Using portfolios to formatively assess the writing skills of undergraduate ESL/EFL students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Education (M. Ed.)


Professional Development Centre, Karachi


This action research aims to trace the development of a model of portfolio for formative assessment in a non-credit, remedial writing skills’ course at a private higher education institute in Karachi. It is aimed to gain holistic insights into the ways portfolio is used, the benefits that emerged and the challenges that arose. At higher education level, writing is mainly assessed through traditional methods, which have several limitations (Sahakian, 2009). A portfolio has the potential to overcome these limitations. Most of the studies on portfolios in ESL/EFL settings employ quantitative methodology (e.g., Moradan & Hedayati, 2011; Öztürk & Çeçen, 2007; Qinghua, 2010; Tabatabaei & Assefi, 2012) and a few of them are action researches. Drawing upon multiple sources for data collection that was subjected to thematic analysis, it was found that portfolios enhanced students’ writing abilities in terms of producing paragraphs with better organisation and clearer sentences, citing evidences for arguments, and demonstrating awareness of metacognitive strategies. For these benefits, the students found the teacher’s feedback particularly useful. Portfolios also allowed focus on critical thinking skills rather than reproducing content knowledge, provided a clear means of monitoring progress, and fostered students’ creativity. These perceived benefits were consistent with previous findings. However, the challenges were that most of the students did not consistently meet the submission deadlines and maintain the portfolio in the prescribed order. Moreover, some students displayed negative attitudes towards revision. Despite these challenges, the educational value of portfolios cannot be denied. The implications of these findings relate to the issue of students’ ownership of work, assessing their work in a formative context, and the difficulty of changing their attitudes towards formative assessment. Pedagogical suggestions for improving the portfolio model are offered for English language teachers of tertiary level students. At the end, recommendations for the stakeholders are presented.

This document is available in the relevant AKU library