The Teaching Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improvement and Assessment of Teaching


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By John Zubizarreta
Director of Faculty Development
Columbia College, SC, U.S.A.

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The Teaching Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improvement and Assessment of Teaching

  1. 1. The Teaching Portfolio: Reflective Practice for Improvement and Assessment of Teaching by John Zubizarreta Director of Faculty Development Columbia College, SC, U.S.A.
  2. 2. What Is a Teaching Portfolio? A Primer by John Zubizarreta Director of Honors & Faculty Development Columbia College, SC, U.S.A. <> For many faculty, the teaching portfolio provides the formal process for making sweeping changes in pedagogy or methodology. As an instrument that grows out of substantial reflection and analysis tied to hard evidence, the document also offers teachers a credible system for valid assessment of performance. It utilizes a discipline-based format that validates the individuality and integrity of teaching, serving as a catalyst for substantive improvement of the philosophy, strategies, materials, outcomes, evaluations, and goals of teaching. With special attention to improvement, investment in such a project is voluntary, and faculty reap significant benefits when they elect to write a portfolio with the collaboration of a knowledgeable, supportive mentor. The intentional focus on reflective practice and mentoring produces better teaching and learning and better cooperation and communication among faculty and administrators. The portfolio is a process document for development because improvement depends upon the following steps:  Establishing and documenting a baseline of information about teaching.  Progressing through stages of experimentation and change.  Engaging in the wide benefits of collaboration.  Realizing enhancement of particular areas through rigorous assessment.  Recording actual improvement and positing further goals. A serviceable portfolio is not a one-time effort but a concentrated document that records progressive levels of achievement and sets the stage for specific goals. 2
  3. 3. The Contents of a Portfolio The portfolio is an evidence-based narrative document in which a faculty member strategically organizes concise, selective details of current teaching accomplishment and uses such information for documentation of performance but more significantly for reflective analysis and peer collaboration leading to improvement of teaching and student learning. In short, the portfolio reflects the careful methodology of research that results in creditable scholarship, demonstrating that the teaching enterprise is not apart from the intellectual growth of faculty or from the professional imperatives of scholarly development. Writing a portfolio reveals precisely how vigorous teaching and diligent scholarship are inseparable facets of the professoriate. An effective portfolio consists of about eight or ten pages, plus appendices, which critically study selected information about teaching in areas such as responsibilities, philosophy, methodologies, materials, student ratings, peer reviews, efforts to improve teaching, and goals. If the primary purpose is improvement, then the teacher gains nothing from choosing only evidence of success. If in the portfolio a professor articulates the values of experimentation and growth in teaching, then inclusion of disappointing experiences is proof not of failure but of vigorous commitment to improvement. If a department chair coordinates with faculty to state as a department mission the same charges, then the portfolio is compelling proof of the vitality of instruction at the classroom level and of commitment to teaching improvement and support at the departmental level. The same is true at the institutional level if an institution articulates teaching development and effectiveness as a strong part of its mission. The portfolio leads to improvement by helping the faculty member to engage the following strategies: 1. Identify specific instructional and teaching-related duties and how such responsibilities fit into the professor's teaching load and other assignments 2. Articulate a teaching philosophy 3. Describe, analyze, and evaluate course materials, methods, and outcomes 4. Examine teaching objectives and competencies 5. Study student and peer reviews and formulate an action plan for improvement 6. Posit specific teaching goals 7. Provide supportive documentation of performance. Such self-conscious planning results in sound assessment and better teaching, especially if the portfolio is revised regularly. The portfolio also includes a valuable appendix of materials that support the narrative, offering the hard copy information necessary for both thorough assessment and real, recorded improvement. No amount of writing skill and no fancy font or cover can compensate for real evidence in the appendices. In addition to balancing reflective narration and evidence in the appendix, a successful portfolio gathers and studies information from three basic areas: 3
  4. 4. • Materials from oneself. • Materials from others. • Products or outcomes of student learning. The portfolio supplies the teacher with a vehicle for gathering evidence of learning and for definite action to improve the impact of teaching on a specific student group. In compiling information in all three areas, the professor interested in improvement will scrutinize the connections among philosophy, methods, course materials, student feedback, peer reviews, and outcomes of learning. Using the portfolio to collect such details and recognizing the importance of coherence among the various dimensions of the instrument, the instructor becomes thoughtful and intentional in examining products and materials generated by self and others to verify the extent of actual student learning. The Value of a Mentor Developing a portfolio in isolation does not produce quality work; collaboration with a mentor is essential. When a faculty member chooses to develop a portfolio, the temptation to work privately is great because of the inherent tendency of teachers to protect the valuable autonomy of their effort. Yet, one of the most rewarding, crucial facets of the portfolio process is the collaborative effort between the instructor and the mentor who helps steer the direction of the document to meet the needs of improvement and assessment. Collaboration on the development of a portfolio is voluntary and faculty driven, breaching the delicate boundaries of teaching autonomy and inviting open, supportive examination of teaching performance in a specific setting. Both mentors and teachers have only one real objective in such an enterprise—to enhance the quality of teaching and learning—and mentors keep faculty fixed on that specific aim. Fostering such a climate of collaboration and supporting such a focus on the value of teaching improvement are two privileges and responsibilities of engaged teaching scholars and of effective educational leaders who should provide administrative encouragement to faculty engaged in portfolio development, a process that authenticates the imperative of reflective practice in strengthening and validating the scholarship of teaching. Material adapted from my own piece in The Department Chair 5.4 (1995): 15-16. © John Zubizarreta 4
  5. 5. What Is a Teaching Portfolio? PROCESS • Improvement • Reflection PRODUCT • Narrative • Evidence-based • Analysis • Selective Information • Goals • Representative Data • Revisions • Appendix Materials • Mentoring • Assessment/Evaluation 5
  6. 6. The Teaching Portfolio: Three Areas of Information A sound portfolio is a reflective document of eight to ten pages that gather selected data from three major areas (see Seldin 1993, 1997, 2004). Here are some representative items that by no means exhaust the possibilities of what may be crucial in a particular professor's portfolio: 1. Information from Oneself • Reflective analysis of responsibilities, philosophy, methods, goals • Description of materials: syllabi, handouts, assignments, software • Assessment of professional teaching development activities: conferences, workshops, curricular experiments and revisions 2. Information from Others • Student assessments and ratings • Peer reviews, class observations • Year-end evaluations by chair and dean • Honors and awards • Invitations to present or publish on teaching • Unsolicited letters 3. Products or Outcomes of Student Learning • Pre/post tests of learning • Classroom assessment activities • Student exams, projects, presentations, publications, 6
  7. 7. essays in drafts with instructor's formative feedback • Alumni assessments 7
  8. 8. SAMPLE "TABLE OF CONTENTS" for IMPROVEMENT TEACHING PORTFOLIO Faculty Member's Name Department Institution Date Table of Contents 1.Statement of Teaching Responsibilities 2.Reflective Statement of Teaching Philosophy 3.Analysis of Methods, Strategies for Enhancing Student Learning 4.Description and Study of Course Materials: Syllabi, Assignments, Handouts, Software 5.Effortsto Improve Teaching: Conferences, Workshops, Curricular Revisions and Innovations, Experiments in Pedagogy and Methodology 6.Examination of Student Ratings on Diagnostic Questions 7.Teaching Goals: Short and Long Term 8.Appendices 8
  9. 9. SAMPLE "TABLE OF CONTENTS" for EVALUATION TEACHING PORTFOLIO Faculty Member's Name Department Institution Date Table of Contents 31056.Description of Teaching Responsibilities 9.Reflective Statement of Teaching Philosophy 10.Successful Methods, Strategies for Effective Teaching 11.Student Evaluations and Letters 12.Peer Evaluations and Letters from Colleagues Who Have Observed Classroom Practice and Reviewed Materials and Student Work 13.Statementby the Department Chair and Other Administrators Assessing Teaching Contributions 14.Detailed, Representative Course Syllabi, Assignments, Exams, Handouts, Web-based Materials 15.Specific Products of Student Learning: Exams, Projects, Student Conference Presentations and Publications, Essays in Drafts with Comments, Evidence of Successful Student Practicums and Professional Achievement Tied to Professor's Teaching, etc. 16.Teaching Awards, Recognition 9
  10. 10. 17.Teaching Goals: Short and Long Term, Tied to Departmental and Institutional Strategic Priorities 18.Appendices 10
  11. 11. Products of Student Learning: A Guide to Improving Your Teaching Portfolio Remember that a sound portfolio should include information from three broad areas: • Information from Self • Information from Others • Products of Student Learning The most difficult area to document for most faculty is that of “Products,” or, to put it another way, the area concerning evidence of student learning, the outcomes of our teaching that demonstrate whether and to what extent our teaching has had an impact on student learning. Most of us can do a pretty good job of displaying our good teaching, but can we document that our students really have learned? Faculty frequently ask what kinds of information serve well to provide such documentation. Clearly, institutional culture and the local context of assessment and evaluation need to be considered, but here are some suggestions that are by no means prescriptive or comprehensive:  Learning portfolios, class journals  Pre/post tests of learning  Classroom assessment activities (e.g. minute papers, reflective listserv entries, web-based threaded discussions, background knowledge probes, matrixes, concept maps)  Student course exams, periodic quizzes, research projects  Student scores on standardized tests, board exams  Student conference presentations, publications growing out of course work  Essays in drafts with instructor’s formative feedback  Lab reports, workbooks, logs, field-work records  Honors program, M.A., Ph.D. theses or projects  Creative performances, displays  Documentation of successful internships, accomplishments of practicums  Record of students’ success in sequential, higher-level courses  Documentary evidence of students’ success in career/job/graduate training for which particular courses provided requisite knowledge, skills (e.g., employers’ reports, letters)  Cumulative data gathered from students’ perceptions of learning after completed course  Video tapes of students’ application of knowledge (e.g., medical interns on rounds, broadcast journalism students conducting interviews, religion majors acting our biblical simulations or role plays; English majors dramatizing a short story; dancers performing original choreography)  Student-designed web sites, CDs, or other technologies that demonstrate learning What else would you add to this list to help you document actual student learning in your particular courses? 11
  12. 12. © John Zubizarreta, 2001 12
  13. 13. Getting Started The primary motivations for writing a teaching portfolio are 1) Improvement. 2) Evaluation. In both cases, assessment through rigorous documentation and reflection is an essential activity of engaged teaching. The purpose of the following questions is to help you begin to describe, analyze, and evaluate what you teach (roles and responsibilities), how you teach (methodology, strategies), and most importantly why you teach as you do (philosophy or values). In addition, notice that much weight is given to evidence of teaching effectiveness (products, outcomes). QUESTIONS: 31104.Why are you developing a teaching portfolio? Who is your audience? Is your portfolio consistent with institutional guidelines? 19.What are your teaching responsibilities? What courses do you teach? How many students? Lower or upper level? Majors or non-majors? Do you serve as an advisor? How many advisees? Do you serve on thesis committees? Are you a program director? Do you write letters of recommendations? Do you supervise internships, practicums? Do you serve on special teaching-related committees or task forces? 20.How do you teach your classes? Do you vary approaches? Why? What particular strategies do you use to promote student learning in different courses? What do students, peers, administrators, alumni say about your methods? 21.What materials do you use to facilitate teaching and learning in your classes? Syllabi, handouts, exams, essay assignments, bibliographies--how do you use such materials and why are they included in your teaching? Do such materials demonstrate your goals, values, methods? 13
  14. 14. 22.Describe a particular student product or two and discuss why such works reflect your teaching objectives and how they demonstrate student learning. 23.How do students describe your teaching to others? Do students' comments on evaluations address your philosophy, methods, materials? How do you use students' remarks for improvement? 24.How do you stay current in your discipline? How does your teaching relate to your scholarship? 25.What teaching improvement activities have you conducted in the past year or two? Workshops, conferences, presentations, invitations to speak on teaching, classroom innovations, curricular reforms? How specifically have such activities changed your teaching? Do you have evidence? 26.How do you assess your teaching effort? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you plan to do with assessment information? 27.How much information do you have from the three areas of 1) material from oneself, 2)materials from others, 3)products of student learning? What evidence do you have to support claims in the three areas? 14
  15. 15. SUGGESTED CHECKLIST FOR EVALUATION OF TEACHING PORTFOLIO  Does the portfolio include current information?  Does the portfolio balance information from self, from others, and from products of student learning?  Is there coherence among the various components of the portfolio, revealing demonstrated effectiveness in practice tied to an articulate philosophy?  Does the portfolio demonstrate teaching consistent with departmental and institutional strategic priorities and mission?  What constitutes valid documentation and evidence?  Are multiple, selective sources of information included, offering a diverse and objective assessment of teaching?  Does the portfolio adequately supplement narrative description, analysis, and goals with empirical evidence in the appendix?  How clearly and specifically does the portfolio reveal the relevance of professional development, research, and scholarship to teaching enterprise?  Does the portfolio include a core of agreed-upon seminal statements with accompanying evidence?  Do products of student learning reveal successful teaching?  Does the portfolio provide evidence of efforts to improve teaching? Is there evidence of improvement in methods, materials, evaluations, goals?  Is the portfolio the only source of information on teaching effectiveness? Or is it complemented by additional materials and corroborative information about a professor's complex and varied roles.  How does the portfolio profile individual style, achievements, discipline? Is a strong case made in both narrative and documentation in the appendix for the complexity and individuality of a professor's particular teaching effort in a particular discipline with a 15
  16. 16. particular group of students?  Does the portfolio meet established length requirements? 16
  17. 17. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY ON TEACHING PORTFOLIOS Edgerton, R., Hutchings, P., and Quinlan, K. The Teaching Portfolio: Capturing the Scholarship in Teaching. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education, 1991. Hutchings, Pat, ed. The Course Portfolio: How Faculty Can Examine Their Teaching to Advance Practice and Improve Student Learning. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education, 1998. O'Neil, M. C., and W. A. Wright. Recording Teaching Accomplishment: A Dalhousie Guide to the Teaching Dossier. Halifax, NS: Office of Instructional Development and Technology, Dalhousie University, 1991. Seldin, P. The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions. 3rd Edition. Bolton, MA: Anker, 2004. Also, 2nd Edition, 1997, and 1st Edition, 1991. Seldin, P., and L. F. Annis. “The Teaching Portfolio.” The Journal of Staff, Program & Organization Development 8 (1990): 197-201. Seldin, P., L. F. Annis, and J. Zubizarreta. “Answers to Common Questions About the Teaching Portfolio.” Journal on Excellence in College Teaching 6.1 (1995): 57-64. Special issue on portfolios. ---. “Using the Teaching Portfolio to Improve Instruction.” Teaching Improvement Practices: Successful Strategies for Higher Education. Ed. W. A. Wright. Anker, 1995. 237-54. Seldin, P., and Associates. Successful Use of Teaching Portfolios. Anker, 1993. Seldin, P., and M. L. Higgerson. The Administrative Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Administrative Performance and Personnel Decisions. Anker, 2002. Seldin, P., and J. E. Miller. The Academic Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Documenting Teaching, Research, and Service. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Shore, B. M., et al. The Teaching Dossier. Rev. ed. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Assoc. of University Teachers, 1986. Urbach, F. “Developing a Teaching Portfolio.” College Teaching 40 (1992): 71-74. Zubizarreta, J. “The Academic Portfolio: English.” The Academic Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Documenting Teaching, Research, and Service. By Peter Seldin and J. E. Miller. Jossey-Bass, 2009. 139-52. ---. “A Context and Case for Reflective Practice: Improving Teaching Through Teaching Portfolio Revisions.” Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year on Successful Teaching Practices. 17
  18. 18. Ed. John K. Roth. Anker, 1996. 123-33. ---. “Evaluating Teaching Through Portfolios.” Changing Practices in Evaluating Teaching. By Peter Seldin. Anker, 1999. 163-83. ---. “Strategies for Updating and Improving the Teaching Portfolio.” The Teaching Portfolio. 3rd edition. By Peter Seldin. Anker, 2004. 112-17. Also, “Key Points on TP Revisions and Updates,” 118-21. ---. “Teaching Portfolios and the Beginning Teacher.” Phi Delta Kappan Dec. 1994: 323-26. ---. “The Professional Portfolio: Expanding the Value of Portfolio Development.” Evaluating Faculty Performance: A Practical Guide to Assessing Teaching, Research, and Service. By Peter Seldin. Anker, 2006. 201-16. ---. “Using Teaching Portfolio Strategies to Improve Course Instruction.” Improving College Teaching. Ed. P. Seldin. Anker, 1995. 167-79. SELECTED ONLINE RESOURCES Innumerable resources on teaching portfolios are available on the web. Here are a few useful sites: 18
  19. 19. 19