teacherfile“Thus, a [teaching] portfolio is a collection of artefacts through which teachers present their own professional persona. One’s strengths as a developer of classroom materials, for example, should feature prominently in the portfolio. Other possible selections include students’ test results, student evaluations of teaching, letters of recommendation, samples of students’ work, syllabuses, and so on.” (Bailey, Curtis & Nunan, 1998)

I’ve always thought portfolios, if relatively all-inclusive, were excellent representations of a body of work. For reflective purposes, they provide ‘a forest’ and ‘trees’ views that can facilitate valuable learning experiences for teachers or students. On the forest level, they value the overall development of skills and growth as a teacher/student; while looking from tree view, they provide an invaluable detail the individual skill strengths and areas to work on. If used merely as a reflective tool (which initially for Bailey, Curtis & Nunan, they are), some meaningful ideas can sprout (e.g. data showing consistent weakness, skill areas that need developing more, etc.). While a bit unwieldly if carried around as hard copies, one could instead consider an e-folio.

teachingportfolioFurther on, Bailey, Curtis & Nunan suggest that these types of teaching portfolios are becoming more required by employers (or if not, of suspected importance by teachers looking for work). A part of this quote that strikes me, however, is the inclusion of student test results and student evaluations of teaching. I admit, as a younger teacher, I used to keep old class evaluations from teaching jobs too thinking they may come in handy for a future interview, but in retrospect, they now seem a little desperate and inconclusive–a ‘here, look, students like me and they scored well on tests I made so I’m a good teacher’ type of qualification. 

It’s when this turns into a teacher’s proof-is-in-the-pudding for prospective teaching positions that I start to laugh. One could argue that student pass/fail rates or change in standardised exam scores are concrete data proving you are good at what you do, but from an informed employer’s perspective, they are context-dependant results, easily fudged or entirely created for the purpose of making a good impression. They really aren’t that concrete in proving anything aside from an ability to collect and organise (not useless skills, by the way).

Then what’s the alternative? I argue a teaching portfolio include critical reflection on good and not-so-good lessons; reflection on taught programs; balanced evaluation of used textbooks; awareness of critical incidents during a teaching career; papers and presentations; or any combination of them. Student test scores? Student evaluations of teachers? Samples of student work? Not so much.

References

Bailey, K.M., Curtis, A. and Nunan, D. (1998). Undeniable Insights: The Collaborative Use of Three Professional Development Practices. TESOL Quarterly, 32.

Lemos, C. (2011). My (initial) two cents on assessing students… . Box of Chocolates [blog], July 30, 2011. http://bit.ly/YpMRxK

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6 Responses to On teaching portfolios

  1. I believe that teaching portfolios are as important for seasoned instructors as for job-seekers. I’m not sure that I see it as a ‘proof-is-in-the-pudding’ however. As someone who does a lot of interviewing and hiring, I see portfolios as a great way to expand the glimpse into someone’s teaching career and I’d seriously contemplate requiring applicants to sumbit one when they apply for a teaching position. I’m not so interested in reading the testimonials or looking at ratings (I even dislike reference letters), but I love the idea of an instructor including materials with something that was unsuccessful and the instructor’s critical self-reflection on that lesson. A resume should be a one-page list with one’s employment and education history–a summary that shows they meet the requirements. A porfolio, on the other hand, offers an opportunity for instructors to showcase what they believe about teaching and learning, their innovations and creativity, and their ability and comfort level with various technololgy.

    Thanks for the great post Tyson! I’m going to try to present about geting hired at the next BC TEAL conference and will include your post as a reference!

    • Tyson Seburn says:

      I think we’re on the same page, Sarah. The types of things I’d like to see in a teaching portfolio are really reflective of their professional experiences and development and not at all as an evaluative tool by scores and testimonials. I look forward to hearing more about your BCTEAL session. :)

  2. alannahfitz says:

    Interesting and provocative post, Tyson. I don’t have an e-portfolio as I don’t like to limit my resources to just one home but I guess you can say that I’m building up an e-portfolio of sorts across different platforms through blogging and sharing via slideshare, learning resource repositories, twitter etc. Rating systems across many of the social networking platforms are another promotional feature maybe?

    Perhaps you can argue that the curating process of putting together an e-portfolio is reflective practice in itself as you try to perceive what is and is not of value to include in your e-portfolio. I think what does make an impression is your ability to take context-specific learning into broader frames for communicating what you could bring to a new workplace or project space perhaps to quite unanticipated audiences. The Mozilla Open Badges system is trying to create a recognition system for transferable skills and expertise from one context to another, especially within informal learning, and I have seen discussions for embedding these into formal education via open e-portfolio tools such as Mahara.

    In my experience employers tend to be interested in what you can bring to their context and they like to see and know what’s going on in other places to reflect on how they’re doing comparatively in their respective field.

    • Tyson Seburn says:

      I completely agree that an online presence is essential in today’s market, though the Canadian ELT industry is just at the infant stage of this modernisation. Blending all areas together to into an e-folio is such a great idea and does help me reflect. As for Mozilla Open Badges, I’ll have to take a look. Never heard of them (or Mahara). Thanks. :)

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