautonomous users of English whose capacity is continuously expanding. Little (2007) and Kohonen (2000a) posit that the LB embodies the dynamicnature of the EFL curriculum by making it visible to EFL teachers, learners andschool administrators. The LB makes clear to all these stakeholders an approachto FL learning that emphasizes learner involvement, learner reflection, and
communicative use of the target language. I.e. stakeholders find that the LBsymbolizes the principles of learner involvement, learner reflection and targetlanguage use. Therefore, the LB provides teachers and students with a commonbasis for sharing experience, discussing problems and developing approaches. In the light of these studies, the administration of the Common core oflanguages at the State University in Puebla is currently developing its curricula inaccordance with the communicative action-oriented approach of the CEFR.Consequently, I was using the LB- a companion piece to the CEFR- as a tool oflearner reflection by carrying out action research based on the ELP.4.1 The ELP as a curricular innovation I shall hence argue that I have already implemented three waves of innovationresearch by applying the ELP as a pedagogical tool with some learners of thefourth pre-intermediate phase of an EFL program at the Psychology Faculty torecord their language experiences (including the mother tongue) in the passportsection; to make them aware of the different learning styles and strategies they canuse in order to succeed in most language tasks within the Language Biographysection; to collect pieces of their own language projects ranging from simple onessuch as postcards or pen-pal letters to essays describing a point of view about theglobal warming or another interesting topic within the dossier. As I stated, the firstwave, with young adult students within this cohort, showed that some of themrejected at first this tool; but as Markee (2002) argues the innovation process isslow at first and “if a critical mass of between 5% and 25% of potential users adopt,the innovation will take off and become self sustaining” (Rogers, 1995; cited in
Markee, 2002; p.57). Thus, my students at the faculty of languages of BeneméritaUniversidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) were gradually assimilating theinnovation as they were trained to use this pedagogical tool according to the S-shaped curve of diffusion proposed by Markee (2002) and based on Cooper (1982)[see table 1 below]. Hence I had some early adopters which were motivatedstudents with a clear tendency of learning autonomy. % of adopters who implement innovation over a specific time period often form a typical S-shaped diffusion curve Laggards Early Majority/Late Majority Innovators/Early adoptersTable 1. Adopted and taken from Witten, Casteneira, Brenes, Preciado, Tapia, Sánchez (2007)Ajzen’s (1991) Theory of Planned Behavior has also had far-reaching implicationsfor language curriculum development (Kennedy, Doyle, and Goh, 1999; Long,1997). The problem, according to Ajzen, is that regardless of what strategy forinnovation is used, predicting how people will respond to the innovations can befraught with peril. A central tenet of his Theory of Planned Behavior proposes thata key to better understanding how people will organizationally respond toinnovations is through a discovery of the true intentions of key stakeholders. Theseintentions were clearly stated showing that using the ELP may increase learners’autonomy (Little, 2007) so as to begin a second wave, that of an early majority.During this project learners were getting acquainted with the ELP and its sections.They were in turn enacting little resistance towards the innovation at this stage. A
third wave then began with late majority accounting for the 90% of the class andonly 10% of laggards.4.2 My epistemological stanceI might argue the ELP can help develop various aspects of the paradigm shift inELT as described by Jacobs and Farrell (2001), including the following: (i) Learnerautonomy is supported by the fact that learners can set their own objectives withthe aid of self-assessment checklists; (ii) Curricular integration can be fosteredthrough production of the Dossier; (iii) A focus on meaning is adopted throughoutchecklists; (iv) other tools for assessment might be developed for young adults andthe author of this essay is going to take part in the project as a member of ateachers pilot group to test materials; (v) The concept of the teacher as a co-learner is an important one for work with the ELP, notably when new paths arefollowed. This might be illustrated by an example: grammar progression, animportant term for most language programs and textbooks, does not occur in theELP neither is any grammatical progression described. Over and above that, it canbe assumed that the ELP will play a role of increasing importance for foreignlanguage teaching and learning in Europe and Latin America (Little, 2007). Atpresent, the number of validated portfolios has raised to 30 covering Europe fromIreland to Russia and from Sweden to Italy according to the Council of EuropesELP website (Council of Europe 2002).
V. Conclusion5.1 In formal language learning the development of autonomy requires thatlearners use the target language at once as medium of classroom communication,channel of learning, and tool for reflection. Such reflection is triggered by the ELP.In the light of these events, different versions of the ELP ought to be developed tomatch specific classroom’s necessities to foster learners’ autonomy. The teachers’praxis is framed within a spectrum of different beliefs and theoretical assumptions.I also argued that under these conditions innovation occurs. The third wave ofadopters in this project (90%) clearly shows that students’ autonomy grows as aresult of their never ending effort to understand the why, the and the how of theirlearning (Dam 1995; cited in Little, 2007).5.2 The ELP through the Learners’ autonomy entails a variety of self-regulatorybehaviors that develop – through practice – as a fully integrated part of theknowledge and skills that are the goal of learning. The ELP helps the teacher to: Convert the communicative component of any curriculum into an inventory of tasks Plan and negotiate a structure for learning in the short, medium and long term
Introduce and manage a portfolio approach to learning that does not have to set its own evaluation criteria reflect on the progress of individual learners and the whole class5.3. Functions of the ELP Pedagogical function – the ELP is designed to make the language learning process more transparent to the learner and foster the development of learner autonomy (cf. the Council of Europe’s commitment to educational for democratic citizenship and lifelong learning) Reporting function – the ELP provides practical evidence of L2 proficiency and intercultural experience against the metric of the Common European Framework’s common reference levels (Little, 2007).5.4 How does the ELP work?• All behavioural autonomy is the product of interactive/dialogic processes(Vygotsky 1978, 1986; cited in Little, 2007)• The reflective processes that the ELP stimulates and supports are themselvesdialogic (the learner in conversation with his/her present and past self)• The three parts of the ELP correspond closely to a triadic architecture ofpersonhood: self – social identity – roles (Riley 2003; cited in Little, 2007)
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