Diagnosis, progress recording and evaluation
For practitioners and teachers concerned to keep a responsible eye on childhood learning as it proceeds, it is important to observe and document the learning processes of early foreign language learning and to reflect continuously on all findings. This enables them to identify every child’s individual preferences and interests, and to contribute targeted support. But parents must share this approach; above all, the children themselves must engage with the foreign language as consciously as possible, thus equipping themselves to gradually take on responsibility for directing their own learning and making it serve their individual needs.
Essentially, one of two routes may be followed: childhood learning processes may be continuously followed and documented by the practitioner or teacher; or, alternatively, the child learns to evaluate his or her performance by self-observation, on an increasingly autonomous basis.
Children following the first of these routes receive feedback on their language attainment and advice on how best to progress further. The motivation for continued learning can be derived from talking to the teacher and from the awareness that even small successes are observed, and – more importantly – rated as achievements. The documentation generated can be used to trace which learning strategies most benefit the language learning process.
On the other hand, self-observation is the first step towards introspective reflection, and offers a gradual approach to self-directed learning. Progress recording understood in these terms reinforces the sense of self and promotes personality development.
Evaluation results provide teachers with feedback on the success, or of course failure, of their own methodology and pedagogic approach. Individual records kept by the child and completed assignments give some insight into his or her linguistic and social development. The planning, implementation and critical review phases of teaching can be substantially guided by evaluation results.
Progress recording by way of self-evaluation supplies parents too with reports on their child’s learning progress, as seen from the perspective of the child in question. This makes it easier for them to appreciate and support the separate perspective of the teacher. Learning diaries that the children fill in at home, and may illustrate e.g. with photographs or drawings of their family and their home, are a way of enabling children and parents to communicate their personal interests discreetly. At the same time they give the teacher access to background knowledge that facilitates a relatively open, partner-like relationship.
If the learning process has been documented from the start in regard to as many of its facets as possible, there will be a much better prospect of avoiding both over- and under-stretching of the child at the time of moving on to the next type of school. The teaching planning could for instance avoid divergent individual learner development by selective make-up of learning groups. Evaluation thus serves the purpose of making it possible to trace the learning history through the whole sequence of its individual stages. However, it is not only the results recorded at the end of completed stages that count, as it is above all the individual circumstances and efforts that spur the learner on to more advanced levels.
Procedures for recording learning progress should not differ from the usual activities and learning assignments familiar to the children from their everyday learning environment. Progress records kept by teachers, and self-observation and self-review by children, are not for purposes of assessment and must not be allowed to generate anxieties or undue pressure. For children in pre-school and the early years of primary school it is sensible to dispense entirely with marks and confine oneself to verbal comment and description of the learning behaviour; this then serves to record the development of competence. Even a tactfully restrained performance measure, let alone performance evaluation, can easily damage the childhood joy of learning, and along with it the motivation to continue.
At nursery school and pre-school, and to begin with at primary school, for example, the child’s level of comprehension can be assessed by inviting reactions (mime, gesture, movements, drawing and the like) to material that has been narrated or read aloud. Other skills can be added at a later stage to help in ascertaining the learning progress made; however, care should always be taken to avoid direct questioning and ensure that the modalities devised for recording progress – and, if necessary, judging attainment – are as creative as possible, so that the learning process is not in the end reduced to mere auditing.
The languages portfolio is a progress evaluation tool, documenting both the language learning process and the children’s level of experience. Introducing it for a given child indicates that the teacher has previously initiated a gradual empowerment of the child to practise self-observation and self-assessment.
The Council of Europe has initiated the development of official ‘European Languages Portfolios’ specific to member states. A Portfolio consists of three parts: the language biography, the dossier, and the language passport. They can be produced in a version suitable for early childhood learners.
- The ‘language biography’ contains personal information about the holder’s history of learning foreign languages, about experiences during learning and intercultural encounters, blank grids for registering self-assessments as an aid to evaluating progress, suggested learning goals to help the user compile a learning plan and develop an understanding of the learning paths most suitable for him or her individually, etc.
- The ‘dossier’ is the user’s own compilation of work results produced during the learning process (pictures, essays, poems, CDs, posters etc.) .
- The ‘language passport’ gives an overview of the portfolio holder’s linguistic proficiency in relation to competence levels, and is filled in by the teacher.
- The three elements of the portfolio are used at varying intensity relative to one another depending on age-group. At nursery schools it is the dossier that is used most: it functions as the basis for reports on learning progress. At primary school the children can be gradually familiarised with work on their language biography .
It is recommended that there should be no institutional pressure to make the portfolio obligatory either for teachers or for learners .
- In early foreign language learning, learners’ progress should be considered primarily in relation to the processes of learning. Excessive focus on learning outcomes should be avoided.
- Every evaluation process should be carefully planned over the long term and followed throughout.
- The portfolio represents a possible tool for progress recording. First introduction at nursery school level and continuation throughout primary and into secondary education are recommended, as this will ensure visible continuity in the learner biography.
 Cf. Rau/Legutke (2008)
 Cf. Kolb (2008)
 Cf. Burwitz-Melzer (2008) for a model of a language portfolio covering more than one school type