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What is the Difference Between a Workbook and a Student Portfolio?

Over the years, one of the most common questions we have received from teachers looking for elementary Spanish curriculum is, “Do you have student workbooks?” For many years, our reply was, “no.” We were hesitant to create one because the Sonrisas Spanish curriculum was designed in a way that workbook activities weren’t really necessary. The lessons were designed so that the teacher could check for understanding orally through the activities and also through the one-on-one work built into the art projects. We didn’t want to encourage teachers to replace any component of the lesson with a workbook activity that didn’t provide the depth of learning that these activities provided. We also didn’t want to encourage any part of Spanish class to contain “busy work” that didn’t necessarily contribute to the rich learning experience that our curriculum provided.

As we continued to teach and develop our Spanish curriculum, we gradually began to refine our assessment piece. Previously, the assessment rubrics in our curriculum relied on a teacher’s memory of students’ performance from class. This could be very challenging for a teacher with many students. We came up with a solution of combining “workbook-like” activities, communication objectives, and language outcomes to create a comprehensive portfolio which includes formative and summative assessments. In doing so, we knew that we had created something much more than a workbook. The Student Portfolio is not only a useful assessment tool for teachers, but also an ongoing record of student learning. The Student Portfolio contains portfolio activities, student assessment pages, and home reports.

The portfolio activities were designed so that, if completed independently and effectively by students, they provide performance indicators for the language concepts taught in each lesson. They also provide a tool to help the teacher ask questions that guide the evaluation of student progress. For example, in the portfolio activity for Lesson 11 in Sonrisas Level I, La ropa, students are asked to label articles of clothing in a picture of a girl dressed in winter clothes. If the student does this independently, it demonstrates the language outcome of being able to identify clothing vocabulary. The teacher can record this on the student assessment page. However, the deeper concept in the Communication Objective for the lesson involves students providing information about the clothing they and others are wearing by answering the question, “¿Qué lleva la niña?” with a complete sentence, “La niña lleva ___.” A teacher has two possibilities here. She can use the portfolio to jog her memory to the activity in class that involved asking and answering the question and remember if the student was able to do this effectively, or she can use the image in the portfolio to assess the student right there. The activity provides an opportunity to ask the question. If the student can answer it correctly, the teacher has evidence that the concept has been taught effectively, and she can record this on the student assessment page. If the student struggles, the teacher has a formative assessment tool at her disposal—she can revisit activities that allow the student to master the communication objective.

If used in this way, the Student Portfolio provides so much more than a workbook. It provides an opportunity for evaluation and reflection that informs effective instruction, and it provides a record of student progress. This allows teachers to teach effectively and to communicate effectively with parents about how their student is doing. Ultimately, the Student Portfolio is a useful assessment tool and a comprehensive look at the progress of each student.

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