Getting rid of the “I never learned any French in school” syndrome: FreshGrade e-portfolios in language classes

What I would have paid to have the opportunities that our students can have today…(with some planning, modelling and teacher facilitation)

Can you imagine having a documented portfolio from which you can listen to your progression speaking in a second language?  With this advantage, I think that my oral French would have been much more developed by the time that I had graduated from French immersion.  Instead, I found it very difficult to express my message when going to university and ended up in beginner’s French class despite being an early immersion student (starting in Kindergarten).  Furthermore, it would have been easier to distinguish the mistakes that I was making in the written form.


I took an education class at Simon Fraser University in 2005 during which time I was given the task to document my journey of learning French. This portfolio gave me the opportunity to critically assess what I needed to improve upon, and focused my learning on my strengths and “à travailler”.  We were required to fulfill our goal of improving two-three elements and explain our strategies for their implementation.  This was the first step in my feeling comfortable about communicating in French since I was fixing what I felt were the “mistakes” which hindered my confidence (such as communicating with the correct masculine and feminine articles, something that always frustrated and blocked me when I wanted to express myself).  I want my students to be able to feel that thrill and sense of pride when they have finally understand something that they realized themselves had needed improvement…instead of feeling the frustration and disappointment when you leave high school and still struggle with communicating a simple message.


Since 2010, I have been using e-portfolios in my French immersion classes and based on their success, my International languages department collaborated together in 2013 to integrate e-Portfolios department-wide in grade 8 Core French and grade 9 Spanish classes.  We wanted a way for students to understand their progress and witness the development of their language acquisition. This year, teachers are using portfolios in grades 8-11 so that students can add to their e-portfolios until they graduate from the language program.  Doesn’t it drive you crazy when students and adults say “I took French for 5 years and I didn’t learn anything?”  e-Portfolios provide each student with PROOF that they DID learn something in French class.  I think it impossible that someone can not progress at all after 5 years of learning French.

Reflection on their learning can be daily, weekly or monthly depending on the time that you wish to dedicate to their formative development.  Language portfolios give the opportunities for students to: “develop strategies to plan, monitor and evaluate his/her own learning. Thus learning is becoming more efficient and effective – and very motivating” (European Centre for Modern Languages, 2011).  Since I feel like we don’t have a lot of time in class, my students add to their portfolios twice a semester.


After many trials with various digital platforms such as Book Creator, Google Docs, Evernote, (see my presentation on my e-portfolio learning journey), our department finally found the best tool for documenting learning.  FreshGrade is a digital portfolio (and also has assessment features) that is the perfect platform for any language learner.  FreshGrade is a site that provides a learning community between the teacher, student and parents.  It can be accessed by the free downloadable app or the website. The best part for language learners?  Students are able to upload videos and MP3 files so that students can record themselves, hear their mistakes and make a plan for improving their oral communication skills.  Oral output is important for developing confidence so that our learners can become proficient and functional in authentic situations; and FreshGrade is the easiest tool to help students improve.


However, integrating e-portfolios in language class requires a mindset shift.  FreshGrade is an incredibly user-friendly tool, but it is only the tool for documenting learning and getting your class set up online is only the first step.  E-portfolios require a solid foundation of formative assessment strategies for successful implementation. Teachers need to teach students to stop worrying about the grade attached to an assignment and figure out WHY DID HE/SHE GET THE GRADE?  When students finally figure this out, they can go from “I got a C+” in French to the reasons why he/she got a C+ and make a plan to improve.  At the beginning, teachers will be required to guide students and maybe provide them with the language required to document their learning effectively.

In conclusion, I can’t imagine a better tool for students to improve their communication skills.  I want to continue to provide opportunities for my students to achieve their goals and become functional communicators in the target language.  E-portfolios are a way for our students to finally recognize the strategies they are using to make sense of a message and to improve their written and spoken output.  They give students the opportunity to move from reflection to metacognition.  Furthermore, e-portfolios are the best tool for students to celebrate their successes.  It is so powerful to read  “at the beginning of the semester, I [Maria] couldn’t understand any French on a page, and then now I can understand the message of short articles” from a grade 8 portfolio.   My students are taking ownership of their learning and deciding what type of language learner they want to be.  By the end of grade 12, I am hoping that this generation of French learners will be able to identify their strengths and areas of improvement and know where to grow. In ten years, when someone asks my students something in conversational French, I want them to be able to respond and be proud that they can.  I strongly believe that integrating FreshGrade e-portfolios is a first step to getting rid of the “I didn’t learn any French in high school” syndrome.



In our International languages department, twice a semester (once before the student-led conferences and once at the end of the semester), students are expected to answer the questions below and take a picture of the evidence of learning or find a picture online that represents it.  Due to their language capabilities, our students answer these questions in English in order to better explain their understanding and articulate their learning plan.

BEFORE STUDENT-LED CONFERENCES (a great tool for students to initiate students to talk about their learning in your classroom to their parents) 

1.    Qui suis-je? Take a picture of yourself and present yourself in French in an audio clip (nom, âge, année scolaire, ta famille (j’ai une mère/maman, un père/papa 2 soeur/frères etc.) description physique, j’aime/je n’aime pas)

2.    Describe what you had learned in French before Grade 8. Were their ways that you learned better or not?  What were your strengths or areas of improvement?  What is the activity that you remember enjoying and why?

3.   Take a picture of an example of evidence of a strength in each one the following competencies: reading, writing and listening.  Explain why you chose this example as evidence.

4.  Take a picture of an example of evidence of a competence or strategy that you need to work on.  

a.  Explain why you chose this assignment as evidence.

b.  How do you plan to improve your understanding of this concept.  How will you improve your understanding of this language competency?

5.    What is the assignment or activity that you are the most proud of (so far this semester) and why?

6.  What is the assignment or activity that you learned the most from and why?

7.  Record (or use a previously recorded) example of evidence of a strength in the Oral Production competency. Explain why you chose this recording as evidence.

8. Record (or use a previously recorded) example of evidence of oral output that you need to work on.  (Oral Production for beginner’s: Student can use familiar words and structures to ask questions in a conversation.  Student can pronounce learned words correctly. Students can speak with proper intonation when asking and answering questions.  Student can read text(s) aloud with few mistakes.)

A.  Explain why you chose this recording as evidence.

B.  How do you plan to improve your understanding of this concept.

* You can use the same recording for both examples, but you need to explain how you are assessing the differences.

9.    Make a goal for the rest of the semester (what do you want to improve/learn)?

BEFORE THE FINAL REPORTING PERIOD (if you are on a linear program, we suggest that you do this activity before each reporting period; it will help students understand where they are at)

10.    Audio clip “Mon entretien”: Have students do interviews of each other and insert the clip into portfolio (for better understanding, make sure that they don’t have a sheet with the answers in front of them, maybe the questions…)  (or any other type of activity that you wish)

Specific questions for the end of the year:

11. What is a skill that you have learned this year in French that can applied to your life or your other classes (a learning strategy)?  Explain why and how it can be applied.

12. What did you learn about Francophone culture this year?  Explain at least 2 examples (feel free to provide a link to something that you have learned about) and find pictures that represent them.  Answer this question: Is it important to learn about culture in language class?  Why or why not?

13. Did you achieve your goal from the first part of the semester?  Why or why not?  Provide evidence that you did or did not achieve your goal.

14. Make a goal for next year’s language class (what do you want to improve/learn)?

Setting goals is very important for the success of the e-portfolio.  This provides an individual focus for students so that they are working on personalizing their learning.  This also provides certain students the opportunity to push themselves in the case that they need a challenge.

15. What are your plans for learning a language next year?  Explain your choices for continuing French, taking Spanish (or both) or leaving the program.


  • have students create a Wordle with 10-20 expressions that they have learned in class up until now; take a screen shot and insert it into the portfolio, ask students to use them in sentences
  • have students create a section of 10-20 expressions that they explain through images
  • have students take a picture of their learning objectives of each unit so that they have a record of their progress)
  • If you use journals, have them type their entries directly into their portfolios (this can be referred to for their analysis of their understanding).

A fun idea: have students present the “best of” their  e-portfolios in small groups at the end of the semester.  This provides them with the opportunity to share what they have learned and learn from their peers

What kind of questions do you ask your students when reflecting on their communicative competencies?  How do you help your students improve?  

One thought on “Getting rid of the “I never learned any French in school” syndrome: FreshGrade e-portfolios in language classes

  1. Hi there,
    I really love the great content you’re creating and sharing with the world. I’m sure your website is a great inspiration and resource for all the people out there learning French.

    I’m working with a company called Languages Abroad that facilitates language instruction in nearly 90 destinations worldwide in 19 different languages. I can’t help but feel that our present and future students studying French would find your blog to be very useful!

    We’re currently compiling a list of 15 language blogs/websites that our students might like to read during their time studying abroad. We would love to feature you on this list!

    Is this something you’d be interested in reading and perhaps sharing on your site and/or social media channels?

    I look forward to hearing back from you soon!

    Kindest regards,

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