A Qualitative Research on Portfolio Keeping in English as a Foreign Language Writing

Article excerpt

Introduction

The present study was conducted under the guidance of three factors. First of all, as the related literature indicates, studies on portfolio keeping mainly focus on the EFL writing skills of learners but not of teachers or pre-service teachers. Secondly, little attention has been paid to the problems on portfolio keeping in EFL writing and the research activities mostly focused on the positive effects of portfolios. Thirdly, the studies conducted in Turkey are too limited to draw conclusions about the positive or negative effects of portfolio keeping on the writing skills of both learners and pre-service teachers. In other words, portfolio keeping might be a way to overcome poor writing instruction during teacher training process. Thus, it seems necessary to investigate the positive effects of portfolio keeping on EFL writing. With these concerns in mind, the paper focuses on two issues: the contributions of portfolio keeping to the writing skills of EFL pre-service teachers, and the possible problems related to portfolio keeping in EFL writing.

Magnan (1985) asserts that the purposes of writing for foreign language learners include practicing grammatical forms and structures, vocabulary, and spelling, using information in context, and expressing their ideas, feelings, opinions, thoughts, and attitudes. Writing in a foreign language also has some pedagogical purposes such as reinforcement, training, imitation, communication, fluency, and learning (Raimes, 1987). Briefly, according to Scarcella and Oxford (1995), writing in a foreign language helps learners improve their grammatical, strategic, sociolinguistic, and discourse competencies in the target language. However, writing in English as a foreign language constitutes one of the problematic areas in language teaching and learning in Turkey due to some considerable reasons. Basically, it is difficult to argue that the competencies in question can be properly acquired by Turkish EFL learners since writing instruction is neglected during the language learning process at primary and secondary schools, except for those schools with intensive language programs.

Two reasons for the negligence in writing instruction are exam-oriented language classes and grammar- and reading-based textbooks. In addition to the teaching methods and materials, language teachers also play a key role in developing and improving the writing skills of EFL learners. However, there exist two potential problems with regard to the writing skills of Turkish EFL teachers: writing instruction that is neglected at primary and secondary education and limited writing instruction at higher education.

Secondary and higher education for language teacher training in Turkey consists of several steps. Having completed their first year in secondary education, students are guided to various programs such as Language, Science, Social Sciences and Mathematics. Secondly, language learners who have graduated from high school programs are selected and placed in various departments such as English Language Teaching, English Language and Literature, Linguistics, English and American Language and Culture, and Translation and Interpreting Studies in accordance with their preferences and their scores in the Foreign Language Examination, an official and central examination for selection and placement of students in the mentioned departments. The examination is a multiple choice test that consists of reading comprehension and grammar items. Dramatically and critically enough, it does not include any items that assess listening, speaking and writing skills. Therefore, to prepare for the examination, students studying in language programs at high schools usually ignore productive and communicative skills, only focusing on reading skills and grammar.

The second problem concerns writing instruction at higher education level. Writing classes are taught three hours a week during the first year in English Language Teaching programs. …