Looking good: Portfolios

Since language acquisition is a subconscious process, frequently our little darlings feel like “they’re not doing anything” in class. We know this is absolutely untrue: their brains are working hard to understand messages and decode language patterns,  figuring out the HOWS and WHYS of a new language. But the teenagers in front of us feel like they’re taking it easy. In the totally indignant words of one of my freshman boys,  “You tricked us into learning!!” which is awesome, because language acquisition is supposed to be easy! And that is why you’ve absolutely got to incorporate portfolios in your classes.

Portfolios are an easy way to show them (and colleagues and parents and administrators and your dentist) just how much language they’ve acquired in a short period of time, even if it feels like we just hang out and tell stories during class. It makes the invisible visible and gives us something to marvel at. Portfolios are not my idea…good teachers have been compiling their students’ work since the dawn of time. My dear friend Julie inspired me to create portfolios and I’m never going back- they’ve been such a powerful tool!! Can’t wait to tell you about it!

But before I dive into the the practicalities of documenting the language journey of 150+ students, can I just tell set the scene for writing this blog post:


I’m in the home of Becky Morales, the voice behind the Language Latte podcast and the muscle behind Kidworldcitizen.org in Mérida, Mexico, with a handful of other Spanish teachers, having the time of our lives! I’ll be writing more about the most fun professional experience ever, but if you just can’t wait for that post, head on over to One World Trek  for details! I’m soaking up Yucatán culture, eating everything in sight and  absolutely enchanted by this place!  I’ve got big plans to share everything I’m learning in slow and comprehensible Spanish for your little darlings, so stay tuned!


Now back to the business of portfolios:

Start the year with a folder for every kiddo. Before I wised up, I used to spend hours writing all their names on their folders and their Magic Cards but then I realized that it takes me 2 minutes to pass out folders and cards, ask them to write their names and collect them. 2 minutes spent is much better than 2 hours…just saying. And you’ll need a file box or drawer dedicated to portfolios.

This year our  department adopted a “new” grading philosophy and policy, anchored in ACTFL’s proficiency levels, I started the year by teaching my little darlings about the levels and the expectations for the year. I passed out this sweet ACTFL proficiency flow chart with this reflection page printed on the back. Students read the different proficiency indicated and highlighted the descriptions which best described their ability in reading, writing, listening and speaking Spanish. Then they reflected a bit on the back in the first reflection box. Then they used the same highlighter to outline their reflection, to indicate the bright pink highlighter on the front corresponds to their August 20 reflection. We did this 3 times during the year, once at the very beginning, once at the start of second semester, and again at the end.

Is it perfect? Nope. A few of my sweet Spanish 1 babies self-assess at the Intermediate High level in August….but holy moly do administrators love the Self-Assessment Meta-cognition piece!  And it reinforced the idea that language proficiency is a journey and class is about more than earning a letter grade 🙂


Their flow charts and reflections  were the first thing to land in their portfolios. Early in the year, they also did a 5 minute Quick Write for their portfolios. I like to do this the 2nd week of school, when Spanish is still brand new and they can’t produce much! I give them 5 minutes to impress me with all the Spanish they know.  They panic! They whine! They freak out! But I assure them it won’t be graded, it’s just our starting point  so we can be amazed  at the end of the year. If the can’t think of anything to write, I encourage them to look around the room and copy down some Spanish words.

As the year progresses, their Celebrations of Knowledge (aka tests) and Writes are added to their folder, and throughout the year they have time to review their portfolio and reflect on their work.  My TA staples a Test Reflection Sheet to each corrected test….err…celebration and they’ve got time to look it over and reflect on it.

(The picture below is a Spanish 4 Celebration of Knowledge, check out the link if you’re looking for some ACTFL inspired rubrics for upper levels!)

I encourage kids to redo any test that they feel “didn’t reflect their proficiency level”, and that’s the first question on their reflection sheet… “Would you like to retake this test”?

Before, Old Señora Chase was like -NO TEST RETAKES, EVER! YOU SUCKERS GOTTA LEARN TO STUDY AND BE PREPARED BECAUSE THAT’S REAL LIFE!- But New Señora Chase realized that language skills are not improved by studying a vocab list the night before…their proficiency it’s what you can do after loads of input, warning or preparation.  And Old Señora Chase was worried that kids would take advantage and constantly would want to retest and make a lot of extra work for her, and Señora Chase (Old & New HATES extra work!). But New Señora Chase has experienced the opposite: kids appreciate the offer to retest but seldom (like maybe 2 kids ALL YEAR!) ask to retake. And it’s saved so many fights with parents because the offer is always on the table 🙂 

End of the year

At the end of the year, it was so fun to watch my little darlings go though their portfolios and giggle at their very first work and see huge growth over the course of the year! Seriously, my freshman were bragging to their classmates: In August I could only  copy down the color words from the poster and now I have a whole story written! If I can get my department on board, I’d love for all our teachers to adopt using portfolios, so that I can pass my Spanish 1 folders on to their Spanish 2 teachers, and so on!!

And I made a big deal about their work: You guys- this is how much you grew after only 1 year of Spanish!! Imagine what will happen to your Spanish after another year. Imagine by the time you graduate! Because at my school, Spanish is an elective, and I need every trick in the book to get them to stick with me, because, I love my job and I need kids to take my class!

Pro Tip: 

  • Make sure kiddos date everything, so it’s easy for them to put their work in chronological order. We were not good about this and some kids couldn’t figure out their earliest writing sample.
  • After each Portfolio viewing session, have them organize their papers with the most recent on top, the oldest on the bottom! That will make it much faster for you, if you want to look at their reflections.
  • To make it easier on my TA, in about December I assigned student numbers, which we wrote on their portfolios and their Celebrations of numbers, to make putting them in order a snap!


Welp! That’s that! For a little bit of work, portfolios was one of the new things this year that was really worthwhile for my little darlings!  If you’re got portfolios going, I’d love to hear how they work for you use them in your classes!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a full day of fun in Mérida, Mexico!






  1. Thanks for sharing! While I used folders, I didn’t have reflections, although I did ask them to reflect half way during the year. I will incorporate the ACTFL standards and will have a better filing system for them.


  2. Do you go over tests with them and discuss why they got a particular grade? And do you give a completely new test for a retake? Like you say, I don’t like to make extra work for myself. Thanks!


    • Hi Mary, they have a chance to look at everything after their tests and ask questions, but we don’t go over them all together, to save time. If they want to take the test over again, it’s not usually the whole thing, it’s just one section, say the reading section. So, I’ll have them read something from a different class that they haven’t read before but the vocab is familiar. It’s not much work since I use my quick quizzes, so the format doesn’t change. Here’s an example of what my tests look like, you’ll see it’s pretty easy just to swap out a new reading, listening or writing sample for a retest. https://senorachase.com/2018/10/10/spanish-1s-first-celebration-of-knowledge-aka-test/


  3. I love how simple this system is and how you describe it so carefully. Thank you for sharing your Celebrations of Knowledge too; it’s great to have concrete examples of how you grade proficiency. Do you write a comment on the first writing assignment (benchmark) or just put it in the portfolio?


  4. My team is looking into using portfolios for all levels through intermediate high as a year end assessment. Do you have suggestions/guidelines of what types of assignments would go in these at the different levels? Also, do you assess these at the end of the year? If so, how do you assess a portfolio that already contains their graded assignments from throughout the year?


    • Hi- I just file timed writings and their unit tests in their portfolios. I don’t assess their portfolios… It’s just a storage system in a way for them to go back and reflect on their progress.


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