What Is a Teaching Portfolio?
Whether it's called a dossier (Canada), portfolio (Canada & United States), or profile (United Kingdom), the concept isn't new. The Canadian Association of University Teachers first published its Guide in 1980, and it is still the authoritative resource in Canada. The teaching portfolio as an effective way for teachers to reflect upon, describe, and document their teaching philosophy, goals, and achievements.
A portfolio is:
· A personal record drawn up and compiled by the teacher, often according to institutional, departmental, or college guidelines.
A structured means of reflection on one's work, a process of self-evaluation and goal setting.
· An approach to teaching enhancement whereby a teacher can gauge successes, opportunities for improvement, and means for their fulfillment.
A means of presenting information for job search or career enhancement, such as promotion, tenure, job application. In short, creating a portfolio involves reflection, collection, selection, and connection.
Six steps are involved:
1. Clarify your teaching responsibilities.
2. Reflect on your teaching goals, philosophy and style.
3. Organize the material to support your purpose and the evaluators' guidelines or needs.
4. Write the statement of philosophy.
5. Select and append your best evidence, connecting it to your statement of philosophy. You want to provide enough evidence to convict you of the charge of excellent teaching.
6. Show your draft to a colleague or instructional developer.
Your Teaching Responsibilities
Your portfolio should include a statement describing the teaching for which you have been responsible in the past. Here are two samples of such descriptions:
Examples of Teaching Responsibilities
Professor Linda Ferguson, College of Nursing
Nursing 813.3 Clinical Teaching
This course is designed to assist graduate students to explore the role of the clinical teacher in nursing. I have taught this course 5 times over the last 5 years, including the 1996 offering through interactive TV (compressed video) to a combined group of 15 students in Saskatoon and Regina. In 1997, the course incorporated a teleconference approach to facilitate the participation of a graduate student from Regina.
This course explores the role of the clinical teacher and strategies that can be used to facilitate critical thinking, reflection, active learning, student empowerment, and development of professional skills. To this end, issues such as student relationships, power inequities in the teaching relationship, diversity among learners, ethics, and development of professional values are explored. Participants in this course are encouraged to explore the literature and apply the concepts to their particular areas of interest in clinical nursing. The class is structured on a seminar basis with discussion and critical thinking being the primary teaching strategies.
Students in this course are required to complete a 40hour practicum in application of the principles explored in the seminars. This practicum is structured to build on student strengths and interests in clinical teaching and has taken a variety of forms. Some examples include formal clinical teaching under the supervision of a college faculty, development of new strategies of teaching such as use of photography to facilitate development of concepts of care, use of learning circles, use of structured controversy, student use of clinical decision-making strategies, incorporation of higher level questioning skills among nursing students, use of case teaching, and tutoring of learning disabled students in clinical practice.
To facilitate participant reflection on the application of concepts addressed in the class, I journalled with all participants during their practica. The mark assigned to the practicum was a joint decision among the supervising practica faculty, the participant, and me.
The participants also submitted a major paper addressing a current issue in nursing education according to the stipulations of a targeted journal. The intent of this assignment was to encourage the participants, many of whom had extensive experience in nursing education, to publish well-prepared manuscripts. To this end, I provided editorial comments and a mark on the first draft of the manuscript. Participants were encouraged to revise the manuscripts on the basis of editorial comments and resubmit the assignment. Participants have commented that this strategy was very effective in the development of their academic writing skills. As a bonus, several of these manuscripts have been published in refereed nursing education journals.
Examples of Teaching Responsibilities
Dr. Vicki Adams, Western College of Veterinary Medicine
Statement of Teaching Philosophy
The "Reflective Statement of Teaching Philosophy" is an important element of the portfolio. Many teachers, however, find it difficult to write that statement. It is not easy for them to reflect on and articulate what they do in the classroom and why they do it. Don't let the term "philosophy" mislead you. This very concrete section provides the foundation for your approach to teaching and the opportunity for you to introduce the evidence you have compiled. Be clear, concise and convincing. Structure your statement to demonstrate that you reflect on what you do and learn from it. Consider using headings as visible signs of organization.
Remember that the teaching portfolio is a scholarly project. As James Lang and Kenneth Bain have said:
It should contain a thesis statement, pieces of evidence, descriptions and analysis of that evidence, and a conclusion. . . . The statement of teaching philosophy lays out the portfolio's thesis. It anchors the portfolio and provides the scaffolding for the evidence that follows.
("Recasting The Teaching Portfolio," from the December 1997 edition of The Teaching Professor, http://president.scfte.nwu.edu/newports.html)
As you prepare your statement of teaching philosophy, remember that this section is the very heart of your portfolio. You could begin by asking yourself critical, guiding questions.
Critical Incidents in the Formation of a Philosophy of Teaching
Think back to a learning experience you've had, in either formal or informal education. Choose either:
o A positive experience when everything fit into place and you felt a sense of achievement or affirmation OR
o An unsatisfactory experience when you felt afloat, disconnected, or frustrated.
Briefly note down what made the experience positive or negative for you.
o How has this learning experience affected how you teach or learn?
o Can you derive a principle from your experience?
i. For example: Active learning is more effective than passive learning.
ii. Or: High expectations encourage achievement.
Do the same with a teaching experience.
Based on material developed by Stephen D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher (1990) and adapted by Barbara J. Millis (US Air Force Academy).
"Completing" Your Portfolio
Congratulations! Your portfolio is nearly built! All that is left now is to add your CV and compile and submit the package in an organized, logical way.
The teaching portfolio is not just an empty container into which a teacher indiscriminately pours items. It's more than a shoebox filled with teaching memorabilia. - Recasting The Teaching Portfolio. The Teaching Professor, December 1997.
Now you should create a table of contents for your portfolio based on its unique contents. Use a ring binder to hold the portfolio.
Remember to update your teaching portfolio regularly. Creating a teaching portfolio is a reflective and on-going process. Remember, your portfolio is never complete because you have yet to do your best work.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching Portfolios
Can teaching portfolios improve teaching?
As a vehicle for structured reflection about teaching, the portfolio offers its most exciting opportunities to teachers. It gives them the chance to think about why they do certain things in class, to consider what worked and what didn't. It encourages them to be become more self-aware about their teaching, to engage in some classroom research. It provides a means of reviewing their teaching priorities, practices, and preferences.
Portfolios can have a very positive influence on teaching. As teachers make a more conscious effort to gather a pool of information from which to draw evidence of their effectiveness, they may do a number of things:
· read about and try new teaching techniques
· attend instructional development programs
· participate in peer consultation
use formative evaluation instruments with their students.
In other words, as John Zubizarreta (1994) says, they become "more intentional in generating actual products of good teaching." Students are the beneficiaries of that effort. He concludes:
Finally, the portfolio stands to change not only the way teaching is defined and assessed but also the degree to which it is valued in the academy. (Teaching Portfolios and the Beginning Teacher. Phi Delta Kappan.)
How are portfolios used in promotion and tenure decisions?
Most teachers create their portfolios for job search or career enhancement. For professors seeking promotion or tenure, the portfolio provides an opportunity to demonstrate their growth and progress as teachers through the use of exemplary material such as students' work, courses developed, committee work, unsolicited feedback about teaching, and so on. In the salary review process, the portfolio is a way for faculty to demonstrate excellence in teaching and thus increase the probability that good teaching will be rewarded.
As both products and processes portfolios
· are an ideal way to present documentation because they include narrative sections and samples
· encourage reflection on one's responsibilities, goals, and philosophy
· demonstrate contexts, development over time, learning from mistakes
· encourage collaboration among colleagues
Why does documenting their teaching make some teachers feel uneasy?
"It makes me feel uncomfortable - it's too much like self-promotion." This participant at a University of Saskatchewan teaching portfolio workshop was an accomplished professor with well over 20 years' teaching experience. Why did he think it unseemly to record his teaching accomplishments?
Perhaps it's easiest to answer this frequently asked question with some more questions:
· What makes a teaching portfolio more self-promoting than a curriculum vitae, a list of publications, or a description of research activities and grants?
· Why do some teachers feel that they must be modest, uncovering only a little of their teaching, yet happy to "bare all" when it comes to research?
· What does teachers' reluctance to reflect upon, write about, and document their teaching performance say about the way they think teaching is valued at the university?
Certainly, research output is more visible, perhaps more easily quantified, than teaching accomplishment, but that should challenge us to find better ways of documenting effective teaching. It is also too easy to say that "everyone teaches" at the university and that it isn't necessary to record what everyone does. Everyone may teach, but course loads, class sizes and levels, types and frequency of assignments, amount and detail of feedback to students, teaching activities, all of these vary from teacher to teacher (Park, S. January, 1996. Research, Teaching, and Service: Why Shouldn't Women's Work Count? Journal of Higher Education.)
What are the benefits of a teaching portfolio?
The portfolio benefits teachers, students, and administrators because it
· keeps a record of a teacher's accomplishments
· focuses attention on teaching and recognizes its importance
· stimulates discussion about teaching and pedagogy
· encourages the "scholarship of teaching" as teachers begin to engage in classroom research
· encourages teachers to develop and present better evidence of the quality of teaching
· provides a better assessment tool for those who hire, promote and evaluate teachers
· gives the teacher some control over the process as compiler and editor
What criteria are used to evaluate teaching portfolios?
Because each portfolio is unique to the teacher and his or her teaching context, each portfolio will be different. However, in the interests of fairness and of rigour, it is essential that standard criteria be used to rate portfolios. The principles of evaluation should include the following:
· Completeness of documentation
· Clarity of organization
· Broad selection of evidence from a variety of sources: the teacher, students, peers
· Connection between the teaching philosophy statement and the evidence:
o to what extent does the evidence show that the teacher is achieving his or her stated objectives for teaching and learning?
o to what extent does the evidence show that the teacher is contributing to the achievement of the department's and the University's goals and objectives?
The onus is on each teacher to ensure that the evaluation committee has all of the information and documentation that it requires to make a fair decision in an open and accountable way. See the University of Saskatchewan Standards for Promotion and Tenure, October 2001, D2.
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