“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.
Further 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.
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