Listening takes practice. Babies born into an English-speaking household begin learning how to listen from the moment they are born, and ELLs that attend an English class or move to an English speaking area begin learning how to listen from the second they step foot in the room or country.
If your students put time and effort into listening, their progress should be given the same attention that speaking, reading, and writing get. It should be measured. I’ve never been a fan of tests and quizzes, though they are appropriate and helpful at the right time and in the right place. What I propose is a more informal method of assessment, but it’s one that can still meet school requirements if framed properly: a portfolio.
A listening portfolio looks like any other type of portfolio. It includes pieces of work or assignments that showcase a students’ ability. Since listening is such a difficult language skill to pinpoint, it’s usually just lumped in with the other listening skills. But using a listening portfolio can help you highlight your students’ growth in this specific skill.
Your portfolio can function in a number of ways. You could use a mini-portfolio task as a weekly check-in. Or you could use the portfolio as a midterm or final assessment, to see how your students have improved over the entire (or half of the) semester. Whatever your goals and aims, listening portfolios are great for self-reflection, taking ownership of learning, and improving listening skills!
Why Use a Portfolio?
So, why should you use a portfolio? How is it going to improve your students’ classroom experience? I think that there are a few different ways in which a portfolio project will help your students improve their language learning.
Reflection: A portfolio can help your students reflect on their progress. Reflection is an important part of language learning, but many students don’t reflect because it is too much work or they simply don’t think about it. Requiring your students to create a portfolio means that they will have to spend time thinking about how they’ve learned the skill of listening, how they have improved over time, and which activities showcase their current skills and talents.
Discussion: A portfolio, since it requires reflection, prepares students to discuss their learning. Beginner-level students will be able to talk about a favorite activity, how it helped them improve, and what they learned from it. More advanced learners will be able to discuss the methods they use to listen, situations when they were successful in listening, and methods or strategies they wish to use in the future. Portfolios aren't just a means of assessment, they can be used to continue learning!
Evaluation: Reflection almost always leads to self-evaluation, and when students self-evaluate they have the opportunity to take inventory of their strengths and weaknesses. This can lead to more discussion (see above), and it should influence their future listening endeavours and learning efforts.
How to Build a Portfolio
So, how should you frame your portfolio assignment? A portfolio can be as simple as a folder or binder containing a selection of homework assignments from a student. Your goal is to have them simply show what they have done and can do.
As the teacher, you should decide what your goal is. Are you looking for a general overview of your students’ accomplishments, a selection of the assignments they’ve found most useful and why, an idea of how they’ve improved in specific areas of listening, or something else entirely?
Once you’ve identified your goal, you can decide what your requirements are. You may only want to include homework assignments or you may want students to include samples of things they’ve listened to outside of class. There are so many things you can include in a portfolio, a few of which you can find below.
Introduction: Have your students create an introduction to their portfolio. In this introduction they may talk about what materials they chose and why, what the biggest takeaway from the year was, or how the process of creating the portfolio went for them. This will require that they participate in an interactive sort of selection and reflection, instead of just choosing random pieces of work.
Classroom Work: Your students should include work that they did in or for the classroom, such as homework, in-class activities/worksheets, etc. Notes from a lecture or instructional period are a great thing to include in a listening portfolio, along with a short explanation of their experience listening during that time.
Outside-of-Class Work: Encourage your students to think outside-of-the-box, or outside-of-the-classroom! What songs, movies, tv shows, conversation, speeches, etc. have they listened to, and how did it go? Students can put song lyrics in their listening portfolio and write a short note about their experience listening to a song.
Self-Reflection: Have your students take some time, after completing their portfolio, to reflect on their learning experiences. This should be more in-depth than the introduction would be. What progress have they made when it comes to listening? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What will they continue to work on? What listening strategies or methods did they use throughout the year and which will they continue to use? This type of assignment would be better suited to advanced learners, but beginner and intermediate learners can also participate in some level of self-reflection, even if they don’t have the language to discuss it fully. If that’s the case, you may want to consider allowing them to write their self-reflection in their first language.
A final note about portfolios: students should be responsible for putting the portfolio together and choosing the materials that are within. Part of the learning opportunity that a portfolio holds is the reflection that happens during the process of creating a listening portfolio. Even beginner-level students can participate in self-reflection when they’re selecting materials that will showcase their skills and growth.
Listening can be a difficult skill to measure, and it's something that I've struggled with over the years that I spent studying TESOL and teaching in a classroom. Listening portfolios are a great way for students to take control of their learning and reflect on their listening progress. And it's an easy way for you to survey how they've improved (and attach a grade to it, if your teaching institution requires a formal assessment).