The use of portfolios on efl young learners’ sentence writing: a case at an English language centre in the mekong delta

The aim of this experimental study is two-fold: (1) to find out the extent that the

portfolio affects EFL young learners’ sentence writing; (2) to explore learners’ attitudes

towards the use of portfolio. Participants are 60 young learners enrolling Mover courses at an

English language center situated in the Mekong Delta. Data were collected and analyzed

quantitatively by means of 30 pre-tests (E1 and C1) and 60 post-tests to identify the degree of

the treatment’s effectiveness. Additionally, semi-structured interviews were administrated to

determine learners’ thoughts and opinions after using portfolios in their writing. Results have

indicated the use of portfolio brings significantly positive effects on EFL young learners’

sentence writing ability and the participants have showed positive attitudes towards the use of

portfolio.

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THE USE OF PORTFOLIOS ON EFL YOUNG LEARNERS’ SENTENCE 
WRITING: A CASE AT AN ENGLISH LANGUAGE CENTRE IN THE 
MEKONG DELTA 
Phan Thi Mong Kieu
*
Can Tho University 
Recived: 07/06/2018; Revised: 18/07/2018; Accepted: 30/08/2018 
Abstract: The aim of this experimental study is two-fold: (1) to find out the extent that the 
portfolio affects EFL young learners’ sentence writing; (2) to explore learners’ attitudes 
towards the use of portfolio. Participants are 60 young learners enrolling Mover courses at an 
English language center situated in the Mekong Delta. Data were collected and analyzed 
quantitatively by means of 30 pre-tests (E1 and C1) and 60 post-tests to identify the degree of 
the treatment’s effectiveness. Additionally, semi-structured interviews were administrated to 
determine learners’ thoughts and opinions after using portfolios in their writing. Results have 
indicated the use of portfolio brings significantly positive effects on EFL young learners’ 
sentence writing ability and the participants have showed positive attitudes towards the use of 
portfolio. 
Key words: Attitudes, portfolio, writing, young learners 
1. Introduction 
In foreign language learning, the ability to write effectively is becoming more and more important 
(Weigle, 2002). In addition, as Nezakatgoo (2011) mentioned, writing is the most difficult skill for EFL 
learners to master. It is more than production of these graphic symbols. The graphic symbols must be 
arranged in such away according to certain conversion, to form words to form phase. The shift in writing 
theory from writing products to that of writing processes has led to the popularity of portfolios among 
educators as an alternative approach both in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second 
Language (ESL) context as an instructional tool for the exam preparation (Nezakatgoo, 2011). There are 
many different ideas of the definition of portfolios, but the common consensus is that portflios are the 
purposeful collections of works showing the development of skills, knowledge or experiences over a period. 
Basically, the aims of all kinds of language portfolios are to keep records about learners’ language learning 
process, to demonstrate how their skills developed in time and to promote language learning (Gonzales, 
2009). In this sense, Council of Europe’s Modern Languages Division devised European Language 
Portfolio (ELP) to motivate learners by acknowledging their efforts, diversifying their language skills at 
levels and providing a record of the linguistic and cultural skills they have acquired (Little, 2002 & Mirici, 
2008). 
Song and August (2002) pointed out EFL learners struggled to focus on the skills needed for second 
language writing and on culturally related issues in the process of writing at the same time when they had 
a set time during the writing test. Moreover, learners are usually given numerical grades for their writing 
assignment that may not be accurate indicators of their writing ability. Therefore, it is believed that 
combining portfolios with an impromptu timed writing sample may help teachers both enhance students’ 
writing ability and make better informed judgments about students’ writing ability (Dysthe, 2008). For 
young language learners, oral skills should be developed first. Theory in child language acquisition has 
* Email: ankieu125@gmail.com 
shown that children of young age should be supported to develop language skills in the following order: 
listening, speaking, then reading and writing (O’Grady, 2005). As such, writing should be developed last 
of all for children at primary school age and younger. It does not mean that writing is totally ignored when 
it comes to teaching a foreign language to primary school students. But rather it should come later after a 
focus on other skills and extra carefully technique and method is required to help young language learners 
improve their writing. Little (2005) states that language portfolios give children a real sense of pride and 
achievement by providing an opportunity to perform their language competence to others. 
2. Literature review 
According to Brown (1998), the concept of portfolios was borrowed from the field of art when it 
aimed at displaying best samples of an artist's work. Then, it has been commonly used in education field in 
a wide range of places from the middle of 90s. In this field, there are many different ideas of the definition 
of portfolios, but the common consensus is that it is a purposeful collection of works showing the 
development of skills, knowledge or experiences over a period. 
A number of studies related to the use of portfolios on young learners’ writing have been conducted 
in different contexts. 
In 2011, Taki and Heidari conducted a study on the effectiveness of portfolio-based writing 
assessment in EFL situations with 40 pre-intermediate young Iranian English learners. The learners were 
randomly divided into 2 groups: control and experimental group of 20 each. Results of the study indicate 
that portfolio-based writing assessment has a positive effect on language learning and writing abilitysuch 
as fluency, content, conventions, syntax, and vocabulary. It also shows that the use of portfolios helps 
students’ self-assessment and almost all students are satisfied with this method of assessment. 
Zorba and Tosun (2011) did research on 24 pupils who are all 6 years old in Turkeyto determine the 
advantages of using language portfolios in kindergartens. The findings revealed that the language portfolios 
increased their motivation, incorporate them in the courses, and prolonged their attention span. All of them 
clearly indicated that the development of autonomous learning can be achieved in kindergartens. Therefore, 
using portfolios is one of the applicable methods that promotes the development of learners’ independence, 
responsibility and decision making. 
Several research studies on the use of portfolio on other levels of learners and on other aspects of 
language have been also conducted. 
In 2009, Yurdabakan and Erdogan conducted a project to explore the effects of portfolio assessment 
on reading, listening and writing skills of students who enrolled in a secondary school language preparatory 
class and to analyze the opinions of those students on portfolio assessment. The learners were divided 
randomly into two groups of 22 each, treatment and control, from secondary school English preparatory. 
The findings showed that portfolio assessment had a significant influence on students’ writing skills as the 
change in the mean score of the treatment group was much higher than that of the control group. However, 
the same results were not found for the reading and listening skills. Furthermore, the analysis of students' 
answers to the open-ended questions showed that portfolio assessment can increase responsibility of 
students and motivates them. 
In order to determine the effect of portfolio assessment on final examination scores of EFL students’ 
writing skill, Nezakatgoo (2011) conducted a study with 40 university students who enrolled in composition 
course were initially selected and divided randomly into two experimental and control groups. The results 
revealed that students whose work was evaluated by a portfolio system had improved in their writing and 
gained higher scores in final examination when compared to those students whose work was evaluated by 
the more traditional evaluation system. 
Shokraie and Tabrizi (2016) investigated the effect of portfolio on writing performance of EFL 
learners. The participants were 60 undergraduate EFL students in Frisby Language School in Babol, Iran. 
They were randomly divided into experimental and control groups of 30 each. The experimental group 
received the treatment (portfolio assessment) while the control group underwent the traditional approach of 
writing assessment. The participants were also required to complete a questionnaire to assess their reflection 
and self-assessment. Results of the study indicate that portfolio-based writing assessment has a positive 
effect on writing ability. 
In Vietnam, little research on the use of portfolio has been carried out. 
Tran (2007) investigated the effectiveness of portfolio-based assessment in EFL writing settings and 
found out the attitudes of learners toward the use of portfolio strategy. The data was gathered from the 
analysis of pretests and posttests and the questionnaires answered by 18 EFL teachers and 64 learners at 
the center for foreign languages at Can Tho University. The result showed that portfolios are an effective 
assessment. Besides, the result indicated that the attitudes of the learners were not convinced because the 
questionnaire was administered only for the experimental group. Therefore, it could not compare learner’s 
attitudes before and after the intervention. 
Ung (2010) conducted a study with the aim of revealing the extent of the portfolio’s effect on 
learners’ writing anxiety and the attitudes of the learners towards the use of portfolio. To obtain the data, 
the researcher used three research instruments: pre-questionnaires, post questionnaires and writing blogs. 
The finding showed that the level of anxiety in students’ writing was reduced and they showed positive 
attitudes toward the use of portfolio . 
Nguyen (2015) administrated an action research project with 60 sophomores majoring in English at 
a university in a Mekong Delta province. The purpose of the research was to find out the impacts of the use 
of the portfolios on learners’ writing performance and the learners’ attitudes towards the use of portfolios 
in their learning. The results revealed that the participants of the experimental group significantly improved 
their writing after the study while the participants of the control group slightly improved their writing. 
Moreover, the data of the interviews showed that interviewees had positive attitudes towards the use of 
portfolio in learning how to write. 
It can be deduced that the use of portfolios has come popular as it brings many different benefits for 
teaching and learning process. It has also interested many scholars conducting research related to its use on 
the development of students’ writing performance. Although they have been done for several times, most 
researchers focused on the participants from pre-intermediate to advanced English levels. There has been a 
few research implemented on its use on young language learners. Besides, researchers paid much attention 
on writing performance in general, thus, there is still space to do a study on a specific space of writing, such 
as writing sentence ability of EFL language learners. 
Despite its potential benefits, portfolio has not been applied much in the Vietnamese teaching 
context, including the Mekong Delta. Thus, the study on the use of the portfolios on writing performance 
of EFL young learners conducted in the religion would be necessary as it may provide some insightful 
findings and information that may support educators in their further teaching process. 
 The research aimed to answer the following questions: 
1. What extent does the portfolios affect EFL young learners’ sentence writing? 
2. What are the attitudes of the learners toward the use of portfolios in writing sentence? 
3. Methodology 
3.1. Research design 
This research is designed as an experimental study implementing both quantitative and qualitative 
research methods. The Solomon four-group design was adopted because it provides rigorous control over 
extraneous variables and also provides the opportunity for multiple comparisons to determine the use of the 
experimental treatment (Campbell & Stanley, 1963). In this design, participants are divided into four groups 
included one experimental group (E) and three control groups (C1, C2 and C3). The experimental and the 
first control group (E and C1) are pre-tested groups, and the second and third control groups (C2 and C3) 
are not pre-tested groups. After the treatment period, both groups are post-tested. The design of the current 
study will be summarized by the below table: 
Group Pre-test Treatment Post-test 
Experimental group (E1) X X X 
Control group 1 (C1) X - X 
Control group 2 (C2) - X X 
Control group 3 (C3) - - X 
In Campbell and Stanley (1963), this design is considered as a strong design as it actually involves 
conducting the experiment twice, once with pre-test and once without pre-test. Therefore, if the results of 
these two experiments are in agreement, the researcher can be ensured to come up with the findings. 
3.2. Data collection 
In order to find out the answers for research questions, the quantitative method is first employed. 
This method included the writing tests, including pre-test and post-test with applying portfolio-based 
teaching, aims to measure the degree that experimental treatment may change young learners’ writing 
sentence ability. The tests contained 17 questions that required students to write one word answer and a 
sentence answer about some given pictures during 30 minutes. Their writings were checked based on a 
rubric by two raters who were familiar with the scoring rubrics. Therefore, the inter-rater reliability was 
checked. 
Then, the qualitative method with semi-structured interviews was adapted to elicit students’ opinions 
and reflections on the use of portfolio on their writing. The combination of various research instruments 
provides the researcher with more opportunities to find answers for research questions. 
3.3. Participants 
The participants recruited in the study were 60 young learners trying to achieve Mover certificates, 
which is claimed to bear equivalent to A1 level following Common European Framework of Reference for 
Languages: Learning, Teaching, and Assessment in a language center situated in the Mekong Delta. To 
ensure that the learners can reach this level, the language center requires them to take part in 4 courses 
named CK1, CK2, CK3 and CK4. 
In the current research, the researcher chose CK3 learners to involve because of some potential 
reasons. First, learners at this level occupied most of the population of this language center, thus it helps 
the researcher collect a bigger sample size than others. Moreover, the researcher who is also a teacher at 
the language center has mainly taught CK3 and CK4 classes at this language center so that it would be 
easier and more convenient for the researcher to conduct the current research with her own classes. 
3.4. Data analysis methods 
To compare the mean scores among groups, Independent and Paired samples T-Tests were applied 
to compare the results of the post-tests to examine the possible differences between the two groups. 
Meanwhile, given design of study, analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used as a statistical tool for data 
analysis. 
The data collected from the interviews of participants were analyzed based on the protocol designed 
by the researcher to provide more data for answering the research questions. 
4. Findings and discussions 
4.1. The extent to which the use of portfolio influences EFL young learners’ writing sentence 
The Reliability Analysis was first run to check the reliability of the writing tests. The reliability 
coefficient of the writing tests were acceptable (α = .718 for pretest and α = .778 for posttest). In other 
words, the result showed the tests used in the current study were reliable. 
Then, the pretests of the experimental and the first control group were first analyzed by the 
Descriptive Statistics. After that, the Paired Samples T-Test was administrated to compare the mean scores 
of the participants’ writing sentence performance before and after the treatment of the two groups: the 
experimental group and the first control group. 
Finally, the Independent Samples T-test was run to analyze and compare the mean scores in the 
participants’ writing sentence of 2 pairs: (1) the experimental and the first control group and (2) the second 
control group and the third control group. In order to triangulate the result of the Independent Samples T-
Test, One-way ANOVA was also carried out to come up with the final result. 
4.1.1. Participants’ writing sentence performance within the two groups before the intervention: the 
experimental (E1) and the first control group (C1) 
Before administrating the treatment, 30 students of the experimental and the first control group were 
pretested. After the data were collected, the Descriptive Statistics Test was first carried out to examine the 
overall mean scores, the maximum, the minimum and the standard deviation (SD) of writing sentence 
performance and to compare the mean scores of the pretest between the two groups. The results have 
indicated that the mean score of the experimental group (M=7.42) after being computed is statistically 
higher than that of the first control group (M=6.58). (Please see the Appendix for the outcome of the 
Descriptive Statistics). 
Then, the Independent Samples T-Test was also carried out to analyze and compare the mean scores 
of the experimental group and of the first control group. The result has demonstrated that there is no 
difference observed between the mean score of the two groups (t=1.830, df=28, sig. =.078 > p=.05). 
Because the significant level in this test is higher than the value of p (p=.05), it can be concluded that the 
level of writing sentence performance of participants of the experimental group and the first control group 
was the same before the intervention. (Please see the Appendix for the outcome of the Independent Samples 
T-Test). 
4.1.2. Participants’ writing sentence performance after the intervention 
The posttests of 4 groups were also first analyzed by Descriptive Statistics Test. The results revealed 
that the experimental participants showed the highest mean score among 4 groups’ participants, which 
means the participants of the experimental group performed better in the posttest than others. Meanwhile, 
among control groups, the second control group which was also received the treatment got the highest mean 
score. 
After that, the Paired Samples T-Test was next operated to check whether there is a significant 
difference between the participants’ level of writing sentence performance before and after the treatment of 
the two groups: the experimental group and the first control group. 
First, the Paired Samples T-Test was conducted to compare the mean scores of the participants’ 
writing sentence performance before and after the study within the experimental group. The Paired Samples 
T-Test has shown that the mean score of the posttest of the experimental group (M=8.45) was higher than 
the mean score of the pretest (M=7.42). However, no statistically significant difference was found between 
the participants’ level of writing sentence ability of the experimental group before and after the treatment 
(t=-2.001, df=15, sig=.065). Therefore, it can be summed up that the participants’ sentence writing 
performance of the experimental group after the treatment was improved, but the improvement is not 
significant. In other words, the portfolio did not bring significant influence on young language learners’ 
writing performance for the experimental control group. (Please see the Appendix for the outcome of the 
Paired-Samples T-Test) 
Second, the Paired Samples T-Test was next run to compare the mean scores of the participants of 
the first control group before and after the intervention. The result of the Paired Samples T-Test has 
indicated that the mean score on the posttest of the part

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